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GCR Books

The summer of 1976: trying to rebuild after the Bertie Mee era.

By Tony Attwood

The summer of 1976 saw the confirmation of Liverpool’s continuing dominance now under Bob Paisley as manager, but largely forgotten is the fact that QPR pushed them all the way in the league.  In the FA Cup Southampton beat Man U in the final.

For Arsenal it was the end for Bertie Mee after ten years at the club, and it was not a good end.  Since winning the double Arsenal had won no more coming 5th, 2nd, 10th, 16th, and 17th in the league.

The spring of 1976

In March there had been a slight rise in hope that the season wouldn’t be an utter disaster with a run of four unbeaten.

But there was great sadness too as on 15 March it was announced that Jack McClelland had died of cancer aged 35.  He was our main keeper in 1962/3 when he made 36 appearances in league and cup.

Whether it was to pay tribute to a life cut tragically short, or something quite different, on 20 March Arsenal beat West Ham 6-1; the best win, in the worst season since 1924/25.  Kidd (3) Ball (2) and Armstrong got the goals.   Two days after the victory over WHU Bertie Mee announced he would leave Arsenal at the end of the season.  Thereafter Arsenal won one, drew one and lost five to finish 17th.

And so the era began to draw to a close.

On 19 April Brian Kidd played his last game, and on 24 April Terry Mancini did likewise. On 27 April Double-winning captain Frank McLintock was sold to QPR for £25,000.  He went on to play 127 league games for QPR over four years.

Bertie Mee ended having managed 539 league games – the largest number of any manager until Arsene Wenger came along, and won three major trophies, as did Chapman, Allison and Whittaker before him.  But his win percentage of 44.71% made him only the 10th best Arsenal manager, and doesn’t really qualify him to be seen alongside that triumvirate of greats.  Here’s how this season ended.

H o m e A w a y
Team P W D L F A W D L F A Pt
1 Liverpool 42 14 5 2 41 21 9 9 3 25 10 60
2 QPR 42 17 4 0 42 13 7 7 7 25 20 59
3 Man United 42 16 4 1 40 13 7 6 8 28 29 56
4 Derby County 42 15 3 3 45 30 6 8 7 30 28 53
5 Leeds United 42 13 3 5 37 19 8 6 7 28 27 51
6 Ipswich Town 42 11 6 4 36 23 5 8 8 18 25 46
7 Leicester City 42 9 9 3 29 24 4 10 7 19 27 45
8 Man City 42 14 5 2 46 18 2 6 13 18 28 43
9 Tottenham H 42 6 10 5 33 32 8 5 8 30 31 43
10 Norwich City 42 10 5 6 33 26 6 5 10 25 32 42
11 Everton 42 10 7 4 37 24 5 5 11 23 42 42
12 Stoke City 42 8 5 8 25 24 7 6 8 23 26 41
13 Middlesbrough 42 9 7 5 23 11 6 3 12 23 34 40
14 Coventry City 42 6 9 6 22 22 7 5 9 25 35 40
15 Newcastle U 42 11 4 6 51 26 4 5 12 20 36 39
16 Aston Villa 42 11 8 2 32 17 0 9 12 19 42 39
17 Arsenal 42 11 4 6 33 19 2 6 13 14 34 36

Dividing this table into home and away shows the shocking truth of this season’s away form – just two wins and 14 goals.   Overall Arsenal scored 47 goals.  We were six points away from relegation.

As an aside, but highly relevant for what happened later, at  Tottenham goalkeeper Pat Jennings became the PFA Player of the Year.

So Arsenal needed a new manager.  I am not sure when the board of Arsenal decided they wanted Terry Neill, but he had been at Tottenham two years narrowly avoiding relegation in his first season and coming 9th in the table above.  And one way or another he was invited to replace Bertie Mee and become Arsenal’s youngest manager (aged 34).

Thus on 23 June 1976 Terry Neill resigned as Tottenham manager.  At the time such an early departure (after two years) at Tottenham was unusual, but since then only four of the club’s 24 subsequent managers have lasted longer.  Next on 9 July Terry Neil became Arsenal manager.  On 14 July Tottenham’s assistant manager Wilf Dixon defected to Arsenal to work alongside Terry Neill, who described Dixon as “my best friend”.

A big signing was needed to placate the fans and do something about the away form, and a month later it came for on 29 July 1976 Malcolm Macdonald signed from Newcastle for £333,333.33 (the odd figure arising because Arsenal offered “one third of a million not a penny more”).   It is often written that he made his debut v Grasshoppers in a friendly but our records show him scoring in a game against Notts County ten days before.  This match might well have been behind closed doors, as Terry Neill sought to evaluate his new squad, but there is no doubt Macdonald played.  And scored.

Macdonald had played 187 games for Newcastle scoring 95 goals in the league, having previously scored 49 in 88 games for Luton Town.

Meanwhile the League announced that goal difference was to be used to separate the clubs finishing level on points.  The aim was to encourage more goals – but a by-product was that more people could see instantly the difference between two teams on the same number of points.

The pre-season friendlies

  • 30 July 1976: Arsenal 2 Notts C 0 (Ross, Macdonald)
  • 10 August 1976: Grasshoppers 0 Arsenal 3 (Brady, Macdonald 2)
  • 13 August 1976: Rijeka (Yugoslavia) 2 Arsenal 2 (Ross, Brady)
  • 15 August 1976: Željezničar 1 Arsenal 1.  (O’Leary). The local press said of the match, “In an even game  Željezničar and Arsenal didn’t offer much to the spectators.”

The season begins

21 August 1976: Malcolm Macdonald made his league début in Terry Neill’s first game as manager, against newly promoted Bristol City.  Arsenal lost 0-1 at Highbury.  The team however recovered thereafter losing just one of the subsequent eight.

Terry Neill, not surprisingly, was determined to move on the players he felt were not part of Arsenal’s future, and on 2 September 1976 Eddie Kelly was sold to QPR.  He had played 222 times for Arsenal including 175 in the first division and stayed one year at QPR and then was signed by Frank McLintock at Leicester, leaving after three seasons as they were relegated and then promoted as champions.  

On 23 September Terry Mancini was granted a free transfer to Aldershot.  His transfer from QPR had come as a surprise but he had helped shore up the team for a while.

Younger players also began to emerge.  On 9 October Steve Gatting made his first appearance as sub in Peter Simpson Testimonial, and on 11 October 1976: John Devine signed as a professional.   But the old guard moved on as well, and 16 October  saw the last game for John Radford v Stoke City.

But the team was not by any means fully functional, as the 20 October defeat 5-1 away to Villa showed.  It was the start of a three successive defeat run in which Arsenal scored three but let in 11.  

So far in the first 12 games Macdonald had only scored four goals but Arsenal were subsequently aided by his growth in confidence in the new team and he ended the season with 25 as joint top scorer in the league.

From the “Arsenal in the summer” files

 

1 comment to The summer of 1976: trying to rebuild after the Bertie Mee era.

  • Jamie

    Frank McLintock spent 75/76 as a fixture of the title-challenging QPR team, having moved there three years previously.

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