Category Archives: History

hillsborough-disaster

The death of football: 25 years later

It was, individual acts of heroism apart, a tragedy without any redeeming feature. It was a professional event, organised by professionals. And it was the most awful, dislocated, deadly botch. If you look for an image to remember it by, think of the inert bodies carried to ambulances on advertising hoardings, because no one had enough stretchers.

The Guardian 17.04.89

The 15th of April 1989 for Arsenal fans started like any other Saturday. I personally was still working in an agricultural merchants in Cornwall. Being a fan of just 10 years standing, the last few years had been very exciting. From 1980 to 1986 we were quite honestly, a piss poor team, who occasionally came to life for the big games. Worst still in the period Spurs had won 3 cups and were often better than us. Under George Graham though things had started to change. After beating Spurs in the semi of the League cup we had beaten Liverpool in the Final:-

The following season we again made the final and lost to Luton Town. By 1988-1989 though Arsenal had begun to look like a championship side (something we hadn’t seen for 18 years).By march we had lost 3-1 at home to Nottingham Forest, but were still ahead of Norwich and Millwall, whilst the previous years champions Liverpool were 13 points behind with 3 games in hand. Surely we were going to win the league this year? George Graham said in the excellent It’s up for grabs now, that we had started to splutter towards the finishing line.

By April 15th Liverpool had gone top on goal difference from us. On the saturday of the 15th Arsenal were playing at home to Newcastle United. If we won, we would go top as Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest in the F.A cup semi-final. Not only would we go top, but one of Arsenal’s favourite sons would be returning with his new team, Kenny Sansom.

25 years from that date, for younger readers and fans its hard to fathom what football was like. Attendance had been down increasingly during the 1980’s, mainly due to soccer hooliganism. For example, even with Arsenal going for the title, attendances fluctuated from a high of 45,129 against Spurs to a low of 28,449 against Norwich on a Bank Holiday Monday. Also, F.A cup games (excluding the final) were not televised live and played at the same time on a neutral ground (underlining both the importance of the cup back then and the power television over football). Also and very obviously, there was NO internet. No facebook. No twitter. Information on the team was either through Newspapers  (usually just a mere 3 or 4 pages on the broadsheets on a Saturday) or some new fangled idea called fanzines such as the Gooner or Highbury high for us fans (though you’d have to be at the stadium to buy them, as buying them via post was at best difficult).

As for fans not at the stadium, forget Sky sports (that was still 3 years away from starting). Forget BBC1 and ITV giving rolling updates. It was horse racing and Wrestling, interspersed some results and half and full time scores. Radio? Lets not forget there was no Talksport [that was a good thing] until 1995. As for Radio 5? That started a year earlier in 1994. So how did you keep up to date with your team’? Well, you’d have to go Radio 2 (693 or 909 medium wave). Radio 2 long wave would maybe have 3 games on a week and report games. No call in or anything like that. It was game, result, good bye. Want to listen to a whole league game on the radio? You’ve got to be kidding. Radio stations would be allowed to report only the 2nd half of league games. No first half. Jon Spurling has described this as the ‘transistor era’ of football. Without a radio you wouldn’t hear results until either the news on one of 4 channels or the Sunday papers the next day (or teletext if you were lucky and had a good television). Time and patience getting 693 or 909 to tune in was painful.

Anyhow, like most Arsenal fans, I had started with high ambitions at the beginning of Christmas and seen them slowly see Arsenal decline into mediocrity. At least some things don’t change then.

Anyhow, as Arsenal could go top and Liverpool were playing Forests in the semi, I think most Arsenal fans wanted a win at home and Liverpool either to draw and have a replay (no penalty shoot outs back then in the semi) or lose. Let me make this very clear. If you were fan back in the 1970’s or 1980’s Liverpool won everything (though funnily enough not the FA cup having won it a mere 3 times up to 1989). They were arrogant. They were like Manchester United of the last 20 years. Hated. Liverpool were also ‘disliked’ because English clubs were banned from playing football in Europe by UEFA after the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985. If you want to see how grim it was in 80’s Liverpool, just watch the trailer below for Away Day  (its a crap movie though) which is set in Liverpool:-

As usual, that day I’d need a good 10 minutes to get a signal. As it was cup semi final day, the match chosen was Nottingham Forest versus Liverpool. Although I’d have to listen to the game in the second half, I would be able to keep up with the score from Highbury. If you were a foreign fan you might get the last twenty minutes on world service.

