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GCR Books

Arsenal in the 70s, Part 21: Jan to June 1978

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By Tony Attwood

Arsenal ended the old year in fourth position in the league…

True, we were seven points off the top of the league, and as with the unexpected rise of Leicester City in 2015/16 there was an expectation that reality would catch up with last year’s promoted side and they would start to slip away.   Certainly with three strong teams above us, there was no certainty Arsenal would do well this season.

However it was the best position the club had been in for several years, and the future looked brighter than it had done since the decline under Bertie Mee had started in 1973/4.

Indeed the start of the new year was promising as it began with a 1-0 victory over Ipswich, the team which had been our nemesis for several years, on 2 January 1978, with a very decent crowd of 43,705 at Highbury.

It was the game in which Peter Simpson made his final appearance.  He had played 370 league games for Arsenal, and had two loan spells, (rather unusually for the time), in North America in the late 1960s.  He was displaced by the new dominance of the Young/O’Leary centre back partnership.

Ipswich had yet to win away coming into this match, and it was no surprise that Arsenal won, although the crowd would have expected a better quality of game from the league challengers.  However the goal itself was worth waiting for, as in the closing minutes before half time Brady passed perfectly to Macdonald who dummied two defenders and passed to Price who scored.

Sunderland put in a superb performance and Macdonald was better than of late, even if not at his best (only nine goals so far in the season).  In the second half Ipswich tried to assert themselves, but anything other than an Arsenal win would have been a travesty.

We were of course to meet Ipswich again, and as a prelude to this, and as tradition demanded, attention turned to the FA Cup, and in particular attention turned to Arsenal, as on 7 January the result was a very satisfactory Sheffield United 0 Arsenal 5, with 32,156 in the crowd.   The result itself was a further reminder of 1973/4, as Arsenal’s decline from grace had given the club one win in the opening five (having come runners up the year before), with those opening results including Sheffield United 5 Arsenal 0.  Revenge was sweet.

But despite Sheffield United’s subsequent demise (they were now a mid-table second division side), and the undeniable fact that Arsenal were now on the up, the build up to the game was all about how Arsenal would not be allowed to settle into their rhythm thus allowing the local lads to cause an upset.  Arsenal responded by spending the first 18 minutes doing exactly what they were supposed to be prohibited from doing, and the next 18 minutes scoring four goals.

For the first Rix took a free kick and O’Leary ran in to shoot impeccably.   Minutes later Macdonald ran past three defenders, and on finding it all too easy went round one of the three for a second time, for no particular reason other than it was fun, and scored.   A bad back header allowed Macdonald to get the third.

Sheffield then got a penalty, Jennings saved and Nelson took the ball up field, passed to Macdonald who duly scored.  Macdonald got another in the second half to round off the all-too-easy victory.

Elsewhere the news was dominated by Liverpool’s decision to pay a British record £352,000 for Middlesbrough midfielder Graeme Souness – a deal that was sealed on 10 January.  Anything to avoid talking about an Arsenal success.

The following weekend, on 14 January it was back to the league, and a continuation of Arsenal’s winning ways with Arsenal 3 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1, 34,784 in the crowd, (which was not bad considering the weather on the day).

With Macdonald and Stapleton on form Brady took on the air of a man who was contemplating a variety of new approaches to playing football while reading a novel.  Indeed it seemed to those of us there he only didn’t actually do it because it might have looked a trifle boastful.

Arsenal had control from start to end, and had they been so minded could have scored nine, and indeed given that Brady put Arsenal ahead on five minutes from the penalty spot, everyone knew it was all over before it had hardly begun.  For the second an Arsenal corner looped over the goalmouth melee.  Macdonald bent in two to head it gently home.

Willie Young, whose form had so improved of late that he looked as if he could do everything right, then scored an own goal, just to prove he couldn’t.  But Stapleton eased the embarrassment by taking the ball up the other end, wandering around the keeper, admiring the groundsman’s handiwork and then slotting it home.

