I was contacted by Hayley Wright, the video blogger for Arseblog and Billy’s granddaughter, regarding Les Crang’s Rogues Gallery piece on Billy Wright. She is a lovely person and only wanted to make one correction and offer some other facts about her grandfather that we might find interesting. I publish them here without any further comment. You can follow Hayley on twitter @HayleyWright
Just one factual error:
- In the 1962-63 season, Arsenal reached the fifth round of the FA Cup, not fourth.
There may have been a few other things worth mentioning:
- Billy signed Bob Wilson from Wolves in 1963 when Bob was an amateur – you know the rest.
- Billy signed former England player Don Howe from West Bromwich Albion for £40,000 in 1964. Howe played for two more seasons at full-back before retiring and then becoming first-team coach at Highbury. As coach, he was influential in Arsenal winning the European Fairs Cup in 1970 and the League and FA Cup double a year later.
- Most of the 1970/71 Double Winning side made their debuts under Billy.
- Arsenal also won the FA Youth Cup for the first time under Billy. They achieved this in 1966, his final year as manager, having been beaten finalists the previous season.
- Billy was the first manager to install undersoil heating at Highbury in the summer of 1963. It happened after a famously terrible winter when countless matches were postponed all over the country.
Billy Wright was Arsenal’s manager from 1962-1966 and is often the forgotten man of Arsenal history. Predominantly, Billy Wright is remembered for his time at Wolverhampton Wanderers and England captain as a elegant centre half. For Wolves he would make 541 appearances between 1939-59, as well as a world record (at the time) of 105 caps (90 as captain) for England between 1946-59.
Billy Wright’s international career was maybe best remembered for being the captain in 1953 in the 6-3 home defeat to Hungary. Of their third goal it was said:-
Their third was a goal of rare beauty and mesmerising skill, the ‘Galloping Major’ Puskas expertly dragging the ball away from Billy Wright “with the art of a bullfighter”, according to Sewell, before crashing a shot high into the roof of the net. “Wright rushed into that tackle like a man racing to the wrong fire,” surmised Geoffrey Green in the Times the next day.
Billy Wright, prior to joining Arsenal had been working with the England youth and under 23 team (a precursor to the under 21’s side) and had been strongly tipped to take over the full international team in due course from Walter Winterbottom. Unfortunately, the manager from small, provincial, Ipswich Town had won the title in 1961-2; he was called Alf Ramsey and was making waves for the England job.
Walter Winterbottom resigned after the 1962 World Cup, and the papers had Alf Ramsey as favourite for the job, with Billy Wright second favourite. In the end, obviously, Alf took the job, but Billy Wright was certainly held in high esteem by both the press and the F.A. His near appointment would also underline that Billy Wright had more of an affinity with the young players at the time.
After the 1961-2 season, the Arsenal manager and ex-player George Swindin resigned from the post finishing a disappointing 10th in the league and losing in the 4th round of F.A Cup, away to Manchester United. Worse, in 1960-1 Spurs had won the double and followed it up in the season of 1961-2 winning the F.A Cup.
Everyone spoke well of him. Not the least of the recommendations was that he was still an idol of the football-minded lads had all over the country and the Arsenal board believed he would attract young talent to Highbury.
Billy Wright started the pre-season by trying to improve the forward line, signing an ‘English’ striker from Italy (Spurs had done it the previous year with Jimmy Greaves). This would be the legendary Joe Baker, who was bought from Torino for £70,000. Joe Baker was a diminutive striker from Scotland, but born in Liverpool, becoming the first Scottish based player to play for England.
Jon Spurling in his excellent chapter on Billy Wright in Red Letter Day said:-
The Gunners began the 1962/63 campaign well, winning matches against Leyton Orient and Birmingham. Before game three, a Highbury contest with Manchester United, Wright walked down the tunnel, saw the expectant 62,308 crowd and returned to the dressing room, barely able to contain his excitement. Baker recalled, ‘Billy told us, “This is what Arsenal is about. Packed crowds, sunshine, playing teams like Manchester United, and (he leant over and rubbed my sleeve between his forefingers) these lovely red and white shirts. Beautiful. Now go and win boys.”’ His team went down 3-1, and didn’t win again for six matches.
The first season under Billy Wright would end with Arsenal finishing a commendable 7th in the league. They would lose in the fourth round of the F.A cup to Liverpool, at home. In many ways it was actually a fairly impressive first season with Arsenal getting into Europe for the first time in their history.