As three o’clock struck though, news came through from Hillsborough where the game was being abandoned. The reporters made it sounded like the Scousers were creating trouble. Then radio two started reporting fatalities:-

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Its weird. To be honest, all I cared about was the Arsenal score and looking back on it I must look pretty shallow, but 25 years ago, football disturbances were so frequent you became immune to them.

At Highbury, Arsenal were being run close on a crap pitch at home by a Newcastle side that would be relegated at the end of the season. Arsenal’s Brian Marwood recalls the game :-

‘As we went into the game, I was in good spirits, because I felt I was starting to play well again after a series of niggling injuries. There was some good banter with the crowd before the game too. I was with the mascot, who was taking pot shots at John Lukic, and every single one of them was pinging into the back of the net. The crowd gave him a rousing reception. “We all agree, mascot is better than Marwood,” they were singing. The crowd also started going through each player’s name and shouting – in my case – “Marwood, Marwood, do the twist”. And unless you wiggled your bum at the North Bank, you’d get booed. There was no option. I thought that my winner put the icing on the cake that day, and the crowd went bananas. Everyone knows that title winning sides need to win their fair share of games 1–0. But then I sensed that the crowd seemed a bit distracted in the last few minutes. There was a strange buzz, and it was clear something wasn’t quite right.’

Kenny Sansom said of the reception he received at the game:-

My mum was in bits and, for the first time in my entire career, she purposely stayed away from north London. ‘If you think I’m coming to Highbury to hear those lovely fans boo you, Kenny, you’re very mistaken. Not a chance.’ I tried to persuade her, but, typically of Mum, she was having none of it. She didn’t watch it on the television, and didn’t even listen to the radio. She was that afraid of the booing she felt certain was to come my way. Wild horses, on the other hand, couldn’t keep Elaine away. If ever she heard someone slagging me off in the crowd, she’d turn on them: ‘I suppose you think you can do better do you – muppet.’ Her fiery side knows no bounds. And this day was to be no different. I can’t tell you how fast and hard my heart was beating in the tunnel as I waited to emerge into the sunshine for my day of reckoning. With every step, I could feel my legs turning to jelly. My new teammates picked up on my apprehension and were brilliant. My ex-teammates took the piss. Bastards! When I ran out onto the pitch my whole being was on fire. Every emotion possible was running through my veins – but fear was the uppermost. Within seconds these fears dissolved into thin air as I heard the Gooners chanting, ‘King Kenny, King Kenny!’ and clapping. I can’t tell you the relief. And ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you, ‘This was Kenny Sansom’s finest moment at Highbury.’ The fact the fans still loved me meant the world to my family and me. Elaine was jumping for joy and my mum kicked herself for not having come to the match. As for me, I played out of my skin in my old arena. You should have heard the gasp from both crowds of supporters when I shocked them all by blasting a shot against the post. I only bloody scored! But it was disallowed. ‘Offside,’ ruled the referee. ‘Offside my backside!’ I yelled back. But the referee wasn’t listening. Do you realise that, had my goal stood, Arsenal wouldn’t have won the League that season?

But Kenny said he felt the crowd’s discomfort.

As for the fans, Jason Cowley in his excellent book The Last Game: Love, Death and Football on Arsenal in the 1980’s with special reference to the season of 1988-89 wrote of the crowd that day:-

Not long into the game at Highbury it was announced over the public address that the match at Hillsborough had been abandoned because of ‘crowd trouble’. The reply from the Highbury crowd was instantaneous ‘we hate Scousers/ We hate Scousers’. A chant which I idiotically joined in. The announcer responded : there had been ‘fatalities’ at the game. This time there was no response from Highbury; only sudden silence then ripples of unease.

