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George Graham was integral to both teams Red Devils vs Red Angels I could very easily have been a Manchester United supporter if it hadn’t been for the famous Swindon Town defeat of Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup. Watching a team dominate, keep trying despite half of them recovering from flu, I felt sorry for them and wanted them to win. I became a Gooner that day. And I was on my own. Most people in Ireland were Man Utd and my older brother Joe certainly was. My dad was more of a GAA fan and brought us to many games but from that moment on Arsenal were my biggest sporting love. I was lucky for them as trophies followed in quick succession. As soon as I followed them, they became a big team again. A toothless Nobby Stiles celebrates The European Cup in 1968 Strangely enough Man Utd went into decline after their fabled win over Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final. It can only be put down to one factor in my opinion, Matt Busby, the extraordinary creator of the Manchester United legend retired shortly after the Benfica win, probably because the stress of doing everything there was very draining. He had to control everything, wages, transfers, finances, the ground, in those days managers had far more to do with far less staff. So Arsenal went up, United went down. We sent them down This was reflected on the pitch in our games with them as we drew and lost in 1969-70 but hammered them 4-0 and 3-1 in our magnificent double year 1970-71. The amazing thing was, virtually all of their superstars were still there, George Best, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and the rest but they were a mediocre team, finishing 8th both seasons. We went from 12th to 1st and I definitely believed I had handed Arsenal the lucky gene. We were back, we were Arsenal, and we were winners. Matt Busby - the genius behind Manchester United For United, relegation was the next step in 1973-74. And who started them off on that journey? You guessed it, we beat them 3-0 on their first game of the season. George Graham had switched to them but made no difference. Their huge stars had gone but they still had big names such as Willie Morgan, Sammy McIlroy, Martin Buchan and Lou Macari who helped them go down. They did manage a point off us in the return but that was the start of them being beaten by us in a significant fashion in my era. It seemed impossible for such a team to go down but they had finished 18th out of 22 the year before and then the Arsenal destroy them in their first match. It clobbered the belief out of them. The richest, most glamorous club in the world go down It was their last relegation and truly they were the biggest side I had ever seen relegated on the pitch, not by a ban like Juventus, for example. They were the richest club in the world, fans everywhere, glamour stars of which the greatest was the unbelievable Georgie Best, the best player I have ever seen, but he was unable to cope with fame. Watch the Youtubes to see things you have never seen before, he could do everything, all while getting kicked unmercifully. I believe that Matt Busby going meant the last chance for Bestie also went. He protected him. George best - the most exciting footballer I have ever seen Busby was their Herbert Chapman. He made them the greatest in England. He believed, as did Chapman, in European competition. Early connections between two greats They had 2 great managers in my era, Busby and Ferguson, and we had 2, Graham and Wenger. Later on we will get to them as they are integral to the story. But let us take a trip down memory lane first to give you an idea of the connections between 2 of the greatest clubs in England and certainly the biggest rivals in my time. Newton Heath and Woolwich Arsenal played out their rivalry in the 2nd division for many years. In 1898 we played an extraordinary 3 matches all finishing 5-1 with them winning only the middle one. In 1906 we both met in Division one for the first time and they won 1-0 with the wonderfully named Alexander Leek Brown Downie scoring the goal. They had become Manchester United and we were still Woolwich Arsenal. They have the edge They have the edge on us in wins, 100 to our 86 and 50 drawn. They have more trophies as you all know with only the FA cup being our lead. They are close though with 12 to our 13. Let’s hope a great spell is on the way for us with the Arteta young guns and we climb closer to them. Their 3 Champions league could be a target although it certainly doesn’t look possible from this viewpoint. We need to improve