Of course the goals could not keep on coming forever, and next up was not another mid-table second division side – this time it was Manchester City in the League Cup on 18 January – with the home team sitting second in the league.

42,435 came to Maine Road, but were not best pleased to see a goalless draw, the star of the show being Pat Jennings.  Five times he pulled off magnificent saves when a City goal seemed certain – each time when Peter Barnes headed for goal.  But as the match progressed no one was left in doubt as to why Arsenal had achieved seven wins in the last eight away games. They were solid, they were sure, and they were ready for the counter attack.

Indeed for all City’s pressure the reality was that Brady controlled the middle of the pitch, slowing things down, spreading passes, changing direction at will.  Twice, the counter attacks that he instigated came close to giving Arsenal a winner, but in the end the draw was considered by most to be a fair result.

Thus Arsenal had improved beyond recognition, and in the last eight league games they had won six, drawn 1 and lost just one – that 0-2 away to Everton.   The question was, on 21 January, what would they be able to do against the runaway league leaders.

The answer sadly was the same as it was against Everton as it ended Nottingham Forest 2 Arsenal 0, with 35,743 in the Forest ground.

It was a result that meant that Nottingham Forest, were now being taken more seriously as possible champions, not just for the scoreline, but for the fact that they dominated the game throughout, save for a brief period either side of half time.

And they were making friends among football fans across the country as the Forest programme notes chose this game to deride the “gutter press” and “famous London journalists” who “know little but turn up for the big games”.  It was as if the Untold Arsenal web site had existed in the third quarter of the 20th century.

The scribblers naturally responded in kind – but then they had never taken to the upstart Clough anyway.   Yet those of us who saw the game realised that Clough had put together an extraordinary team with Gemill, Woodcock, Robertson and Anderson at the height of their powers.  Arsenal turned to their strength – the counter attack.  Brady, Rix and Sunderland did all they could but Shilton stood firm.   Either side of half time Arsenal had chances but it was never to be.

Thus now the question was, could Arsenal recover?   Fortunately the immediate task was not too great a thing to contemplate as it was the replay of the league cup match against Manchester City, and Arsenal won 1-0 on 24 January, with a whopping 57,960 looking on.  It was just like the old days – or at least just like the start of the decade.

Liam Brady scored from the spot, City argued constantly about whether it was a penalty or not, Alan Hudson made his first appearance in two months as a sub, and ultimately, through sheer determination and will power, Arsenal went through.

It was City’s first defeat in nine, and it came because Sammy Nelson was the man who discovered how to deal with Barnes – City’s hero of the first match.  This time around Barnes looked ineffectual and trudged off after being substituted.  The crowd was the highest since March 1973 and the result left Arsenal to face Liverpool in the semi-final while Forest played Leeds for the other final place.

Then, as was the way of such things, the FA Cup 4th round followed hard on the heels of the League Cup, and for the final game of the month it was Arsenal 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1, on 28 January 1978, 49,373 in attendance.

On 11 minutes Norman Bell was allowed an open goal to shoot at but completely fell over his own feet and the ball moved harmlessly away.  Three minutes later Alan Sunderland put Arsenal in front, Rix having floated over a free kick from the left.  Sunderland (who was replacing Stapleton as the second striker) headed in at the far post against the club he used to play for.

Wolverhampton  equalised on the stroke of half time  – a lob from 25 yards.  But then on 89 minutes with the score locked at 1-1 Hazell of Wolverhampton was sent off. One minute later Macdonald headed in the winner.  So it goes – although those thinking back to the latter days of Mee knew it used to go the other way.

Arsenal finished the month in fifth, with three teams above but one point clear (although with a better goal difference).  Even if Forest were looking unstoppable, a top three finish looked possible.  Top five would get a European spot.

It was all looking so good, but then, inevitably, it all went wrong as Arsenal lost 0-1 at home against 10th placed Villa on 4 February 1978, the weather keeping the crowd down to 30,127.