I remember just hearing fatalities go up from 3, then 7 and by the end of the day 40. Ironically, even callously I still listened out for the Arsenal score only.  By the following Monday 95 had died at Hillsborough.

But Hillsborough had been a tragedy waiting to happen. Many an Arsenal fan will tell you that Hillsborough semi’s were a nightmare. The cup semi final of 1973 against Sunderland for example. Another fan remembers at Highbury the crowding problems saying:-

Chelsea back in 1973, when over 60,000 turned up. They were queuing right down the road to get in. It was so tight on the North Bank. Your arms were pinned to your sides throughout the match, and there were blokes around me who had their coats pulled off by the pressure of rubbing up against others. But because you couldn’t actually raise your arms, you couldn’t get your clothes back. At the Chelsea match, I got into a crush, and through sheer force, my shoes were pulled off. Can you believe that? There was no way of getting them back, so I had to walk home barefoot.’

It seems ironic looking back at the game back then. Being a fan was a rarity and often despised (my step grandparents never talked about football to me as it was an uncouth game, followed by plebs). This was the normal view of football fans. Lets not forget people like Ken Bates wanted electric fences at stadium to keep the ‘animals’ away from the pitch and each other. Bates was reflecting a Tory party he supported [he backed John Major in 1990 for the Tory leadership] that hated the game with  Margaret Thatcher’s feelings towards football being:-

Her pet project, driven by the then Luton Town chairman and backbench Tory MP David Evans, to deal with hooliganism by introducing a membership card scheme for all football fans, with draconian penalties for those who were not in possession of one and overseen by a new body with the power effectively to control their movements, was hated by those it threatened to police. It was eventually, reluctantly dropped only when Lord Justice Taylor’s report in the wake of Hillsborough dismissed it as counter-productive.

Politicians back then weren’t playing keepy uppy with a premiership manager:-

Or watching a Chelsea vs Bayern final like in 2012.

Football had yet to be ‘gentrified’ by Gazza’s tears in Italy (that was a year away), football journalism would not be truly regarded as a ‘profession’ until Peter Davies’ All played Out came out the following year and Nick Hornby’s Feverpitch on a Arsenal love of football wouldn’t come out until 1992. Football had been ‘the English problem’. Most importantly, Sky was still 3 years away from taking over television rights for football. The game would no longer belong to the fans (if it ever did) but to the television companies and committee men at your club and F.A.

Hillsborough though changed everything. Mostly for the better, but a lot has come at a price. Obviously, since Hillsborough there never has been a return to those fatalities or violence so that is good.

You can’t imagine how much we (as fans) were hated and therefore that was often the reason it was relatively cheap to go to a match. Ian Castle in his book Arsenal: The Agony & The Ecstasy made an interesting point that up to 1988 you could go to Highbury in the summer, help with the decorating and upkeep of the stadium and get a season ticket for doing that. Imagine that in comparison to £1300 now for a Gold membership?

As I look back now over 25 years and you see the Liverpool fans still fighting for justice, I look back as a 45 year old fan, and realise that 79 of the 96 dead were under 30 and would roughly be my age. They went to a match and never came back. Never had kids. Never had a chance. In many ways, I look back and as a human being think ‘wouldn’t it be great if Liverpool won the title for those 96 people that died’ 25 years ago. But then, as a fan, I remember Jon Spurling words on that season and our after Christmas decline in the league saying of the media:-

This delighted the anti-Arsenal tabloids (that’s all of them, by the way), who as we all know, had their heads shoved far up Liverpool nether region’s.

