On this day Arsenal, lingering at or near the foot of the table all season, faced Manchester City away. The result was disappointing, being Manchester City 2 Arsenal 1, the crowd a paltry 26,658.
This was a terrible night to be a follower of north London football and the only relief was to know that your main rivals were having just as hard a time of it as you were.
Both Arsenal and Tottenham were looking relegation in the mouth as Tottenham recorded its lowest home crowd since the second world war (12,813, for the draw with Carlisle) while Arsenal went back to the bottom, after nine games without a win. At least our crowd size had not (yet) shrunk as low as theirs, although the media were full of the notion that a London club could never win the league again because the distractions of London life were too great.
“Ee by gum it’s tough up norf” was the general attitude, with the suggestion that living in the north made players hard, not like the southern dandies.
In the game on this day Arsenal actually took the lead on 15 minutes, but then yet again made the classic mistake of “doing an Ipswich” (as the saying went at the time) and pulling everyone back into defence. Richie Powling did his best in the centre of that defence, but he didn’t look up to the task, and it was not surprising that Manchester City were able to seek some revenge for that second Saturday of the season when Arsenal had actually looked rather promising in beating Manchester City 4-0.
The result on 16 October 1974 was Manchester City 2 Arsenal 1, which meant Arsenal had gone 11 games (9 in the league, 2 in the league cup) without a win.
There was worse to come with a north London derby up next. For this game the foot of the first division looked like this before the match on 19 October.
The crowd was poor: 36,194 – for the north London derby – and the result was completely awful from our point of view: Tottenham 2 Arsenal 0.
And really it showed that the trouble with football is that the moment it looks like it can’t get any worse, it gets worse. Quite when Arsenal last played Tottenham while being bottom of the league no one could remember – if it had ever happened before that is.
After the game the bottom six in the first division read, Chelsea, Leicester, Tottenham, QPR, Luton, Arsenal – emphasising the journalistic prejudice against southern teams. Worse, with Man U having gone down last season, the notion that somehow Arsenal, in the top league longer than any other club, could be “too big to go down” was clearly nonsense.
Alan Ball changed his tune from just a few weeks before and suggested Arsenal were just “not good enough”, but it wasn’t that simple. The injuries to George, Armstrong, Rice, Kelly, Nelson, Ball, and McNab, plus the poor form of Blockley, were all part to blame.
But also so was the policy of Mee, and presumably the board, of keeping the number of first teamers low. He had got away with it, when in seasons like the Double Season, they could use a tiny number of players. But injuries do come around, and the club knew that the good run of few injuries would not last forever. A good management and directorial team prepare for what can happen, and in the case of injuries this bunch of overseers most certainly did not do that.
Perryman and Chivers scored for Tottenham from far post headers, and Tottenham found it easy to work through Arsenal’s newly attempted open and positive style, but they won’t have fooled themselves. They were in trouble too. It was not a good time to be in North London.