Highbury was a mud field, and proper football was impossible, and in keeping with the situation the Villa goal was the craziest of the season.  Villa had a corner, Mortimer lobbed it into the goalmouth, Jennings fisted it out.  The ball hit Macdonald on the back of the head and bounced into the net.

Given that Villa had only scored 29 goals all season it was probably just about the only way they would score – and having done so they retreated totally into defence.  Price missed an open goal after running onto a backpass that got stuck in the goo.   Arsenal’s midfield kept pushing forward, and the forwards kept running.  Brady managed to make some good passes in the swamp, but it was simply not to be.

Two days later the football reporting world went into one of its favourite bouts of wild raving in noting that on 6 February 1978  Blyth Spartans, of the Northern Premier League, had defeated Stoke City of the Second Division 3-2 in a Cup replay at the Victoria Ground thus becoming the first non-league club to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup in 29 years.  Elsewhere in the same week Newcastle United, who were having a miserable season, were beaten 4–1 by Wrexham, again in a replay.

Arsenal’s attention however was elsewhere as on 7 February we had the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st leg at Anfield in front of 44,764, with the result Liverpool 2 Arsenal 1

It was Kennedy, the man Mee had ludicrously allowed to leave Arsenal just as he was moving towards his prime, who gave Liverpool the victory.  Kennedy passed to Fairclough whose pass went to Dalglish and Liverpool scored.

The Arsenal goal came from a Nelson long throw which bounced into the area was missed by all the defenders and allowed Macdonald to boot it in.  For the rest, the Liverpool tackling was upgraded to “rugged” (which had it been seen from any other team would have described in the press as reckless, dangerous and illegal) and Arsenal kept the game under control only through a strict organisation.  Then almost at the death Neal passed a free kick to Fairclough who lobbed it to the goalmouth and Kennedy stepped up.  But it was still all to play for.

Two days later the British transfer record was broken for a second time in the season as Man U paid Leeds £495,000 for Scottish defender  Gordon McQueen.

For Arsenal though, there were other things on their minds.  Having  seen their promising run which had resulted in just two defeats since mid-October end with two consecutive losses in which Arsenal didn’t score, one might have expected a new caution to enter the side’s football.   And a look at the result of the game on 11 February away to Leicester which ended in a 1-1 draw, (with just 15,780 in the crowd) might well suggest caution on Arsenal’s part.

But in truth Arsenal ran Leicester ragged, especially in the first 45, yet just couldn’t get the win they deserved.  As it was despite all their dominance Arsenal had to rely on a penalty to go in front, and having done so then allowed Leicester to equalise through a five man passing move which even hardened Gunners had to admire (although perhaps not until more reflective moments long after the game was over).   The side containing Rix, Brady and Sunderland, all at their best, should never have allowed this one to slip away and everyone knew that relying on Brady to get a penalty is not good enough.

All in all this was not the preparation that Arsenal really needed for 14 February and the second leg of the League Cup Semi-Final.  49,561 came to Highbury in the knowledge that the 1-2 defeat in the first leg should have given Arsenal a strong chance to reach Wembley.  But inevitably Liverpool came for a goalless draw (or “used their long experience in two-legged affairs” as the press would have it) and got what they came for.

The game was at best ordinary, at worst dull, as Liverpool revealed no ambition to score, spending the game holding everyone in reserve in case Arsenal found a way through the first line of four defenders.  But inevitably when Arsenal did break the first line they found five more behind.  The few chances that came Stapleton and Macdonald’s way were scrambled away by Liverpool, and everyone left either frustrated or bored.  A good advert for football this was not, but this is what Liverpool were offering.  This is what they did.

But there was relief from the gloom and tedium on 18 February as Arsenal were drawn against Walsall in the 5th round of the FA Cup and dutifully won 4-1 in front of a very decent crowd of 43,789.