But to those fans too young to remember, if you get a chance, remember those poor souls that went to a game to cheer their team and never came back. Justice for the 96.

overmars

Rogues Gallery: Marc Overmars

By Les Crang

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The photographs from a summer’s day at Highbury, with Wenger in his beige suit flanked by Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars, mark the moment Wenger finalised the jigsaw for his first title-winning team in England. Petit came from Monaco and would be transformed from a left-back into a powerful midfield partner for Vieira. Together they formed an imposing combination, able to both protect the defence and be an inventive springboard for the attack. As for Overmars, in came a flying winger whose directness and pace made him a brilliant creator and finisher. Amy Lawrence, The Guardian

Marc Overmars? What a player. Sometimes overlooked while players such as Dennis Bergkamp, Nicolas Anelka and Emmanuel Petit seem more remembered in the 1997-98 team. Ironically, the first Dutch player Arsene Wenger signed in June 1997 (Graham buying our first Dutch player in Glenn Helder and Bruce Rioch in Dennis Bergkamp). Overmars though is regarded as 12th in the list of the Arsenal greatest players. Unfortunately for Overmars, he is often overshadowed by his replacement, Robert Pires

My first memory of Marc Overmars was when Holland came to play England in a World Cup qualifier in in April 1993.

After taking a 2-0 lead England were undone by a one touch volley by Dennis Bergkamp. Then came the substitution that changed the game. David Lacey reported in The Guardian:-

The more crucial change, however, followed the substitution of Gullit, who stalked off to the dressing room in the 69th minute, leaving Keown with no one to mark.

This not only brought on Van Vossen, Holland’s eventual saviour, but enabled Overmars to switch to the right wing, where his acceleration led to the penalty. Holland’s reshuffle made them more of a threat. In the 85th minute, Winter’s sharp nod forward caught Keown out of position and Overmars outpaced Walker [a player who created a song after the 1990 world cup as ‘you’ll never beat des walker’] as the pair raced towards the penalty area. Walker pulled the Ajax winger back by his shirt, Overmars went down and Van Vossen sent Woods the wrong way with his penalty.

That pace to just turn and run at pace with players either having to take him down let him go was something we’d see in the future, but at the time Overmars was playing Ajax. A team that in 1995 would win the European cup, in which Louis Van Gaal was in charge of a team that included young players like  Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf as well as the experience of Frank Rijkaard. Ajax won 1-0.

Seven months later in December 1995 Overmars sustained a cruciate ligament injury that kept him out for 8 months. This would be good news for Arsenal in 18 months time.

Although Wenger had joined us in in 1996 and had got a very good first year out of Paul Merson, Wenger saw Arsenal needed more players to improve their third place finish from the previous season. First though, Arsene had to sell and Merse was sold to Middlesbrough for £5,000,000. I remember the disappointment of losing Merse, he was a real ‘character’ in the team and a box of tricks. But I was pretty pleased when we signed Overmars for a mere £7,000,000 due to his cruciate ligament. I was stunned at how cheap we had got him. But that’s Wenger for you back then.

Its not just that Overmars was a good player he was also a good team player

Overmars first season at Arsenal was pretty much one to remember, in which Wenger could play his favoured 4-4-2 rather than United’s 4-2-3-1. Jonathan Wilson excellent book Inverting The Pyramid: The History Of Football Tactics has said even this could fluctuate saying:-

Arsenal did similarly in Arsene Wenger’s first full season in England, with Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira deep, Marc Overmars and Ray Parlour wide and Dennis Bergkamp behind Nicolas Anelka, although Parlour and Overmars push on to produce something more akin to an old style 4-3-3.

Kevin Whitcher said of Overmars signing:-

With his negligible defensive contribution, he would have been unsuited to the 3–5–2 of the previous campaign and was purchased in the full knowledge that such a line-up was now obsolete.

This ability to have a fluid formation seemed the pinnacle of a great team. We had four strikers of different ability in Dennis Bergkamp (precision, accuracy and off the ball movement), Ian Wright (aggression, fox in the box and a burst of speed), Nicolas Anelka (youth, fast acceleration, good shot) and Ian Wreh (ability to nick important goals). Compare that to Olivier Giroud, Yaya Sanogo and Nicklas Bendtner and you can see why the present team seem to be over reaching. Out wide you would have Ray Parlour and Overmars. What surplatives could you give him that have not been said before on him?