Going forward Arsenal looked impressive, scoring 86 goals. Unfortunately, at the back, Arsenal conceded 77 goals. Joe Baker would score an impressive 31 league and cup goals, scoring a hat trick in the final home game against Fulham. Baker had formed an impressive partnership with Geoff Strong, who had scored 21 league and cup goals. Although Wright had done ok in his first season, Spurs had won the European Cup Winners Cup.
Arsenal, were nothing if not interesting during Billy Wright’s first season: at White Hart Lane, Arsenal played out a 4-4 draw, they also beat Wolves 5-4, and drew with Blackburn 5-5. Wright felt Arsenal needed a new defensive pair and captain the following season. So Billy Wright infamously went out and bought a new centre half. Ian Ure for a fee of £62,500 from from Dundee. At the time it seemed a great signing, as Dundee in the season of 1961-2 had won the Scottish title, and the following year made the Semi-final of the European Cup. Unfortunately, he wasn’t that good on the ground. Nick Hornby, in Fever Pitch, famously called Jeff Blockley ‘”an incompetent to rival Ian Ure”.
Billy Wright had made me club captain at the age of twenty the year before, and though I was honoured to be given the job, I knew I was too young and inexperienced. I think Billy Wright saw me as a reincarnation of himself, a centre-half who was destined to lead the side from an early age. With senior players like Joe Baker, George Eastham [who took over the captaincy in 1963-4] and Geoff Strong around, I did not find it easy.’
The following season, Arsenal had qualified for Europe for the first time. If anything can underline Billy Wright’s time at Arsenal, it could perhaps be the European expedition. Why? Well, it was short, the results showed a team that yo-yo’d, and was also a money loser (though that was hardly Wright’s fault).
In the first round of the European Fairs Cup, Arsenal faced Danish team Stævnet. Hardly a big tie. Arsenal went to Denmark and won 7-1, with Baker and Strong both scoring hat-tricks. In the next leg, Arsenal’s first tie at Highbury, it would attract just 13,569 fans. Arsenal 3-2 to Stævnet.
In the next round we faced RFC Liège. Hardly the biggest tie in the world. Arsenal then drew 1-1 at Highbury (an attendance of 22,003) but in the next tie, Arsenal would lose 3-1. The European expedition was turning financially disastrous, with Bob Wall stating:-
In January 1968, Mr.Denis Hill-Wood, our chairman, stated that, if Arsenal qualified for the Inter-Cities Fairs cup, he and his colleagues would have to think seriously whether to accept an invitation to play in Europe.
When Arsene Wenger talks about 4th place in the Premier League being like a trophy, many of us agree. As a revenue stream via television rights, advertising and tickets, one cannot doubt its importance. But back in the 1960’s things were different. There were no cheap flights or many travelling fans then. Bob Wall explained that the first time Arsenal had played in Europe in 1963 they had played Staevnet of Denmark and lost to R.F.C Liege, writing ‘when we came to work out all our expenses and income, we discovered we had lost money’.
Over the next 3 season, Arsenal would go into steady decline. In his last season of 1965-6, Arsenal would end a disappointing 14th and be knocked out the F.A Cup in the third round, 3-0 to Blackburn (who would finish bottom of the 1st division by the end of the season). Billy Wright struggled at Arsenal.
I remember the Wright must go season. It was bad enough going to Blackburn and losing 3-0 in the Cup. Then the friday I read in the paper : Baker and Eastham can go. I cried. They were my heroes, you know. Putting them on the transfer list! With Billy Wright, even though I was only 14 or whatever, I knew we wouldn’t win anything with him. I mean, 105 caps, he was a good player and a decent man. But we have to have him out: Wright must go. Saying that though, there was this incredible mixture. There was an intense loyalty that 65-66 season as well.. There was a big game against Liverpool and the chant stated: The Arsenal! The Arsenal! It was actually written about in the papers. We were having a terrible time. We lost 1-0. But I remember the crowd keeping the chant going. I mean, as supporters we don’t have the chance to say : Look we know you’re a decent bloke and we don’t want to do this to you. But we can see this team is crap and it’s getting worse. Our lives are at stake here. So Wright must go.
The season would conclude with the infamous game against Leeds United in may 1966, when Arsenal would lose 3-0 in front of a crowd of 4,554.
Some of those present in the North Bank danced around a bonfire at the front of the terrace, and in the East Stand one bugle-carrying supporter played the ‘Last Post’.