Stories of Herbert Chapman’s last ever cup game were dragged out ahead of the match, but as might be expected no newspapers bothered to do any detailed research, and had they done they would have realised that not only was this the first meeting of the two clubs since 1933, but also that adding up all the games between the two showed Walsall with the advantage – seven wins to Arsenal’s five, with three draws!

Such a statistic of course included not only Arsenal and Walsall games but also Woolwich Arsenal and Walsall Town Swifts, the two clubs playing in the second division together between 1893 and 1901.  But history was never the media’s strong point, and anyway three goals in 12 minutes before half time made it certain that there would be no repeats of Chapman’s upset, not least because throughout Sunderland showed why Hudson couldn’t get into the side.

For the first goal Price turned the ball to Stapleton who shot at the near post.  For the second Rix chipped a corner to O’Leary who flicked to Macdonald to score.  Sunderland got the third from outside the area and Stapleton the fourth from the near post.  For the visitors Buckley made it 132 goals in 250 games and Walsall left, counting their take, and hoping for promotion from the third division.

It was perhaps to be hoped that this diversion might re-establish Arsenal’s winning ways in the league but WHU 2 Arsenal 2 on 25 February made it no wins in four league games.

31,675 were in the crowd but maybe the players forgot that this was entertainment, because for 26 minutes no one had a shot.  Then Rix and Macdonald exchanged passes and Macdonald scored two goals in quick succession.

The second goal was particularly memorable with Rix’s pass being all of 40 yards.  Macdonald took the ball, turned and found no one in front of him save Ferguson – the West Ham keeper.  Macdonald approached, waited for the Ferguson to commit, and then  passed the ball under the keeper and into the net.  His reward was to be attacked by a West Ham supporter who ran onto the pitch, with the police inevitably caught in the wrong place looking the wrong way, and thus the youth got away.  The FA did nothing subsequently.

WHU got one back straight after half time and equalised two seconds from the end to ease their relegation worries a fraction.  For Arsenal, if they were still looking for European qualification, they knew that they would have to improve.

But they didn’t, at least not at first, and on 28 February it was five without a win, and with such a decline evident to all, only 23,506 turned up.  Those who stayed away must have been the happy ones with the result being a tedious goalless draw.

Thus the smallest crowd of the season watched the worst home game of the season.  A hopeless ref booked a Norwich man for time wasting (correctly) but failed to stop the wild assault on Arsenal legs from the defenders led (by no means for the first time) by Martin Peters, now playing as a sweeper.  The assault achieved its object as eventually Macdonald had to be substituted with both legs black and blue.

Arsenal came close in the closing minutes with Young and Stapleton going for crosses from Sunderland, but it was not to be.  The tragedy of it all was that this type of performance from a team of such limited ability as Norwich should still be lauded by the media as an appropriate method of playing, but it would continue that way for years to come.  And not only that, Norwich were, on the back of this approach to football, now a top ten team.

As a result, Arsenal were still fifth, but the table was misleading, for with many other matches being postponed through the weather, Arsenal were ahead in terms of games played.  It was, to say the least, disappointing.

March began in a brighter fashion with the first win in six league games on 4th of the month, the match ending Arsenal 3 Manchester City 0, 34,003.  Arsenal had not been able to beat the league leaders, but they had done the next best thing.

Brady was the master of all on the pitch, ably aided and abetted by Hudson playing his best ever Arsenal game.  Sunderland showed that he could play as a forward as much as a midfielder, and Heeley came in on the right wing.  As a result Arsenal, lacking Macdonald and Rix, moved into a 4-3-3 formation.  Ten minutes from half time Price found Stapleton, who passed to Hudson  who passed to Rice, who moved it to Heeley, who found Sunderland who scored.  Glorious!

The second was simpler, a Hudson corner to Young.  Goal.  For the third it was Sunderland and Price.  Near the end Brady and Stapleton could have made it five, but three was enough.  Amusingly the Sunday Times headed their report, for no apparent reason, “Arsenal 3 Manchester City 3”.  Even Arsenal fans chuckled.  The Times probably never realised they’d got it wrong.