For an Arsenal fan, wide players have been often our finest players and often overlooked. For example, in the title winning teams of 1971 and 1989 we had George Armstrong and Brian Marwood respectively (who won 1 cap between them) and who were so important to us winning the league. If you go back to the 1930’s you need only to mention Cliff Bastin as an example of the importance of our wing play. Before Overmars and after Marwood, George Graham had signed wingers. We had the fantastic Anders Limpar who football commentator Martin Tyler said of in 1991 ‘the man they are calling their new match winner’. He also bought a plethora of ‘indifferent’ wingers (Glenn Helder, Jimmy Carter and Eddie McGoldrick). Thankfully, once we saw Overmars, we could see we had a new Limpar.

Overmars got his first goals in a 3-1 win at the dell, in which in the excellent book of the 1997-8 season Gunning for the Double: Story of Arsenal’s 1997-98 Season said of the goal:-

Overmars opened the scoring by cutting in from the left wing, dribbling between two defenders and firing in low to the keeper’s right. It was a quality individual goal.

Overmars didn’t score until we totally destroyed West Ham 4-0 (all first half goals) with Harry Redknapp saying afterwards:-

We’ve played Newcastle, Manchester United and Arsenal in out last 3 games, and if  I had to pick a champion this season, I’d go for Arsenal.

Overmars got two goals with everyone praising Dennis Bergkamp to the hilt. I always find it ironic, that I thought Overmars was the best player that season because he didn’t get booked, sent off and suspended as Dennis did.

If Overmars was important in the win over West Ham United on that day, and to the Arsenal going top, I think as an Arsenal fan something just as important was the news coming from Leeds United on the same day: Leeds beat Manchester United and Roy Keane injured himself when he tried to take out Alf-Inge Haland. Manchester United certainly missed their hatchet man that season. Not that anyone really cared at Arsenal.

Although after the 3-1 defeat Arsenal against Blackburn, Arsenal would soon go 11 points behind to leaders Manchester United. Fortunately, Arsenal, Overmars, and Bergkamp hit a vein of form, which would culminate on Saturday 14 March 1998, in a must win game for both sides, with Arsenal 9 points behind but with 3 games in hand. In a fairly even game, the main difference was Overmars. Having twice gone close earlier in the match, with eleven minutes left, Ray Parlour punted a ball forward behind the Manchester United defence. Overmars headed it forward, burst into the box and with his third touch of the ball put it in the back of the net (see below).

The crowd went mental. I mean, lets be honest, what is better that winning at Old Trafford. Oh, Peter Schmeichel going down with a calf strain in the last minute. I remember the feeling of elation after that game. You could feel the title was ours to lose.

Arsenal had the title sewn up by May when they emphatically beat  Everton 4-0, with Overmars getting two of the goals, but everyone usually remembering Tony Adams crowning goal at the end.

Next up (after losing to Liverpool and Aston Villa) was the cup final against Newcastle. I’d personally put on a bet of Overmars first scorer 2-0 at 45-1. Crazy odds.

As the game proceeded both my day and Arsenal’s went brilliantly. Overmars obliged me with the goal and a 2-0 win.

After the final, Overmars had said he had appreciated what an FA Cup win meant:

This is all so amazing, especially to win so much in my first year. It’s special to win the FA Cup because it has this tradition as the oldest knockout tournament in the world.

A double in his first season and 16 goals. Although Overmars was there for another 2 seasons he never quite reached the heights of 1998 and in 2000 he and Emmanuel Petit left for Barcelona for a combined fee of £30,000,000. He never quite reached his potential at Barca either and retired four years later with a knee injury.

Overmars as a team player could also divide opinion with his club and international team mate Dennis Bergkamp said of him:-

The little man Overmars was just as bad. People forget what a fearsome player he was. He struck fear into the whole Premiership because when Dennis gave him the ball he was unstoppable. Just so bloody quick. But don’t let him in your room! If you had any chocolate or anything and Overmars has been in the room, wash bag and you’ll have deodorant in your toothbrush or something. It’s a way of handling the pressure. A football club is almost like an extension of school, really. In school you’ve got your pranksters, you’ve got people who want to make a noise.

