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A Midsummers Nights Dream Last time we had just come out of the 70’s. We had beaten Liverpool and Juventus in semi’s. We gave Valencia a tough game in the Cup Winners Cup final. We played 70 matches and somehow came close to winning the league, losing a few at the end because of all the hard replays against Liverpool. We were ready to come out of the blocks. I was dreaming of a red and white year for 1980-81. We signed Kenny Sansom from Palace, who was a superb full back and all round footballer. He was one of the best England full backs ever and would go on to be an Arsenal legend. Sadly his is also at the end a tragic story but one day I will write about that. But his transfer was surreal. We had just bought Clive Allen and he went to Palace in a swap without ever playing. Rumours were flying that the Allen transfer was a setup. And we had kept Liam Brady. He was training with the team. Except there came a nightmare. A Shakespearean twist. Kenny Sansom, a great buy from Palace The Merchant of Turin Gianni Agnelli II had other ideas. The immensely powerful Fiat owner who also owned Juventus decided Brady was his man. It was an easy sell. Arsenal were being stingy and Brady was on a low wage even compared to some others in the squad. He was PFA player of the year and Arsenal player of the year for the past 3 seasons. It was crazy but Terry Neill (managers decided wages in those days) figured that Brady would never leave because he was pure Arsenal. He was on £300 per week and that suddenly jumped to £3,000. They gave him £250,000 just to sign on! Nobody on this planet would turn down that class of money. Agnelli made Brady an offer he couldn't refuse The annoying thing was that almost certainly if Neill had made him Arsenal’s top earner which he deserved as the best player, he may well have stayed. Arsenal, to this day, have kept this reputation of not wishing to spend money, a constant moan of the fans (letting go staff on low wages during Coronavirus being an egregious example), and this was just stupid. Brady was 24, recognized as one of the star players throughout Europe and should have had one of the top salaries in England. Instead he was a long way short of even being the highest paid at Highbury. I was very disappointed with Arsenal and a bit fed up. We can’t be a big club without the ambition to keep our top players. It Was Not As We Liked It I was looking enviously at Forest, who were willing to splash the cash for the best. The Spuds had brought in World Cup winners in Villa and Ardiles, Ipswich had brought in Thijssen and Muhren and others and were playing great football. Liverpool or Man U never worried about buying the top players. We sold our best. As I have said, in those days the manager had great power and our duo of Neill and Don Howe were letting us down. Bringing in Sansom was great as Rice and Nelson were coming to their end and John Devine had finally nailed down a place as full back. Our miserly attitude was the problem. Sansom, while a superb player, was a fullback and was no substitute for Brady, who ran our midfield. That was the low point for me, not Brady going. I don’t really remember much anger at him. He would have had to be crazy not to go. What we didn't want to see- Brady for Juventus I feel that this decision ultimately led to Neill losing the support of the Arsenal fans and the dark days that I could feel coming. We were just short of being great and we should have kept Clive Allen and Brady alongside Sansom. We were Arsenal. Where was our ambition? Our courage? Gone missing when we needed it. The Tempest The first match of the season showed this, beaten by West Brom and then a draw against Southampton reflected our lack of bottle. Ipswich, Forest and even Aston Villa, showed you could challenge Liverpool, but not us, it seemed. Beating them over 4 hard matches the previous season seemed not to matter to the Highbury elite. We could, and should have been challenging. I was fed up. For the first time, I started looking at other teams and saying, why is that not us? This, for me, was the low point since I started following Arsenal. Okay, we beat Coventry and had our next match against the Spuds, who had flown out of the traps and looking like they could even win the league. We beat them 2-0 and Pat Jennings played superb as did our whole team. But the Tottenham hooligans had caused dreadful scenes before the match and it left a sour taste in the mouth. Fan violence is disgraceful and has no place in football for me. I don’t go to matches to be afraid but that was standard in those days and still today, there is a huge security presence at football matches. Have a laugh with the opposing fans but why hate them? They are you, they love football, only that they support a different team. Arsenal have one of the better reputations in London for this but it is more being the best of a bad bunch and we also have our nasty boys, willing to hospitalize opposing fans. Sickening. Was a Winter’s Tale coming? So, what happened in our matches? We came 3rd to Aston Villa and Ipswich so we did well, I suppose but we won nothing. Spurs sent us home crying 1-0 in the League Cup 4th round and Everton gave us tears in our eyes in the 3rd round of the FA Cup 2-0. Spurs got their revenge also at White Hart Lane in the league 2-0. Spurs won the FA Cup, beating Manchester City in a replay 3-2 in a great final, with Villa and Ardiles playing superb. It is hard to claim supremacy in London that season because they won that and knocked us out of the League Cup. They finished 10th but with a trophy. And we had lost 3 and drawn one of our last six. For the first time, I wasn’t hopeful for the next season. We had our chance to make a statement and we didn’t. That moment, at the start, when we lost both Brady and Clive Allen, signalled to me that we just weren’t serious about being a great team. The people at the top didn’t want us to be Arsenal.
