Iconic moments in the history of Arsenal
By Tony Attwood
It is a general, and generally unspoken, rule, that Arsenal does not comment on the comments in the media – no matter how wrong, misleading and downright vile they are.
But there was a moment during the 1970/1 double season when Arsenal felt moved to do just that. And they made their protest very public, by re-printing in the programme a letter from a fan to the paper involved.
I am making this my 10th iconic moment in the series of such events, not because it is a great footballing moment, obviously, but rather because it gives an insight both into the way the press treated Arsenal at the time, and the fact that the club had for once clearly reached boiling point.
The letter in question appears in the Arsenal v WBA programme of Saturday 19th September 1970.
The letter was sent to the Evening Standard, with a copy to Bob Wall, the secretary of Arsenal. Arsenal clearly felt strongly enough about the issue to reprint the letter in full. I am not sure that the Standard ever published it.
The original article carried the headline “The Thug’s Route to Europe”.
Mr G J Cant wrote thus…
I am writing with reference to J. L. Manning’s article in the Wednesday edition of the Evening Standard. Mr Manning’s articles have always left me cold but this latest one gives me little alternative but to express what I am sure are the view of the majority of those present at the match. I have to wonder in fact whether Mr Manning ever saw the game.
The game was hard, fast and exciting, with thrillls and spills in both goal mouths. There was good football, excitement and 100 per cent effort from both teams. Admittedly there was an odd late tackle, but to say it was violent and that it was played in front of a frenzied crowd is nonsense.
Remember the Misrepresentation Act, Mr Manning! Your article strayed so far from the truth it is almost unbelievable, and all it does is anger those who were present to see what really happened and mislead those who were not.
Please remember Mr Manning, that it is articles such as this that bring the game into disrepute in the eyes of the public, and not the way the game is played in the eyes of those who saw it.
The match was a 2-2 draw in Rome with two Radford goals (Arsenal won the second match and went through 4-2 on aggregate), and there was also what also appears to be a media induced controversy after the official post-match dinner in which, according to the by now frantic press, there was a punch up in the street outside the restaurant, (of which more in a moment).
It was an occasion in which the press decided on taking a line (that it was a violent game) and which they took at full speed – each paper knowing that the others were going to report not football but violence, and each being afraid of seeming out of step the next morning.
But the Daily Mirror slipped a little from the agreed Fleet Street line when he gave a post-match report in which Bertie Mee dismissed any concerns about the toughness of the game, with the manager reportedly saying, “We will be quite happy to have Lazio at Highbury.” But, the paper (lest it be thought by the readership to have gone soft) added darkly on the day after the match, “there have been suggestions that they [Lazio] might refuse to travel.”
Elsewhere The Mirror was as strident as the rest of the press, saying in their copy that there would be an enquiry and “The outcome can only be outright censure of Lazio.” They then reprinted that comment (which is their comment, no one else’s) in inverted commas as a headline, to make it look like it is a Uefa or Arsenal comment.
The Mirror were on Arsenal’s side though in terms of who was to blame of the supposed rough stuff saying “Arsenal endured provocation that included spitting, pinching and punching as they battled to a commendable 2-2 draw at the Olympic Stadium.”
The Mirror also had a report about the restaurant affair which seemingly there was some trouble in a post-match meal. “Teenager Ray Kennedy, first of the Arsenal players to leave the restaurant, was senselessly and viciously attacked by three Lazio men. Bob McNab and George Armstrong were among Arsenal players who moved out onto the pavement, saw what was happening, and immediately went to Kennedy’s aid.”
A Guardian report, written many years later, expanded on the theme. “The Italian club presented the visiting players with souvenir leather bags, which were derided as “effeminate”. Arsenal’s players started to throw the bags around the restaurant, but then a Lazio player grabbed one, threw it into Bob McNab’s face and, in the words of Arsenal’s Frank McLintock, “we all piled in. For a while, it was like the wild west”. Uefa swiftly banned post-match socialising. ”
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