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GCR Books

Arsenal in the 70s part 16. Jan to June 1976: the end of Mee

By Tony Attwood

An index to the whole series of articles tracing Arsenal’s history through the 70s is given at the end of this piece.

We left Arsenal in the last episode having won just two out of their six games in December, having scored two goals in their seven games.  The league table at the end of the year looked a sorry sight…

But at the time we felt that maybe there could be some relief in terms of the FA Cup.  Last season Arsenal had had a replay in each of rounds 3, 4 and 5 (with two replays indeed in the 5th) before going out to West Ham in the quarters.  The season before that it was the 4th round that Arsenal exited in.  We had to look back to the dim and distant memories of 1973 for a semi-final appearance.

So there was some thought that maybe there might be relief against a relegation threatened Wolverhampton in the third round – for although the game was away from home there was the fact that the club had only won four games all season, and scored only 24 goals in the 24 games they had played.  Indeed their home scoring record was 12 for 15 against.

But even against such opposition in a trophy that Arsenal had done so well in just a few years before, the club could not raise itself and on 3 January 1976 the score to depress the depressed supporters even more was Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Arsenal 0, with 22,215 in the ground.

Thus Arsenal went out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle for the first time since 1969/70, and indeed went out of both Cups at the first attempt, for the first time ever.  But having scored just eight league goals in their last 12 away games Arsenal’s lack of response to Wolverhampton should perhaps not have come as too much of a shock – although it felt more like 1958 than 1976.

Bobby Campbell put the result down to Wolverhampton having all the luck, but the truth was that for 70 minutes Arsenal only had one shot on target.  Wolverhampton played with Alan Sunderland at right back, and the home team and its manager were barracked by their own fans throughout.  Arsenal must have wondered what the local fans did when the side were playing badly.

There was of course a chance to recover in the league but the following weekend’s result of Arsenal 0 Aston Villa 0 with just 24,501 in the ground gave little hope.

For once during this dire season Arsenal players seemed to recognise just how low the club had sunk from the expectations that the fans legitimately had, as Alan Ball suggested in public that the club ought to give the supporters their entrance money back.  Sadly there was no suggestion that the club actually followed up the idea.

Villa adopted the increasingly popular approach of playing at Highbury with the entire team behind the ball.  As a result everyone seemed to accept that this was going to be a 0-0 after about 15 minutes, and simply gave up.  Mee, never the master tactician, clearly did not have alternative strategies that he could pass on to the players, so 10 behind the ball it was.

Ron Saunders admitted his team’s anti-football stance, saying that a 0-0 draw was a good result for Villa .  Bertie Mee pointed out that Arsenal had four teenagers in the team – but the feeling was that aside from O’Leary none of them were really good enough; even Brady was having an off day.  Besides, if Mee was using that as an excuse, it was a fairly lame one, since it was up to him to buy or bring through players, and he was the one who had spoken at length of the need to cut the squad.   He had, after all, been in post since 1966.

For the record Arsenal’s young team was

Rimmer, Rice, Nelson, Powling, O’Leary, Mancini, Armstrong, Ball, Stapleton, Kidd, Brady.

And then it got worse as on 17 January the result was Leicester City 2 Arsenal 1 with a crowd of just 21,331 in Filbert Street.

“Boring Arsenal” was starting to be a theme within the press, although some preferred “Dreary Arsenal”, while others suggested that the fans thought relegation a distinct possibility.  Indeed the estimate for this game was that the away support for the Gunners was only 300 in number.  It was the start of the ironic song supporting the Arsenal “overland and sea and Leicester”.

The Mirror said, “you need masochistic tendencies to enjoy Arsenal these days.”  Yet Arsenal actually took the lead on 19 minutes hitting a 25 yard drive in off the post from Ross.  Both Leicester’s goals came in the last three minutes.  It was a disaster for Arsenal’s morale.

