A GOOD YEAR, or did we TIRE at the end?
There is one thing that is a bit surprising about the Irish that played for Arsenal in the 70’s. The Republic of Ireland ones were Dubliners and the Northern Ireland ones were from Belfast, except for Pat Jennings, who was from Newry. But then Jennings was a goalkeeper and they are not normal, are they? And I suppose someone has to come from Newry. So 2 cities, both capitals, supplied most of the players and the manager. No wonder Arsenal were growing fans in Ireland, with easily the biggest contingent of Irish of any top team with 7 players, although John Devine and Pat Rice both vied for the rightback spot. Devine had enough skill to sometimes get a midfield slot, though. But were we a top team?
We had finished 8th in 1976-77, up from 17th the year before. However, we finished quite strongly so we had grounds for optimism. Could we do something? Challenge? Against Liverpool, reigning European and league champions? It was hard to imagine. Everton and Man City were strong and there was a joker called Brian Clough who had taken Nottingham Forest up from the second division and said they were going to piss all over the opposition. Leeds and Man U were like us, struggling to get back to strong ground but had good players.
Brian Clough -we will piss all over them - but not us
A top goalkeeper
We had good players. Lots of internationals although only really the Irish were first choice, but Malcom MacDonald and Graham Rix did manage double figures for England and some others got caps. Our defence was good, and with Jennings in goal, nothing easy was going to get through. Although we always had good goalkeepers in my time and to this day, I would rate Jennings the best. Then Seaman, though he had his flaws, then Lehman, again with flaws, after that I find it hard to separate them. John Lukic was good, and Bob Wilson, Szczesny was very good but I don’t think got enough of a chance and neither did Martinez. I am not a fan of Leno but I am open to changing my mind. But as I say, the goalkeepers were good, however, Jennings was a master at everything. The opposition had to work to get past him. I don’t remember ever feeling annoyed at him. Lehman threw away the one big dream I have left, winning the champions league.
Back to 1977-78 and our first match we lost to Ipswich, who were good and were to play a role against us later on. Then we beat Everton who were top class and drew with Wolves. Then we laughed at Brian Clough’s claims about Forest as we beat them 3-0. Piss all over us? We were the Arsenal, back down the second division you go, you jokers. Although I have to say, he was right, they did piss all over the opposition, they won the league by 7 points, putting the juggernauts of Liverpool in their place. But certainly, at that early point, after us beating them, it did look like a joke. Clough was one of the greatest of all time, he had his teams very well organized and always got the best out of them. They had arrived with a bang.
Moving on up and looking to drink from the Cups
But we were doing well, we had lots of good results, and were up near the top all season. 3 defeats out of six at the end did for us and we finished fifth, 12 points behind Forest but only five behind Liverpool in second. Still 2 points for a win in those days so we could have been second with 3 wins. We were getting somewhere. But were we Arsenal? There was no consolation of beating the Spuds as they were down in the second division. Let’s take a look at the cups.
We did well in the League Cup. Man U dispatched 3-2 then Southampton 2-0 then Hull 5-1. We beat Man City 1-0 after a replay to set up a semi-final against Liverpool, the European and league champions. Over 2 legs they beat us 2-1. I should say that in those days, they didn’t play reserves, the full team was selected for every match and I don’t remember managers or players crying much about it. Injury was the only reason to change a team. It also meant if you got injured you may not get back in. We gave Liverpool a tough time. We were near the very top of the league at the time. The excitement was brewing. I started to feel we were Arsenal.
The FA Cup is our trophy
So the FA Cup, our trophy, Wenger has won more than most clubs. We got our most constant foes, Sheffield Utd away in the 3rd round. We beat them easily, 5-0. It was memorable for David O’Leary scoring, which he never really did, but most of all, SuperMac and Stapleton ran riot and got the rest. O’Leary got penalized for a handball but Jennings saved to complete a miserable match for the Blades. Watch the Youtube, Gooners, to see some great goals, particularly O’Leary’s.
We then beat Wolves 2-1, and then Walsall 4-1, then Wrexham, who were flying in the 3rd division. We beat them 3-2 but we were more comfortable than that scoreline suggests as we were 3-1 till late on. So we dispatched 3 W’s but faced an O in the semi’s Orient, before they added Leyton to their name. We toyed with them and beat them 3-0 to set up a final with Ipswich who had beaten us 1-0 on the first day. But they had gone backwards since then, finished 18th out of 22 and Bobby Robson had his one bad season with them, or did he?
Robson’s mindgames worked
Bobby Robson was our nemesis in 1978
He played mindgames with us, and said most of his players were injured, but at Wembley they all popped out. I think it led to a disORIENTation because we played poorly, Ipswich flew out of the traps and were all over us, Mariner hit the crossbar, Wark hit the post twice, Jennings made great saves and we looked like the team near the bottom. Ipswich could easily have hit a record score but we somehow kept them out till near the end when Roger Osborne scored. 1-0 like the first day. That day, in all fairness, Ipswich were Arsenal and we had a very bad day at the office, none of our stars shone except Jennings. We looked shellshocked.
The good things? We bought Brian Talbot from them and he became an Arsenal stalwart for many seasons, we were fifth in the league and qualified for Europe after a few years away, and most of the time, we looked like we could maybe make the jump to contenders. Belief, the likes of which the joker Brian Clough had instilled in Forest, could propel us next season. Could Terry Neill and Don Howe inspire that kind of belief? I had my dreams.
A good buy from Ipswich, Brian Talbot