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DON’t go breaking my heart Why oh why, Don, did you do it? Without that famous league cup final, I doubt if I would have become an Arsenal fan. I started out up for Swindon as did nearly everyone. But Arsenal kept trying to win on a muddy pitch and somehow a dogged Swindon side got a goal by Roger Smart against the run of play. It was all Arsenal but no goals until Bobby Gould scored on 86. I now cheered for Arsenal and was sure, being a top team against a 3rd division one, that now they would win. Arsenal had flu problems though, and the massive effort to get themselves back in the game seemed to take its toll in extra time. The most famous Swindon player ever, Don Rogers, who forms part of their name, scored 2 and Arsenal were beaten. The fact that I was gutted told me something. This was my team. I was born to be a Gooner. But despite wrecking my dreams, I retained a soft spot for Swindon. And I was always going to choose them for this series. Because they made me Arsenal. From now on I would cry when we lose and add an az when we win.* Their greatest day ever They gave us a harder time than the Spuds You might suspect that Arsenal are going to easily come out on top in this rivalry. You would be wrong. Yes we have far more trophies but not on the head to head. They win by virtue of going home with the League Cup and we got no trophy in our nine matches against them. 3 wins each and 3 draws. There is something likable about Swindon, though. They sport the Arsenal colours, Don Rogers, their iconic winger, has a stand named after him, always nice to see a player being recognised in this way. I could be wrong but I am not sure many clubs have stands named after players. The rest of the County Ground seen from the Don Rogers stand Now, I am guessing you would think that every metric I look for Arsenal would come out on top. And you would be wrong. Let’s talk about most league appearances by a player. We have David O’Leary on 558, they have John Trollope 1960 to 1980 with 770 and a total of 889 easily beating O’Leary on 772. More ways they are ahead Arsenal were always the innovators in English football? Eh, hello, Swindon beat us by 6 months in having floodlights in the 1950’s. They were founded in 1879, well ahead of us in 1886. And their first game against us was in 1911 in the FA Cup. They lay down a marker for what is to come with a 1-0. One nil to the Swindon would have been ringing out if it was the modern day. First blood to Swindon. Even Herbert Chapman found them hard The next came in the FA Cup again in 1929 in the 5th . Now this was the era of Herbert Chapman, with all the star names – Eddie Hapgood, Bob John, David Jack, Joe Hulme and others. We were the mighty Arsenal and they were in the 3rd division. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy? No are Arsenal and we make life hard for ourselves. 0-0 in the first game and then a little revenge in the 1-0 we got in the second with the fabulously named James Brain allowing the fans to sung our song if only they had known about it at the time. It took us 3 games to get a goal against them so they are ahead in that, too. All the rest came in my era. I remember them all. The first match was also my first blog and you can read about it here. Like I said at the start, they beat us so the first 2 trophies they played us they beat us. Swindon, you are breaking my heart. So did Bertie Mee and especially Terry Neill And so we got a chance to get revenge for ’69 in 1972, FA Cup 3rd round. On a muddy, muddy pitch, Geordie Armstrong of the double winning side, and Alan Ball, who wasn’t, got the 2 goals needed for us to progress. It was Alan Ball’s first goal for us and at least it was a bit more than a tap in like Geordie’s. So now we had 2 Fa Cup wins to their one. But they still had that trophy up on us so I put them ahead. Even the great Liam Brady couldn't stop them The next time was the League cup in 1979. We had a top side with all the Irish players. They were in the 3rd division. We were at Highbury. 1-1 and it went to replay and a classic cup game. Steve Walford scored an own goal and then gave them a deflection for their second. 2-0 to the Swindon at halftime. We had no Liam Brady for the first game and he came back for the second. Probably the best player in the league at the time, he would surely put manners on these upstarts? Eh, sort of, he played out of his skin, still referred to as the best display ever seen at Swindon’s County Ground, scored 2 goals and assisted Brian Talbot for the other but they scored one in the second half to take it to extra time. And Andy Rowlands got a late winner to mean that for the League Cup, Swindon are our daddies. A very small revenge in the Premiership You might be amazed but Swindon once got into the Premier League. In 1993-94, we played them twice. Now, they fell like a stone back down into the championship and we played our part in that a couple of days after Christmas at the County Ground. 4-0 to the Arsenal with Ian Wright and Kevin Campbell with a rare hat-trick. They conceded 100 goals, still the record. They got a little bit of revenge at Highbury in April with a 1-1 but for the Premier league, we can claim the win in the head to head. Or maybe this was their greatest day ever? But as you can see, I have to give them the lead overall. They beat us at Wembley, their most significant trophy. And they and QPR are the only 3rd division teams to win it. The FA Cup was never won by a 3rd division team. Swindon – better than us? So there you have it. A tiny team, with tiny attendances, trying to play in the mud at other tiny teams all their life, are laughing at us in the League Cup. We are a bit better than them in the FA Cup and they managed a draw against us in the Premier league, when we were packed full of top players and playing at Highbury. Be afraid, Gooners, be very afraid, if the name Swindon Town pops out of the spinning balls in any of the cups. They like beating us. Cry + az = crazy *