Others such as Nicolas Anelka said of him in August 1998:-

Anelka labelled his Gunners team-mate Marc Overmars “too selfish”, saying: “I’m not getting enough of the ball. I’m going to see the manager soon because Overmars is too selfish.”

But then, Le Sulk never liked many people did he?

It was disappointing to see him leave. I always loved his turn of the shoulder and running at player and way he’d get between players. Back then Wenger could find a better replacement for a cheaper fee and he certainly did that when signed Robert Pires from Marseille. I always  feel Overmars is often overlooked, as Pires was such a favourite, but to me Overmars was like Limpar: enigmatic, lazy, exciting, and frustrating. But, most importantly, Overmars was a player that scored the winner at Old Trafford when we won the league.

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On trophies and European football: notes from three late fall programmes1979/80

This here is a stone cold fact: if I write a 200 word, horribly researched, factually incorrect, article on an Arsenal transfer target, I will get 10,000 hits and at least 50 comments; if I write a 1000 word, well researched, thoughtful article on Arsenal history which ties in nicely with what is going on at the club right now, I will get 3,000 hits and 5 comments. Those who don’t know their history, it seems, are not only doomed to repeat it, but also spitefully refuse to learn it.

One of our regular readers sent me three Arsenal programmes from three consecutive home matches between 17 November and 4 December 1979. In each, Arsenal played Everton and Liverpool in the League and Swindon Town in the League Cup quarter final. These programmes are timely as some of the themes within are repeated to this very day and these programmes can give us a sense of perspective.

Things were very different for Arsenal supporters in 1979 as The Arsenal kicked off that season in a celebratory mood, having beaten Manchester United to the FA Cup in what is easily one of the most famous cup finals of all time. You see, 35 years ago this May, Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-2 in what is often called the “five minute final”.

As a result of the FA Cup win, the club were playing in Europe and these two facts (cup winners and European football) are sprinkled liberally throughout all three programmes.

In the first, against Everton on 17 November 1979, Arsenal were still flying high after the 4-3 aggregate win over Madgeburg in the European Cup Winners Cup competition and the talk was all about Arsenal dealing with the rigors of twice-weekly football both in Europe and domestically.

Terry Neill’s interview in the feature “the week’s personality” was especially telling. Arsenal had been rocked by injury prior to the match against Madgeburg and the interviewer asked Neill about how he planned to cope with playing twice weekly. Neill’s response was

Well, let me put Europe into perspective first of all. There’s no point talking about tedious journeys and the games being hard and tough. We desperately want to be in Europe – the players want to be in Europe.

…we know that the way some Europeans play the games are going to be hard and perhaps physical, and that we are going there mid-week with a League game on the Saturday, but if that is what we want – and we do – then we learn to live with it. Don’t let us be complaining about success.

1978-1980 marked a return for Arsenal to Europe after six years, so it was natural for Neill to want to put everything into this competition. Meanwhile, the team were lion hungry to prove themselves on the international stage.

This is a far cry from the routine boredom and even angst many current Arsenal fans have come to greet Arsenal’s Champions League record under Arsene Wenger. Wenger, knowing his history and the importance of European football to the club (both the current and potential future players and not just the bottom line as is so often spouted), has fought tooth and nail against bigger spending rivals to keep Arsenal in the Champions League. I’m fairly certain that 18 years in Europe is one of the greatest achievements in sport. And I say that knowing that Arsenal have been one of the weakest teams in that competition for three years.

Arsenal had a great run in the ECWC in 1979/1980, beating the Old Grey Lady, Juventus, 2-1 on aggregate including a brilliant header from a young powerful forward named Paul Vaessen. Only to go on to lose on penalties (4-5) in the final to Valencia.

Winning the FA Cup six months earlier seemed to give the Arsenal a bit of swagger throughout the club and after brushing Everton aside 2-0 and with just three points difference between Arsenal and Liverpool it was billed as a big occasion between two clubs who like to play football.

If there is one team that doesn’t come to Highbury… looking for a draw, it is Liverpool, and if you get beaten by Liverpool then you can be sure that they will have beaten you on football skill…. we still reckon this is the team we have got to beat if we are going to win the Championship.