Ironically, ten weeks later England won the World Cup and Billy Wright was sacked by Arsenal. One wonders, if Wright had been manager, would England have won the World Cup?
So where did it go wrong for Billy Wright? For many, it was that Wright was never ‘an Arsenal man’. In other words, he had never been a player at the club and aware of the club. It was said that Wright would come into Arsenal and see the Herbert Chapman bust and shake his fist at it. Ironically, the rumour with George Graham was that he wanted his own bust (and why has he not?) next to Herbert Chapman. Two different characters, two different approaches.
Billy was also not helped by the players at times with Ian Ure saying of his tenure as manager:-
Billy wasn’t a good manager. He wasn’t hard enough and he didn’t have the willpower to get the players to work together. Forwards played as forwards, and midfielders purely as midfielders. The groups didn’t help each other out. Some players simply played for themselves.
Peter Storey also says in his biography that Billy Wright struggled with the pressure and was often found passed out in the changing room and often sided with the more senior players (read Joe Baker and George Eastham), although he gave the youngsters opportunities to get experience.
To me, the reason for the Larkin quote at the top of the page, is (and it is only an opinion), I feel he was a man from a different era. Billy was a 1940’s and 1950’s man. A period when players were deferential to their peers, but by the 1960’s society plus football was changing. George Eastham, in pushing through his transfer to Arsenal from Newcastle in 1960 had seen that, when it came to wages, there was no glass ceiling. Players were now assets and not slave labour as previously. Also, football and management had become more ‘professional’ and certainly more aggressive. Don Revie’s team at Leeds a case in point. Ian Ure pointed out in the 1968 League Cup final, under Bertie Mee, Arsenal took exception to Leeds dirty tactics and hit back. Something Wright would not have done.
Wright’s biographer Norman Giller claims that the former manager’s ‘fingerprints were all over Arsenal’s 1971 Double team’. Radford and Sammels both recount Wright’s decency and kindness to them personally as they began to make their way in the game. But it takes far more than the occasional kind word in a footballer’s ear to make a great manager.
If Terry Neill and Don Howe had shown us much at Arsenal it was how not to win games, whether in the League or Cups, disappointment would often follow. Under Terry Neill we had some horrendous defeats. Losing to semi-amateur team Winterslag in the UEFA Cup in 1981:-
Or the humiliating defeat at home to Walsall in 1983 which lead to his sacking:-
Under Don Howe we seemed to lose again in an embarrassing manner. The defeat to York away in 1985:-
Or, in the same year the 3-2 defeat away to Oxford United of the old Second Division (what would now be called the championship).
Although both defeats certainly showed how poor we often were, there was something bubbling under the surface. The young blood bursting through the team, especially in the Oxford game when Arsenal sent on a young substitute to shore up the defence.
The substitute? Tony Adams. Unfortunately, the game underlined how ineffective Don Howe could be when he chose Pat Jennings in goal over John Lukic, even though Pat had a bruised thumb. David O’leary in his biography was perplexed why Don did this.
Don Howe, the much maligned manager, had done something George Graham would profit from though. In a recent article I did on George Graham, Dave Seager made a very good point when I interviewed him, saying:-
When you consider GG reaped the benefits of the Howe regime bringing through some exceptional youngsters. Adams, Rocastle, Hayes and Quinn who became regulars immediately for Graham has all played 10 plus games in 85/86.
A very salient point indeed.
Anyhow, although George had started spectacularly well in his first season after taking over from Don Howe and Steve Burtenshaw in the 1986 close season. This culminated in the Milk Cup victory over Liverpool:-
George Graham though had spent a mere £50,000 in his first season on the cult favourite Perry Groves. Hardly the signing to get the fans excited in anticipation.
But George was building his team and instilling winning ways in the team, the club and even the supporters. George had said on joining the club ‘nobody’s been doing it around here [Arsenal] for years’. He’d also said ‘Eventually it will be my squad at Highbury but for the moment i’ll wait to see how things develop.’
The beginning of the 1987/8 season had brought refreshed hope to Highbury. In the previous year (1986/7), in the dour 0-0 draw with Oxford, the fans sang ‘spend some f***ing money.’ I’m sure I heard that at the Emirates?
