Category Archives: History

Bertie Mee

Anatomy of Arsenal: Ajax 1972 (Part 2) the slow decline of Bertie Mee

By Les Crang

We were blessed with a backbone of men with character who demanded excellence from others. - Don Howe 1971

Having obtained our first trophy in 17 years when Arsenal had defeated Anderlecht 3-0 at Highbury:-

Giving us a 4-3 win on aggregate, Arsenal the following season went on to win the double, with Arsenal winning 1-0 against Spurs to obtain the league title through a Ray Kennedy goal:-

Then, the following Saturday they won the F.A cup, with Charlie George scoring THAT winning goal:-

3 trophies in 2 years, plus two cup finals in the previous years, seemed to have set Bertie Mee  to be the new Herbert Chapman. If only it was so.

In winning the European fairs cup, Arsenal had proven the worth to winning something and also the financial impact of winning the European Fair Cup. Winning a trophy had created a team spirit, especially through the mouthpiece of the team, Frank McLintock. Famously, after the 3-1 defeat away to Anderlecht in the first leg, Frank said in his biography:-

While I was in the shower I started  to think about the last quarter of an hour of the match , and saw a way out for us. Kiandula, the Anderlecht centre half, was a good 6” 2’ tall, but he couldn’t head the ball for a free haggis supper. I thought, ‘bloody hell, we can win this’… [I told the team] ‘Get your heads up. I’ll bet anyone  we can win this because they can’t defend crosses. We need to get our heads straight, really set out stall out to concentrate and not concede.’

This fighting mentality of the Arsenal team would be tested the following season, with Arsenal winning the double, with not only a winning mentality, but fighting mentality and tactical awareness.

In the season of 1970-71, the fighting mentality can be seen in one game in particular. The game away to Lazio in the fairs cup. In a game that ended 2-2 after Arsenal had been 2-0 up, Arsenal were asked to go for dinner with the Lazio team, after a game in which the Italians had kicked, spat and slapped Arsenal about. In his book Rebels for the Cause: The Alternative History of Arsenal Football Club Jon Spurling said:-

With tempers still simmering, players from both side attended a banquet in a plush Roman restaurant. Denis Hill-Wood, Arsenal’s chairman, thanked Lazio for their ‘warm hospitality’ (cue sniggers from the Gunners players) and, as a token of their ‘goodwill’, Lazio officials presented Arsenal players with a set of distinctly girly handbags. Such fashion accessories were trendy among Latino males, but not burly Anglo-Saxon footballers. 

Ray Kennedy recalled at the end of the meal, some of the bags were thrown around like frisbees by the Arsenal players. It seemed fairly good-natured, and even the Lazio players laughed at their antics, but when the teams left the restaurant, it was a different story. Immediately, Kennedy was set upon by a couple of italian players and the fight spilled out onto the street, turning into a full scale brawl. George Armstrong was slammed against the side of the bus, and several of his team mates were punched to the floor. In the thick of the action was John Roberts, not the greatest central defender in the world but proving himself to be a decent heavyweight boxer. He defended his colleagues with his life, as did manager Bertie Mee, who according to eyewitnesses ‘had a neat right-hook on him’.

Afterwards, Mee asked the players to keep quiet about the fight. Unfortunately, by the time they returned, the press had been tipped off and the press at the airport. He stood behind the team though, saying to the press:-

I am proud to be the manager of these players… they withstood terrible provocation during the match… I cannot condone fighting but the players all have my sympathy.

With Mee standing up for the players in the press, behind the scene’s Arsenal were being coached and drilled by Don Howe. Don is often regarded as a defensive coach, but by many fans and players of the first double team, a great coach.

Bob Wilson wrote of him:-

If he thought someone had made a silly error he was in their face telling them so. He was tactile when he thought a player had turned the game in the team’s favour, grabbing them and patting them on the back. His pre-match talks were simple and inspirational.

Therefore, the double winning side had obtained their trophies by good coaching from Howe, the support of Mee as the figurehead when problems arose but also being able to utilise the hunger of the older and younger professionals into a winning team. An example of the older player’s hunger is captain Frank McLintock, whose desire to win (and especially to win a Wembley final after 4 attempts) meant his winning Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year.

An example of the young players can be clearly seen in Ray Kennedy, who after Charlie George got injured on the opening day of the double season, took over as striker. In his biography, said the reason he had his most successful scoring season was due to fear of being dropped for Charlie George.

The double winning team also had an x-factor in the extremely confident and skillful Charlie George, whose reappearance at the end of the season gave Arsenal the extra push over the line.

In many ways the double team should have been the beginning of something great. Unfortunately it was the beginning of the end. Firstly, Don Howe had departed to WBA to become manager. Many, if not all felt this was a major error of judgement in the board allowing him to leave. Mee personally felt that Howe had been underhanded in his action, in that he’d done it whilst Mee was away on holiday and also took two members of staff. Howe was later to say that he had hoped the board might look into him taking over from Mee, but they were not very forthcoming in this and therefore Howe jumped at the chance to be boss at West Brom.