Arsenal had now lost to two of the clubs in the bottom section of the league and drawn their other match.  All that was left was to play the division’s bottom club – who already looked doomed: Sheffield United.

And finally Arsenal got a victory: Arsenal 1 Sheffield United 0.  But it was hardly a victory at the turnstiles.

14,477 was Arsenal’s lowest home crowd of the season, and it felt as if each of us were able to have a crash barrier to ourselves as Arsenal, who  could have scored half a dozen, took 85 minutes to get their goal.   In fact my memory of the game was of walking all around the North Bank during the course of the match, just because one could.

To be fair, visiting keeper Jim Brown decided to have one of his most magnificent performances and even when Arsenal did score, they relied on a spot of luck, as Brown failed to hold Kidd’s shot and the ball bounced to Brady who slipped it home.   Until that moment Sheffield played with ten behind the ball (undoubtedly having watched a recording of Villa earlier in the month).  United took this further playing “how many defenders can you get into the penalty area at once?”  A tedious game, as Ball, Ross and Powling all conjured up attempts to find ways through.

In fact Sheffield left no weapon untried, as a result of which Mancini suffered concussion.  When he arose and carried on we could see the stud marks and blood down his face, and it was reported that he retained vision in only one eye for the rest of the game.  Medical precautions?  Who needs them!

The bottom ten (with three to drop to the second division) now looked like this:

It was still most likely that the current bottom three would all sink to the second at the end of the season, but an upturn in form by Wolverhampton and Birmingham could prove nasty.   Wolverhampton had won two and drawn one of their January league matches, and that looked a little ominous.

Arsenal next went to Norwich who were just two points above Arsenal on 7 February… and lost 3-1 with 23,038 in the crowd.

Ted MacDougall, a centre forward who had reached Norwich via Bournemouth, Man U and West Ham, turned in a fine performance scoring his 19th goal of the season and from then on Arsenal could find no way back.  The game started fast, and was 1-1 within just seven minutes, Kidd equalising after Norwich had gone ahead through Peters on 100 seconds.  By 10 minutes Norwich were in the lead again, and they kept up the pressure for the rest of the match.  Arsenal hardly had a further chance, and looked dispirited throughout so that Norwich scored a third, rather than Arsenal getting an equaliser that would have made a travesty of the score.  This was now five games without a win for Arsenal.

Worse, there was now an away match at the home of the current champions, and in accordance with current and recent form it ended on 18 February Derby County 2 Arsenal 0, with 24,875.

This time it was another high profile player, Derby’s record signing Leighton James recently transferred from Burnley for £300,000 who scored twice as Arsenal tried to forget their disastrous run of form and start afresh.

That they failed was not really a surprise as the team continued to look dispirited and despondent.  Only Rimmer and Mancini kept the score down to reasonable proportions – and a quick look at the number of corners (Derby 21 Arsenal 1) reveals just how poor Arsenal had become.  Even worse Charlie George once again showed what a huge mistake on the part of Mee it had been letting him go, as he struck the post twice.

Arsenal attacked strongly in the second half but there was nothing doing, and even more dispiriting was the realisation that Derby were lacking two of their most promising forwards in Davis and Lee.  Arsenal had now won one game and scored three goals in five.

Next up was the crunch game against fellow strugglers Birmingham City.  On the day of the game the table made singularly depressing reading:

In some regards there should have been no need to worry in that Arsenal had won 7 drawn 3 and lost 4 games at home, while Birmingham had won 1, drawn 1 and lost 12 away.  But this was 1976, and a win for Birmingham would leave Arsenal only one place above the relegation places.

Fortunately for all on 21 February it ended Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 0 with 20,907 in the crowd.

Birmingham’s mistake was that they actually didn’t come looking for a win, and desperate for a single point they decided to use the back pass as the technique to get it, ratcheting up 12 in the first half alone.  Unfortunately so dispirited had Arsenal become that, having watched the approach, they mistakenly saw it as an acceptable footballing manoeuvre rather than further variation on the 10 man defence.

