How Arsenal won the FA Cup in 1979.

Arsenal in the FA Cup 1979.

Tony Attwood

In this piece we look back through the FA Cup games of 1979, and also note in passing what happened in the league in between these games, starting with the third round, of course…

  • 6 January: Sheffield Wednesday (A)
  • FA Cup 3rd round 1-1
  • Attendance: 33,635
  • Jennings, Rice, Walford, Price, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Gatting, Rix
  • Scorer: Sunderland.

Upon arrival at the ground Terry Neill described the Wednesday pitch as the worst he’d ever seen and said he was concerned for the safety of the players.  He might have added that matters were made worse by the abject refusal of the referee to call for action to be taken against the Wednesday fans who pelted Arsenal players with snowballs throughout the game.

Whether a snow ball is dangerous or not is a matter for debate, but it is certainly off putting to have them shower down when trying to wriggle past a defender.  Jack Charlton said that if Neill thought this was bad he should have seen it earlier in the season.  Sunderland scored for Arsenal, Leman lobbed Jennings for their equaliser.

  • 9 January: Sheffield Wednesday (H)
  • FA Cup 3rd round  1st replay 1-1
  • Attendance: 37,987
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Price, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Gatting, Rix
  • Scorer: Brady.

Brady was never on song in this replay, but on the 88th minute he scored after Wednesday keeper Turner made his one mistake of the night in failing to cut out a cross    Wednesday scored just on half time after latching onto a long punt upfield by Mullen.

Wednesday had no interest in stylish play, and used five in midfield ahead of four in defence.  Arsenal got frustrated, missed a dozen chances, but should have won it in extra time when Price hit the post.  Afterwards Charlton refused to toss for home advantage taking the second replay to a neutral ground.

  • 13 January: Nottingham Forest (H) 2-1
  • Attendance: 52,158
  • 15 January: Sheffield Wednesday (Leicester)
  • FA Cup FA Cup 3rd round  2nd replay 2-2
  • Attendance: 25,011
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Price, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Gatting, Rix
  • Scorers: Brady, Sunderland.

Brian Hornsby who scored a penalty was naturally interviewed by the press about his old and new clubs, operating two divisions apart.  He declared there was nothing between them, but philosophising that as Arsenal have tried three different formations in trying to win the tie, they would now be far more worried than Wednesday who always play the same way.

Arsenal were in front twice, first from Brady from distances and then again on 68 minutes when Brady passed to Sunderland who scored .

  • 17 January: Sheffield Wednesday (Leicester)
  • FA Cup FA Cup 3rd round  3rd  replay 3-3
  • Attendance: 17,088
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Price, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Gatting, Rix
  • Scorers: Stapleton, Young.

Wednesday twice came back from behind, as everyone began to tire of the game.  Even two Stapleton goals failed to take Arsenal through and the frustration showed as Sundlernad,

O’Leary, Gatting and Nelson were booked.  Rushbury scored from a Porterfield cross on 59 minutes.  Five minutes on Arsenal got a penalty, but Brady’s kick was saved.  One minute later Stapleton headed in from Nelson’s cross.  Young headed in a Brady corner on 76.

Sunderland hit the upright, Brady shot inches wide but on 86 Lowey scored.  Stapleton then scored in the 93rd minute but Rix fouled Honsrby for a penalty and it was equal again.

  • 22 January: Sheffield Wednesday (Leicester)
  • FA Cup FA Cup 3rd round  4th replay2-0
  • Attendance: 30,275
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson (Walford), Price, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Gatting, Rix.
  • Scorers: Stapleton, Gatting.

Finally the endless games at Filbert Street were done.  After nine hours and 16 goals Arsenal came through

Two first half goals saw Arsenal win, and with neither side ever having a two goal lead in the tie before, that looked to be it.  For the Gatting goal, Young, Price and Sunderland all took part in a complex move – for the rest it was Brady playing further forward than normal that made the difference.

Indeed it was Brady and Sunderland who combined before Sunderland crossed for Stapleton’s flying header which ended it all. At the end Charlton was left saying “we gave them too much room”.  And those snowballs in the first match hadn’t helped Arsenal either.

