The cold snap over Christmas continued into the New Year and Arsenal’s FA Cup third round tie against non-league giant killers Yeovil Town was postponed due to a frozen pitch. Many a big club had come unstuck on their infamous sloping pitch and the non-league side were angry and upset about the referee calling off the game as they really fancied themselves to turn Arsenal over on an icy pitch. They thought the game should have gone ahead but the referee said “The players might break their legs and so might I”. The game was rearranged to a Wednesday afternoon kick-off and there was no giant slaying this time as the Gunners despatched the minnows of Yeovil 3-0 courtesy of two goals from John Radford and another from Ray Kennedy.
Arsenal didn’t fare so well in the three league matches they played in January though. The Gunners beat West Ham United 2-0 at Highbury. However they then lost two successive league matches away at Huddersfield Town 2-1 and Liverpool at Anfield 2-0. Leeds on the other hand took eight points from a possible ten from five games to go five points clear. Although Arsenal did have a game in hand.
In between those two league defeats Arsenal travelled to Fratton Park to face Portsmouth in the 4th round of the FA Cup and it proved to be a tough match on a boggy pitch due to heavy rain and the game finished 1-1. Peter Storey putting us in front with a penalty before Portsmouth scored a last minute equaliser to take it to a replay at Highbury. I was gutted when on the way to Highbury for the replay we got to Holborn tube station to change for the Piccadilly line only to see the message chalked on a board reading ARSENAL MATCH CALLED OFF. For once Arsenal’s undersoil heating hadn’t been able to cope with the torrential rain and the game was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.
The replay was rearranged and was played two days after we’d lost to Liverpool. Portsmouth took a shock lead after just six minutes. But Charlie George starting his first game since the opening day of the season when he broke his ankle at Everton soon drove home the equaliser from 20 yards. Then from a Geordie Armstrong corner Peter Simpson was an unlikely scorer volleying the ball into the back of the net to put Arsenal in front. A couple of minutes before the hour mark Pompey equalised and the game became ever more physical. Five minutes from time Radford was brought down in the box and Peter Storey stepped up again to score from the penalty. Pat Rice then clashed with a Portsmouth player leading to a melee and a Portsmouth player received his marching orders as the Gunners went through 3-2 to the fifth round of the cup sending the Highbury faithful home very happy indeed.
Charlie George was the final piece to complete the Arsenal jigsaw. No longer playing upfront he revelled in his new deeper midfield role where he could display his full range of passing. Although he’d been equally at home playing upfront Don Howe gave him free rein to express himself and roam wherever he wanted. In the home game against Manchester City in the league he was pulling all the strings and I remember Jimmy Hill highlighting and praising his performance on The Big Match the day after. Although we left it late and didn’t get the winner till five minutes from time when a great run and drive from Peter Simpson was pushed out by Joe Corrigan straight into the path of John Radford to slide home the winner for a 1-0 victory.
Our next opponents were Manchester City again only this time in the FA Cup 5th Round. For the third time in a row we were drawn away and once again the our FA Cup tie was postponed due to adverse weather and the game was rearranged for the Wednesday at Maine Road on a filthy night where it was pissing down with rain on a very heavy muddy pitch. To get the very best out of Charlie Frank McLintock used a bit of mind games saying to Charlie that Malcolm Allison had said to Frank he didn’t rate Charlie “He thinks you’re a fancy Dan, a flash in the pan, someone who can’t last the full 90 minutes”. Malcolm Allison hadn’t said anything of the sort and Frank had made the whole thing up but of course this fired Charlie right up and he scored both goals in a thrilling 2-1 victory. The first a superb free kick and the second a brilliant winning goal. Charlie racing from the halfway line onto a lovely John Radford throughball as he latched onto it and slammed it past Joe Corrigan. It was then he did his famous celebration for the first time that he repeated in the final of laying on his back with his arms raised. When he came off the pitch at the final whistle he started swearing and screaming all sorts at poor old Malcolm Allison who had no idea why Charle was raging at him. Frank managed to usher Charlie down the tunnel then explained to Big Mal about his kidology and Big Mal saw the funny side of it. I remember I had a great poster on my bedroom wall of Charlie after those two goals sitting in the dressing room completely caked in mud with a massive grin on his face.