And even better, just as Arsenal were on the up, so Liverpool were on the down.  Too late to help Arsenal get a place in the League Cup final, but even so, the result on 8 March 1978 through which Liverpool suffered their fourth defeat in five League games, (4–2 at Derby County) brought another smile to a few north London faces.

The following weekend it was back to the FA Cup and it ended on 11 March Wrexham 2 Arsenal 3 in the sixth round, with 25,547 crammed in the Racecourse Ground.  The goals from  Macdonald, Sunderland and Young made it 14 goals in the 1978 cup after four rounds.

Before the game the press, so disappointed that Walsall had let them down, now pinned their hopes on Wrexham.  They were striding away at the top of the Third Division and looking sure of promotion so we had all the usual stuff about the man in the street supporting the underdog.  But when Macdonald opened the scoring it was with a shot so easy he could have used his right foot, it seemed no, Wrexham could not do it.   But 20 minutes into the second half Shinton centred for McNeil who scored is 28th goal (yes 28th) of the season.

But then with ex-gunner John Roberts for once making a poor clearance in the Wrexham defence Sunderland headed in.  Next up Brady passed to Young who shot as if scoring was his forte.  Wrexham got one back with 10 minutes left, but Arsenal always looked secure.

Meanwhile there was a cup upset, as West Bromwich Albion beat championship favourites Nottingham Forest 2–0.   More expected was the fact that the game at Millwall, where Ipswich won 6-1, was interrupted by rioting spectators.  Surely the players realised the risk they were taken once they had got the three that was clearly all they were going to need.  But no, there was never any telling Ipswich.

On 18 March Arsenal played Bristol City, who once upon a time seemed to present the Gunners with a problem.  But on this day there was no such local difficulty, the result being Arsenal 4 Bristol City 1.   Sadly only 28,463 turned up for the fun.

So, the games that had been so troublesome a year ago this season were easy victories.  From the off Brady decided that this was his game, and with Hudson knowing exactly when and where Brady would place the ball, and Price at last agreeing that he is a ball winner, matters moved forwards apace.  With Sunderland in the attack and Jennings in goal, the team looked powerful in every department.

In fact for the first time in seven years Arsenal had a selection problem – how to play Rix, Hudson and Sunderland in the same team.    The only thing wrong today was that having scored four, Arsenal felt they had done enough, and then took it easy.  They had indeed done enough but with an hour still to go they could have done more.

This game made it five without defeat – which was good news, but three of those were draws which was not so clever.

Next up on 21 March 1978 we had another draw, Birmingham City 1 Arsenal 1 with 22,087 in the crowd.

At this stage in their evolution, Birmingham collected and discarded managers like young boys swapped stamps – and as a result they were there for the taking.  But in Arsenal they found a team distracted by thoughts of the Cup and it was no real surprise when on 15 minutes Trevor Francis gave Birmingham the lead.  Macdonald however kept up a barrage as the Arsenal defence worked the off-side trap.  However eventually a mistake by Hibbitt gave Arsenal the chance and Brady scored from the spot.

The result left Forest five points clear of Everton in second with Manchester City and Arsenal in third and fourth, one point further behind.    Birmingham fans organised a protest against the board, but away from the city most people were focussed on higher matters.

The following day Nottingham Forest took their first trophy of the season, winning the League Cup.   Arsenal however had other matters to deal with, and on 25 March beat WBA at Highbury 4-0, with a crowd of 36,763 in attendance.

Macdonald got a hat trick, but Brady showed just utterly vital he had become to this Arsenal side.  With both teams thinking of their FA Cup semifinals there was talk of these two meeting at Wembley and (said the Mirror) if that were to happen Arsenal should be given their winners’ medals before kick off.   WBA were humiliated not just by Brady and Macdonald, but also by Hudson who provided the connecting link between midfield and attack on the odd occasions that Brady was not at the heart of everything.