Great Expectations 1979-80 was also momentous. So many things happened that I will need 2 columns again. I should say that I was now 21. I had been to England to watch many games but mostly Man United as a weekend trip by ferry was only the possible option at the time. My brother was a Man U fan and I never fancied going by myself. Some years the Arsenal match didn’t work out for us. What were our expectations that year? Liam Brady didn’t leave as rumour had had it. We had won the cup. We had been competitive in the league. We had some great games where we scored 5 goals. We were the kings of London with the draw against relegated Chelsea our only loss of points. Our young team was one year older and surely better? We liked Terry Neill and Don Howe. We were looking good. Liverpool were the big barrier. They were scary in a way that Forest weren’t. Clough’s teams always out performed themselves, Liverpool, we felt, were the real deal, they dominated English football in this period with 11 titles from 1973 to 1990, plus 4 European Cups (ask your dad), 2 Uefa cups, 3 Fa cups, 4 League cups and lots of other things like Charity Shields. They were incredible. A Tale of Two Cities We were the cup holders. We had to face them in the Charity Shield. So it was an early test for us. Could we beat them and set down a marker for the season, show them we are Arsenal this time? Well, no we couldn’t. They beat us 3-1. They had a team full of superstars, none better than Kenny Dalglish, we had Liam Brady as our talisman but Dalglish played superb, scoring a great goal, and laying on 2 for McDermott. Sunderland got our consolation. Second best this time. Perhaps Liverpool's best ever player, Kenny Dalglish Now, you may be wondering why I am talking so much about how good Liverpool were? It is because they were the best in Europe at the time. And we were to play them 7 times this season, yes, 7. So, if you were a boxer, and you had to face the champion 7 times in a year, do you think you would be drained? It gives a crucial background to this season. We were in the Cup Winners Cup as well to give us more matches. And, as I have said a few times before in this column, teams played the same 11 all season, whenever possible. Including the Charity Shield, we played a staggering 70 matches in total. Nowadays, players get rested, then, they didn’t. A Bleak House for Brighton We still had the same side as in previous years, more or less. John Hollins at 33 came from Chelsea and was a great addition to the squad, becoming a regular and staying 4 years. Neill was very good at taking a veteran, and giving them a new lease of life. It is not working out so good for Arsenal at this moment, with Luiz and particularly Willian not showing very much. Footballers always have dodgy haircuts and Brighton were no exception But because we are playing Brighton later today, I should mention that this was a good year against them, we played them 5 times, twice in the league. The first time was the first match of the season. We won 4-0, then 3-0 in the second. We faced them in the League cup 4th round and dispatched them 4-0 after a replay, our first replay of the season. Then we played them in the FA cup and sent them home crying 2-0. Can we do so tonight? Brighton have proven themselves a hard team to beat but we need to beat them. I would love that 4-0 that we did against them then twice. Hard Times to start So, in the league, we started well with that score. But then we were beaten 2-0 by Bobby Robson’s superb Ipswich side, becoming a real force in English football with the addition of 2 top class Dutch players, Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen. Then drew against Leeds and Man utd, then lost to Derby. One win, 2 draws and 2 losses. 4 points after 5 matches. Relegation form. So then we sacked the manager and won all our matches after that. Only joking, Arsenal has a history of not sacking managers easily and I don’t remember any talk of firing Terry Neill. But I was disappointed. We weren’t going to challenge. The only hope was the 3 cups we were in as we were now in the Cup Winners Cup as well as the normal 2. So the League Cup. First up but second round was Leeds and a draw 1-1 in the first leg. They weren’t the frightening Leeds of old and we destroyed them 7-0 in the second leg at Highbury. This happened just before the loss at Derby so probably contributed to us not feeling too down when that happened. Then we beat Southampton 1-0 in the 3rd round. Then as mentioned, Brighton took us to a replay and 4-0. Our Mutual Friends again Then our old friends Swindon took us to our second replay and beat us 4-3. We gave them 2 own goals and it went to extra time to add to our gruelling schedule. Nothing was easy for us in the 70’s. Replays after replays. Swindon again beat us in the League Cup Out of that but let’s get back to the league. We did ok, we came 4th on 52 points with Liverpool on 60 on top. Man U 2nd, improving nicely after we had beaten them last year. And Ipswich 3rd, really starting to challenge. Robson had made them good, with his Dutch buys, and they played attractive football. And the Tale of One City We beat the Spuds 1-0 at home and 2-1 away to get a nice double. Palace, the only other London team, won and drew with us so our position as London’s top dogs was under threat. Another London team, West Ham, were to play a big role in the second half of the season. Next week. The Cup Winners`Cup, and playing against some big teams, and the marathon FA Cup with some amazing games.