to catch up with them. A miraculous ten years would do nicely. Cup winners courtesy of Liam Brady I want to mention another time and a match that will always stick in my memory. Arsenal vs Man Utd in 1979, the FA cup final. It was yet another time when we proved their nemesis. We had all the Irish players with Liam Brady being the finest. He played superb, we were 2 goals up on 86 minutes and they were ready to go home crying. But Gordon McQueen lashed in a header and then Sammy McIlroy scored a peach and we were on the floor like Tyson Fury, eyes rolling back in our heads just like him, unconscious. Somehow Brady, Rix and Sunderland crawled up off the Wembley floor, decided we were Arsenal, we give nightmares to Man Utd, not the other way round, and scored a goal that gave me the highest level of delight I had up to the point as an Arsenal supporter. From strolling around the ring, giving Utd an odd clatter around the head to show our superiority, to being hit by a sucker punch that sent us down burst like a sack of spuds, to gathering all our pieces together and showing we were champions, it was the greatest single match I had experienced to that point. 10 years later I was to experience another fantastic moment against Liverpool but I have covered that before. This time we climbed the Wembley stairs as giants and Man Utd? It must have been sickening because if it had gone to extra time all the belief and momentum was with them. Brady gave us that little bit extra to make us win within that tiny crazy moment that was left of injury time. Alan Sunderland destroyed the ecstatic Man Utd fans Next week I will go up to the modern era, George Graham, Arsene Wenger, and the manager who was scheduled to come to us before George Graham, Alex Ferguson. The most unbelievable rivalry, the ups and downs, the earth shattering defeats, and the joyous wins.
1983 горе и долу (Up and down) повече надолу, отколкото нагоре (More down than up) Up It is very hard to describe the season 1982-83 so I have borrowed the Bulgarian term which is also used in English- up and down. However, in Bulgarian it is a much more common saying. Good things did happen and let’s start with one of them. We finally replaced Frank Stapleton with an equally good player, England international Tony Woodcock was signed a year after Stapleton was let go. I am sure he cost a lot more than Stapleton in wages but that was Arsenal at the time. And we saved a years spending. And that’s a good up in the eyes of the board. We had finished 5th the previous year so now with a proper centreforward we could challenge? Tony Woodcock fired in plenty of goals for us Down Er, no we couldn’t. We started disastrously with 3 defeats and a draw before finally beating Coventry 2-0 on game 5. By December 16th we were hovering above relegation. It was one of our worst starts ever and similar to this year. I liked Terry Neill but his time had gone. He had lost our Arsenal. Don Howe was true Arsenal, player and coach He and Don Howe tried to steady the ship. However then we were beaten 3-0 by Sunderland. There was talk of Don Howe taking over. Honestly, although I liked Don Howe, he hadn’t got a great managerial record and I wanted us to get a top manager instead of going the cheap route. Ambition was our big problem, we wanted to do everything on the cheap. The magnificent marble halls of Highbury hid our big weakness, we got a heart attack if we wanted to spend money. It was very frustrating. Up But then we beat the Spuds 2-0. And that made us happy. But we still only had 24 points at halfway, 21 matches in a 42 match season. That was just above relegation form but they manufactured enough wins for us to finish a comfortable 10th with 58 points getting 34 in that second part. That type of form for the whole season would have put us a lot closer to the top so it put us in better heart for the prospect of next season. Highlights were beating both Manchesters 3-0 at Highbury in that second half, and beating Luton 4-1. Vladimir Petrovic, a one season wonder but I liked him Vladimir Petrovic of Yugoslavia was brought in, our first such foreign player under the system that had been created a few years before. But then we weren’t really a buying team. He was good, I liked him, but he didn’t get many games and was let go at the end of the season. At least it showed that we were prepared to look at foreign players. Down The Spuds hammered us 5-0 in the return on the 4th April. Chris Hughton the Irishman knocked in 2 superb goals, Mark Falco fired in 2 more great goals and Alan Brazil notched up his first of many. George Wood was in goal and I feel