An added bonus was Leeds had been knocked out the cup that round in a massive upset losing 3-2 to Fourth Division Colchester United away at Layer Road. However Leeds then responded well by winning their next three league games in February. While we were going great guns in the cup our League form was a bit patchy despite home wins against Man City and Ipswich Town at Highbury we finished the month losing 2-0 to Derby County at the Baseball Ground and ended February trailing Leeds by seven points although we now had two games in hand.
Arsenal were still in the running for three trophies. Battling it out for the League Championship and also in the quarter-finals of both the Fairs Cup and FA Cup. Bertie Mee decided to give the squad a rallying call saying “We could expect to play two games a week for the rest of the season. This is the time to be really ambitious and to aim for the success which may never be possible for you as players again in your lifetimes” and it was impressed upon them that all three trophies should be aimed for.
March started with a great win as the Gunners shrugged off the defeat to Derby County by going up to Molineux to smash a decent Wolves side who ended up fourth in the table that season 3-0 with Armstrong, Radford and Kennedy all on the scoresheet. In the next game the FA Cup Quarter-Final we’d been drawn away yet again this time a tricky trip to Filbert Street to face Leicester City who were to go on to win promotion to the First Division by becoming the Second Division Champions that season. It was a hard fought game and we had to rely on a 70th minute save from Bob Wilson diving full length across his goal to deny Rodney Fern from opening the scoring for Leicester but we survived to draw 0-0 and secure a replay back at Highbury.
Next Arsenal turned their attention back to the Fairs Cup and the Gunners narrowly won the home leg of the quarter-final 2-1 against a Cologne side who had Wolfgang Overath in their team who’d been a part of West Germany’s team in the 1966 and 1970 World Cups and went on to become a World Cup winner at the 1974 World Cup. Arsenal took an early lead through skipper Frank McLintock but Cologne hit back to equalise before the break and Jon Sammels trudged off the pitch at the interval for what would be his last appearance as an Arsenal player at Highbury being replaced at half time by George Graham. Peter Storey scored 20 minutes from time to give Arsenal a slender 2-1 win with Cologne having the all important away goal for the second leg.
Jon Sammels did make a few more appearances that season coming on as a substitute in a couple of away matches and the FA Cup Semi-Final as well. In fact he scored his last ever goal for Arsenal in the very next match a 2-0 win in the league at Selhurst Park over Crystal Palace when he came on replacing Charlie George. George Graham scored the other goal a spectacular header which gave the keeper no chance. Finally we managed to put one over Palace that season.
A crowd of 57,443 flocked to Highbury for the FA Cup Quarter-Final replay against Leicester City and Charlie George was the hero again rising in the air with his long hair flailing to beat Peter Shilton to the ball and guide his header home beautifully inside the near post to send Arsenal through 1-0 and into the semi-final of the FA Cup for the first time in 19 years. Arsenal then had a struggle to beat Blackpool 1-0 at Highbury a Peter Storey header seeing off the stubborn resistance of the team that would eventually finish bottom of the table and relegated.
In Germany Arsenal went down 1-0 in the second leg of the Fairs Cup and were out of the competition on the away goals rule. Arsenal weren’t happy with the Romanian referee who gave a controversial penalty which Cologne’s Werner Biskup fired past Bob Wilson. There had been a tangle of bodies with Bob Wilson, Bob McNab and Cologne’s Kappelman all going down in a heap. The referee pointed to the spot deciding that McNab had fouled Kappelman who’d gone down very theatrically. This was to become a theme with the Cologne players play acting all night writhing around like they’d been shot every time they were tackled. The referee was also making some very bizarre decisions as well and Don Howe was going ballistic running up and down the touchline. Despite this Arsenal almost won the tie in the last minute with George Graham hitting the post with the ball rebounding into the arms of the grateful Cologne keeper. At the final whistle Eddie Kelly had to drag Charlie George away from the referee and even the usually calm Bertie Mee later said “It was the worst display of refereeing Arsenal had ever met during their Fairs Cup history. He killed the game and even penalised our lads because they called to teammates for the ball. I left my touchline seat and approached officials in the stand. I asked them to appeal to the FIFA observer to visit the referee at half-time. I asked for the referee to be told that when a player calls for the ball it does not constitute an offence. Now I hope the European football Union will take steps to remedy the situation”.
We were out the Fairs Cup and the matches were coming thick and fast and in all honesty it probably did us a favour allowing us to concentrate all our efforts on the Double. The Gunners needed to focus their minds and prepare themselves for the FA Semi-Final at Hillsborough against Stoke City the team who’d hammered us 5-0 at the Victoria Ground earlier in the season and once again they were going to give us plenty of problems.