If the coaching was to decline, so was team morale over money and investment. Although Arsenal had won the double, little investment was made over the summer. In fact, money had been paid out to the senior players, as Arsenal ran a scheme where senior players received higher pay for the longevity of their stay at the club. Unfortunately, players like Charlie George and Ray Kennedy received considerably less even though their goals had won them the two trophies. One example of the mismanagement at the time was the transfer of Alan Ball. Peter Storey said of Ball’s transfer:-

The size of his wage packet was a source of jealousy in the dressing room and none of us was impressed when his dad, Alan Ball senior, remarked that: ‘Alan didn’t want to move South [from Everton] but Arsenal guaranteed him £12,500 a year’.

Bad feelings were bubbling up and would soon burst.

Another major sticking point for Arsenal declining was the mutual hatred felt between Bertie Mee and Charlie George. It was said Mee would never stand in front of George in case he was attacked, George found his headmaster approach to him and the team infuriating. George in his biography has exactly nothing positive to say about Mee.

If season 1970-1 had ended with a shout, the beginning of 1971-2 was to begin with a whimper. Having won their first 2 games, Arsenal lost their next three. By November Arsenal had gone to Wolves and been soundly beaten 5-1:-

Something had to change. So Bertie Mee bought himself a nice Christmas present in Alan Ball for a record fee of £220,000 in December 1971. Mee felt he needed Ball for his push in the European cup and possibly F.A cup. Although Ball brought flair and fun to the club he was also not a constructive force. With the senior professionals he was fine, but the younger ones, on finding he was on 10k per annum (double their salary usually) felt they were losing out. Ball being Ball had been told to keep his wages secret from the other players. Unfortunately, Ball was extremely open about his wages and discussing them with the team.

In the European cup, Arsenal had beaten Stromsgodset 7-1 on aggregate in the first round and beaten the Swiss team Grasshoppers 5-0 on aggregate. In the quarter-finals they would face Ajax.

Ajax, had not changed much from the previous two years with much of the same team as Arsenal had played to two years previously. Krol and Cruyff were still there as was Neesken who was signed in 1970. Also, Rinus Michels had turned the team around somewhat from the previous two years. It is often forgotten that Ajax had not been the first Netherlands team to win the European cup, in fact Feyenoord had beaten Celtic in 1970.

Ajax now would go on to prove they were not only the best team in the Netherlands but also in Europe, with their total football style. In 1969-70 Ajax had won the double title in the Netherlands with Cruyff scoring 33 goals in 46 matches. The following year they had won their first European cup, defeating Panathinaikos 2-0 at Wembley.

The inclusion of Johan Neeskens had greatly improved the team, with the players pointing out in David Winner book Brilliant Orange wrote how the changes meant:-

[The] ‘pressing’ and the transformation of the defensive offside trap into an offensive instrument instrument – began with Johan Neeskens natural aggression and Vasovics [Ajax libero] tactical acumen……Neeskens [would] chase after them [the opposition], often following them deep into their own half. At first other Ajax defenders  stayed back, but at some point during the 1970 season the rest of the defence began to follow. ‘Without studying it, they started to play offside,’ says Haarms. ‘Vasco took one step forward and suddenly it was there. A kind of miracle. Michels saw it and said ‘Yes! This is how we have to do it.’ I don’t remember a specific game, but one minute we were playing the old system and the next the was way was there’. Now Ajax hunted in packs. If Neesken failed to win the ball, the defence would be so far forward that the opposition would be caught offside if they tried to attack.

If Arsenal had lost their tactical nous in Don Howe leaving, then for Ajax it must have been worse when manager Rinus Michels had gone to Barcelona and was replaced by the easier going Ștefan Kovács [Rinus Michels often believed in ‘conflict politics’ to get his players up for a game].

The first game of a two legged tie took place on the 8th of march, 1972 in Amsterdam. Alan Ball was still not able to play as he was not eligible. This meant Peter Marinello came in for him. Hardly a sentence that fill’s many fans with hope. The Arsenal team’s only major change being Sammy Nelson in for Jon Sammels (who had left for Leicester City in the close season). The Times wrote of the game:-

