Date: 6th July 2011 at 8:51pm
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After having won the world`s most famous knockout tournament in 1950, Arsenal stuttered into a decline. They made it to the F.A. Cup Final again in 1952, losing 2-1 to Newcastle in a game in which Arsenal eventually went down to seven men due to injuries. Manager Tom Whittaker managed to lead Arsenal to another league title triumph in 1952-53– eventually clinching the title by 0.9 of a goal. During the 3-2 home victory over Burnley that would clinch the title, Tom Whittaker famously left the dugout for the last 15 minutes of the game for the refuge of a double brandy in the dressing room. It was an indicator of how consuming the Arsenal job had become. The expectation and the disquiet of the drift from the dominance of the 30s killed Whittaker when he collapsed and died of a heart attack in 1956.

From there George Swindin and Billy Wright came and went, well meaning and highly thought of men, but neither could reignite the lustre of the past. Arsenal went a different way thereafter. They sold established stars such as George Eastham and Joe Baker and appointed their physiotherapist as manager. Bertie Mee brought through a generation of promising young academy graduates and despite chastening League Cup Final defeats- in 1968 to Leeds and humiliatingly to Third Division Swindon in 1969, Mee ended Arsenal`s 17 year trophy drought with a stirring 1969-70 Fairs Cup win. With a team of grafters, allied to the flair and skill of the exciting young Charlie George and prolific John Radford, Arsenal made 1970-71 one of the most memorable in their history. I have already written about their extraordinary league winning campaign of that season- this time, I shall focus on the second half of their historic ‘Double.` This is how Arsenal won the F.A. Cup in 1971.

Mee`s talent in moulding the Double winning side lay not only in his abilities as a disciplinarian; but in surrounding himself with the qualities he knowingly lacked. His tactical shortcomings as a football manager were obfuscated beneath the veil of Assistant Manager Don Howe, who formed a perfect foil for Mee as a more approachable, knowledgeable presence on the training pitch, whilst Mee forged his troops into an infantry like unit. Mee would later comment; “Don Howe is the best coach in the business and the ideal man.” But it wasn`t just the training pitch upon which Mee surrounded himself with lieutenants. He recognised the rich vein of young talent coming through the ranks such as Radford, Simpson, George and Storey, but he surrounded them with established talent such as George Graham and Bob McNab. He instilled a sense of purpose and club grandeur into his new charges. Graham is known to have inherited a fascination with Arsenal`s history that survived with him well into his managerial reign. Mee`s motto was always, “Remember who you are and what you represent.”

Then there was the captain Frank McLintock, whom Mee saw as a kind of on pitch manager. A bawling, cajoling ball of Glaswegian invective and defensive prowess. He kept the level of his colleagues at its threshold in a long, tough season. This was particularly telling as Arsenal faced replays in three different rounds of the Cup- a run which took them to every corner of the country. They were scheduled to start on 3rd January at Huish for a match against Southern League side Yeovil Town. But the match was called off due to inclement weather conditions and rescheduled for a Wednesday afternoon- 6th January, 1971. The non league Glovers had knocked out Poole F.C. and AFC Bournemouth in the preceding rounds and looked to take on Arsenal in freezing conditions at their Huish ground, famous for having an eight foot slope from sideline to sideline.

Yeovil were going well in the Southern League but had a large overdraft facility that needed paying off. Sensing the lucrative nature of their opponents, they raised terrace prices from 4s 6d to 15 shillings, seating from 6s 6d to 30s, and the Director`s Box to £2. This made the match the most expensive 3rd Round tie to attend in history up to that point- a move which drew harsh criticism in the press. Despite the game being rearranged for a 2pm kick off on a Wednesday afternoon, only 30 tickets were returned and local schools extended the school holidays by one day to allow attendance.

But despite the frosty pitch and the feverish atmosphere of the 14,500 inside the ground, Arsenal did a professional job. John Radford opened the scoring on 35 minutes with a tidy finish, before scoring with a looping header early in the second half to put the tie to bed. Ray Kennedy added a late third with another header from a Geordie Armstrong corner. Arsenal drew Second Division Portsmouth in the 4th Round in front of 45,000 at Fratton Park. The Gunners would have to overcome adversity- not for the first time in the cup run, when they trailed their hosts to an early David Munks goal. Arsenal dug in but found Pompey to be resolute and stubborn. But with ten minutes remaining, Ray Hiron upended Radford in the area. Storey`s penalty taking would become the stuff of legion later on at a crucial moment of the cup run, but he showed why he earned the press nickname ‘Old Dead Eyes` with a cool despatch to preserve a replay.

