Iconic moments: We won the league at WHL (for the first time)

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By Tony Attwood

If you know any Arsenal history at all you will know that Arsenal beat Tottenham at the Lane on May 3 1971 to set up the first half of the historic first double.  Ray Kennedy scored the goal right at the end.

It meant that Arsenal were one point ahead at the top of the table above Leeds who had been in top position for most of the season.  Such were the vagaries of the old “goal average” system of calculating team positions if equal on points, Arsenal went into the game knowing that a win or a 0-0 draw would give them to league.   A defeat or a scoring draw would give the league to Leeds.

So what can we add to such a well-known and most iconic of iconic moments?

One matter that is forgotten except by those who were there is that this was not an all ticket match.  Even though the date had been set some time ahead (the match was originally planned for March 27, but Arsenal’s appearance in the Cup semi-final on that day and the replay on the 31st meant it had to be put back).   There were already six matches scheduled for Arsenal in April, so it had to go in two days after the final match of the season as originally set out.  Arsenal played Stoke on May 1, and Tottenham on May 3.  A total of ten games between April 3 (a 2-0 victory over Chelsea) and this final game one month later to the day.

Because of the lack of all ticket facilities at Tottenham, it is believed that some 51,992 were in the ground and another 50,000 outside.  Although clearly some people broke into the ground, and so presumably were not counted.  Queuing to get in started at around 6 in the morning.

The game also just about stopped traffic around the whole of north London.  Not just at the Tottenham ground but on the North Circular, the Great Cambridge Road, Finsbury Park, across Southgate….  Very little moved.

In the ground there was a serious crush and it was remarkable that there were not more serious casualties.   Only 18 people were reported as treated in hospital.   The Arsenal team bus was blocked and the referee too had to abandon his car and get a police escort into the ground.

Ticket prices for the stands were up to about £75 or one cup final ticket for a ticket into the game (this was 1971 and we’ve had inflation since then!).  27
people were arrested for carrying offensive weapons, insulting behaviour or assault.

In true Liverpool fashion Bill Shanklv added his congratulations to the others poured upon Arsenal but spoiled it by then said that Arsenal would not have it so easy against Liverpool in the cup final at the end of the week. How little he knew.

As for Ray Kennedy – what is also forgotten sometimes is that this was his first full season in the League – his entire experience before this season was a couple of league games last season, two appearances as a substitute in league matches and an appearance as a sub in the first leg of the previous year’s Fairs Cup Final.

In 1970/1 he played 41 of the 42 league games and was top scorer with 19 league goals.  (I’ve recently written an article about Ray for Arsenal Uncovered, which I hope will appear in the programme later this season).

We also tend to forget what happened to Tottenham that year.  They in fact came third, 12 points behind Leeds and 13 points behind Arsenal.  It was Arsenal’s first league title since 1953.

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4 Replies to “Iconic moments: We won the league at WHL (for the first time)”

  1. An unforgetable experience!!As a cheeky 16 year old Gooner,I was one of the “unaccounted for”,who managed to climb up a drainpipe and enter the “Arsenal” end of WHL through a toilet window ( I seem to recall that the whole ground seems like a toilet).By the end of the game, we managed to take control of the place including the pitch.Will never forget Geordie Armstrong’s terrific running to keep the ball in play creating a perfect cross onto Ray’s head. Brilliant memory
    I had the great fortune to be at Wembley on the Saturday too!!
    Blessed moments.

  2. Unfortunately I wasn’t there, but can remember listening to it on the radio. Very exciting. I remember that there was speculation afterwards that by dint of some London conspiracy, Tottenham had let Arsenal win. Considering that they had a record to defend – the Double of ten years earlier – and were bitter rivals, this seemed a tad unlikely.

  3. I was there thanks to jumping the queue to get in. We stood at pitch level in front of ‘The Shelf’, virtually on the half way line. At the end we obviously ran onto the pitch and I ended up in the Spurs directors box dancing on the seats.
    According to the papers the next day the police estimates were that there were 50000 in the ground and 50000 outside.
    And I was there five days later at Wembley. A week to remember!

  4. I’m sure I’ve reported this previously but would hate a real good luck story to go astray. So here it is again.
    Getting into the spuds never a problem….so first go to watch “Get Carter” at Muswell Hill and get to the spuds about an hour and a half before kick off. Trouble getting in? Not for me, couldn’t have queued for more than 5 mins. When I heard about all the drama the next day I realised that the sun must have been shining out of my backside. I looked at the piece of the pitch that I’d dug up, (Yes, I was one of the barmy army that invaded the pitch. “Look at those bastards dancing on our grave” was the quote of the night.) and planted it where the dogs did their business. It’s probably still there. 😮

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