[Headline] Wilson and goal give Arsenal hope

Ajax 2 Arsenal 1 The score represents no self-contained account of this quarter-final round first leg tie in the European Cup between Ajax, the champions of Europe, and Arsenal, the champions of England. The truth is that Arsenal might well have sunk like a stone but for a brave rearguard action and a heroic performance in goal by Wilson. The mastery that Ajax asserted over the Englishmen reminded one very much of the way Barcelona once undid Wolverhampton Wanderers stitch by stitch in this same competition at the end of the 1950s. Now there was a vital difference. Ajax lacked the finish and a cardinal fact to note in all this is the goal scored by Arsenal away from home. This may well come in conclusively before the whole story is finished as away goals decide if the scores are level after both legs. It offers a lifeline to the future as memory is touched by Arsenal’s defeat of Ajax in a semi-final of the Fairs’ Cup two years ago. That, of course, may be irrelevant now, but the goal scored by Kennedy after only 15 minutes always keeps hope alive that things will break better next time. To put it bluntly, Arsenal for the whole of the first half and for large sections of the second looked a stricken, sad team when it came to the basic skills… Most of the night, too, the tall stadium was awash with a cascade of the red and white Ajax banners is the battle unwound on a perfect pitch that looked like a billiard table. Wilson, of course, was the her). In the outfield McLintock and Simpson together assembled Arsenal’s senses and dwindling forces while Armstrong tried to pull together some of the loose threads. But basically it was Cruyff with his captain Keizer who confused and mocked the Arsenal defenders with their subtle and dangerous movements. Cruyff was always in the eye of the storm searching and stimulating. But they overdid it and played into Arsenal’s packed ranks, heavily overcrowded where at times one could scarcely see free space.

Having lost 2-1 away Arsenal were not too concerned having gained an important away goal. Two weeks later Arsenal had the opportunity to overturn the result at Highbury [full game below].

In Chris Anderson’s influential The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong he noted that one weak link can diminish the power of the team saying:-

Football is a team game, but it is one decided by sheer, staggering individual ineptitude. Every team has one player whose presence chills fan’s blood.

If anyone was the weakest link in the Arsenal team, it was John Radfords replacement Peter Marinello. Ball had been a quality player at both Blackpool and Everton and had started well at Arsenal but Marinello was a player bought too early from Hibernians as a 19 year old. To see Marinello’s lack of ability one only need to watch the first minute of the game (above). Ajax, in trying to slow the game down, play an early back pass in which Marinello closes down the ball. Blankenburg bobbles the pass (the pitch was cut up) and Marinello nips the ball away from him. From there he has a one on one with the goalkeeper and takes a fraction of a second too long and scuffs his shot into Stuy’s legs. An early goal would have made all the difference.

Instead 13 minutes later George Graham headed the ball over an advancing Bob Wilson, leaving the keeper in no mans land. 1-0 to Ajax. Arsenal pushed for a goal, but Ajax played deep and played for the counter-attack. Unfortunately, the game ended 1-0 and Arsenal were out of Europe.

The Times report of the game wrote:-

Escaping a dangerous situation in the first minute, when Krol slipped¹ to let in Marinello brought into the Arsenal attack in place of the suspended Radford and applaud their goalkeeper for a point-blank save with his feet; then given a lucky goal themselves when Graham headed a deep cross from the same Krol past Wilson for the match, Ajax last night completed the double over the reigning ‘English champions. So the Dutchmen, top of their national league and unbeaten all season, are now in their third semi-final of the European Cup in four seasons, having won this particular tie by an aggregate of three goals -to one. A straight line was tried at the end of the night, the sum and the answer were given. In spite of all their attack, Arsenal Enally were spread eagled, neither side on this occasion having put anything :like their best foot forward. Indeed, in many ways it was a desolate, untidy and negative match. The goal that Arsenal had sneaked in Amsterdam now proved counterfeit. It counted as nothing. Yet to say again this was a parody of football, knowing the deep skill possessed by Ajax. But having been given that early gift they merely sat on their eggs and knowing the limitations of their enemy let Arsenal come at them minute after minute with the ball slung hope- fully into the air… But Ajax after that gift, clearly were not disposed to over-exert themselves in front and concerted all their reserves at the rear.

The loss at home did not sit well with Bertie Mee. He said after the game:-

I never forgave George for putting through his own goal against Ajax in the European cup, a header from the edge of the area, but that was George.

Peter Storey wrote in his biography of the defeat and George Graham in particular:-

George tried to make light of it afterwards, telling the lads how we should have marked him tighter because we knew what a beast he was in the air. I didn’t think it was amusing. I forced a tight smile; I knew George was self-conscious and was trying to lighten the mood but I hated losing, absolutely loathed it with a passion and I looked around the dressing room for teammates who felt the disappointment as keenly as me. 

Sometimes when you are on a roll as a team, you think the good times will never end. We had just missed an opportunity to reach the semi-finals of the European cup, yet certain individuals were behaving as if it wasn’t that big a deal and almost seemed to be saying ‘never mind, we’ll be back again next year.

The next year would actually be 20 years when we would face Benfica.

So where did it go wrong? in many ways we lost because Ajax were a great team, but that is rather simplistic. Arsenal faced Ajax and had opportunities at Highbury, leaving Johan Cruyff to say that they were ‘holding on’ at the end of the game. The loss of John Radford and replacement of Peter Marinello was also a major reason for the defeat. Radford had scored 21 goals in the double winning team. Also, the non availability of Alan Ball was a problem, as along with Charlie George, these two consisted of perhaps our best world class players in the team.

The Ajax team was a great team whose total football meant all players could cover any position on the pitch. As a philosophy and footballing style it meant injuries could be covered by players and that football positions were not set in stone. Unfortunately, at Arsenal players were restricted to their position and Arsenal had a small team – in David Tossell’s excellent Seventy-One Guns: The Year of the First Arsenal Double you learn that Arsenal only used 14 players over a 65 match season. Mee might have been wise to add to the squad. When he did add to the squad, he brought in Alan Ball to play in Europe.

