The crazy year
1978-79 was the next great year for me after the double. There were so many crazy incidents (both good and bad) that it is going to take me at least two columns to get through this year. I mentioned Arteta vs Neill a couple of columns back but Arteta, of course, straightaway notched up 2 trophies, the FA Cup and the Charity Shield. Neill, after 2 seasons had never bothered the trophy cabinet. But last season’s fifth had got us into Europe, the Uefa cup, and I suppose Arsene Wenger might have seen that as a trophy for Neill. The big news was SuperMac was retired through injury early on in the season at only 29. He had never won a major trophy and this was sad considering what was to come. Were we going to be Arsenal this year? 4 trophies to aim at, could we get one? And what was the significance of the number 5? For the answer to that last question you will have to wait until next week.
SuperMac sadly loses his career at 29
This was the most optimistic I had been for years, Forest had proved Liverpool could be turned over, we had played well most of the time, we had top players including the sublime Brady but the loss of the Stapleton/SuperMac partnership was surely a big blow. Everyone loved MacDonald, he lit up a pitch, he had everything a striker needs, movement, feet, head and flair. Even Newcastle, not known for being happy when their stars leave, have a special place in their hearts for him.
The Dark Arts
We could be seen midweek playing exotic names like Lokomotiv Leipzig and sending them home crying after a good thrashing. We then had Hajduk Split from Yugoslavia (despite the name, there was no split in those days) where we scraped through by away goals. We stayed in east Europe for the next against Red Star Belgrade, also Yugoslavia but they decided to end my dream 2-1 over 2 legs. Of course, we only saw highlights in those days, and we would avoid results to enjoy the matches that would come after the news. The pub was my favourite haunt to watch these games, locals like Buglers or Allens would get an atmosphere going. Man U and Liverpool were still the big 2 for the Irish but Arsenal had moved up the rankings as we sometimes had 7 of us on the pitch and six was quite normal.
I should say Brady got kicked unmercifully in those games, the belief in those times being that Europeans (the Irish and British did not regard themselves as such) were experts at the dark arts against our purity. It was never quite true but diving, for instance, was unknown in English football. Man to man marking was another trait of the Europeans, they would put a man to kick a player all game whenever he moved. As a lot of it was off the ball, the ref wouldn’t notice. Winning at all costs hadn’t come into the game yet but as we will see later, there was still a lot of negativity in English football.
Mac out and Brady too?
Could we lose Liam Brady?
The word was also that Brady could be leaving. The big international clubs were sniffing around and we were all worried. If our best player goes, surely all hope is lost? We weren’t winning things, and he was being recognized as a world superstar. It is strange but I don’t remember too much negativity about this talk, we knew we had to be winning things to keep such a player. And we had forgotten how to win. We had had scarcely any internationals when we won the double, let alone world superstars. We signed Alan Ball who was top class, but still below Brady the magician. Go and look at the youtubes, people, to see what I am talking about. He was only 22. He could be weaving his magic for us for so many years yet.
The unexpected end to a career
The match programme at Rotherham
And that is why the 3-1 defeat to Rotherham in our first round of the League cup worried us so much. SuperMac got a knee injury but stayed on the pitch. Despite several attempts at a comeback, he never really played again. A bit like Santi Cazorla many years later, we lost a player we loved without knowing it at the time. Rotherham were in the 3rd division but played like dervishes, throwing themselves at everything, getting all 3 goals with dangerous (to themselves) diving headers. Jennings, as always, played a blinder. It was like we fell asleep after Stapleton scored a tap in from great work by MacDonald. We thought it was too easy. Does this sound familiar, modern day fans? Rotherham ran, chased, and put their bodies into everything, while the aristocrats from the top division looked on shocked as we were bundled out of a trophy we might have thought we could win. We badly wanted to be Arsenal, lift trophies. But we lost SuperMac and we could lose Brady? Craziness.
And with more craziness to come, great wins in the league and snowballs, replays, more replays, foreign players appearing, and Manchester United breaking our heart in the cup, or did they? Could the craziness return us to being Arsenal, a team who win? Plus the Dark arts in England and a bad end to the league 2 years in a row all to come next week.