Both sides changed from their normal kits. Arsenal wore their classic yellow and blue kit while Stoke were all in white. Arsenal started brightly but it was Stoke that took the lead when Peter Storey attempted to clear the ball it cannoned straight off Stoke’s Denis Smith into the net to put Stoke 1-0 up. Arsenal were pushing for an equaliser and Gordon Banks was unusually jittery making a couple of errors you would never imagine the world’s number one keeper making but Stoke and Banks got away with it. Then Charlie George the Gunners FA Cup talisman carelessly played the ball back to Bob Wilson without spotting John Ritchie who latched onto the ball and slotted it past Bob Wilson to make it 2-0 to Stoke and that was how it stayed until half time. Don Howe and Frank McLintock fired up the team to give their all in the following 45 minutes and keep their Double dream alive.
At the start of the second half though Jimmy Greenhoff sent John Mahoney racing in on the Arsenal goal but Bob Wilson came out and managed to save the day. Arsenal went on the attack and as the the ball broke to the edge of the box Peter Storey volleyed the ball home to make it 2-1. Jimmy Greenhoff then spun on the halfway line and was away. He closed in on the Arsenal goal but fortunately for us he hit it high over the bar and we could breath again. Deep into injury time it seemed that Arsenal’s dreams of winning the FA Cup and the Double were going to be dashed. However once again the Gunners never say die attitude came to the fore. George Armstrong floated across a perfect corner as only Geordie could and Frank McLintock met it with a great header only for a desperate John Mahoney to dive and push the ball out with his hand and referee Pat Partridge had no hesitation giving us the penalty. Bob Wilson was on his knees preying at one end as Peter Storey was about to face up to the World’s number one goalkeeper Gordon Banks. England 1966 World Cup hero who just nine months before had made that incredible save from Pele at the 1970 World Cup. But cometh the hour cometh the man as Snouty stepped up and kept his nerve hitting it low slightly to Banks left and into the back of the net to the relief and delight of the travelling Arsenal fans. The Gunners Double dream was still alive.
Arsenal’s only injury concern for the replay was Charlie George who came off for Jon Sammels 15 minutes from time at Hillsborough. But the Gunners named an unchanged side and 62,500 crammed into Villa Park for the replay. Arsenal were in no mood to squander this second chance of reaching an FA Cup Final. After 13 minutes Geordie Armstrong fired over another great corner and George Graham rose unmarked to head powerfully into the top right hand corner of the net to put us 1-0 ahead. Just after the start of the second half John Radford attacking down the left hit a ball low into the penalty box and Ray Kennedy slammed it home for 2-0 and Stoke were done. They had nothing left and Arsenal were through to their first FA Cup Final since 1952. There was more good news as the Arsenal players celebrated with champagne in the Villa Park dressing rooms when the news filtered through that Leeds had lost at Chelsea and the gap was now six points with Arsenal having three games in hand. It was now time for the players to put the FA Cup on the back burner and concentrate on the title race.
Arsenal’s first game in April saw the visit of Chelsea attracting Highbury’s biggest crowd of the season of 62,087. It was 0-0 at half time and it was Arsenal that broke the deadlock in the second half. Geordie Armstrong skinned Ron “Chopper” Harris then crossed low Charlie George dummied allowing the ball to run to Ray Kennedy who drilled it into the net. Arsenal went 2-0 up when Charlie George played a one two with John Radford then chipped it over to Ray Kennedy to hammer home again past John Phillips in goal for Chelsea. Coventry City were the next visitors to Highbury and put up a spirited performance but Arsenal managed to take both points as Ray Kennedy continued his scoring spree getting the winner.
Easter Saturday Arsenal travelled down to The Dell to meet a Southampton side who were unbeaten in their previous 11 league games. Geordie Armstrong was once again the man who provided the cross for John Radford to put the Gunners 1-0 up. Terry Paine scored an equaliser then John Radford produced one of his long throws which George Graham headed on and captain fantastic Frank McLintock scored with a right foot shot past Saints keeper Eric Martin who’d been so outstanding in the draw on Boxing Day at Highbury in the snow. Southampton came back at Arsenal but the Gunners weathered the storm and we held on for a 2-1 victory. Leeds could only manage a draw at Newcastle and Arsenal were now just three points behind Leeds with two games in hand.