Finally, Don Howe leaving had left the team bereft of ideas and although his replacement Steve Burtenshaw was a good coach, he was never a great coach like Howe and often derided by many of the team. Bertie Mee team would slowly disintegrate but not in season 1971-2. No. It would be the next year and not in Europe. But in the cup.

(Big thanks to Dave Seager, Andy Kelly, Mark Andrews, Harry Lemon & Cockney Green Gooner for their assistance.)

¹Krol didn’t slip. Krol (#5) sent the pass to Blankenburg (#12) who pulled a John Terry after bobbling the pass. [Tim]


Anatomy of Arsenal: Ajax 1970 (part 1)

By Les Crang

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.

Bob WallArsenal From the heart

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’. So it is ironic, really, that nearly half a decade ago, Arsenal found the idea of going into a European competition questionable.¹

But Bob forgot one important thing about playing in Europe, that many fans have laid at Arsene Wenger table in recent years. Winning a trophy creates a winning mentality and gives the team confidence.

From 1953 until 1970, Arsenal had gone without winning a trophy. A succession of managers had come and gone, prior to Bertie Mee, who would be the manager in 1969-70, Arsenal were piloted by the ex-England skipper Billy Wright. It was said of Wright that he would often come to Highbury and wave his fist at the bust of Herbert Chapman, as his side was always compared to the great man’s sides. Peter Storey said that the stress got to him so badly he was often found passed out in the changing room or couldn’t sometimes watch the match when sober due to nerves and the assistant would have to tell him the score in the changing rooms. Brian Glanville said of him:-

He had neither the guile nor the authority to make things work and he reacted almost childishly to criticism.

To call Arsenal a sleeping giant would be too generous. A comatosed sloth might be nearer the mark.

Anyhow, in 1966 Arsenal had decided on a new manager after sacking Wright. Bertie Mee, the club physio. On being offered the job Mee asked for guarantees if he failed as manager he would get his job back as a the clubs physio. Talk about poisoned chalice.

Mee, although no great coach was a good delegator, signing Dave Sexton and then Don Howe as first team coach. Under Bertie Mee in the seasons prior to 1969-70, Mee had got us to two league cup finals in which we had lost to Leeds United 1-0 (watch Jack Charlton do his usual trick of stepping on the goalkeepers toes to stop them moving for the corner in the lead up to the goal):-

Then Arsenal lost to Third Division Swindon Town 3-1 in 1969 on a quagmire of a pitch:-


For Arsenal captain Frank McLintock it had proved too much for him. Having previously lost two F.A cups finals with Leicester in 1961 (to Spurs) and 1963 (to Manchester United). Losing a further two defeats in the league cup had meant Arsenal reached four cup finals and then lost them all. He had prior to the Swindon final asked to be left out the squad as he felt stale and had discussed leaving the club.

But those defeats were a catalyst to two important things: Frank McLintock had grown fed up with a cup final and, more importantly, Don Howe and Bertie Mee decided to change Frank from a midfield player to a defender, moving George Graham into Frank’s midfield position. Don Howe told Frank this would extend his career. Frank would replace Ian Ure in the centre of defence (thank the lord).

Not everyone was happy with this, as Bob McNab said:-

To say I was not enthusiastic about it would be an understatement. Frank had shown nothing to give any indication he would have the discipline to become a centre-back. But, once you know Frank, you know anything is possible. He became so comfortable.

The change worked and by the end of season 1968-9, Arsenal had ended in fourth position (two places above Spurs) on 56 points (11 behind champions Leeds United) and Arsenal had gained their place in the European fairs cup.

The first four games against foreign competition consisted of some interesting matches, but not interesting opposition. In the first game we played Glentoran and Arsenal won 3-0 at home and then went to Ireland and lost 1-0. The game was remembered in Ireland for one thing. Charlie George getting sent off for swearing at the linesman. Charlie said of the game:-

It was hardly the glamour European tie I had been looking forward to. Worse, I was sent off in the return, not for a heroic challenge that went wrong but for bad mouthing a linesman… A few F’s and C’s went into what was my first senior dismissal. It was stupid, but you do what you do.

We then beat Sporting Lisbon 3-0 on aggregate and then to the Rouen of Belgium, which we beat 1-0 on aggregate. On reaching the quarter-final against Dynamo Bacau for most players this was their first trip to eastern Europe. Frank McLintock said of the visit:-

Our opponents, who were very friendly, just gawped at our clothes as they said their farewells after the match. They seemed petrified when they came to Highbury and we strolled to a 7-1 victory. I felt so sad for them. I think they were overawed and, understandably, wide-eyed from the culture shock they must have felt in London. I hope they at least managed to gorge on fruit during their short stay.

