Bertie Mee: Out of the Darkness and into the Light

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By Tony Attwood

This is an article in our series that aims to cover all the managers of Royal Arsenal, Woolwich Arsenal, The Arsenal and Arsenal FC.

After winning the league in 1953 Arsenal went into decline and entered what we have called The Darkness: the era of George Swindin and Billy Wright.  Here is the record from that era…

Year Manager League FA Cup round exit
1953/4 Tom Whittaker 12th 4th (Norwich)  
1954/5 9th 4th
1955/6 5th 6th
1956/7 Whittaker/Crayston 5th 6th
1957/8 Jack Crayston 12th 3rd (Northampton)
1958/9 George Swindin 3rd 5th (Sheffield U)
1959/60 13th 3rd (Rotherham)
1960/61 11th 3rd
1961/2 10th 4th
1962/3 Billy Wright 7th 5th
1963/4 8th 5th
1964/5 13th 4th (Peterborough)
1965/6 14th 3rd

Nothing was won in that era, but the true Darknes ran from September 1959 through to May 1966 during which time we never came higher than 7th, never made it beyond the 5th round of the FA Cup and had the indignity of being knocked out in giant killing matches.

Tom Whittaker’s era is excusable – he had shown great service to the club, and prior to this chart beginning he took us to the Championship twice, won the FA Cup and took us to another FA Cup final.  Jack Crayston took over when Tom died while in office.

Then came Swindin, on whom we have a series of articles, then Wright (whose articles are yet to be written), and then Bertie Mee.

Mee took one year to take the club in a new direction as this chart shows.  Of course it didn’t feel all that clever when we lost to Swindon Town in the league cup final, but from 1967/8 to 1974/5 something was happening in terms of a top 4 finish or cup final every year except one.

Year League FA Cup League Cup Europe
1966/7 7th 5th 3rd
1967/8 9th 5th Finalists
1968/9 4th 5th Finalists
1969/70 12th 3rd 3rd Won Fairs Cup
1970/71 1st Won 4th 4th round Fairs Cup
1971/72 5th Finalists 4th 3rd round Euro Cup
1972/73 2nd Semi-final 5th (Norwich)
1973/4 10th 4th 2nd (Tranmere)
1974/5 16th Finalists 2nd
1975/6 17th 3rd 2nd

What is interesting is that Whittaker, Crayston, Swindin and Wright were all footballers – the first three being Arsenal men, Billy Wright being the most famous English international of the era.  Bertie Mee was the club physio, whose playing career had been tiny, and his football management career zero.

We’ll take a look at his life in the next article.


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9 Replies to “Bertie Mee: Out of the Darkness and into the Light”

  1. what where we finalists in season 74/75 of from my records and what i can remember we went out to west ham in the 6th round 0.2…in the league cup we went out to leicester city in the first round that we was in …..apart from that i love reading about arsenals history keep it up

  2. Quite right – we were knocked out of the cup in the sixth round, not the final. More haste less accuracy on my part in writing this, this morning.

    I will reprint the chart tomorrow with the right data, double checked.

  3. When one reads the managerial history of our great Club, it is quite remarkable that between Chapman and Wenger there has never been a Manager proven in that capacity. Former players, physios, journalists, all part of the “family”, but no-one steeped in the experience of coaching and tactical guidance of a successful football club.
    One would have thought (with inevitable hindsight) that the highs and lows in those 60 intervening years would have taught successive Boards that ex-members of the staff or former professional players was not the answer.
    How much is owed to past Vice Chairman David Dein in
    persuading Arsene Wenger to join Arsenal may never be known but his arrival coupled with his achievements in the past decade has surely set the pattern for the future. A qualified and experienced manager must be the norm if our Club is to survive and prosper in these high pressure sporting times.

  4. @Andy Kelly,
    George was yet another ex-player who only managed Millwall before Arsenal.

  5. Nicky,

    I would have thought that 6 trophies in 9 years of the Graham reign (and only losing in one final) proves as Andy said, the exception. He may have been an ex-player but he was a decent manager who got the most out of the players.


  6. @Mark,
    Point made by you and by Andy is welltaken. George had no quals as a coach and no real experience as a topflight manager. Maybe I have maligned the guy, for which I apologise. 😳

  7. We were certainly successful under George – who was a lovely touch player and always a joy to watch – but the football was often dour and unexciting. I well remember the liberating influence of Wenger when he first arrived on players like Tony Adams. Even if we have won nothing for a few years, we play the best football, are a financially successful business and we do it without attempting to buy success. Long may Wenger’s reign continue regardless of the setbacks mainly caused by myriad injuries and the departure of cash hungry mercenaries.

  8. i think times have changed regarding managers up untill quite recently clubs where quite oftern very inward looking they liked the idea of someone running the club with an in buit knowledge of how the club should be run you only have to look at the liverpool boot room to see that in practice we appointed billy wright an outsider and it dident really work although to be honest some of our other managers hadent done that well but he was the first post war manager with no previous expirence of the gooners lol after him we reverted to the tried patton bertie mee from within and terry neil don howe breifly and george graham ex players and staff it worked ok during the periode of time they where in place but times moved on very fast especilly with the advent of the prem league now its normal to go for some one who is as good in front of a tv camera as he is in front of the team the managers now days are just as much celebratys as some of the players its a compleatly diffrent roll nowdays

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