Playing Watford as the first pre-season game was a tradition in the early 1970s as Arsenal shared training facilities with Watford – something which seems hard to imagine these days. But this was the era of cost-cutting in football – an industry that was seen to be in terminal decline. It was the first of four matches before the start of the campaign.
Arsenal had returned to training in July 1972, without a new trophy in the cabinet, after three the previous year. Indeed in the past five years they had won the League, the Fairs Cup, and the FA Cup, had twice been beaten finalists in the League Cup Final, and once beaten in the FA Cup final. It was quite a time.
And so in the 1972 pre-season Arsenal beat Watford 2-0, Lausanne 6-0, Grasshopper 1-2, and then lost 4-0 away to Hamburg.
Arsenal’s problematic player, Marinello, played in three of the four games.
And it was during this friendly period that Arsenal made their one venture into the summer signings market, for on 28 July David Price signed professional forms having joined Arsenal in 1970. He went on to make his first team début aged 17 in the end-of-season game against Leeds on 9 May 1973.
For the media however the main issue (in fact virtually the only issue) was hooliganism and player indiscipline, and the new season kicked off on August 12 1972, with a pitch invasion by the crowd and the arrest of 28 spectators by police. It was not the biggest football problem of the day however, the game at Chelsea being stopped three times.
On the pitch the league launched its new “clean-up” approach and as a result 53 players were cautioned and three were sent off. It was also the first venture into a totting-up system with multiple dismissals across different games leading to suspensions.
Arsenal had talked pre-season about a new style, and the game was played this was a confirmation of the new Arsenal with a constant changing of shape and angle, with attacks built more from the wings in the style of 1970/1 rather than the ball up the centre in the style of 1971/2. Ball looked more relaxed than in the previous season, alternating between subtle and forceful in a way that left the opposition bemused and it was fitting that he scored the only goal – a penalty.
Arsenal followed this up on August 15 with Arsenal 5 Wolverhampton Wanderers 2, 38,524 watching the game at Highbury.
But the worrying news was that Charlie George missed the game, having declared himself in dispute with the club over his wages. This was particularly frustrating in that this was not the first time a player under Mee had had a public row with the club over salary, and it suggested that the autocratic regime that Mee was known for, needed some flexibility. Charlie was put on the transfer list.
However Radford and Kennedy were easily able to sweep Wolverhampton aside (both scoring in the first 15 minutes), and Arsenal would have had more had the man of the match not been Parkes in goal for Wolverhampton. Simpson and McNab added to the fun and Radford got a second.
But the main talk of the day was still the number of players booked. 17 more bookings were reported from the matches played on the 15th and the press saw this as much more important than the actual playing of football.
As for Arsenal fans it was a good start, and this continued with Arsenal 2 Stoke City 0 in front of 42,146.
By the time six games were reached Arsenal were clear at the top, while the bottom two places in the league were occupied by Manchester City and Manchester United. It turned out that the pre-season victory over Watford had been a foretaste of a rather good start to the campaign.
- Arsenal Day by Day: the stories
- Arsenal in July: All the anniversaries day by day
- Anniversary video index: an Arsenal video for (almost) each day of the year
- Arsenal today: Untold Arsenal