Consider that last sentence again. Liverpool were the Manchester United of that era. Between 1970 and 1990 they would win 11 League titles, 3 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 4 European Cups (Champions League now), 2 UEFA Cups, and the UEFA Supercup. It is this era of Liverpool that makes their fans so unbearable and lest you think that “plastic fans” is something new to the modern era, there is even an advertisement in the Arsenal programme for “The Liverpool Supporters’ Club London Branch”.

Incredible to think, then, that Arsenal were talking about the title. But that’s the power of winning a trophy, it just adds a feeling that you’re on to something bigger and better. This season, Arsenal have one hand on the FA Cup this season with Wigan and either Hull or Sheffield United standing in our way. And for the same reasons as above, Arsenal simply must win this trophy.

Many folks point to Arsene Wenger’s cup record since 2005, in which he has reached three finals and has faltered three times, and say that it is a feature of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal that they tend to crumble when faced with stiff opposition. But if you look at Arsenal’s record in cup finals during this period, and even during the fêted George Graham era, there have been many spectacular failures.

The third program in this series is a foreshadowing of one of those great cup defeats: a home match against Swindon Town in the League Cup. Recapping the 0-0 draw against Liverpool, the programme took on the lickspittles of fleet street who, even back in the 1970′s had a soft spot for Liverpool and, proclaimed that “Liverpool put Arsenal in their place.”

Since it was a match which we might have won, just as much as Liverpool might have won it, it is difficult to see how we were put in our place.

And Arsenal, class club that we are, dedicated an entire column to Swindon and let them have their say. They bragged about giving Arsenal a real game and playing their way. In the end, Arsenal would end up knocked out of the League Cup by Swindon, though only after drawing 0-0 at Highbury and getting beaten 4-3 on the replay.

In fact, a hallmark of Terry Neill’s tenure at Arsenal is that his teams would get knocked out by clubs he “shouldn’t” lose to or get to the finals only to lose. He lost the 1978 FA Cup Final, the League cup here to Swindon, the 1980 ECWC final to Valencia, the 1980 FA Cup final to 2nd division West Ham, and reached his nadir in 1983 when Arsenal were knocked out of the League Cup by 3rd division Walsall. That loss, along with Arsenal’s 16th place on the table, prompted Peter Hill-Wood to fire Terry Neill.

Arsene Wenger has reached three finals since winning the FA Cup in 2005 and lost all three — the Champions League Final against Barcelona in 2006, the League Cup final against Chelsea in 2007, and the League Cup final against Birmingham in 2011. With Arsenal in the semi-final of the FA Cup and facing Championship side Wigan, some people are already invoking memories of Walsall and Neill. Those comparisons seem a bit of a stretch. Wigan is not Walsall, Arsenal in 4th place is not the same as Arsenal in 16th, and Terry Neill won just one trophy in his tenure at Arsenal whilst Arsene Wenger has won eleven and we simply cannot discount Wenger’s record securing Champions League football.

Whether you agree with me on the significance and similarities/dissimilarities to the current Arsenal team I wanted to thank Patrick for sending me these gems of Arsenal history and this post is that thanks. Everything about those programmes brought a huge smile to my face, from the simplicity of the program itself (16 pages) to the fact that you could buy a replica kit (in time for Christmas) for £11.80 but they only came in sizes up to 40″ chest (modern medium).

The one thing we can all agree on is that this was a simpler time. Tickets for the East Lower tier were £2.50 and you applied for them by sending a letter to the club up to a month in advance with cash and a self-addressed stamped envelope. Frank Stapleton and the FA Cup were used to promote the new “Arsenal Annual” and a photo was snapped of the two of them, with the FA Cup raised on a cardboard box — probably the box that the Annual came in from the printers.

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There was no slick media production and product placement just “hey Frank, stand over there.”

And if you were the adventurous sort you could join the Arsenal Travel Club and take a trip to Nottingham Forest for the match day experience, taking either the train or the coach, for the princely sum of £5-6. Match ticket included.

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That is roughly £25 in today’s money.

And it will never be that way again.

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