that was the end of him. He had been brought in a couple of years before to provide competition for Pat Jennings but allowing the Spuds to put 5 past him meant it was his last season. They were all great goals and it was a bit tough on him but we are Arsenal, we beat the Spuds not the other way round. And 5-0! Echoes of when we had run riot a few years before in 1978 and beat them by the same score. They had the FA Cup and the Charity Shield! They were now better than us for 2 seasons in a row, something that I never remember happening in my time before or after until the modern day, although maybe I should check that. My memory hasn’t been too bad in all this blogging. And I wasn’t very confident for next season. Oh no, Tottenham better than us. What nightmare is this? We had qualified for the Uefa cup but Spartak Moscow sent us home crying in the first round. A respectable 2-3 away from home gave us a chance in the second leg with 2 away goals. Eh, hello, they destroyed us 5-2 at Highbury. We were poor. Coupled with our results in the league it seemed we were going nowhere. It was a bad time to be Arsenal. I didn’t feel we were Arsenal at all. Up (and down) The League cup. Could we do something in this cup? We hadn’t won it in my time. Well we beat Cardiff 5-2 over 2 legs, then Everton 3-0 in a replay. Then one nil to the Arsenal at Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday. Then Man U in the semis. A disaster, 2-4 at Highbury in the first leg with Stapleton scoring and even our 2 goals coming at the very end to make it look like a tight match. Then 2-1 for Utd at Old Trafford. They now had Ron Atkinson in charge, a team full of top players and their ambition was to overtake Liverpool to put to an end of years of misery. They faced Liverpool in the final but got beaten 2-1. Well, the FA cup? Our trophy? We could win that? Well, let’s see. Bolton 2-1, then 3 matches against Leeds before another 2-1. Then 2 matches against Middlesbrough before 3-2. Then Villa 2-0 in the quarters to set up a return against the Mancs in the semi. This time we would send them home crying. And it started out that way. Petrovic blasted the ball at Bailey in the Manchester goal, he dropped it and after a scramble, Woodcock tipped it in. But Bryan Robson and Norman Whiteside scored and again they sent us home crying. Down What sort of Arsenal were we at all? Definitely not one that could challenge the big beast Liverpool, nor Manchester United, or even the Spuds. Watford had come up to the 1st division for the first time and came second, way ahead of us in tenth. West Ham were 8th and Spurs 4th. Seems we were a mediocre team, the worst in London, unless you include Luton, who were 18th. 2 semi-finals were all we had to show for our season. Could Don Howe jump us back to the top? We were better in the second half, but surely we needed players, we needed ambition, we needed something. But where was it going to come from? Instead of all this nonsense, could we not just be Arsenal? Fighters, punching above our weight? Making comebacks? I didn’t think Don Howe could be the magic man to do it. A good coach, very knowledgeable, but better as a coach. In all fairness, Neill was reputed to be trying to sign big players during his time and Platini and Maradona were mentioned, among others, but most of the players he actually signed were like Hollins and Talbot, good pros but not world beaters. He did get it right with Woodcock, though. Up (ish) Some good things did happen in our next season but you will have to wait till then to find out. But the teaser is, a donkey arrived. Oh, and I checked our record against the Spuds. I was right, they never topped us 2 seasons in a row before the modern day except for this season. I think most of us had come to the conclusion that Terry Neill could achieve no more, a bit like Bertie Mee before him. We needed a fresh approach but would we get it?
The Voyage to the Big Time I was young, not quite sixteen and my brother Joe, who was seventeen, suggested we go to Old Trafford to see Man U vs Arsenal. This seemed like an amazing offer but Slatterys Travel agents in Dublin offered match packages at the time. Tickets for the ferry to Liverpool, the train to Manchester, and the match ticket. I picked up the tickets and we prepared for the adventure. It wasn’t that expensive at the time but I can’t remember how much. We headed down to the harbour on Friday to get the ferry. It was overnight and we had got the cheapest seats. We had to find one and sleep in it. We couldn’t afford a cabin. But we were young and didn’t really care. The way it worked was we travelled