6 November: When Arsenal (13th in the league) were London’s top club



6 November 1976

At the end of October 1976 Arsenal found themselves having won two and lost four of the last six games.  Even Norwich in 18th had a better record in that period of games.  Arsenal were 13th and not in danger of relegation, but certainly nowhere near challenging for a trophy.

And strangely by being in 13th Arsenal were London’s top club. QPR were 15th, Tottenham were 17th and West Ham were bottom of the 1st Division.

The talk in the media was that London clubs were not suited for football, because the players indulged themselves in London’s nightlife, whereas life was simpler, tougher and grittier in the north, and managers were stricter and better able to control their players.  London footballers were soft.

But all bad runs come to an end one way or another and Arsenal had a decent November, starting with this win over Birmingham City on 6 November.  The crowds, mostly in the 20,000s, had shrunk back to the levels of Bertie Mee’s latter years but with Nelson back in defence and Simpson and O’Leary re-established at centre back, things started to look up. Indeed even Macdonald scored, albeit with a penalty.

In this game on our chosen day, Gary Jones was sent off on 37 minutes when he fouled Stapleton.  He’d already been booked, and seemed to have with him an I Spy Book of Fouls, as it looked as if he was going for the world record.

The penalty itself was not without incident.  With Ball, the regular penalty taker, not on the pitch because of injury it looked for all the world as if no one quite knew who should take the shot – something that most certainly did not reflect well on Neill’s management preparations.  Then with Brady and Ross having a row over who was going to take it, Macdonald nicked the ball from both of them and set himself up to take the kick.

In the second half Nelson and Ross added to the score.  But most attention came with the managerial interview afterwards in which the Birmingham manager Willie Bell said he would appeal the sending off, as the ref had let so many fouls go before, it was ludicrous to give that one.  It was a novel approach and one that, not surprisingly, did not actually result in the sending-off being rescinded.  But the media lapped it up and the problem was presented as Arsenal’s fault!

But although Arsenal’s win got some attention in the media it was Ipswich Town’s move up to second in the First Division with a 7–0 thrashing of West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur’s 5–3 defeat at struggling West Ham United that got the headlines.  Of Tottenham, Frank McGhee, pompously proclaimed in the Daily Mirror as “the voice of sport”, wrote the headline “So Pathetic”.  He was referring to Tottenham, not his own writing, and for once his pomposity could be excused.

With England achieving nothing in world football since the 1966 world cup, matches were now stopped in order to allow the internationals to take place.   Arsenal use the time to fix up two friendlies

  • 12 November A’Naser 1 Arsenal 3 (Mathews, Macdonald, Radford)
  • 15 November Dubai National Civil Service 0 Arsenal 3. (Macdonald, Rostron 2)

Arsenal returned to England to find that on 17 November 1976 England suffered a set-back in their attempt to reach the World Cup Finals being beaten 2–0 by Italy in Rome and thus the interruption to events looked to be for nought.

Indeed Arsenal were not too worried about such matters as up next was Liverpool at Highbury, and not surprisingly the crowds returned, 45,016 being in the ground for the 1-1 draw.

Arsenal ended the season in 8th, as London’s top club.  Tottenham ended up bottom of the league and were relegated very much to the amusement of large chunks of London.

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