Terry Neill at just 34 took over as manager in 1976, our youngest ever. And I can’t see that record ever changing as Arsenal is such a big business now. He played 275 times for us in the 60’s and scored 10 goals as a centrehalf. He was our youngest ever captain at 20 so he had a good Arsenal pedigree. He was a Northern Ireland international and captain playing 59 times. He was one of the youngest ever managers in the game when he took over as player manager at Hull in 1970 at only 28.
He was a good player, a born leader and I always liked him. I was very happy when he took over. There was something reassuring about his face. Bertie Mee had ran his race, I couldn’t see any prospect of him turning things around, and nor could the board. Although maybe he really did resign.
Turned to black and white
Terry Neill, then, was Arsenal. He knew what it was like to wear the red and white. But he turned to 2 players more used to black and white for his first important signings, Pat Jennings of Spurs, and Malcolm MacDonald (SuperMac)of Newcastle. Jennings took over from Jimmy Rimmer and MacDonald from John Radford. MacDonald was a great player to have, a goalscorer, flamboyant, and everyone knew who he was. He only managed 14 appearances for England but still he was regarded as one of the best in the game. Jennings was famous for the size of his hands and his perfection of using his whole body to save shots. Peter Schmeichel, years later, was the next great such keeper.
His hands were big
The unmatched Irish trio
Liam Brady was an Irish international who would go on to become a world great, and to this day Gooners talk about him with awe. He had a skillset unmatched. Watch the youtubes, you young Gooners, to see the magic. He couldn’t tackle or defend, but his left foot mesmerized defenders, and his ability to see the game as a great player, meant having Brady in the side always gave you a chance, even when the game is slipping away. Such as the time against Manchester United in the 1979 FA cup final when they came back from 2-0 down to draw level to 2-2. Everything was going wrong. United were all over us, and we looked shellshocked. If United didn’t score another they would surely annihilate us in extra time. We were gone. Except Brady said no, we are Arsenal, we will win. Despite there only being one minute to go, he got the ball, went on a mazy run, right up to the edge of the box, slipped the ball to Graham Rix, who lashed it across to Alan Sunderland who popped in a simple goal to destroy the Mancs and send them home crying to Salford. It was the Liam Brady final when he proved we were Arsenal. Again, young Gooners, watch the youtube, you will get a feel of his majesty on the ball.
Frank Stapleton was another Irish youngster who came through the ranks. He was a top class forward, always causing trouble to defenders as he was good in the air and with his feet. He was strong and classy. For 3 years he was our top scorer and himself and SuperMac terrorized defences everywhere. He scored 108 goals in 300 matches. Very good going for a team who were not at the top of the league. He was a certain starter for the Republic of Ireland and that was the big difference between this team and the teams I had been used to up to now. It was packed with first choice internationals at a time when the international game was the most important. Arsenal were gathering fans like crazy in Ireland and I was definitely not alone as I had been as a kid.
Why no statue of David O'Leary outside the Emirates?
David O’Leary was another and I do not understand why there is no statue to him outside the Emirates. 772 first team appearances! 20 years a player! Now a club ambassador and there is strong talk of him joining the board as a football expert like Bobby Charlton at Man U. He was a real player, he forged partnerships with so many centrebacks it is hard to credit. He was cultured, played beautiful football for a defender and claimed many a scalp of top players, most notably the sublime Mario Kempes was shackled in the Cupwinners cup final of 1980 and couldn’t get near scoring, ending 0-0. It went to penalties and we were beaten 5-4. I hate to say who missed our first penalty to give the advantage to Valencia but it was Liam Brady, our penalty taker. But then Kempes, their penalty taker, missed as well so the two greats let their team down. But O’Leary certainly didn’t and as far as I know he never took a penalty for Arsenal. I think the only time he ever did was for Ireland, against Romania in the 1990 World Cup in Italy. It went to a shootout to take us to the quarterfinals, and when Packie Bonner saved from Daniel Timofte, O’Leary stepped up to fire it home and started the most crazy celebrations in Ireland ever. Everyone from that era always remembers that day. O’Leary of Arsenal showed Ireland they were Arsenal. We could win.
But there is plenty more to talk about from the late 70’s. We have 3 FA cups in a row for next time.