  • 27 January: Notts County (H)
  • Fourth round FA Cup 2-0
  • Attendance: 39,195
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix
  • Scorers: Talbot, Young.

After five games with Wednesday, one game with Notts County – and it was a poor game against the second division side

The pitch was slippery in some places, hard in others and treacherous down the middle, meaning that the skills of Brady et al were of little use except when he stayed out wide, which he increasingly did.    County did the now standard nine behind the ball routine, and conjured up one shot in the entire game which Jennings nonchalantly saved with one hand.

Young scored with a pile driver of a shot on 72 minutes, and then Brady and Talbot combined for the second.  Brady ran down the left  and passed to Talbot who side footed into the net.

  • 3 February: Manchester United (A) 2-0
  • Attendance: 45,460
  • 10 February: Middlesbrough (H) 0-0
  • Attendance: 28,371
  • 13 February: Queen’s Park Rangers (A) 2-1
  • Attendance: 21,125
  • 24 February: Wolverhampton Wanderers (H) 0-1
  • Attendance: 32,215
  • 26 February: Nottingham Forest (A)
  •  FA Cup fifth round 1-0
  • Attendance: 35,906
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Walford, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix
  • Scorer: Stapleton.

Sometime you have to wonder how newspaper headline writers can have the nerve to accept their pay cheque.

Lucky Arsenal! they screamed as if no one had ever said it before. Forest had not been beaten in Nottingham since April 1977, but they were in this match.  Yes three times Forest hit the woodwork – but how many times have Arsenal hit the post without ever once being called “Unlucky”?

Forest dominate the game – true – but quite simply they didn’t take those chances.  For the goal, Anderson fouled Sunderland.  Brady took the free kick Stapleton  headed it past Shilton.  Arsenal defended coolly and calmly and O’Leary was outstanding.  McGovern, Gemmill, O’Neill tried everything but Arsenal held.

Lucky Arsenal?  Not a bit of it.

  • 3 March: Southampton (A) 0-2
  • Attendance: 25,052
  • 10 March: Bristol City (H) 2-0
  • Attendance: 24,288
  • 17 March: Ipswich Town (A) 0-2
  • Attendance: 26,407
  • 19 March: Southampton (A) 6th round FA Cup 1-1
  • Attendance: 24,536
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price (Walford), Rix.
  • Scorer: Price.

There was significant sympathy for Southampton having to play three games in five days, yet no journalist seemed able to recall Arsenal’s marathon effort against Sheffield Wednesday.

Yet again “Lucky Arsenal” was the journalist response, and Terry Neill was so fed up with it all he quite reasonably refused to speak to any journalists at all for the next five days.

Hayes of Southampton scored on 63 minutes.  Six minutes later Rix took a corner.  It hit the cross bar and bounced out, and for once there was an Arsenal man there in the shape of Price to head home.

  • 21 March: Southampton (H)
  • FA Cup 6th round 2-0
  • Attendance: 44,820
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady (Walford), Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
  • Scorer: Sunderland 2.

At least Arsenal were spared another mammoth set of replies as Sunderland scored two, to take Arsenal into the semi-finals.

Southampton fielded Charlie George, playing his first game in five months, perhaps remembering how Charlie played against Arsenal in his Derby days.  It took everyone by surprise, but Sunderland’s first on 34 minutes as he received a pass from Rix, ended any doubt or debate.

It left Arsenal noting that they had lost only one cup tie at home in 15 years.  The bad news was that 30 minutes from the end Brady was taken off injured.  Not the news Arsenal wanted.

  • 24 March: Manchester City (H) 1-1
  • Attendance: 35,014
  • 26 March: Bolton Wanderers (A) 2-4
  • Attendance: 20,704
  • 31 March: Wolverhampton Wanderers  (at Villa Park),
  • FA Cup semi final 2-0
  • Attendance: 46,244
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Gatting, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix
  • Scorers: Sunderland, Stapleton.

Stapleton talked to the press before the game about Arsenal’s determination to return to Wembley, and that successfully took the talk about from the continuing absence of Brady.