Arsenal had now got to the semi-final, where the could face such luminaries as Inter Milan (who had won two European cups in the 1960’s), Anderlecht from Belgium who had the excellent Paul  Van Himst or Ajax. In the end, they would face the Netherlands team Ajax.

Ajax were a team on the rise, winning 6 out of 8 league trophies from 1965-73. The previous year they had made the European Final, being humiliated 4-1 by AC Milan.

To make matters worst, they also lost the League to Feyenoord, meaning they were ‘relegated’ to the Fairs cup.

Despite those stumbles this was an exciting time to be a Ajax fan. They had already sent a warning through Europe when they beat Liverpool 5-1 in a foggy Amsterdam:-

It left the great Bill Shankly to say:-

I just can’t believe it,” Shankly growled. “They were the most defensive team we’ve ever played.

The Ajax team was being built by maybe one of the greatest foreign managers in Rinus Michels. A man who once said of management :-

Rule one: the coach is always right and rule two: if the coach is wrong, rule one applies automatically.

Michels was a man who gave us total football. In David Winners book Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, the author discusses the change in football, also found in the changing environment of the Netherlands. A structuralist architect Aldo Van Eyck said:-

All systems should be familiarised, one with the other, in such a way that their combined impact and interaction can be appreciated as a single complex system.

Almost a perfect description of what would be termed ‘total football’. A system where all parts were moving, all players could operate in any position, but a team that was built around Johan Cruyff. One of the finest players to come out of the Netherlands. It is often forgotten they also had Ruud Krol and Gerrie Mühren in the team. Fantastic players.

One hearing we had got Ajax in the semi, Bertie Mee said:-

I feel more comfortable facing Ajax than either Anderlecht or Inter Milan, their football is familiar, not foreign. I’m supremely confident we can play the final.

Jon Sammels thought differently saying:-

Of all the teams in the last four that we wanted to avoid, it was Ajax, They had a young Johann Cruyff, and Dutch football was really on the up. John Radford actually wanted Ajax in the semis because his wife Engel was Dutch. We just wanted to avoid them like the plague. Guess what? We drew Ajax. And to add to the challenge, the first leg was at home, which is another thing we didn’t want.

I wouldn’t say that other fans were so confident against such opposition. Geordie Armstrong said of the game and Cruyff in particular:-

He was a beautifully balanced player. Those in the game realised he was Europe’s rising young star, and our defence needed to be on their toes, as he was an absolute magician. Ajax also had guys like Krol, Keizer and Muhren in their team, so they were a formidable outfit. Their style of play was typically Dutch, where they’d defend deep, and hit back on the counter, and we rose to the challenge.

Prior to the game, The Times said (licence required):-

Arsenal face a true test of the present and the future at Highbury tonight. Having recently reshaped their ideas and turned more to youth in the process, young home-bred players like Kelly and George for example, at the side of Marinello, acquired at considerable expense from Scotland-they should now get an inkling of whether or not they are on the right lines. A two-legged tie against Ajax, of Amsterdam, in the semi-final round of the Fairs Cup is just the sounding board they need.

The reason for this negative approach? Quite simple, if you compared the sides, man for man, especially in the midfield Ajax, on paper were far superior. For example, George Graham was a great midfielder for coming from deep and scoring, but in comparison to Gerrie Muhren, a man described by Mr.Ajax and ex-teammate, Sjaak Swart as ‘technical and always running’, words one could hardly describe the Arsenal team being you could see Arsenal may have problems.  Not to belittle the Mee’s team, but they were a team based on stamina, team ethic and brawn. Though they did have one secret weapon that could play majestic football: Charlie George.

Therefore on the 08.04.70 Arsenal played Ajax at Highbury on a cold night and on a cut up pitch (not a rarity back then, see image below).


The team was :-Bob Wilson, Peter Storey, Frank McLintock, Peter Simpson, Bob McNab, Jon Sammels, Eddie Kelly, John Radford,Charlie George,George Graham, Peter Marinello               Sub:- George Armstrong [replaced Peter Marinello].

For the game in which Arsenal would dominate the importing thing was the inclusion of Peter Marinello. Marinello had come from Hibernians three months previously for £100,000, scoring against Manchester United on his debut. After that it all went downhill for him. But more of that later.

Arsenal started the game on fire, as Mee and assistant Don Howe saw that Ajax could be beaten when they noted that Ajax used a 4-2-4 formation with Vasovic dropping behind the the other defenders and then stepping out to provide a third man in midfield, meaning you could overman the midfield.

Within 16 minutes Arsenal had gone 1-0 up with The Times saying:-

It was Arsenal, however, who drew the blood when George. after two close efforts, shot home low through a crowd from outside the penalty area at the quarter hour.

Ajax then made the biggest mistake. They defended too deep. Mee, seeing the ineffectiveness of Peter Marinello on the wing changed things up and brought on Geordie Armstrong between around the 62 minute mark². I’m sure my hyperbolic description won’t describe things as well as Dave Seager in his soon to be published book Geordie Armstrong On The Wing, but Geordie on the wing changed the game and most likely Peter Marinello’s career of which he said in his biography:-

I should have been thrilled we wiped the floor with Ajax 3-0 in the first leg of the fairs cup semi-final in April, and I would have been, if only i’d been on the pitch on the final whistle. But you can’t keep a good man down, apparently, and they didn’t come any better than Geordie Armstrong, who had worked his way back into favour with the management and came on as a substitute to replace me.

