By Tony Attwood
This ever-evolving series of articles focuses on Arsenal’s managers, and what the club looked like through each era of management. You can see the full list of managers at Manager by manager and from there go to an index of articles for each manager that we’ve covered.
In doing this I am trying to give myself (and anyone who happens to read – and quite amazingly we are now approaching 100,000 visits a month – I am staggered) a view of what things were like at the club under that manager.
This can be hard for many reasons. The Leslie Knighton series, which we’ve just done, had the problem that a) it was a long time ago and b) what we know about Knighton mostly comes from his autobiography. It took a while to realise just how lopsided that autobiography was, and just how many people since its publication in 1947 or thereabouts, have simply taken his word for what happened and not bothered to check the facts.
Doing the research on Knighton, and looking at how for two seasons running Arsenal just escaped relegation during his reign, my thoughts turned to this past season of 2011/12 and the fact that after 3 games we were 17th in the League, and how the anti-Wengerian group, the AAA, were talking of relegation. (“This is exactly what I feared” was just about the most common line on Arsenal blogs that week). But by the next game we were back to 11th, and soon started the rise up the table which saw us end up in third.
So when were we last bottom of the league? I had to go searching, and it surprised me – the answer was in Bertie Mee’s time.
With writing about Bertie Mee there is a different problem from writing about other managers – in that he is rightly revered for ending The Darkness – that period under George Swindin and Billy Wright when we won nothing and didn’t even get to the Cup Final.
Bertie ended that era with a long series of Cup Finals, our first Euro trophy and of course the Double. But what we forget is how things sank away after that.
Here’s the summary table
|Year||League||FA Cup exit||League Cup exit||Europe exit|
|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|
You can see that by 1974/5 things were getting fairly awful, and looking back to the title of this article one might guess that the last time Arsenal were bottom of the league was 1975/6 but in fact it was the season just before – 1974/5.
After two wins and a defeat in the first three games Arsenal then had a ten match run without winning a game. Seven defeats and three draws, giving us an opening start in the first 13 games of eight defeats, three draws and two wins. Relegation form.
Our regular players were Rimmer, Matthews (later replaced by Rice), Nelson (later McNab) Storey, Simpson, Kelly, Armstrong, Brady, Radford, George or Ball, Kidd. Later additions were Mancini and Cropley.
So, hardly a poor team, but this is the team that took us to the bottom.
On game 10 (a 0-2 defeat away to Leeds) we hit the bottom, and hovered in the relegation zone until game 16 – a 3-1 away win at Liverpool. A little good spell in December / January saw us achieve two wins and two draws and get up to 15th, otherwise it was all doom and gloom – but of course not relegation.
Naturally the crowds were low as well, with only 17,845 turning up to see a 101 draw with Birmingham in March, followed by just 16,540 being at Highbury for the 3-0 win over Newcastle.
Bertie lasted one more year after that and then called it a day.
The Updated Database of Arsenal Anniversaries
How it all began: the book that re-writes Arsenal’s history
When Arsenal almost died. The story of 1910: “Making the Arsenal”