The Creation of a Gooner part 3
Terry Neill, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson.
Ah, 1969-70, a sad season, or was it?
It was certainly a reality check for me at a time when young kids in Ireland followed the winners with Irish ties, Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton and Leeds had strong teams with equally strong managers and all with Irish connections and top players. Manchester City were another powerful team with one of their best trophy hauls until the modern era. But they didn’t really have Irish players. Arsenal didn’t have really have Irish players either but that changed this season. Terry Neil was there and Sammy Nelson and Pat Rice appeared on the scene, all to become inextricably entwined with Arsenal for a long time. Pat Rice only retired recently with the collapse of the Wenger era.
I will explain one little thing now, in as short a way as I can. The above trio were Northern Irish but in general, at the time, they were our second team. They comprised players from both sides of the political divide and players from the nationalist side could become heroes for the unionist side and vice versa. We, in the south, loved Georgie Best, Derek Dougan and many others whose origins were unionist.
The nationalist side wanted Ireland to be united as one country, the unionist wanted to remain part of the UK. This led to a long terrorist war starting in the late 1960’s and continuing until well into the 1990’s. Many sports, boxing, rugby and others were all Ireland, but soccer had two sides. Still most people in the South supported the Northern Ireland side, cheered them on and a lot of people on both sides wanted them to come together. Both sides had players playing for top teams so if they were together, qualifying for major tournaments would be more likely. So, the arrival of the trio generated good interest in the Republic of Ireland and was the start of Arsenal’s strong Irish connection over the coming years. I was beginning to feel not so alone.
But back to Arsenal and the year of the slide.
Peter Marinello came that year, heralded as the new George Best. Didn’t quite work out for him. But Charlie George and Ray Kennedy emerged and it really did work out for them. It didn’t look like that though when we ran out for the games after being beaten by Swindon the previous season. We did mediocre, the only real highlight being sending the Spuds home crying. We ended 4th. This season was even worse. The team from White Hart Lane beat us home and away and finished one point above us in the league. We drew 18 times and were beaten 12 times. And we ended 12th. We managed only 12 wins mostly over weaker sides. Somehow, we beat Liverpool home and away as a highlight. We were knocked out early in the League Cup and FA cup. As a young kid, watching the league table was depressing. We saw highlights on the 2 main tv channels Match of the Day on the BBC and the Big Match on ITV. Arsenal rarely looked good. Live matches were rare in those days. Finals and internationals mostly. Arsenal looked like a team on the slide. I was getting laughed at for my choice by other kids.
Drama in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup
But this was the Arsenal. We came back. We won the Inter-city Fairs cup which is now the Europa League. We beat Glentoran, Sporting of Portugal, Rouen of France, Dinamo Bacau of Romania, Ajax in the semi-final and amazingly, got to the final with all the heartache and glory that came with being sent home 3-1 down by Anderlecht in the first leg. The little ray of hope was the away goal scored by the superb Ray Kennedy. There were 2 legged finals in those days. Highbury was abuzz but fearful and I didn’t really believe we could do it. But we did! 3-0 to the Arsenal brought us home our first European trophy. Eddie Kelly of Scotland, our hero John Radford and the soon to be discarded Jon Sammels scored the goals that brought us one of our most legendary comeback wins, something Arsenal is famous for.
It certainly gave me plenty to smile and cheer about and an antidote to being made fun of for supporting the Arsenal. And it set the stage for next season in which all sorts of miracles happened. Tune in next week for our most momentous season in my young age. We are Arsenal.
The team was the same for both games and as you can see, very similar to the losing League cup side the year before.
The Fairs cup final 1970
|Frank McLintock (c)