With Ajax sitting back and Geordie and Charlie George tormenting the Ajax team on a heavy pitch at Highbury, with ten minutes left, Geordie put in a cross for Jon Sammels to convert. Three minutes later, the incessant movement meant that was Charlie George was brought down in the box. Up he stood and converted the penalty. 3-0. And that’s how it ended.

After the game, the press were full of praise for Charlie, with Cruyff saying of him ‘George can become as good as Di Stefano’. Charlie says in his biography that he swapped shirts with Cruyff who called him ‘the chairman’ due to the amount of incessant noise he was making on the pitch to the oppositions players and officals.

Although Arsenal lost the return 1-0 they went through 3-1 on aggregate. To face their destiny of a first trophy in 17 years against Anderlecht:

So why choose the semi? Well, the semi-final was against class opposition (one of the top 10 greatest teams one could say). Arsenal had come a long way since Mee took over in 1966. Many people were unsurprised that Arsenal lost to Leeds in the league cup in 1968, but two years later, team spirit had changed. The players were young and hungry. They wanted to win. Also, Howe and Mee had seen where the faults in Ajax stood and overmanned their midfield. They also saw the error of their ways in using Marinello and reverted to the hard working but skillful Geordie Armstrong. But the main difference was Charlie George. A man that had skill and a player that tormented Ajax all night.

Two years later Ajax would face Arsenal again. Would the result be the same though? To be continued.

¹The Inter-Cities Fairs Cup would be a precursor to the UEFA Cup and now the Europa Cup
²Big thanks to Michael_D & Andy Kelly  on the time of substitution.


“Stuck in a Moment: The Ballad of Paul Vaessen” book release at the Emirates 08.08.14 PLUS Competition

By Les Crang

On Friday I attended the above event, the book release of the biography of Paul Vaessen entitled Stuck in a Moment: The Ballad of Paul Vaessen. The book release was held at the Emirates stadium and was sponsored by AISA. Author Stewart Taylor and publisher/editor Greg Adams were in attendance. Greg is also founder of GCR book, a publisher of Arsenal books. Also present were some of Paul Vaessen’s former teammates Steve WalfordGraham Rix and Brian Talbot. I had also gone along with the goonersphere’s Dan Betts (aka jokmanafc on twitter).

For those who do not know Paul Vaessen, i’ll give you a potted history. Paul Vaessen is mainly remembered as the 18 year old substitute who scored the winning goal over Juventus in Turin with 3 minutes to go of the game left. Vaessen’s headed winner meant that Arsenal became the first English team to win in Turin.

3 years later Vaessen retired with an injury to his knee. On August 8th 2001 Vaessen died from a drug overdose, after years of drug and alcohol dependence. This was the 13th anniversary of Vaessen passing. 13 was also the number Vaessen wore that night in Turin.

I had spoken on a few occasions to Greg and Stewart previously online and reviewed the book on 7amkickoff previously. But once I heard there was an opening I decided I was going. Also, on the Wednesday I learned that one of my all time favourite players was coming to the book opening. Paul Davis.

Unfortunately, on finding out this news, even as a 46 year old man I turned into this:-

The evening started meeting Dan at the Piebury Corner for something to eat, a quick chat and a coffee (i’m not drinking for a month). I’ve quite regularly kept in contact with Dan and invited him along as AISA said I could take another person, so it was a 2-in-1 kind of thing.

After the usual chat (read, when is Arsene Wenger buying a defensive midfielder? All time favourite player? Is that your real hair?) We made our way to the Emirates. I love these events. I’m a fan first and foremost so being allowed into the areas which i’ll never be able to afford to see on a (rare) match day always gives me a buzz. As with anything at Arsenal, it is always done with style and grace.

Prior to the event I’d emailed Stewart the author and Greg the publisher, with a few question. They are added here.

Stewart Taylor:-

1.The book reads as a cathartic book for the family and yourselves, in how they have dealt with issues (whether there drug issues, mental health etc). Which I think is a major strength of the book. But, has Arsenal or football learnt from this experience and tried to stop or look at for players with ‘problems’?

There’s no doubt Paul held something of a grudge against Arsenal for the rest of his life for the way he perceived he’d been treated. He felt he’d been seduced and abandoned, not just by Arsenal but by the football community in general. Paul needed physical and emotional support at the time he retired and there just wasn’t any.

I spoke to Tony Adams about this to ascertain whether he felt things were better for him in 1996 than they were for Paul in the eighties. He didn’t seem to think things were much different. He didn’t get too much help from Arsenal either but he didn’t expect it. They weren’t experts in alcoholism. In fact it was because of a lack of available support, especially for sportsmen and sportswomen, that he set up his own clinic which has gone on to help those such as Paul Merson and Kenny Sansom.

