14 September 1974: the end of football as we know it



On 14 September 1974 the league table did not make good reading…


Team P W D L F A Pts
1 Ipswich Town 7 6 0 1 13 4 12
2 Liverpool 7 5 1 1 14 6 11
3 Manchester City 7 5 1 1 13 8 11
4 Stoke City 7 4 2 1 11 4 10
5 Sheffield United 7 4 2 1 11 8 10
6 Everton 7 3 3 1 8 6 9
7 Wolverhampton Wanderers 7 2 4 1 8 7 8
8 Newcastle United 7 3 2 2 13 12 8
9 Carlisle United 7 3 1 3 6 5 7
10 Middlesbrough 7 2 3 2 7 6 7
11 Burnley 7 3 1 3 11 10 7
12 Leicester City 7 2 3 2 11 10 7
13 Chelsea 7 2 3 2 9 11 7
14 Derby County 7 1 4 2 8 9 6
15 Birmingham City 7 2 2 3 9 12 6
16 Arsenal 7 2 1 4 6 7 5
17 Queens Park Rangers 7 1 3 3 5 8 5
18 Tottenham Hotspur 7 2 0 5 7 11 4
19 Leeds United 7 1 2 4 5 10 4
20 Luton Town 7 0 4 3 5 11 4
21 Coventry City 7 0 3 4 7 15 3
22 West Ham United 7 1 1 5 6 13 3


On this day Arsenal played Chelsea in the league.  The result was a goalless draw meaning Arsenal had now gone five matches without a win.  And that was not the worst of it, for the run actually went on for 12 matches including league and league cup games.

It was perhaps salutary to remember that the first match between Chelsea and Woolwich Arsenal in 1907 brought in a crowd of 65,000 – which was just about all that Stamford Bridge could hold at the time. This time 34,596 turned up.

The game was billed as a “bottom of the table clash” (Arsenal were actually 16th out of 22, it was Tottenham who were at the foot of the table before the game with just two points from six matches, but these things are of course but mere detail to journalists).

Indeed having created the name, the gentlemen of the press hardly bothered to turn up (or if they did, they didn’t get out of the bar) and instead continued their current focus on the ills of the game, which in addition to hooliganism was now deemed to include the upcoming battle between players and clubs over freedom on contract.  Somehow it was felt that, unlike journalists, these footballing men should not be allowed to negotiate their own salaries, for the sake of their own well-being. 

Thus the end of football as we know it was predicted, especially by those not watching the game, although what we were actually witnessing was the end of coherent football journalism.

But for Arsenal these were indeed dark days.  And it got worse as for the second year running, we were knocked out of the league cup in the second round, the replay on September 18 ending Leicester City 2 Arsenal 1, in front of a mere 17,303.

By the second half of this poor game Arsenal appeared to be working to a plan of holding the game at 1-1 and then nicking something in extra time.  Unfortunately, with five minutes left Leicester got a second, and thus there was no chance to relieve the doom and gloom.

Kidd (the only Arsenal player looking likely to score) must have thought he had scored heading in a cross from Armstrong but the Leicester keeper performed the sort of save he was known for.  Then Brady got a goal, but after that instead of making the game safe, Arsenal slowed the tempo down so much that for a while it looked like no one on the pitch was interested in playing, let alone scoring.

Seeing their chance Leicester picked up their own tempo, and it was clear that Arsenal’s attempt to copy Ipswich’s awful tactics of a few weeks earlier of turning dreariness into a tactic was dangerous beyond measure.   The small group of Arsenal fans who made it to the game were appalled.  And quite rightly so.

We imagined perhaps that some end to the gloom must come from a home game with Luton on September 21, but no.  It ended Arsenal 2 Luton Town 2 with 21,629 hardcore fans making it to the game.

The Daily Express headline was “Arsenal are confused” and Bobby Campbell said as much, suggesting that this Arsenal team defended when they should attack and attacked when they should defend.  

 What Campbell was talking about was his attempt to change the entire style and approach of Arsenal, and the fact that it was taking him longer than he anticipated to get the message home.  He spoke of the need for a “consistently aggressive mood”,  and from this match it looked like all three attributes were missing.  No consistency, no aggression, and with just 21,000 at Highbury, no mood.

Luton, without a win all season, looked like they fancied a draw against a team that hadn’t won in their last six.  Kidd, naturally, got both Arsenal’s goals, but with the defenders all looking to attack at the wrong time, it was only the poverty of Luton that kept goals against column down.

Kidd spoke after the match of having a target of 25 goals for the season, which looked like it meant Arsenal might have to try and survive with an all-time low league goal tally of around 30 – given that no one else looked much like scoring.

Would we win a game in September?  The answer was no, for on September 28 the last game of the month ended Birmingham City 3 Arsenal 1, 25,584 in the Birmingham ground.

Another defeat  – but at least someone other than Kidd scored.   And Arsenal at last had Ball back in the lineup, although in truth it didn’t really make that much difference.

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