The crowd were having none of it however, and the largest level of barracking that the team had suffered since the days of Billy Wright was heard around the ground.  The Arsenal goal came from Brady in the 44th minute.  In the post-match interviews Ball spoke about this being the time for the youngsters in the team to step up and show what they were worth.  Certainly someone needed too.

Arsenal had the points but next up were the league leaders Liverpool, who had thus far won 15, drawn 12 and lost 3 games in the league.  That did not look promising.

The crowd on 24 February 1976 of 36,127 was however a considerable improvement and the result of Arsenal 1 Liverpool 0 was considerably unexpected, not least because for the first time in this season Arsenal managed consecutive victories.

John Radford scored a header in the 90th minute after Brady had wriggled free of the attention of two defenders who had stood on his toes all night, to put in a perfect cross.

Liverpool meanwhile appeared to have read that Arsenal were “relegation threatened” (a phrase that was now prevalent in all the newspapers).  Believing this anti-Arsenal propaganda Liverpool then assumed that they were bound to score several, sooner or later.  But in fact Liverpool had only one clear chance, and the man of the match beyond any doubt was Ball.  Radford played well too, getting the vital goal and missing a second when a pass from Ball ended with a nod over the bar.

It was all quite a turnaround.

And amazingly on the penultimate day of this leap month it ended Middlesbrough 0 Arsenal 1.  That only 19,857 showed up, showed what a fluke everyone thought the last result would.   Three 1-0 wins in a row, including the only back to back wins all season; it was astounding.

And for the second time in a week John Radford scored the winner.  Middlesbrough, even though at home, sat back in defence and waited for Arsenal.  So Arsenal did the same to Middlesbrough.  Then in the 85th minute Ball passed to Rice who raced forwards and centred for Radford to hammer in the winner.

Among the Boro bookings was a certain Graeme Souness who, unsurprisingly, protested his innocence.  Kidd had a goal-bound shot saved at the last moment, and Brady extended his repertoire of ways of beating men – but one was all Arsenal got.

Arsenal were not totally out of the mire but with three clubs and six points between them and the relegation places, things were not quite so bad – at least if one didn’t remember how things were just three short years before.

Arsenal now had a two week break to ready themselves for the final push which began on 13 March 1976 with Coventry City 1 Arsenal 1 in front of a most modest crowd of just 13,938 – the lowest league crowd they experienced all season.

The draw they achieved made it four unbeaten but also four goals in five games.

There was little to reflect on this game, but even if there had been that was overshadowed by the awful news that on 15 March 1976 Arsenal keeper Jack McClelland died of cancer aged just 35.  He was our main keeper in 1962/3 when he made 36 appearances in league and cup.

But football continues no matter what, and on 16 March 1976 we had Arsenal 0 Newcastle 0.  Five games unbeaten gave a tiny level of relief in Arsenal’s worst season since 1925 but four goals in six was not a statistic to bring back the crowds.

18,424 came to witness the latest vision of the 10 man defence as Newcastle came for a draw and got exactly that.  And yet Arsenal should have scored when Radford set up a chance for Ritchie Powling, who in his excitement shot wildly over the bar.  Then Armstrong, from close in, slid in a cross come shot, but it was missed by everyone and went just wide of the post.  Late in the game Ross hit a shot which was just saved by the Newcastle keeper, and that was that.  Chances were there few, and those that there were, were missed.

And yet, and yet, preposterous as it seemed Arsenal had been saving it all up for one match, and that match was on 20 March when the result was Arsenal 6 West Ham 1.  It was the best win of the season in the worst season since 1924/25.  Kidd (3) Ball (2) and Armstrong got the goals, but it turned out there was only one more victory in the remaining seven league games.

Truth be told WHU had a fairly awful away record up to this point, and a defence akin to the clubs looking most likely to go down, but even so the 34,011 present by and large enjoyed it.