I think the PFA now play a crucial role. They do a lot to help former players today make the transition from full-time professional to the ‘real’ world – something Paul couldn’t do – by making available money from a number of funds: the Education Fund which provides education and retraining programmes; the Benevolent Fund to assist former members experiencing financial difficulties, and the Accident Fund to support the rehabilitation of former players injured in their playing days.

Paul could have done with all three of these. At least they would have given him a chance.

2. Do you think the club might use the book as a reference point for young players (and in the community) on the pitfalls of youngsters on addiction?

This is my hope. I know the PFA have certainly ordered quite a few books for their staff in order to improve their understanding of addiction, depression and the other issues Paul was faced with. I don’t know what the situation is with regards to this but I would like to see a welfare officer at every club in the country, someone for players to go to. Again, the PFA have taken this issue on and have appointed Michael Bennett (ex-Charlton Athletic and Brighton) as Head of Player Welfare and he now has a network of counsellors working throughout the country to support current and former players. I think football, like society, is slowly learning.

3. I wrote an article ages ago on Vaessen. When I wrote it I was looking to get a start as a writer. But on researching it, I became more and more depressed. I actually felt ill writing it, because Paul is not a bad guy. How did you deal with writing the book, which can be quite depressing and going home from work to the wife and kids must have been difficult?

It’s true Paul wasn’t a bad bloke. He was basically, on the outside, a happy-go-lucky, cocky, confident South Londoner who was quite fragile beneath the surface. So knowing what happened to him, the injury, the merciless barracking from his own supporters, early retirement, drug addiction, depression, loneliness, you cannot help but feel for him. I actually fell ill with depression for two years during the writing of the book (not, I should say, because of Paul or the book). When I came out the other side, the first thing I did was pick the book up again. It was a lifeline for me. It gave me something to focus on. And I felt more and more convinced as I went on – and so too did Paul’s mum, Maureen, his dad, Leon, and brother, Lee – that Paul’s story simply had to be told. It was too important. I felt I had an obligation to Paul and his family and all the others I had spoken to to complete the project and that’s what I did. I did get down. You couldn’t avoid it, listening to Maureen, for instance, reminiscing about her lost son. She went through a hell of a lot but at no time made me feel like I was trespassing.

4. Another thing one notes from the book is you try and talk to a lot of people, but especially his mum. I think any person would feel for her. Do you still speak to his mum and family and how do they feel about the book?

Yes, I still speak to Maureen, Leon and Lee because we have become friends. I think they are pleased with the book. They were all behind it from the start. Maureen said from the start that she wanted this to be warts and all. It was her wish that others learn from her experiences and avoid the sort of torment she and her family went through. She would say to me that people used to avoid talking about Paul because of his problems but now people are coming up to her and are asking her about Paul, what he achieved in his short career and also about drugs. For Maureen, it just keeps him alive that little bit longer.

Greg Adams :-

1. How did you hear about the book? Did Stewart approach you or vice versa?

Stewart was lookíng for a publisher for his book and had spoken to Jem Maidment and, I think, to Andy Exley who edits the Arsenal Magazine and matchday programme. Both recommended me so Stewart sent me an email and a draft of his book. I loved it but initially turned it down because I wasn’t sure I had the time needed to publish and promote it effectively. I recommended another publisher and, almost immediately, regretted my decision. A month or so later I contacted Stewart again and was relieved that the other publisher had not replied to Stewart’s messages. By then I knew I had to publish Stuck in a Moment and things progressed from there.

2. The book is a real labour of love by Stewart, and obviously a departure from your other books on GCR (the reprints and the Wenger Code and Arsenal – The French Connection book). Has it been hard to markets being a very sad and cautionary tale.

We are now moving away from the republication of old Arsenal-related classics which was how GCR Books started. There aren’t too many classics left that we’d like to republish and with more requests for new Arsenal books we’re likely to be doing more of these in the future.

Stewart’s book stands out from anything we’ve published to-date. The amount of research and the quality of the writing really makes it an amazing piece of work. It’s a tragic story but incredibly well told. This doesn’t make it any easier to promote though. We’ve discovered that getting books into shops like WaterstonesWHSmith and Foyles is not easy for a small publisher regardless of the nature of the story and even with a book as good as Stewart’s.

Hopefully word will slowly begin to spread as more and more fans read the book. We’re convinced that the book is too good to fail. You just need to read some of the reviews on Amazon UK to see how much people have enjoyed it.

3. I like the book. I think its brilliant. Are you going to enter it into any sport book awards like the William Hill book award?

Yes, we’ve entered Stuck in a Moment for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award and will also enter it for the British Sports Book of the Year award. Because of the publication date it will make the William Hill awards for 2014 and the British Sports Book awards in 2015. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it could, in theory, give us extended publicity if the book performs well in both. Any kind of recognition would be great but it would be incredible to win, especially for Stewart who has given so much time and effort in bringing Paul’s story to a wider audience.