The replay at Highbury was hardly a foregone conclusion, with Pompey digging their teeth into Arsenal`s ankles, no matter how much the Gunners tried to shake them off. Another goal by Storey- this time a header from a corner and a rare set piece goal for Peter Simpson had Arsenal well in command. That was until Brian Bromley`s long range strike halved the deficit just before half time. Charlie George had badly broken his ankle in the opening league encounter of the season at Goodison Park on the opening day- but by now he was back to fitness and proving an invaluable asset to Arsenal`s double drive. He hit a long range strike with eighteen minutes to go to reassert the two goal lead. But Pompey`s Albert McCann smashed home another Pompey goal for a lifeline and a frantic finale, which an assured display by McLintock and Simpson, combined to keep out by the skin of their teeth.

Once again the draw was far from kind to Arsenal as they were yet again drawn away from home, this time at Maine Road against Manchester City. On an absolute quagmire of a pitch, a virtuoso display from Charlie George stole the show. The rain lashed down onto an unctuous surface that had barely a blade of grass on it on a filthy evening in Manchester. George opened the scoring with a free kick from the edge of the area with a fulminating strike with the laces. George grabbed a second late in the second half as Radford`s through ball saw Charlie career over the halfway line; the ball holding up in the thick mud, before slotting home coolly. In celebration he ran to the centre circle and laid flat on his back; waiting for his jubilant team mates to haul him to his feet. It was a rehearsal for a celebration he would repeat in more orgiastic circumstances in May. Colin Bell grabbed a consolation, but Arsenal`s own 70s enigma had already done the damage. George would later fondly recall, “It was lashing it down, thick mud. I loved it. I loved playing in the mud and the rain.”

George was beginning to show his importance to a side committed to graft. With a punishing season wearing on; it was often his moments of inspiration that were digging out crucial wins in Arsenal`s bifurcate quest for domestic glory. Arsenal were once again drawn to play away at Second Division Leicester City in the Quarter Final. A drab affair at Filbert Street ended 0-0 and slipped easily from memory. With another game to add to a burgeoning schedule, it was George again who would provide the moment to claw Arsenal to a narrow victory. Seconds before half time he climbed to meet a Graham corner and headed into the far corner of the net. It wasn`t the most memorable victory for the Highbury crowd, but it meant they were through to the semi finals nonetheless.

By this time, the Gunners were embroiled in a two way slugfest with Leeds United at the top of Division One. They were drawn to play Stoke in the F.A. Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. Mee sensed there was a chance for history on the cards and famously gave a rousing speech in which he urged his men to put their families second and their club first- just until the middle of May. Stoke would represent a stiff challenge. Earlier in the season, they had humiliated the Gunners in a 5-0 mauling at the Victoria Ground. The Potters looked set to match that feat in the first half of the game; two goals from John Ritchie gave Stoke a shock two goal lead. But Arsenal would find an unlikely hero in the shape of Peter Storey- who had that season been moved from his usual right back berth to undertake a defensive midfield position. He gave the team a steely eyed resolve in the engine room.

A half volley from an Armstrong corner gave Arsenal a lifeline- one they gripped with vigour. Stoke looked to have huffed and puffed and just held Arsenal out until the 94th minute. Frank McLintock threw himself at Graham`s corner and headed it towards the corner of the goal- only for Potters defender John Mahoney to dive full length and punch McLintock`s header away on the goal line. Arsenal had a penalty and looked squarely to Old Dead Eyes. Storey had Arsenal`s season at his feet, with the most intimidating of opponents before him in the shape of Gordon Banks. Storey stayed collected and slotted a nerve shredding penalty into the corner. Banks didn`t twitch a nerve. “We know we`ve got them for the replay now” McLintock told his charges in the dressing room. He was correct too. Stoke sensed they had missed their chance and Arsenal rolled them over in the replay at Villa Park. George Graham and Ray Kennedy grabbed the goals in a comfortable 2-0 win.