Anyhow, George had spent and spent very well. His first signing had been one of my all time favourite strikers Alan Smith for a mere £750,000 from relegated Leicester City, who would replace the tall but unprolific and slow Niall Quinn. Kevin Richardson would come from Watford as a midfielder with an engine for £250,000. Plus George then signed Nigel Winterburn for £350,000 from Wimbledon and then Lee Dixon from Stoke City for £375,000 later in the 1987/8 season. Five players for less than £2,000,000. He’d made nearly all that money back on the sale of Anderson, Williams, Keown, Sansom, Robson and Nicholas alone.
The new side, cut of the old cliques that Jon Spurling had described in All Guns Blazing – Arsenal in the 1980s had slowly been dismantled. George was making the club the way he wanted. A strong defence, with two fast, young and (importantly) uncapped full backs that could press forward or defend from deep. Two centre-backs, one young, strong and vocal in Tony Adams and a elegant partner in David O’leary with tonnes of experience. A midfield that could choose Michael Thomas, David Rocastle, Steve Williams, Kevin Richardson and Paul Davis in the middle (with Rocky and Richardson also able to play wide). Out wide you could have Perry Groves or Martin Hayes with Paul Merson and/or Alan Smith down the middle. Back up players would be Gus Caesar in defence, Niall Quinn as a back up ‘striker’. The spine was there, but a few pieces were still missing, but more of that later.
When I buy, the player must be right for Arsenal, not just in terms of ability, but in attitude….I intend to sign players who’ll fit into that pattern – not disrupt it.
This mantra, of buying into the team and not the player would work to great effect in his first five years for George Graham.
Anyhow, although the league season of 1987/8 ended with us finishing a disappointing 6th position, George had got the team playing. Especially in the Cup games. In defense of the Milk Cup we had made our way through to the Semi-final, where we would meet the previous years League Champions, Everton. The first game was televised live on a Sunday. Arsenal had travelled to Everton. In a rather timid affair Arsenal won 1-0, with Perry Groves smashing home a nod down from an Alan Smith knock down:-
It was hardly a classic. But it was ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’.
The second leg home tie would be Wednesday the 24th of February, but prior to that Arsenal had another game, a 5th round FA cup game. Against Manchester United on Saturday the 20th of February. This would be a game in which all the old antagonism of Frank Stapleton’s departure in 1981 and the two semi-final defeats in 1982/3 against Manchester United had already started to create bad blood between the sides. With George Graham and Alex Ferguson, both aggressive winners in their management careers, this would only intensify the rivalry over the years. In George Graham’s first season at Arsenal, Manchester United had made sure Norman Whiteside to played dirty, kicking Rocastle until he retaliated and got sent off. Viv Anderson had to be restrained at the sending off*. Manchester United went on to win 2-0, with The Guardian recently saying of the game:-
Big Norman Whiteside kicked everybody up and down the pitch for 90 minutes and didn’t even get booked!” chuckled Fergie years later. David O’Leary said Whiteside was “like a wild nutter throughout the match”.
This match was watched by a monstrous, blood boiling 55,000 crowd with the 8,000 strong travelling Manchester army helping to create a vicious atmosphere.
The game can be seen below:-
Arsenal came out all guns blazing, taking a lead from Alan Smith and then Mike Duxbury putting through his own net to double Arsenal’s lead before half time. Duxbury was mocked mercilessly by the home fans shouting ‘take your mask off’. In the second half, Arsenal pressed with chances spurned by Hayes (not uncommon after his very successful first season the year before) and Alan Smith. Then, Brian McClair got a goal and Arsenal started to defend very deep.
With 89 minutes on the clock and Arsenal fans asking the ref to blow his whistle, public enemy number one, Norman Whiteside ran into Michael Thomas’ legs. Never a penalty, but given. Manchester United looked like they’d cheated a replay to a last minute goal (sounds familiar!) Up stepped Brian McClair, who prior to this had not missed a penalty. After an age, with the North Bank behind Lukic’s name screaming and shouting. Up he stepped. Lukic looked up. The ball goes sailing ten foot over the right post. Pandemonium in the North Bank. Plus a fair torrent of abuse too.
Better still, Kenny Sansom future replacement, Nigel Winterburn (he was playing right back, although naturally a left back at the time) ‘consoled’ McClair with a few choice words in his ear. A rivalry had been ignited. It also showed this team stood up to any perceived bullies (real or imaginary). The game showed the spirit of Mee’s Double Side of 1970/1. No surrender and give as good as you get if not better. Watch Nutty boy in all his glory here:-
Arsenal won the match and would play Nottingham Forest at Highbury in the 6th round. Life was looking good for George Graham’s red and white army.