Notes from the Q&A:

Anyhow, getting to the Emirates I took some photo’s (see below and here) and got a drink and met a few people whilst waiting for the event to start. The event included film of the last 20 minutes of the away game at Juventus and then a Q &A. with the panel which would include Paul’s mum (Maureen) and dad (Leon).

Tom Watts had asked the author of why he wrote the book? He explained how he got into the book and discussed the 3 things he knew about Vaessen: he knew of the goal, the stabbing, and his death. The rest of the book was down to him and the people he meet on the way. He said a lot of people did not even know his death. Shows how he was forgotten by the football community. He then showed film which was going to be given to Paul’s mum, dad and brother (Lee). He also explained why they had used “Stuck in the moment”, Paul needed to get out of that moment.

We then saw the video of Paul coming on the pitch for David Price. We then watched the film stutter into action. The crowd even got into the game (as did I and I knew the score). It was just weird watching a game about a man who wasn’t there. When the goal went in most of us jumped up, unfortunately a glitch meant we missed the cross and Vaessen header. Thank god for the replay and the huge round of applause went up.

We then had Rix, Walford, Davis and Talbot. Talbot was asked about the 1979-80 season. Brian said there was no training just playing games and discussing losing 5-0 at Middlesborough. Graham asked about the team and his disappointment of the penalty miss in the final of the cup winners cup. Then they spoke about the stellar group of players over this period were. Ask the coach, Roger Thompson, about him and spoke of Vaessen. Asked about what kind of player he was saying he knew nothing about the injuries and glad to meet Maureen to discuss her son.He also felt it was important to do the book. Said as a cockney he was a fun lad with his team mate, Nick Law.

Steve Walford said he was a fan of Arsenal and said Vaessen was a young lad with prospects, he could have been a top class player. Incredibly sad. Paul Davis said he knew Paul from 14-15 years old and his debut [Paul Davis made his debut against Spurs when Vaessen scored the winner at White Hart Lane in 1980]. Said he was a big lad. 6’ 2”.He said he was a confident lad and had some great memories but last he saw of him was at end.

Rix was actually really funny. Davis felt inspired by Vaessen in the Juventus game. He also said he was pleased for his winning goal.

Tom asks Rix about the Winterslag game (where Vaessen was booed by the crowd) and about Jon Sammels. Rix talks about the victimisation and described Sammels as not quick but mobile. Jon needed to work alongside Stapleton and Brady for three or four years. Davis had the same feelings from crowd. Said it was hard for Vaessen. Rix said teammates supported teammates. Walford said that injuries were rare back then. Tom asked about the treatment of players and injuries. Brian feels they have support but back then they had Fred Street, cortisone injections. Said they would play with injuries but not today. Arsenal are top at helping injuries says Davis, even back then.

The greatest player never to play for England? Paul Davis (awaiting Dave Seager to disagree).

Tom talks about football and Vaessen’s retirement from the game at 21. Rix felt that buzz was what Vaessen meet. Paul never had a career. Rix says what a moment. Amen to that. Davis agreed. Rix and Davis still miss playing that game.  Rix lightens mood by saying ‘great cross wasn’t it?’ for Vaessens goal. Rix also said prior to the game at the hotel, that they were given a few drinks before the game. Talbot said Juventus and manager, Trapattoni set up a defensive match against Arsenal, putting 7 at the back to protect their away goal, which suprised the Arsenal, as Juventus had 7 Italian internationals in the team, and they were also on 20k per man bonus to go through. Vaessens first coach, Roger Thompson, spoke about working with youngsters and how Rix gave him his first England shirt.

Kevin Whitcher asked some questions about nobbling the referee, which the Italians seemed to do (aka the 1960’s Inter Milan team especially). Another person asked about the first game and the violence at Highbury, in which Neill described the Italians as beasts and was critical of Bettega nearly breaking David O’leary’s knee. I also asked about the Winterslag game but Rix could not remember the game (even though he scored) and Davis did not play. Talbot also talked about how clubs should take more responsible for educating and football, as there is a 95% drop out of young players.

There was then a book signing after the Q & A (and Dan had missed out on his question to ask the panel. You got to be quicker Dan). I then spoke to Maureen briefly which was very nice on a difficult day for her I should imagine.

I would like to say thanks to Arsenal, Dan BettsGreg Adams and Stewart Taylor, Mark Andrews. But especially to Paul’s Mum, Maureen. This was an awesome way to remember Paul Vaessen.

Author Stewart Taylor and Paul Vaessen mother, Maureen.

Author Stewart Taylor and Paul Vaessen mother, Maureen.

Finally, I bought a copy of the book signed by Maureen, Paul Davis and Brian Talbot for a competition prize. First out a hat by tuesday noon (GMT). The question is  as follows.

‘Arsenal were the first English team to win in Turin against Juventus. But name the first foreign team to win in Turin prior to that game?’ Email is and add an address*

*I will send the prize, but be aware this will be done at my own expense, so don’t expect it to arrive first class ;)