As it was the game turned out to be quite ordinary as O’Leary and Young were calm and controlled and Wolverhampton took 83 minutes to have their first shot.   Stapleton’s goal came on 15 minutes after Price had played the ball through.  Sunderland completed the affair by scoring against his old club 7 minutes from the end.

  • 3 April: Coventry City (H) 1-1
  • Attendance: 30,091
  • 7 April: Liverpool (A) 0-3
  • Attendance: 47,297
  • 10 April: Tottenham Hotspur (H) 1-0
  • Attendance: 53,896
  • 14 April: West Bromwich Albion (A) 1-1
  • Attendance: 28,353
  • 16 April: Chelsea (H) 5-2
  • Attendance: 37,232
  • 21 April: Derby County (A) 0-2
  • Attendance: 18,674
  • 25 April: Aston Villa (A) 1-5
  • Attendance: 26,168
  • 28 April: Norwich City (H) 1-1
  • Attendance: 28,885
  • 5 May: Birmingham City (A) 0-0
  • Attendance: 14,015

That was nine Arsenal games in 34 days – under one every four days, as a run up to a cup final that was supposed to be the highlight of the season.  That it was the highlight was due to Arsenal, not to the maniacs who controlled the schedule of the League.

  • 12 May: Manchester United (Wembley)
  • FA Cup final 3-2
  • Attendance: 100,000
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price (Walford), Rix.
  • Scorers: Talbot, Stapleton, Sunderland.

In the season there had been little to choose between Man U and Arsenal in terms of league results.

True, for a while Arsenal had flirted with the notion of winning the league, but the marathon battle with Sheffield Wednesday had put all the focus on the cup, and league results had been at best average in the second half of the season.  If anything Man U looked the favourites.

Reports at the time and since have suggested that this was and remains one of the greatest cup finals.  For some 85 minutes Arsenal had it under control, with goals from Talbot and Stapleton, making the game seem straightforward and not particularly memorable by any other than Arsenal supporters.

But on 86 minutes McQueen scored after a set piece, and before Arsenal could settle McIlroy by passed the Arsenal defence to equalize.

Arsenal hearts sank – the psychological effect of losing a two goal lead was surely too much to carry through extra time.  But then Alan Sunderland scored, and was filmed running towards the camera shouting his head off.  The 90 minute game had become “Five-minute Final”.  Arsenal had their first trophy since 1971, and Terry Neil became the fifth Arsenal manager to win the FA Cup.

Like all those before Neill won the trophy only once – in fact it was his only trophy as manager taking Arsenal to the cup final three years running.

But no one was thinking that at the time.  Arsenal had won their first trophy since the astounding double, and were surely back in the big time.

Even after this Arsenal still had two more league games to play in which we beat Wolverhampton away 2-1 and finally lost 0-5 to Middlesbrough.  Arsenal finished 4th in division one – our highest position since 1973.

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6 Replies to “How Arsenal won the FA Cup in 1979.”

  1. The post-Cup Final Arsenal information incorrectly relates to the final two league games from 1979/80, rather than the final match of the 1978/79 season, which was a trip to Stamford Bridge for a draw with an already relegated Chelsea. The returning Supermac headed an equaliser in his final ever first-team match.

  2. Arsenal’s amazing 1971 league & cup double, the Gunners produced a book called ARSENAL! ARSENAL!, and i am in it disappointed though cos the book was stolen, if anyone has a copy that i can purchase i would be over the moon

  3. I was a ball boy at this game and you are coming at it with 2016 attitudes. Can you imagine the likes of Theo Walcott being hit by a snowball? If it fell within 30 foot if him he would go down like a…er snowball.
    It was fun and Pat Jennings was clobbered and he took it like a man. It was different times. It was better. It was fun.

  4. Arsenal did NOT have two more league games to play in which we beat Wolverhampton away 2-1 and finally lost 0-5 to Middlesbrough. This happened the following season 79-80 season. Arsenal finished 7th in division one in 1979 and had one more match against Chelsea away which ended 1;1 – Malcome Mcdonald’s last goal for the gunners ‘

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