So good was the display that there was even newspaper talk saying that this Arsenal team could win the league next season (the pressmen not forgetting the rumbustious language used against them in the Forest programme).  Arsenal fans were hopeful, but not quite that hopeful.  At least, not yet.

Macdonald scored with a header on 35 minutes, a left foot shot on 55, and a right foot shot on 60.  Willie Young rounded it off with a header on 78.

But the away form was still not quite as good, and once again in the next away game on 27 March Arsenal dropped points in a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge with a 40,764 crowd present.

Quite simply, Chelsea set out to gain a point to help them escape relegation, and they did it at the expense of football.  Arsenal were superior throughout but could not break down the 11 man rearguard action – which was a shame because Bonetti was clearly not 100 percent, and had Arsenal managed to get more shots on target they would surely have prevailed.

Jennings had only one save to make and Hudson gave a superb display in his attempt to find a way through.  Macdonald and Stapleton used every through ball offered and for much of the game it looked as if Arsenal must score, not least because the Chelsea midfield and defence kept bumping into each other; but it was not to be.

This was the eighth without defeat, but once again it had to be noted that five of those games were draws.  Runners up was still a possibility, but there really needed to be a move towards winning instead of drawing.

And win is exactly what Arsenal did on April Fools’ Day, beating Arsenal 3 Manchester United 1 with 40,739 in attendance.

Despite there still being two matches to go in this season’s FA Cup, the press, now totally anti-Forest, and having had enough of Liverpool, were starting to eulogise over this Arsenal team, not only pronouncing them Cup winners in advance but also as the team of years to come.  “Superbly creative” was a typical phrase and as ever Brady was singled out for praise as “the best midfielder in Britain today”  With Hudson, Rix and Price the midfield looked to be as good as it gets as Man U were totally overrun.  But calmer voices reminded us that Man U had only won one in the last eleven.

Macdonald scored on 36, United equalised within a minute.  Brady volleyed in Arsenal’s second, Macdonald headed in the third.  Whatever else it was, it was certainly easy.

Away from Arsenal, but very much a matter of interest, on 5 April 1978 Leicester City sacked their manager Frank McLintock, following a defeat to Liverpool which has all but confirmed their relegation barring a highly improbable set of results.  Frank had dreamed of another title triumph with QPR as a player, and when that had not happened, had hoped to prove himself a manager with the capability of Clough.  But it was never likely to be the case.

And so we moved on to Arsenal’s 13th Cup Semi-Final, this to be played at Stamford Bridge, on 8 April 1978, with the result being exactly as predicted – an easy Arsenal win: Arsenal 3 Orient 0 Attendance: 49,698

Macdonald scored two, continuing his run of scoring in each round.  Rix got the other.

And as suddenly as they so often do, the media changed their tune.   The referee was inept, Arsenal were lucky…  But long after the final whistle it was the red and white that stayed and sang, while the Orient end emptied so quickly it was hard to remember anyone had been there at all.  In the 12th and 13th minute Arsenal came close, in the 16th Hudson nodded to Price but the shot was just saved.

Young hit the crossbar, but then Macdonald saw his deflected shot go in, and within two minutes had scored a second.  Orient stuck with playing a sweeper, but really had no idea where Brady was going to be, and thus the scheme broke down.  Macdonald, Stapleton and Hudson all looked and played like masters toying with amateurs, and Rix’s solo effort for the third was just icing on the cake.

But then the thought of a possible cup win and a runners’ up spot (what a change from near relegation just a couple of years before!) turned just a little sour when on 11 April we had Queen’s Park Rangers 2 Arsenal 1, with 25,683 looking on.

Indeed many commentators predicted that relegation threatened QPR would knock back an Arsenal team now considering what suits to wear at Wembley, and so it proved.  They tried hard, but QPR in the end wanted it more   On the stone hard pitch with the ball bouncing anywhere and everywhere, Bowles passed to Shanks who beat Jennings.  Arsenal couldn’t believe they had such audacity.