And WHU had an excuse – that they had played in a mid week Cup Winners Cup semi-final against Frankfort, prior to this game.

As it was they took very little part in this match, even before Arsenal started ratcheting up the goals to make it an improbable six games unbeaten.  But so poor were West Ham it was sometimes difficult to remember that they were on the pitch.

That Arsenal should have scored more against such feeble opposition is beyond doubt, and it was hard to believe that after Kidd got the opener, West Ham actually equalised.   But the fact that even the West Ham team manager John Lyall chose not to show up (he was apparently in Grimsby, either looking for talent or shopping for fish), suggests he knew exactly how West Ham would play.   Kidd got a hat trick, Ball got two, one of those a penalty, and Armstrong completed the rout.  Nobody however was fooled into thinking Arsenal had really turned the corner.

And so, having achieved his best victory of the campaign, and for some considerable time before that, on 22 March 1976 Bertie Mee announced he would leave Arsenal at the end of the season.  If he thought that the news might lift the squad as they looked to impress whoever was to be the new man, he was, as in so many other things, seriously mistaken.  Hereafter Arsenal won one, drew one and lost five.

The first of these defeats came on 27 March with the not unexpected result, Leeds 3 Arsenal 0.  After six unbeaten this was the start of a run of one win in the last seven of the season.   There was however a little bit of a distraction as on the same day Sheffield United were beaten 5–0 by Tottenham were thus relegated to the Second Division.

What was interesting about this was that it was that after ten games in the 1974/5 season Sheffield Utd were 5th while in the season before they beat Arsenal 5-0.   Arsenal had sunk from the heady days of cup finals and winning the double, but not as far or as fast as Sheffield Utd.

The small Arsenal contingent in the crowd of 26,657 were made nervous when the news came through that Bertie Mee made the error of appearing on BBC-TV’s Grandstand programme before the match, making comments about how Arsenal’s double winning team of the start of the decade were designated boring.

Poor Bertie, he really wasn’t ever any good at PR, but one might have expected the club to protect him a little.  The absolute rule is that you don’t attack the press in the press.  By definition, they will always have the last word, and this time was no exception, hammering Mee and Arsenal for their like of style and imagination.

And although they both simplified and overplayed the issue they had every right to do so.   In the 16th and 20th minute Arsenal allowed Eddie Gray to push the ball through to Allen Clarke, and each time Clarke scored.   The game then settled down until the crowd started chanting the name of Duncan McKenzie.

He dutifully ran up and down the touchline waving to his fans.   Eventually he came on as a sub, picked up a lax clearance, ran the length of the pitch, drew out Rimmer, before slipping the ball to Bremner who scored.  One wonders whether Bertie Mee actually realised that his interview had been something of a mistake.

The month ended with QPR top of the league (having won five and drawn one of the last six) with a fine collection of West Midlands clubs looking over their shoulders.

On 3 April, Tottenham having climbed up the table themselves saw their opportunity to get one over the old enemy and the second derby of the season ended Arsenal 0 Tottenham Hotspur 2 with 42,134 in the crowd – a much higher percentage than usual being Tottenham fans.

Arsenal could have scored through Brady in the first 30 seconds, as their new re-galvanised attacking style left Tottenham bemused.  Jennings parried Brady’s shot, the ball fell to Kidd but he shot horribly wide with the goal at his mercy.

Tottenham breathed a sigh of relief, remembered that this was Arsenal 1976 they were playing and took control of the game.  Arsenal it seemed had used up everything in that opening minute and had nothing more to offer.

Thus Tottenham, with a Uefa cup place in the offing carried the game to Arsenal at all times, and with Arsenal only having a new manager to look forward to, it looked as if the Gunners were going to wait for the summer to see what the future held.  Arsenal fans couldn’t get out of the ground fast enough.

How many Arsenal supporters then made it to Everton on 10 April for a 0-0 draw is not recorded but the crowd of only 20,774 suggests that the Evertonians had also to some degree given up on the season.

