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Arsenal FC 1973-1976 Troubled times

February 27, 2012

Hackney born, Islington bred and a young lad in the early 60’s. Being a very young lad I was not fully aware of the passion and commitment that would be coming my way when you take to the terraces at football. The sort of passion and commitment a supporter gets as he gets older following his team.

At this early age just watching Arsenal games was exciting for me; I was trying to make sense of it all.

Why did all those geezers on the Clock End where Dad stood, say all those strange words when we lost? Yet when we won or scored they went potty like it was Christmas. I remember there was this bloke who walked round the Clock End selling peanuts. Peanuts!!! Peanuts!!! He’d shout as he made he was through the crowd. On the way out of the ground you hear the crunch from the thousands of bags his must have sold. There was the little Arsenal shop at the Clock End in Avenell Road, with the green door, run by Jack Kelsey. Friendly family atmosphere, where it sold a faction of today’s huge selection of consumer Arsenal goods that is in the Armoury super store.

Cup Finals, where having collected the tokens off the back of the programmes and neatly stuck them in place on the form supplied in the programme, you queued up early right round the ground for hours to get your ticket. Not like today’s online internet bullshine. You know what, it was fun. The look and feel of Highbury Stadium became a second home, you could not wait to go back.

Highbury in 60’s looks great doesn’t it?

By the years 1968/69 (aged 10) I saw Arsenal reach and lose two League Cup Finals at Wembley to Leeds United 0-1 and Swindon Town (the Don Rogers final) 1-3 respectively. I would say those two League Cup Final defeats made me more of a hardened Gooner. You see the more my mates (at school and where I lived) who supported Spurs and other clubs took the hit & miss, the more I backed Arsenal and the more important Arsenal became. I had found out what football passion, commitment and just as important ritual played in the mind of a football fan. . I had grasped the mantra – Once a Gooner, always a Gooner. Though back in them days we were not called Gooners.

Those Cup Final defeats were quickly forgotten as the next season Arsenal triumphed in the 1970 Fairs Cup Final, beating Anderlecht 4-3 over two legs.

Arsenal FC Fair Cup Winners 1970

This looked to be the step up the club needed as the next season 1970-71 Bertie Mee took Arsenal to the Double. We had emulated that mob down the road to become only the 2nd team that century to complete that feat. The club then finished 5th and 2nd in the following two seasons and things were still pretty upbeat, Arsenal even reached the FA Cup again in 1972 losing to Leeds United (again) 0-1. In 1972/73 Arsenal reached the FA Cup Semi-Final losing 1-2 to Sunderland and finished 2nd in the table.

Personal info – In August 1972 I started work as a Telegram boy (remember Telegrams?) for the Post Office in Mornington Crescent aged 15 (yes 15) Now working and earning my own Harold Melvin’s, I could pay my own way. Arsenal was top of my spending list and could go where I wanted.

These were days when if you did not go over to see the Arsenal live, you only got to see the highlight’s on MOTD or the Big Match, maybe BBC Mid-week Sports Special, and then only if you were lucky Arsenal were one of the six games chosen. If Arsenal were not on TV then you NEVER saw the goals. The only LIVE TV was Cup Finals (domestic or European)  & Major international tournaments. I was lucky living 5 mins from Highbury and in those days you paid at the turnstiles, even a cheeky two in the turnstile for one if the bloke was alright.

The Arsenal squad that won the double in 1971 was: Wilson, Rice, McNab, Kelly, McLintock, Roberts, Armstrong, Storey, Radford, George, Graham, Marinello, Kennedy, Nelson, Simpson, Sammels

During the final few years of Bertie Mee’s reign as Arsenal manager, the team slipped badly and the three seasons 1973-1976 were to be my first time seeing Arsenal struggle. Bertie Mee broke up the double side and changed the team too early.