20 minutes from the end it got worse as Arsenal backed off from Bowles and he scored again.  The one good news was that Hudson was sensational throughout.   Ultimately Brady scored with a penalty but there was hardly time to kick off again before it was all over.

15 April however saw a return to winning ways with Arsenal 2 Newcastle United 1, 33,353 in the crowd.

If Arsenal had tried and tried again at QPR and lost, this time they took the casual route, and won – but only through two late goals.  It was Steve Walford playing his first game who upped the tempo and desire and twice he nearly scored.  Then Newcastle took the lead on the hour with a shot that bounced in off the post.  15 minutes later Brady, Stapleton and Macdonald all had shots until eventually one ricocheted back to Brady and he scored.

Five minutes after that Hudson slid a perfect pass to Price who side footed in for the victory.  But the missing part of the jigsaw was undoubtedly Sunderland, who announced that he was to start light training again on Monday after his recent injury.

Simultaneously Leicester City’s relegation was confirmed with a 4–1 defeat at home to Birmingham City. They went down with just four wins and 22 goals, and Frank McLintock left knowing that his reputation as a manager was in tatters.

Arsenal however followed up the win over Newcastle with a further victory on 22 April  in Yorkshire, the result being Leeds United 1 Arsenal 3, in front of 33,263.

Even Arsenal’s travelling fans seemed shocked to see three goals in 11 minutes to dent any remaining thoughts Leeds might have of getting into Europe.  Until then Arsenal’s approach had been to pass the ball to Leeds whenever possible in the understanding that the home side didn’t know how to mount a proper attack and would quickly give it back again after knocking 20 passes around while going nowhere.   Then Brady got a free kick, passed to Stapleton and it was 1-0.

For the second Rix’s corner was headed into the net for an own goal.  Then the classic.  Brady took the ball.  Macdonald pointed to where he wanted it and Brady obliged to the millimetre.  Macdonald ran on and scored.  It was Arsenal’s first away league win in four months and first win at Leeds for 40 years.

Additionally this was also John Devine’s first league game and Pat Jennings was captain for the first time.

However the press were not particularly interested, instead being all over Nottingham Forest and Brian Clough, who had been so dismissive of them earlier in the season, for on this day Forest won the First Division, and became only the third (and to date the last)  club in history to do so a year after winning promotion.

But with the cup final now very much on their mind, it was inevitable that Arsenal could not keep pushing for that second position, and on 25 April the result of Liverpool 1 Arsenal 0 in front of 38,318 made it impossible.

Liverpool had conceded that their attempt to win the league was over, but they still wanted to take second place off Everton.  And to be fair, Arsenal were totally outplayed by Souness, Kennedy and Dalglish in the first half, but came back with resilience in the second and came close to securing a draw.

On 24 minutes Young headed out a Kennedy cross, the ball fell invitingly for Fairclough who scored.  After that Liverpool waited, Arsenal pushed but couldn’t make the breakthrough.

That left two league games to play, but with the title already won it really didn’t seem too important.  Only 32,138 came along to see the last home game on 29 April – a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough.

Sunderland played his first match since getting a stress fracture against West Brom and played the entire game, although he looked utterly exhausted by the end.  Brady was left out, but was not injured, suggesting he was being rested for the big day.

The highlight of the first half was a live cockerel thrown into the Arsenal penalty area.  Unnecessary and cruel indeed, but the event was lightened (at least from a human perspective if not from a cockerel view of the world when a groundsman dealt with the bird by chasing it into the crowd.  Symbolism indeed.

Stapleton scored the goal with a flying header at the end of the first half to ensure that Arsenal had a place in the Uefa cup next season – but they were also odds on favourites to win the FA Cup and were hoping to upgrade.

Then came the Cup Final.

Going into the game Arsenal were the firm favourites, both based on their league table and their recent form (they had after all also got to the semi-final of the league cup).

Arsenal had won four and lost two of their last six league games, Ipswich had won one, drawn two and lost three of their last six.