The Daily Mirror said that Everton were so uninspired and ordinary that they managed to make Arsenal look average, and summarised the game as “90 of the dreariest minutes imaginable.”  Alex Cropley came in for Kidd who stayed on the bench, and indeed Cropley played well, but Arsenal only had four shots on target in the whole game, and of those, only two, one from Brady and one from Ball hit the target.  Afterwards the story was that Kidd was looking for a transfer back north.  Anywhere back north, Fleet Street said, except Everton, who were frankly even worse than Arsenal.

The second Easter game however was better with Arsenal beating Wolverhampton Wanderers at Highbury 2-1 on 13 April.  A crowd of 19,518 was par for the course.

Having been knocked out of the Cup in round 3 by Wolverhampton Arsenal were keen to return the favour by helping their visitors into the second division.  Wolverhampton however didn’t really need much help for they were far too nervous and edgy throughout, and in the end allowed Mancini to score his first goal for Arsenal, heading in from a corner, much to the small crowd’s delight.

Nelson turned out to be Arsenal’s main attacker, sending passes through for Brady and Ball to miss.  Brady made up for this however by dispossessing Sunderland in his own half, running three quarters of the length of the pitch and then scoring.

However success of this nature was all very well against a declining side, but against a team that considered themselves to be up and coming it was a different matter and on 17 April the home crowd of 26,973 were forced to witness Arsenal 1 Ipswich Town 2.

The big story of the day in the press was that Arsenal were looking at getting Mijan Miljanic from Real Madrid as manager to replace Bertie Mee.  Alan Ball and co said they preferred to have Bobby Campbell to take charge.

As for the game, there was nothing for Arsenal to take pleasure in.  They were ahead in the sixth minute through Stapleton but Keith Bertschin, who had been a youth player with Arsenal, came on as a sub for Ipswich, experiencing the 1st division for the first time.  And he then scored with his first touch.

Ball resorted to an endless stream of square passes, and inevitably one was intercepted for Sharkey to get the winner.

Next up was an away trip to the London team of the moment: Queen’s Park Rangers.   QPR entered this game in second position, have just lost away to Norwich and knew they had to win to stand a chance of the title.

And on 19 April they duly did just that, the game ending Queen’s Park Rangers 2 Arsenal 1 with 30,362 in Loftus Road.  It was to be QPR’s  finest moment.

It took some time to get used to the notion that it was QPR who were looking at winning the league, and Arsenal who were relieved not to be going down.  But QPR won the game with a Gerry Francis penalty three minutes from time, although it had looked like Arsenal might spoil QPR’s aspirations when Kidd scored on 10 minutes in the second half.

QPR’s nerves were clearly showing as Givens, Masson, Thomas and Francis all missed easy chances.  Other possible goals were stopped by Rimmer who was in excellent form.

However within two minutes of Arsenal scoring, QPR equalised.  Then as the game drew to a close QPR were given a penalty which Bobby Campbell called a disgrace (Bertie Mee having perhaps learned his lesson from his earlier drubbing in the press, to give up the public pronouncements).  As Ball added, Bowles was always acting, and he certainly was this time.

This was also the last game for Brian Kidd.  He played 37 league games in the second of the two seasons he was with Arsenal, scoring 11, before returning to Manchester, but this time with City.

There was a departure in the next match too, as on 24 April 1976 Terry Mancini played his last match: a 3-1 away defeat to  Man City, 31,003 at Maine Road.  Arsenal were getting rid of players ready for something different, but at the moment no one knew quite what.

And so Arsenal at last said a farewell to this horrible season, finishing 17th in the First Division  their lowest position since 1925.  They had won just 13 league games and avoided the ignominy of the first relegation since 1913 by just six points.  Even the cups offered no relief with the club falling at the first hurdle in both cups for the first time.

Alan Ball said after this game that Arsenal were just three players short of being a great team.  The press generally thought Arsenal were three players short of being ordinary.  Armstrong scored in the 42nd minute to make it 1-1, but in truth Arsenal never remotely looked like getting even a point.