  • 1973-74 Arsenal finished 10th P42 W14 D14 L14 F49 A58 Pts 42 – Ave home att : 30.212
  • Went out of FA Cup 0-2 in 4th round replay to Aston Villa
  • Went out of League Cup 0-1 in 2nd round at home to Tranmere Rovers
  • Tottenham did the double over us, though we finished above them. Goal ave separated us by 0.961 to 0.900
  • Manchester United got relegated this season.
  • Derby, Ipswich, Leeds, Burnley, Sheffield Utd, Coventry and Leicester were in First Division

Squad : Wilson, Rice, McNab, Price, Blockley, Simpson, Armstrong, Ball, Radford, Kennedy, George, Hornsby, Storey, Kelly, Batson, Brady, Chambers, Powling, Nelson, Rimmer.

  • 1974-75 Arsenal finished 16th P42 W13 D11 L18 F47 A49 Pts 37 – Ave home att : 28.135
  • Went out of FA Cup 0-2 in 6th round at home to West Ham
  • Went out of League Cup 2-1 in 2nd round away to Leicester after replay
  • Derby County won the league
  • Chelsea were relegated
  • Carlisle, Luton, were in First Division
  • Arsenal finished above Spurs who avoided relegation by a point.

Squad : Rimmer, Matthews, Nelson, Storey, Simpson, Kelly, Armstrong, Brady, Radford, George, Kidd, Price, Hornsby, Rice, Powling, Blockley, Ball, McNab, Mancini, Cropley, Ross, Rostron, Barnett.

  • 1975-76 Arsenal finished 17th P42 W13 D10 L19 F47 A53 pts 36 – Ave home att : 26.945
  • Went out of FA Cup 0-1 in 3rd round away to Wolves
  • Went out of League Cup 0-1 in 2nd round at home to Everton after replay.
  • This season we were in very real danger of being relegated we finished 6 pts above Wolves who were 3rd from bottom.
  • Liverpool won the league.
  • QPR finished 2nd
  • Spurs finished 9th and above us.

Squad : Rimmer, Rice, Nelson, Kelly, Mancini, O’Leary, Armstrong, Hornsby, Cropley, Kidd, Brady, Storey, Ball, Radford, Stapleton, Rostron, Stapleton, Simpson, Powling, Matthews, Ross, Barnett

Arsenal had become a mid-to lower table team and I wondered if we would ever reach the top again. Those years we had no European football. Only the league Champions back then entered the European Cup and only coming in top four would get you into the UEFA Cup.

In the 1971–72 the competition was taken over by UEFA and re-launched as the UEFA Cup. By replacing the trophy, renaming the competition, and revising the entry regulations, UEFA effectively ended the Fairs Cup. Among the changes was the abandonment of the “one city one team” rule, which had a particularly bad effect on English entrants for 1969–70, when Liverpool (2nd), Arsenal (4th), Southampton (7th), and Newcastle United (9th) got the places, at the expense of Everton (3rd), Chelsea (5th), Tottenham Hotspurs (6th), and West Ham United (8th). The rule was dropped in 1975, when Everton, having come 4th, would have been excluded thanks to Liverpool’s 2nd-place finish. Their protest that the rule was an anachronism was upheld.

Now I know like me, some of you understand the way football works. I mean from 1968-1993 Man Utd did not win the title. Who would have thought Liverpool would have gone 20 years with winning a title?

Even our neighbours supporters have to be about 100 years old to remember one of their Captains lifting the league title.

QPR and Ipswich came 2nd in the league. Notts Forest won the league and two European Cups, even Aston Villa won the league and the European Cup. Though the European Cup was a different and easier animal to win back them. Four rounds to reach the final, no group stages and 9 matches in total if you won or lost the final.

However, for those younger fans out there who don’t remember, I am just trying to give you an insight that there was an Arsenal FC before Arsene Wenger arrived and at times more often the Arsenal teams were average or rubbish, a lot worse than what is on offer today. Of course relatively speaking football costs a lot more today and maybe fans want more for their money, but here’s the thing, this is football, its sport, not a West End show or a trip to hear the Plácido Domingo at the Albert Hall, where your pretty much sure of what you’re getting for you dosh.