And considering that the game was at Wembley the away figures for each club were interesting.  Ipswich had won one game away all season, Arsenal seven.   Everything pointed to an Arsenal win.

Thus we lost 1-0 on 6 May.   The team was… Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Price, O’Leary, Young, Brady (Rix), Sunderland, Macdonald, Stapleton, Hudson.

Before the game there was talk of Ipswich having run out of players and needing to patch up their walking wounded.  It was a ruse, the media lapped it up and on the day no one showed any sign of injury, and Arsenal suffered a famous defeat.

How it all went wrong has been the talking point ever since this game.  Arsenal only had one chance in the first half (O’Leary shot wide).  Arsenal played it slow and carefully, Ipswich played it fast and furious knowing this was their best chance of a major trophy since 1962.

Hudson and Brady were drawn back into defence by the speed of the assault  and towards the end of the first half it looked as if Ipswich might run out of steam, but they came back strongly and hit the post three times in the match.  Young, having a poor game, turned a clearance to Osborne who scored from 12 yards. As on the first day of the season, Arsenal lost 1-0 to Ipswich.

The last game, inevitably an utter anti-climax, was played on 9 May 1978 and ended Derby County 3 Arsenal 0 with just 21,189 present.

Arsenal had no ability to recover from defeat in the  Cup Final while Derby knew a defeated and tired team when they saw one and set about their task with relish.  Gordon Hill, signed from Manchester United in April made his début and was keen to impress, and scored the opening goal after centring to Rioch whose shot was parried back to Hill by Jennings.

With Harvey, Walford, and Heeley, on the pitch Arsenal were clearly using the occasion to try out some youngsters, and Charlie George knew how to take advantage of such inexperience.  After the interval Derby took control scoring in the 47th minute, and from then on Arsenal did little other than to keep the score respectable.

The game marked the last appearance for Alan Hudson and for John Matthews and the result mean the final table was…

It was the one and only time Nottingham Forest ever won the top division.

Elsewhere Bolton Wanderers, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur were promoted from the Second Division, and Arsenal returned to Tottenham to round off the season with the John Pratt testimonial on 12 May.  Arsenal lost 5-3 with all three Arsenal goals coming from Fuccillo.  McLintock also appeared for Arsenal.

I think the Fuccillo in question must be Pasquale “Lil” Fuccillo who played for Luton at the time, and later managed them.  He is at the time of writing (Feb 2016) chief scout for Crawley Town.  Why he played for Arsenal I don’t know – if you know please do write in and say.

In the following days Wigan Athletic were elected to the Football League in place of Southport. Wigan had applied for Football League membership 28 times since 1932 and had on one occasion even applied for membership on the Scottish League – although this was mostly a PR stunt to highlight the closed shop nature of the Football League.

With the players on their summer holidays the club remained active and on 27 June 1978 Paul Davis joined Arsenal as a professional.  He had signed for Arsenal in 1977, and played for the first team for the first time against Tottenham on April 7 1980 at Tottenham.  We won 2-1.

Just after that on 5 July 1978 Paul Barron joined from Plymouth as cover for Pat Jennings and went on to play eight games before moving on to Crystal Palace.  In all he played over 400 games before retiring and becoming a coach in the USA.

And that by and large was that.  A huge disappointment in the Cup Final, but the progress was very real indeed.  Two seasons before, Arsenal had been 17th in the league, and were knocked out at the first time of asking in both the FA Cup and the League Cup.  Last season we’d climbed to 8th and survived to the fifth round of both cups.  Now we were 5th, in the Final of the FA Cup and the semi-final of the League Cup.  Terry Neill most certainly was turning the team – and indeed the club – around.

Surely 1978/9 would at last see the return of trophies, something that had not graced the marble halls since two memorable games in May 1971.  It had been seven years.  That felt long enough.

The Untold Books

The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon.   Details of this and our previous and forthcoming titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site.

Current series: Arsenal in the 70s.

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