At the time little was made of the historic comparison although 1925, the final year of Knighton’s reign was followed by the first season of Herbert Chapman at the Arsenal, as Arsenal rose from near relegation to second.  Those among the Arsenal following who actually knew their history could only pray that the board would make an appointment of a magnitude similar to that made by Lt Col Sir Henry Norris.

The 1975/6 season ended

A comparison with 1924/5 makes interesting reading

Here are  the two Arsenal figures next to each other

In short the only thing that really saved us from the worst season since the first world war was a set of draws.

Bertie Mee left his job on 4 May 1976.  He had managed Arsenal for 539 league games – the largest number of any manager in Arsenal’s history until Arsene Wenger.  He won three major trophies, exactly the same as his three title winning predecessors: Chapman, Allison and Whittaker  But his win percentage of 44.71% was poor overall, and the last years of his reign pulled him down in the overall rankings.

Here is the table of managers in win percentage order excluding those who managed Arsenal for under 100 games (for Arsene Wenger it is up to the end of 2014/15 season.  At the time of writing his win percentage has grown further and is now 57.6%

Pos. Name From To Games Win% Top 4 Honours
1. Arsène Wenger October 1996 1066 57.50 18 3 League
6 FA Cup
2. Harry Bradshaw August 1899 May 1904 189 50.79 3*
3. Herbert Chapman June 1925 Jan 1934 403 49.88 4 2 League
1 FA Cup
4 George Graham May 1986 Feb 1995 460 48.91 6 2 League
1 FA Cup
2 Lg Cup
1 CWC
5. Tom Whittaker June 1947 October  1956 429 47.09 3 2 League
1 FA Cup
6 George Allison May 1934 May 1947 279 46.24 3 2 League
1 FA Cup
7 Don Howe Dec 1983 Mar  1986 117 46.15
8 Terry Neill July 1976 Dec 1983 416 44.95 2 1 FA Cup
9 The Committee August 1893 May 1897 118 44.92
10. Bertie Mee June 1966 May 1976 539 44.71 3 1 League      1 FA Cup     1 Fairs Cup 
11 Phil Kelso July 1904 Feb 1908 152 41.45
12 George Swindin June 1958 1 May 1962 179 39.11 1
13 Billy Wright May 1962 June 1966 182 38.46
14 George Morrell Feb  1908 April 1915 292 35.27 1*
15 Leslie Knighton April 1919 May 1925 268 34.33

The * indicates that the top 4 finishes were in the second division.

Mee’s triumph in rescuing the club from the awful position he had inherited should never be forgotten nor ignored.  Although the two initial League Cup finals were defeats he nevertheless showed the country that Arsenal could at least get that far – and then of course over two glorious seasons he did so, so much more.  And it wasn’t just the Double – it was the emulation of Tottenham’s achievement in thus far being the only 20th century team to do that.

However what Mee did not do was continue the success and the decline as shown here was swift and appalling.  What’s more he also failed in emulating that greatest achievement of Chapman – the establishment of a dynasty.  Chapman took those he found at the club – Shaw, Whittaker and Allison, and turned them into men who could continue his work so that 20 years after his death Arsenal were still a force in the country.

The greatest indictment of Mee was that like Knighton before him, he left nothing.  There was no legacy. There was no system for recruitment of the top players, no great ideas, no magnificent youth structure, no stadium improvements, no growth in the crowd figures, no innovations like the clock or a new stand, or bringing in foreign players.  In fact under Mee everything at the club had gone into reverse.

Nothing shows this more starkly than the Top 4 column.  Top 4, we are so often told, is not a trophy, and yet it is valuable, because it keeps the club in the public eye, and in the public imagination, and adds a little nervousness to the opposition.

