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5 May 1966: just 4,554 turn up for an Arsenal home league game

 Arsenal 0 Leeds Utd 3. 

For many years it was a boast among hardcore season ticket holders that they were at this match.  A boast because the game was notorious for its crowd: just 4,554.

There was an excuse in that there was a European match on TV on the same night – something that in those days was not normally allowed.  But even so this was shocking, and it made headline news as the newspapers loved then, as now, to knock Arsenal.

So the old phrase used to describe Arsenal in the 1930s, “The Bank of England club,” was rolled out, and much merriment was had by those who made a living out of knocking the club.

Billy Wright, the club’s manager, was finally removed from Arsenal at the end of this season, after four years at the club in which we ended up 7th, 8th, 13th and 14th never once getting beyond round five in the FA Cup.  In his final season, Wright’s team won just 12 out of 42 league games.

And there was no sign of impending improvement: Wright’s final four matches were three 0-3 defeats and a 1-0 victory.   And even in that 1-0 win no Arsenal player scored – it was a Rodrigues own goal.

It was not surprising the crowds went down.  The final game saw 16,435 turn up – an unsustainable level of financial support for the club.

To put the 4554 in context, the final match at Plumstead in 1913 had a crowd of 3000.  The first match at a half-built Highbury also in 1913 had a crowd believed to be about 20,000.

Wright’s final team in 1966 was:

Furnell

Court  McGill

Storey Ure Walley

Nelson Simpson Radford Eastham Armstrong

To give some idea of the chaos, Ure had played the previous match at centre forward, and Court was actually an inside left and left half.

In this dreadful season Arsenal did actually manage to win 12 of their 42 league games and came 14th out of 22 in the league.  Northampton Town and Blackburn Rovers were relegated, but it was Arsenal’s lack of crowds that was the talking point.

However, it was the end of the season that was so awful.  As Arsenal approached their final game of the season, against Leicester, they did so knowing they had only won one (yes 1) game of their last 20.

Everyone was thankful there were some teams that were doing even worse.  Here is the bottom half of the table…

Team P W D L F A Pts
11 Everton 42 15 11 16 56 62 41
12 West Ham United 42 15 9 18 70 83 39
13 Blackpool 42 14 9 19 55 65 37
14 Arsenal 42 12 13 17 62 75 37
15 Newcastle United 42 14 9 19 50 63 37
16 Aston Villa 42 15 6 21 69 80 36
17 Sheffield Wednesday 42 14 8 20 56 66 36
18 Nottingham Forest 42 14 8 20 56 72 36
19 Sunderland 42 14 8 20 51 72 36
20 Fulham 42 14 7 21 67 85 35
21 Northampton Town 42 10 13 19 55 92 33
22 Blackburn Rovers 42 8 4 30 57 88 20

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

100 Years: 100 Years in the First Division

2 comments to 5 May 1966: just 4,554 turn up for an Arsenal home league game

  • Gary Jessop

    I was one of the 4554 at the tender age of 8 years old. My dad and I used to go to all of the matches at Highbury including the reserve games in the Football Combination league. I still have the program for the game and I am proud I was one of few to attend the game there probably wont be many of us left. Once a gooner always a gooner!!!!

  • Azinoz

    I remember that evening and if I’m not mistaken the game on tv was Liverpool in the Cup winners cup against B/Dortmund (the final I think) and added to that there was a Blizzard happening outside and everyone just stayed at home. Those that did make it to the ground really were the die hards and deserved at least a free cup of Bovril,

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