Like many of you first and foremost I want to see Arsenal win and hopefully at the end of the season celebrating a trophy or two. When things are not going to plan, I’m not over the moon about it, but I have all those years of seeing average and rubbish football to look back on, put it all along side the past and gain some perspective.

I can tell you know with no qualms whatsoever, the years 1986-1993 under George Graham were good years, but nothing compared to what they were from 1996-2006 under Arsene Wenger. I saw Arsenal rise to a different level under Wenger. The sort of level I used to dream about when I was a young boy. I remember talk in the 70’s about Arsenal and Spurs ground sharing at Alexandra Palace in a 60k stadium; it was just a pipe dream. Then Arsene Wenger came along, got a team playing football, exciting football that many say was the best football ever played in this country, suddenly Arsenal fans were queuing up to see them. The club suddenly having the confidence that this manager could keep the club going in the right direction and were bold enough to sanction the build of Ashburton Grove.

We had a season ticket waiting list. Let me tell you I got my season ticket in 1988 in Upper East with a mate. I just turned up at the Marble Hall ticket office and brought it, about £200. We did NOT have a season ticket waiting list.

In the past our highest average gate was in the 1950’s around 55k and this was just after the war ended. Crowds flocked to football all over, not just to Arsenal. We got big gates yes, I attended many at Highbury where there were 60k plus. One such match was said to be over 70k. Tuesday afternoon, late February 1972, Derby County 5th Round FA Cup replay. Picture the scene. The bell went for end of lunch in Acland Burghley School where I went and did fuck all… Hundreds of kids went over the top. We all started running down Tufnell Park Road, and on the way met up with mobs of boys doing the same form Holloway School. When we got in ground it was packed and if memory serves me right a stanchion collapsed under the pressure. Below are some of the average attendances for our successful seasons.

  • 1971 Double season : 43.766
  • 1979 FA Cup win V Man Utd : 36.371
  • 1989 League tile win : 35.595
  • 1991 League title win : 36.864

Here you get a picture. Arsene’s success with Arsenal in both performance and trophies had brought a huge following. Arsenal moved from Highbury to this massive stadium holding 60k and fill it week in week out. Then about two seasons ago, the club still selling out had the situation where supporters were buying tickets and yet not turning up for matches. Attendance was given out as full house but it could clearly be seen this was not the case. With the downturn in our form and lack of trophies, the fans saw this as a problem. Support was dropping at Arsenal.

But who was this support that Arsenal was losing? The average gates posted above showed that we NEVER had this level of support before, so who was it not turning up?

  • Mr/Mrs average football fan?
  • The working class supporter?
  • The glory hunter football fan, who follows success?
  • The prawn sandwich fan?
  • The executive fan or the business brought seats?? Maybe it was a combination.

But what is clear to me is that even if Arsenal attendances were dropping to 50K this was still a level of support the club had not had for 60 years and still a lot higher than anytime before in modern Arsenal history and all this based around the highest tickets prices in world football.

I went to many of the matches during this period with mates. We just enjoyed it and of course we were upset when we lost, but back then we only had ourselves to moan with down the Community Centre and later the pub. Better times were round the corner and this period would only mean when they arrived we would enjoy them all the more.

You see when people have an agenda; everything is fair game to get their point across.

Me I’m to long in the tooth for all this malarkey and I support Arsenal, win, lose or draw. Even if they got relegated. I’ve done it for 50 years and seen the many lows and the fewer highs, but it’s been a great journey and one I hope to continue for many years to come and enjoy it with my Son.

One thing to remember, “It’s only a bloody game” And Arsenal beat Spurs 5-2.

Coming soon – Next chapter will be Troubled times 1981-1986

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