A Tale of Two Cities part 2 Liverpool has always been intertwined with Arsenal. Probably our greatest ever match was beating them at Anfield 2-0 in 1989 to win the league. But that is a story for another day. In 1979-80 we played Liverpool teams (there is a blue team as well) 9 times. How did we get on? Well read on. As I said last time, Liverpool beat us 3-1 in the Charity Shield. As I also mentioned last time, they were consistently the best team in Europe for a long time, before and after this season. They sent us home crying, telling us we weren’t Arsenal. Could we get revenge against the best team in Europe? Well read on. In November, we played Everton at Highbury and beat them 2-0 and set down a marker to the city. Next week we played Liverpool, also at Highbury, and drew 0-0. With the logic of home advantage, that meant Liverpool were marginally better, but we were getting closer to them, I felt. At the end of March, we played at Goodison and won 1-0. Another warning for Liverpool. An Oliver Twist in the Cup We were the Cup holders, could we do it again? 2nd division Cardiff, surely was easy in the 3rd round? Ah, I don’t think so. 0-0 and then 2-1, another replay. Then Brighton, as I mentioned last time 2-0 and they must have hated us by then. Then Bolton, who liked kicking people, 1-1, again a replay but we at least beat them 3-0 to go through against 2nd division Watford, surely this time an easy match. A struggle 2-1 and then we come up against Liverpool in the semi’s. They had never done the double in the 20th century, only teams from London. Us and the Spuds. They were very hungry to do so, and us beating Everton twice meant nothing to them. They were the kings. Everton were playing 2nd division West Ham in the other semi. They would surely win. They wanted to win the double by beating Everton like we had by beating the Spuds. Arsenal were never going to stop them. But we were Arsenal, we like winning. We had 6 fighting Irish, we had Liam Brady and we had got a taste for the Cup last time against Man Utd. However, every time we came up against Liverpool in those days, I was nervous, I have to concede they were better than us. We went to Hillsborough hoping and got nothing 0-0. In the meantime we played them in the league and drew 1-1 at Anfield as well. So then across to Villa Park and 1-1 after extra time then again Villa Park and the same result. Then across to Coventry and finally Brian Talbot gets a header after a mistake by our old favourite Ray Kennedy. Hey, hey, hey, we had beaten them, the kings of everywhere. We were Arsenal. We were like a boxer finally getting on top late on in the fight. We were the better team. And we only had 2nd division West Ham to beat in the final. Easy peasy after beating the kings. Trevor Brooking stoops to score with this head. The twist came in the final. Trevor Brooking scored the only goal with his head, as he never stopped saying, and Arsenal were flat. Too many games, hard games, mental attitude, various things came into play, but we didn’t do it. West Ham should have scored a second and Willie Young should have been sent off for a cynical foul on Paul Allen, then the youngest player to play in a cup final, who was through on goal late on. But they won anyway to become kings of London that season. The Old Curiosity country We still had the Cup Winners Cup. A curious thing was the Germanic flavour of our campaign. First up was Fenerbahce from Turkey, who have a huge population in Germany. 2-0 at home and an intimidating 0-0 away saw us on to the next round. FC Magdeburg from Germany next which again was a struggle 2-1 at home and 2-2 away. Then IFK Gothenberg of Sweden where we finally had an easier time, beating them 5-1 at home, making the next leg a formality. A bit tenuous, but Sweden is a Germanic country. Then Juventus from Turin in the semi’s, and southern Italians refer to the northerners as Germans. A big club, at the same time as we were playing Liverpool 5 times. We were up against the big boys, with a tiny squad by todays standards. We drew 1-1 with them at Highbury in the first leg, they had the vital away goal and nobody had beaten them at home in European competition in a very long time. We played 3 times against Liverpool between first leg and second, tough draining matches, we had no hope of going to Juventus and winning. Watching the match in Allen’s pub that night, it felt like a formality, the noise from the Juventus crowd was deafening, and we huffed and puffed but were never going to win. Paul Vaessen silences the Juventus fans Terry Neill decided to throw on Paul Vaessen, an 18 year old striker (with a tragic story for another day), with 15 minutes to go. I heard afterwards that Don Howe had told him “Get on there and score for us”. The poor guy had said yes, but somehow he did, with a couple of minutes left, he was on the end of a cross from Rix and we had done it. I couldn’t believe it. Juventus fell silent. We had beaten Juventus and shortly after beat Liverpool, two of the biggest names in world football. We were Arsenal. We could do it. Finals were a Bleak House for us So the final and Valencia, then a top team from Spain. They had a superb German midfielder, Rainer Bonhof, who had won the World Cup in 1974. They also had the sublime Argentinian Mario Kempes, also a World Cup winner from 1978.They had the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano as manager, one of the greatest footballers of all time. We didn’t have that calibre but we had Liam Brady and the fighting Irish, seven if you include the manager. I wrote about it in a previous blog so I don’t really want to go too much over it again, but it was a tough slog of a match, coming towards the end of a 70 match season. It went to penalties and the 2 stars Brady and Kempes both missed first time. Bonhof slotted home the fifth and John Hollins ours. On to the players who don’t really want to take penalties. But Ricardo Arias whacked his home and Graham Rix, often the guy who provided a late assist for us, missed the sixth. Beaten in 2 finals. Heartbreaking. I find shootouts almost impossible to watch when it is Arsenal or Ireland. I keep expecting our players to miss. Rainer Bonhof scored the vital fifth penalty Game 69 against Wolves and somehow we won 2-1. Then game 70 Middlesbrough and they destroyed us 5-0. I really believe we could have won the league that season as we dropped lots of points towards the end with so many tough matches against top teams and so many replays. But next year surely was our year? We had beaten the big boys. Our young team was nearing its peak. The Irish team was going to make the next step. We were Arsenal and we were on our way. The 80’s would be Arsenal.