Next Arsenal went north to play Nottingham Forest at The City Ground they were another team in fine form winning 5 of their last six games. But Arsenal blew them away 3-0 with Frank McLintock, Ray Kennedy and Charlie George scoring our goals.
The Title run in was well and truly on and the pressure was mounting. Next up it was Newcastle United at Highbury. I think I speak for all Arsenal fans that were there that day. We really believed that we could win the Double and there was so much tension, excitement and expectation in the air. Newcastle hadn’t conceded a goal in their previous three visits to Highbury and they proved to be just as stubborn on this occasion. With just 19 minutes left to play the game looked like it was heading for a goalless draw. But once again Charlie George came up with a bit of magic hammering an unstoppable shot from the edge of the box past the keeper to give us the points. There was massive relief from the fans and the roof almost came off the North Bank when Charlie scored that winning goal.
Meanwhile there were incredible scenes unfolding up at Elland Road where Leeds were playing West Bromwich Albion. Leeds were already trailing to a goal from Tony “Bomber” Brown and at round about the same time as Charlie George was about to put Arsenal ahead at Highbury against Newcastle West Brom scored one of the most controversial goals of all time. Tony Brown intercepted a pass from Norman Hunter and as the ball went forward over the halfway line Colin Suggett was clearly standing miles offside. Linesman Bill Troupe flagged for offside but referee Ray Tinkler god bless him considered Suggett wasn’t interfering with play ignored his linesman and allowed Brown who looked back at the referee in a moments hesitation, then continued to chase after the ball and closed in on goal. Gary Sprake came out to meet him then Brown calmly passed the ball to his left and Jeff Astle who may also well have been offside tapped into an empty net to put West Brom two goals up and it was bedlam. The Leeds players surrounded the referee and started to push and shove him. Don Revie the Leeds manager then came on the pitch and insisted Ray Tinkler confer with his linesman but Tinkler was adamant that Suggett wasn’t interfering with play and Don Revie left the pitch looking up at the heavens and shaking his head. By this time the Leeds fans had started to stream onto the pitch while the other linesman fell to the ground having been hit by an object thrown from the stands. The police and the Leeds players were dragging the fans away and it was utter mayhem as 23 fans were arrested. The game eventually restarted and despite Alan Clarke scoring it wasn’t enough and Leeds lost 2-1.
I remember watching “Match of the Day” that night and Barry Davies shouting when Astle scored the controversial second goal “Leeds will go mad and they have every right to go mad” I couldn’t believe what I was watching as it all unfolded on our black and white telly! Most significantly though Arsenal who’d been chasing Leeds all season had finally caught them and we had got our noses in front topping the table for the first time that season on goal average.
Prior to the visit of Burnley to Highbury Alf Ramsey had selected both Bob McNab and Peter Storey for the England squad to face East Germany at Wembley which was to take place the night before the Burnley game. It was the first time Storey had been called up for England but Bertie Mee wasn’t at all happy with the situation. McNab and Storey were summoned to a meeting in the manager’s office with Bertie and Don Howe. Bertie said “I want you two to drop out the England squad because we have got a game” Don Howe then said “You can’t say that. You can’t ask them to drop out the England side” Peter Storey said “If Don hadn’t have spoken up. I might have had to pull out and I don’t think I would ever have got picked again if I had done that”. However John Roberts and Eddie Kelly came in to replace them and a Charlie George penalty was enough to see off Burnley 1-0. The Clarets were heading for relegation along with their Lancastrian neighbours Blackpool.
Arsenal had strung together nine straight wins in the League while Leeds had only taken nine points from eight games over that period and Arsenal were now two points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand having played 38 games to Leeds 39.
Arsenal’s next game was away at The Hawthorns to take on West Brom and Frank McLintock had just been announced as the Football Writers Footballer of the Year and I have to say I think they made the right choice as our skipper had been outstanding and an inspiration driving the team on all season. Asa Hartford gave West Brom the lead but the new Footballer of the Year Frank McLintock soon equalised. In the second half Hartford scored his second goal of the game only this time it was an own goal as his pass back to John Osbourne ended up in the net. Just four minutes from time West Brom made it 2-2 when Tony Brown smashed one in. So we came away from The Hawthorns with just a point.
Which was enough to allow Arsenal the chance in their next match to go to Elland Road and take the title if we could win the game. Coming up next read all about the finale to the Double in the fourth and final part.