But in this era of the mid-70s when there were recorded highlights of one or two games on a Saturday night and a Sunday lunchtime, plus a second half commentary on Radio 2, the public were mostly dependent on match reports in the Sunday and Monday newspapers.   And the truth is gradually Arsenal slipped from being a club that every paper would report on, to one where quite often it was often impossible to find a report, and where there was one, it was often mostly about the opposition.

With the manager leaving there was no end of season tour, and the fans waited to see who they would have as a manager next.

As for life elsewhere, Liverpool pipped QPR to the title, winningtheir first major trophy under Bob Paisley.   Southampton of the second division beat Man U in the Cup Final, which was something of a surprise.

On 28 May 1976 Jimmy Rimmer made his only appearance for England, in a 3-2 win against Italy in New York; he proved himself then and later to be an excellent player, but he found himself in an era of fine keepers, and the usual FA prejudice against Arsenal men.

It was not until 23 June 1976 that Terry Neill resigned as Tottenham manager after two years in the job.  Although two years would come to be seen as something of a long reign at Tottenham during Wenger’s time at Arsenal, in the 1970s such an early departure at Tottenham was unusual, but since Neil only four of the club’s 24 subsequent managers have lasted longer.

Tottenham had had an average season winning 14, drawing 15, losing 13, with 63 scored and 63 conceded.  The finished on 43 points, 17 behind the leaders, 7 points more than

The other winner of the season was Manchester City who had beaten Newcastle to win the League Cup, their first major trophy for six years. It would be 35 years before they would win another major trophy.

Elsewhere Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Pat Jennings gained the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award.  And that was about that for a wretched season, as football packed up its bags, with still no news as yet of who the new Arsenal manager would be.

Whoever it was going to be would most certainly have to cope with what can only be described as the remnants of a team.  The top scorers in the league were

  • Kidd: 11
  • Ball: 9
  • Brady: 5
  • Armstrong: 4
  • Cropley 4

With Kidd on his way, Ball in decline, Brady having goalscoring as an extra, and Armstrong now near the end of his career, serious action was needed, across the team.

Some players were clearly of great merit – players such as Brady, Nelson, Rice, and Rimmer, and Stapleton, although not yet a top scorer, was looking very promising.  Likewise O’Leary although still very young looked set for the future.  Ross too had made an impact, and Armstrong could be counted on for at least one more season.

But that total was seven or eight.  It meant that three more top players were needed to make the team really work – and some more youngsters needed developing to fill in the gaps that injuries and loss of form would undoubtedly bring.

Whoever was going to be manager would have his work cut out.

Mee, as his obituary in the Guardian pointed out, had no detailed knowledge of the game nor any tactical flair. As the writer says, “When Arsenal won the double, it was thanks to his productive partnership with his coach Don Howe, the former England right back, in charge of youth football at Highbury.”

The big thing that Mee did was take the pressure off Howe, and let him get on with his liaison with the players.  But, as the obituary continues, “at the FA Cup Final banquet in 1971, after the Gunners had beaten Liverpool, Howe was mortified when, in his speech, the club chairman, Denis Hill Wood, made no mention of him. That was the end for Howe, who left to manage his old club West Bromwich Albion.

“When apprised of Howe’s departure, Mee scornfully brushed it aside and, although he would survive at Highbury for another five years, things would never be quite the same again.”

Although putting the decline of Arsenal very mildly, that I think sums up the problem in a nutshell – a problem with the board and a problem with the manager.  They both needed the Mee-Howe team if they were going to continue the good work.  Don Howe knew what he had achieved.  It must have been appalling beyond belief for him to find out the board had no idea.

And in part that disaster too can be laid at the door of Mee who really should have insisted that the chairman thanked Don Howe in the glowing terms needed.  How much would it have taken to do that?

The best thing that the obituary says about Mee as a man in football is that, “Charm was never his forte, but as an administrator he was formidable.”

In 1986 Bertie Mee returned to football and became the general manager of Watford FC and remained a director there until 1991.  He died on October 21 2001.

The series so far

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