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23 January 1965: The false dawn in the Darkness

By Tony Attwood
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When I started writing about the 1950s and 60s in Arsenal’s history on this site I soon hit upon the simple title of “The Darkness” to signify the era.
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In 1953 Tom Whittaker had won another championship for Arsenal, but instantly things fell apart and  the rest of the era looked fairly awful.
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Season Manager Lge FA Cup Beaten by
1953/4 Whittaker 12 4 Norwich
1954/5 Whittaker 9 4 Wolverhampton
1955/6 Whittaker 5 6 Birmingham
1956/7 Whittaker/Crayston 5 6 WBA
1957/8 Crayston 12 3 Northampton
1958/9 Swindin 3 5 Sheffield U
1959/60 Swindin 13 3 Rotherham
1960/1 Swindin 11 3 Sunderland
1961/2 Swindin 10 4 Man U
1962/3 Wright 7 5 Liverpool
1963/4 Wright 8 5 Liverpool
1964/5 Wright 13 4 Peterborough
1965/6 Wright 14 3 Blackburn
Tom Whittaker died in office, Jack Crayston resigned, while Swindin and Wright were removed.  Who knows if Tom Whittaker could have built a third championship team (he won the league in 1948) or another Cup winning team?   What we do know however is that Swindin and Wright could not, either in the League or in the Cup, even when drawn against lesser teams.
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What we also learn is just how much more patient club owners and their boards were in those days – at least in terms of Arsenal.  Each of Swindin and Wright was given four years to try and get a team sorted out, despite the obvious decline in the side, and the regular spending of money on new players.
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And yet amidst the doom, gloom and ultimately stagnation, there were the odd moments when we thought something might be happening, such as 23 January 1965 when Arsenal won three in a row, for the second time that season.  (It may sound trivial when viewed from the Wenger era, but it was pretty hot news during The Darkness).
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The 1964/5 season opened with two defeats, a draw and a win.  But then on September 5, something a little brighter appeared.
  • 5 September 1964: Wolverhampton 0 Arsenal 1
  • 8 September 1964: Arsenal 1 Blackburn R 1
  • 12 September 1964: Arsenal 3 Sunderland 1
  • 16 September 1964: Blackburn 1 Arsenal 2
  • 19 September 1964: Leicester 2 Arsenal 3
As I have suggested four wins in five, even if including a three in a row, is hardly something to be excited about in the 21st century, for when if Arsenal are not on a long run on wins some fans mutter their extraordinary “I want my Arsenal back” phrase.  Maybe they mean the Billy Wright era, but I hope not.
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At the end of the sequence above, the league looked like this:
Pld W D L F A Pts
1 Chelsea 9 6 3 0 18 8 15
2 Sheffield United 9 5 2 2 12 7 12
3 Arsenal 9 5 2 2 17 12 12
4 Blackpool 9 5 2 2 19 15 12
5 Everton 9 4 3 2 18 11 11
6 Tottenham Hotspur 9 5 1 3 18 14 11
7 Manchester United 9 4 3 2 19 15 11
8 Leeds United 9 5 1 3 19 18 11
9 Nottingham Forest 9 4 2 3 17 16 10
10 Blackburn Rovers 9 4 1 4 19 13 9
Yes, Arsenal in third despite the awful start.  Was the management at last getting it right?
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But no, for then normal service was resumed and Arsenal lost their next three games and in a perfect mirror of the earlier performance lost four out of five.  Then it was two wins followed by three defeats and a draw, and so on in much the same fashion.
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On 28 December 1964 Arsenal lost 4-1 away to Stoke and finished the year in 12th, all the promise of that early run lost.
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By the start of the new year only five of the players who lined up on the opening day were still in the side: Howe, Ure, Armstrong, Baker, Eastham.  Some were injured, some were sold, some were just dropped as the playing side was shuffled and reshuffled.  It was typical Wright management.
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But then there was a further false dawn.  The year started brightly:
1965
  • January 2: Arsenal 4 Wolverhampton 1 (Radford 3, Baker)
  • January 9: Darlington 0 Arsenal 2 (Radford, Armstrong) FA Cup
  • January 16: Sunderland 0 Arsenal 2 (Radford, Baker)
  • January 23: Arsenal 4 Leicester 3 (Baker 2, Eastham, Armstrong)
31,063 turned up for that last match which was good by the standards of the day and the league table improved from our point of view…
Pld W D L F A Pts
1 Leeds United 28 18 5 5 55 37 41
2 Chelsea 27 17 6 4 60 29 40
3 Manchester United 27 15 9 3 55 28 39
4 Tottenham Hotspur 28 13 6 9 56 45 32
5 West Ham United 27 13 4 10 56 41 30
6 Nottingham Forest 28 11 8 9 54 54 30
7 Arsenal 28 13 4 11 50 55 30
8 Blackburn Rovers 26 12 5 9 57 43 29
9 Everton 26 9 10 7 47 42 28
10 Liverpool 26 10 8 8 44 41 28
We were still only 7th, but we had finished 7th and 8th in the last three seasons, so now, maybe, with a good run, we could rise up and perhaps get above Tottenham, who were only two points ahead.
Between January 30 and the end of the season Arsenal won just four games in the league, and were knocked out of the cup by Peterborough Utd.   The season ended with consecutive defeats to Everton and Man U and we ended up 13th, 20 points behind the winners, in an era of two points for a win.
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What became clear was that Wright was making no progress – in fact despite having some decent players in the team, Arsenal were still in decline.   That Wright stayed was a bit of a surprise to some supporters, but the addition of McLintock and Neill to the squad for the start of the next season gave a little hope.   But by September 4,  1965 we had played four, drawn two and lost one.
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Worse was to come with a 22 match sequence with only two wins in the second half of the season, incorporating the infamous 0-3 defeat to Leeds in front of 4,554 spectators on May 5.   But we knew, before that, that Wright’s days were over.

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