The Kings? But of where?
This time I have decided to look at the decade, the 70’s, and try to sum up what it was like going from a kid to a man. As you know from my first blog, Swindon beating Arsenal in 1969 was the catalyst for me choosing Arsenal. They kept trying to win but somehow couldn’t. I was selecting gallant losers then, was I? Probably, and certainly I had no idea of what was to come as I hungrily devoured knowledge of this red and white team, but winning and greatness was well in the past.
And so, in 1970, as we finished 12th in the league, out in the 3rd round of both cups and single wins over West Ham and Palace, beaten both times by Spurs and Chelsea, we were a long way from the best team in London, let alone the league. But we won that year! The Inter cities Fairs Cup (now the Europa League) was captured by the Arsenal. It lifted my 12 year old heart, particularly as we came from well behind to win and beat Anderlecht, then a top team, 4-3 over 2 legs.
Nothing whatsoever there to prepare me for the astonishing double that was to come in 1971. The league won at White Hart Lane and beating Bill Shankly’s Liverpool in the FA cup final. Matt Busby’s Manchester United couldn’t do it, nor Don Revie’s Leeds, nor Bill Shankly’s or Bob Paisley’s Liverpool, all the great teams that had been around since I first got into football or emerged in the 70’s. Somehow a little above average Arsenal battled their way to the impossible and I became ten feet tall. Kings of London? We were the Kings of England.
Or were we jesters?
1972 brought me back down to earth, 5th in the league, 4th round of the League Cup, beaten by a wonderful Ajax in the 3rd round in Europe and at least got to the final of the FA cup but beaten by the aforementioned Don Revie’s Leeds. We were still Kings of London as we finished above Spurs, a win and a loss, Chelsea, 2 wins, West Ham, win and a draw, and Palace, win and a draw. We also beat Orient in the FA cup. Enough good performances to make me hopeful and Irish players were starting to come through.
1973 was the most topsy turvy of the decade for me. We finished 2nd in the league to Bill Shankly’s Liverpool, starting on their road to becoming a winning machine. We finished way above any London teams, West Ham, Spurs and Chelsea well down from us and Palace relegated. But Spurs got the Uefa Cup place because the English FA alone kept to the one city, one team rule and they had won the League Cup. We did beat Chelsea in the 6th round of the FA Cup to cement our place as kings of London. But we were hammered 6-1 away to Leeds and 5-0 away to Derby as bad points of the season. Such defeats were hard for me, watching on Match of the Day or the Big Match with Arsenal sent home crying and me wondering will we ever be Arsenal again? The Irish coming through was making me hopeful that next year we could do it.
A Royally Bad Time
1974. No we couldn’t. The bad years started with 18 year old Liam Brady getting playing time, joining Rice and Nelson but we were 10th, doomed by a bad start. But, you know, it is a pattern with Arsenal, just when we think we are ready to dominate, we go backwards, even the invincibles never won the league again. We did little in the cups, beaten by Tranmere (League Cup) in our 1st round and Aston Villa in the 4th round of the FA cup. And London? No, promoted QPR finished above us in the league, the Spuds did the double over us, no kings of London for us.
1975 was worse, 16th! And the quarter finals of the Fa cup was our best effort, beaten by West Ham. Kings of London? Don’t make me laugh. A very poor London that year and we couldn’t even top them. Luton (sort of London) came up and went down again and we only took a point off them. QPR were 11th and West Ham 13th, the Spuds in 19th and Chelsea relegated. But a very young Stapleton and O’Leary appeared on the scene and Brady had nailed down his place, the only bright spark that year. Surely we couldn’t do any worse?
1976. Oh, yes we could. How about 17th? Out in our first round in both cups. 1 point from Spurs, and they finished 9th, way above us. QPR finished 2nd, totally out of our sight, and only West Ham behind us. We did beat them 6-1 in our second last game and we beat Coventry 5-0 earlier in the season but well away from being kings of London. We now had 7 Irish (with Terry Mancini declaring late for Ireland) challenging for places but were we going down?
A New King Arrived
1977. No we weren’t. Bertie Mee was out and Irishman Terry Neill brought in. We jumped to 8th, the top London team, QPR fell apart to 14th from 2nd, West Ham took our position of 17th and the Spuds? Down at the bottom and relegated. We did the double over them and QPR did the double over us and knocked us out of the League Cup but I will still claim kings of London for that year, wouldn’t you? 1976-77 was the year that all 3 Irish newcomers became regulars so we had 5 starters as Terry Mancini had moved on.
1978. But then Neill pulled a masterstroke and got Pat Jennings on a free from the poor old stupid Spurs to become our best keeper in my time. 6 Irish, now we could win things surely? Definitely closer. 5th in the league, semi’s in the League Cup, beaten by the mighty Liverpool, and in the FA Cup final against Ipswich 1-0. But definitely kings of London. West Ham, win and draw, QPR won and lost, Chelsea win and draw and beat Orient in the Cup. Chelsea were the highest of those at 16th, and West Ham got relegated. Surely now we were ready to be Arsenal?
1979. Almost. A bit weaker in the league at 7th but we won the FA Cup creating the memorable Liam Brady final and beating Man Utd 3-2 at the last gasp. Although we had a low point getting knocked out by Rotherham in the League cup in our first round. As for London, we were easily the kings. We beat QPR 5-1 and 2-1, Chelsea 5-2 and 1-1, and the Spuds? With superstars Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa? 5-0 and 1-0. Kings of London? We were the steamrollers of London, helping to send Chelsea and QPR down to the second.
Could we be Emperors in the 80’s?
So, we finished the 70’s with 1 League title, 2 FA Cups, and 1 Uefa cup including a magnificent double. What else did we get? Liam Brady was 3 times in a row club player of the year and in 1979 was PFA player of the Year, the first foreign player to do so. If it wasn’t for Arsenal, London would have had a not so good 70’s, but the Spuds did win the League cup in 1971 and 1973, plus the Uefa Cup in 1972. Chelsea won the FA Cup in 1970 and the Cup Winners Cup in 1971. West Ham won the FA Cup in 1975. But we were clearly the kings of London for that decade, with our trophies, despite the almost disastrous years from 1974 to 1976 being the low point. We are Arsenal, we don’t get relegated but all other London teams did, Spurs, Chelsea, West Ham, Palace, QPR and also if we include Luton. The 80’s would be Arsenal, I could feel it in my bones.
My first decade had been amazing, up and down, a scary rollercoaster, but we started with a win and we ended with a win and now I was ready to win all. We were Arsenal.