on Friday night, got into Liverpool the next morning, then got the train to Manchester and then the bus to Salford and finally walk to Old Trafford. Then after the match, immediately do the reverse, because we had to get back to Dublin by Sunday to go to work on Monday. The sheep were herded The match was on January 19th and it was reasonably mild at the time. The ferry crossing was bearable and we had a few pints to sustain us. They were always fairly busy at the time as there are huge connections between Ireland and the North of England. Everything went smoothly enough although we went past our stop on the train. We went out on the platform and got the train back in the opposite direction to the right stop, all the time worrying that they might ask us to pay something. We didn’t have a lot of money. We landed in the middle of Manchester and found our way to the bus. It was when we got off the bus that we had our first shock. The Man U fans, of which I was inadvertently one, and I certainly wasn’t brave enough to wear my colours, were shepherded by masses of police, many on horseback, all the way to the ground. If you accidently found yourself caught up in the surge, I am not sure how you would get out. Although they did check for tickets at some points. A magic atmosphere We went in to Old Trafford. It was not the magnificent stadium it is now but far smaller and dingier. Still it had an atmosphere unlike any other. Even today, I still feel that, every time I go there, it has a buzz, an excitement, unmatched at other grounds. Highbury, in the old days, had a similar feel, I was among my own people. People who work for a living, long before the invasion of the corporates. It was rough and ready and you were squashed together on the terraces. Really squashed together. And that was my first shock. When the first goal chance happened, the crowd surged forwards around twenty feet, my brother and I were carried helplessly down at around 55 degrees and then dragged back up to a standing 90. I was astonished and a bit scared. I had no control over it. But as it continued to happen I started to look forward to it. Being brought down and then back up became fun. The match was scoreless in the first half but there was plenty of excitement, it seemed to me, although it was difficult to see, being small. I was mesmerized by the noise, the singing and the vitriolic abuse sang lustily by both sides. The Arsenal fans made plenty of noise, but I had to stay silent. I didn’t really want to go there to die. The Man U excitements were fine, I was ferried up and down. But for the Arsenal excitements, the crowd went silent. I had to be very careful not to expose myself. I really did believe that they would have torn me apart like a pack of Arctic wolves. The stars Arsenal had all the old guard, Bertie Mee the manager, Bob Wilson, Peter Storey, Frank Mclintock, John Radford, Ray Kennedy and most of the double team. No Charlie George though and I never got to see him play live, although Alan Ball was there. Man U had the flamboyant Tommy Docherty as manager. And Alex Stepney as the only survivor of the 1968 European cup team. It did have stars such as Willie Morgan, Sammy McIlroy, Martin Buchan, Lou Macari and others who would have long careers there. The goals After we had pie and chips, and a pint at half time, we headed back out for the second half. I kept looking around at all the signs that we were really there, the home of the most famous club in the world. The fans, the extraordinary noise, the abusive comments to the ref and the opposing fans. The constant chanting, the surges up and down. The moments when I wanted to cheer but couldn’t. The match came alive not long after this with Steve James scoring for the Mancs. And despite Arsenal efforts, it looked like I had come all this way to be beaten. Until Ray Kennedy rescued the day very late on to equalize. The crowd went silent except for the Arsenal fans. I was jumping inside. But we came to Old Trafford, we didn’t get beaten, and we were the Arsenal. Steve James who scored for Man United But Ray Kennedy equalised to prove we were Arsenal Anyway, it seemed like a good result. Both of us were reasonably happy. We could enjoy some more pints on the way back, discuss all the ins and outs of the day and arrive home totally tired but amazed that we had done all that and got back home safely. My mother told us afterwards that she was very worried, but for us, we were grownups, and travelling by ourselves was just an adventure. And I had got my first taste of that unique English football atmosphere. And I wanted more. And hey, I still do.