Arsenal were the better team in the first half with David Rocastle, rounding the keeper and missing an open goal. In the last minute, an often overlooked event occurred. Arsenal earned a penalty as Martin Hayes ran onto a through ball. Southall chops him down and is not even booked. Our designated penalty taker was Hayes, who the previous season had scored 24 goals, 12 of which were penalties. Unfortunately, even prior to this game he had missed a few (including against Norwich in our last home game the previous season). Up he stepped and blasted over the bar. Hayes then stood down as designated penalty.
The second half, Arsenal streamed forward with Michael Thomas bursting through the middle of a scouse defence (something to be repeated just over a year later) to score. Then Smith had a header cleared off the line from a corner. Everton then equalised via Adrian Heath after Lukic pushed out a goalbound shot. Hardly great goalkeeping.
Arsenal pressed forward for the last half hour, with Perry Groves passing the ball to Rocastle, who stroked the ball into the far corner. 2-1. With Everton camping in our half, Winterburn broke down the right, hitting the ball straight into the centre-halfs face. The ball falls to Alan Smith who stroked the ball home. 3-1. Final score. A 4-1 aggregate win. The youngsters were looking good, and better still, another trip to Wembley against unfancied Luton Town.
So. Why these games? They end in agonising defeat in the next rounds. In the F.A Cup we would lose at home to Nottingham Forest 2-1:-
Whilst even more painfully, we would lose the Littlewoods Cup to Luton, after leading 2-1 and having a penalty in the last 10 minutes (one that Winterburn subsequently had saved).
To me, these games showed what we had and what we were missing. What we had was a young side, with hunger and talent. The defensive and midfield spine was strong. Alan Smith was beginning to find the net (his first season he would score a respectable 16 league and cup goals). George had also started taking charge, selling players that spoke their mind or didn’t perform and replace them with players that would both work and not argue.
George Graham also showed us something we had not seen in ages. Fight. Winterburn reaction to McClair showed a side that wanted to win, by fair means or foul. George Graham instilled a winning mentality at Arsenal. He would often quote American coach Vince Lombardi sayings, especially:-
Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.
But what were we missing then? Well, it was pretty easy to see. We needed a right back, so Winterburn could play left back. We needed a new centre back, after the Luton Town debacle when Gus Caesar was the only cover we had for the injured David O’leary. We also needed a winger better than Groves and Hayes, that Smith could get on the end of. Plus, we needed to upgrade John Lukic. We did three out of four after these defeats. In January 1988 Lee Dixon came from Stoke City for £375,000, causing Kenny Sansom to have words with George, which the meant he lost his captaincy to Tony Adams and eventually his place (perhaps his best tactical decision in 1987/8 season and one that would pay dividends for Arsenal was giving Tony the captaincy). In the summer of 1988, George went back to Stoke and bought big, bad Steve Bould for £390,000. Defence sorted. We had 3 excellent centre-halfs and two young and aggressive full-backs from small clubs. These 5 players combined, would stay for a minimum of 11 years (Bould) to a maximum of 20 years (O’Leary).
But maybe one of George Graham’ unsung signings was Brian Marwood. Marwood was bought for £650,000 in 1988 from Sheffield Wednesday. A winger that could whip in crosses for our target man, Alan Smith. Smudge said of Marwood’s arrival:-
On his day Anders Limpar was out of this world while David Rocastle took some beating in his prime. The person that probably provided more goals for me than anyone thought was Brian Marwood.
Marwood was our game changer. A great example of Marwood at his best is most likely in the title season when we thrashed Nottingham Forest 4-1 (and Marwood had a penalty saved):-
It was not rocket science to see we needed a proper winger (what was the 1970-1 team without Geordie Armstrong?) Brian Marwood was replacing Perry Groves and Martin Hayes. Honest professionals, but not the greatest crossers, lets be honest.
George also did two other important things, often overlooked by some. He got a regular penalty taker to take penalties, first in Brian Marwood and then Lee Dixon. As we had players such as Rocastle, Merson and Smith bursting into the box, Arsenal regularly got 3-5 penalties a season. Hayes had missed three alone I believe in 1987/8 season. A penalty taker was a must in the squad.
Secondly, Arsenal and George had lost a final. A final they should have won. That defeat was a wake up call. If Arsenal had to win, they would play to the last minute until it was guaranteed. George would not allow his team to leave it to chance. George was never that kind of manager. Evidence of this is pretty clear. George Graham would have a further four Cup finals (3 for Arsenal and one for Spurs). He would win them all.