But Storey`s role as an unlikely hero of Arsenal`s cup run, amongst the vivacious, cocksure Charlie George, was not appreciated by all and symptomatic of why the 71 Double Team were not loved. Football journalist and Arsenal fan Brian Glanville would write of Storey`s heroics, “He has kept out more creative players in matches where their talents are clearly needed, while a virtuoso such as George Graham has been encouraged to subdue his natural instincts in the interests of hard labour.” This graft was the biggest strength of the side, yet the quality that invited the most scepticism. It was clear Mee`s side were beginning to run out of inspiration. At this stage they were just doing enough to claw themselves over the line in games. McLintock and Simpson would keep teams out, Storey would clear them out if he could and then they`d wait for either George or Radford to nick a 1-0 win. It wasn`t enthralling, but it got results.

Having sealed the league title with a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane the Monday before the Cup Final, Arsenal knew they only needed one more result now to irrevocably scrawl their names into the history books now. Liverpool stood between Arsenal and their first domestic Double at Wembley. Their manager Bill Shankly cranked up the mind games with Bob Wilson pre match, warning him that the Wembley turf was “a nightmare for goalkeepers” possibly playing on Wilson`s previous experience there in the ill fated League Cup Final defeat to Swindon in 1969. Whatever the motive, Shankly`s sparring was to be fully realised.

The match ended 0-0 after 90 minutes, despite a plethora of Arsenal chances going begging. With Kennedy, Graham, Radford and George all coming unbelievably close to winning the final for Arsenal. With the lactic acid seeping from their muscles at full time, Don Howe was swiftly onto the pitch and into the shell like of his team. “Look at them!” he motioned towards the Liverpool players sprawled on the Wembley turf in the baking sun, “They`re knackered!” Of course it wouldn`t have escaped Howe`s notice that his own players were hardly feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed. But the feeling was that it might not be Arsenal`s day and so it appeared on 98 minutes when Steve Heighway marauded in from the left, jinked past Rice and hit a low shot through a gap that Wilson had left at his front post which you could`ve driven a number 4 bus through. As the ball was returned to the centre circle, McLintock thumped his firsts together and urged his men to fight on.

Fight on they did. They equalised within five minutes when George roamed in the free role behind the striker he had been relishing that year; he found Kennedy who flicked the ball in the air before kicking it back over his head speculatively into the area. The ball bobbled for an eternity with substitute Eddie Kelly and George Graham buzzing around the area, the ball took a ricochet and trickled into the net. Graham wheeled away in celebration- the goal seemingly his. But The Big Match cameras would broadcast an angle on their highlights package the next day from behind the goal that would expose Graham`s dishonesty. The ball actually bounced off of Eddie Kelly and into the net, with Graham air kicking. Graham maintains to this day, “I thought the ball had brushed my leg.” Events in his managerial career would tell us that George`s word was not always as good as his bond.

The match looked set to head for a replay until another piece of iconographic George magic forever etched his name and frame into Arsenal folklore. Radford probed in from the left, drew Reds centre half Larry Lloyd before shifting the ball right to George. Charlie took one touch before releasing the hammer on his legendary right peg and walloped the ball past Clemence into the corner. “I knew it was in the second I drew my foot back” he would later recall. George spread his arms and lay nonchalantly on the Wembley turf. An image that probably sits alongside Michael Thomas` forward roll as the most famous in Arsenal`s history. Charlie`s reasoning for the celebration has changed over the years. One explanation he has offered was that “I was knackered.” Whilst in another anecdote he claimed, “I was ahead of my time. I must`ve wasted five minutes with that celebration.” Whatever his reasons, the image is at the forefront of Gunners iconography.

The final whistle sounded and the Arsenal crowd writhed in fits of ecstasy. The players, however, collapsed with fatigue. Frank McLintock recalls, “Going to lift the F.A. Cup should`ve been the proudest moment of my career. But I was just so tired, I couldn`t enjoy it.” Having bawled and cajoled and shouted and tackled through over 60 matches, the Scottish skipper could be forgiven for trembling with tiredness come the season`s climax. Having also lost on his previous four trips to Wembley, Frank will rightly have felt that climbing the steps as a winner was an arduous journey indeed. When he took the club over as manager in 1966, Mee set his mission out to “stop mediocrity being perpetuated at this club.” He accomplished that mission in the grand manner in 1971. But the Double side would break up too early. In the celebratory club dinner to commemorate the Double, Denis Hill-Wood would reel off thanks to a coterie of contributors- but omitted Don Howe. A snub that would convince Howe to take the manager`s job at West Brom. Once more the Gunners would feel the harsh kiss of mid table mediocrity. But when they got their hands on the F.A. Cup again in 1979, it would be in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.LD.


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