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GCR Books

Arsenal from 1953 to 1980, the overview of an era.

By Tony Attwood

The story of Arsenal during the barren years of the mid to late 1950s and on through the 1960s is told in the superb book, Arsenal the Long Sleep.    There are full details of this volume, which is available worldwide as a paperback, and via Amazon on Kindle on the Arsenal Books page  and at the end of this article.  We have a link to sample pages from the book, and details of the other Arsenal books that we have published.

The story of what happened after Arsenal won the Fairs Cup in 1970 is on this site, in the Arsenal in the 70s series (of which there is an index below).   That series ends with a quick overview of where we had got to in the summer of 1980 and what happened next.

This now is the very last piece of the jigsaw: the overview of the whole period.  Here’s a chronology of the era.

Season Lge pos FA Cup Lge Cup Euro comp Round
1952/3 1st QF
1953/4 12th R4
1954/5 9th R4
1955/6 5th QF
1956/7 5th QF
1957/8 12th R3
1958/9 3rd R5
1959/60 13th R3
1960/1 11th R3
1961/2 10th R4
1962/3 7th R5
1963/4 8th R5 Fairs Cup R2
1964/5 13th R4
1965/6 14th R3
1966/7 7th R5 R3
1967/8 9th R5 RU
1968/9 4th R5 RU
1969/70 12th R3 R3 Fairs Cup W
1970/1 1st W R4 Fairs Cup QF
1971/2 5th RU R4 European Cup QF
1972/3 2nd SF QF
1973/4 10th R4 R2
1974/5 16th QF R2
1975/6 17th R3 R2
1976/7 8th R5 QF
1977/8 8th RU SF
1978/9 7th W R2 Uefa Cup R3
1979/80 4th RU QF CWC RU

The trophies and runner’s up places were 

  • League: 2 (once runners’ up)
  • FA Cup: 2 (three times runners’ up)
  • League Cup: 0 (twice runners’ up)
  • Fairs Cup: 1
  • Cup Winners’ Cup: 0 (once runners’ up)

The worst performances

  • 17th in the league
  • FA Cup 3rd round (six times)
  • League Cup 2nd round (four times)
  • Fairs Cup round two.

So what we right and what went wrong?

We can get a feel for what was happening in the first division with this table.  The number in brackets after the Champions name is the number of times the team had won the league by that point.  In winning the league in 1953 Arsenal had won the league more times than any other team, an achievement that was equalled by Liverpool in 1966, Man U and then Everton, before Arsenal took the lead again with eight in 1971.  Liverpool finally overtook Arsenal in 1976

Champions Runners-up Third place
1952/3 Arsenal (7) Preston NE Wolverhampton
1953/4 Wolverhampton W West Bromwich Albion Huddersfield Town
1954/5 Chelsea (1) Wolverhampton W Portsmouth
1955/6 Manchester Utd (4) Blackpool Wolverhampton
1956/7 Manchester Utd (5) Tottenham Hotspur Preston NE
1957/8 Wolverhampton W (2) Preston NE Tottenham Hotspur
1958/9 Wolverhampton W (3) Manchester United Arsenal
1959/60 Burnley (2) Wolverhampton W Tottenham Hotspur
1960/1 Tottenham (2) Sheffield W Wolverhampton
1961/2 Ipswich Town (1) Burnley Tottenham Hotspur
1962/3 Everton (6) Tottenham Hotspur Burnley
1963/4 Liverpool (6) Manchester United Everton
1964/5 Manchester United (6) Leeds United Chelsea
1965/6 Liverpool (7) Leeds United Burnley
1966/7 Manchester United (7) Nottingham Forest Tottenham Hotspur
1967/8 Manchester City (2) Manchester United Liverpool
1968/9 Leeds United Liverpool Everton
1969/70 Everton (7) Leeds United Chelsea
1970/1 Arsenal (8) Leeds United Tottenham Hotspur
1971/2 Derby County Leeds United Liverpool
1972/3 Liverpool (8) Arsenal Leeds United
1973/4 Leeds United (2) Liverpool Derby County
1974/5 Derby County (2) Liverpool Ipswich Town
1975/6 Liverpool (9) Queens Park Rangers Manchester United
1976/7 Liverpool (10) Manchester City Ipswich Town
1977/8 Nottingham Forest Liverpool Everton
1978/9 Liverpool (11) Nottingham Forest West Bromwich Albion
1979/80 Liverpool (12) Manchester United Ipswich Town

The number of league wins during this period (with the number of top 3 finishes as the second number – meaning Arsenal won the league twice and came in the top four 3 times)

  • Arsenal 2 / 4
  • Burnley 1 /4
  • Chelsea 1 / 3
  • Derby 2 / 3
  • Everton 2 /5
  • Ipswich 1 /4
  • Leeds 2 / 8
  • Liverpool 6 / 13
  • Man City 1 / 2
  • Man U 4 / 9
  • Nottingham F 1 / 3
  • Tottenham 1 / 8
  • Wolverhampton W 3 / 8

If we turn this table into a list of clubs ordered by the total of top three finishes in the period we get this

  • Man City 1 / 2
  • Chelsea 1 / 3
  • Nottingham F 1 / 3
  • Burnley 1 /4
  • Ipswich 1 /4
  • Tottenham 1 / 8
  • Derby 2 / 3
  • Arsenal 2 / 4
  • Everton 2 /5
  • Leeds 2 / 8
  • Wolverhampton W 3 / 8
  • Man U 4 / 9
  • Liverpool 6 / 13

So we have Arsenal half way down the list in terms of successful teams during the period.

In terms of FA Cup Wins and runners’ up places during the same period we have the following table (only including those teams that won the trophy at least once in the era)

  • Blackpool 1 / 0
  • Sunderland 1/0
  • Southampton 1/0
  • Aston Villa 1/0
  • Ipswich 1/0
  • Nottingham Forest 1/0
  • Wolverhampton 1/0
  • Bolton Wanderers 1/1
  • Everton 1/1
  • Newcastle 1/1
  • Manchester City 1/1
  • Leeds 1/4
  • West Brom 2 / 0
  • Chelsea 2/1
  • Liverpool 2/2
  • Arsenal 2/3
  • Manchester Utd 2/4
  • Tottenham 3/0
  • West Ham 3/0

What this all shows is that across the whole era Arsenal were, despite the long spell without trophies, one of the more prominent teams, with the second highest number of FA Cup final appearances (beaten only by Man U), and the sixth most successful club in terms of League wins.

If we assigned an arbitrary set of points for achievements, such as 3 for a league win, 1 for coming second or third, 2 for an FA Cup win and 1 for a runner up we would get this

Club Lge 1st (3) 2nd/3rd (1) Lge Pts FAC (2) FARU (1) FAC Pts Total
Arsenal 2 4 10 2 3 7 17
Everton 2 5 11 1 1 5 16
Leeds 2 8 14 1 4 6 20
Wolverhampton 3 8 17 1 0 2 19
Man U 4 9 21 2 4 8 29
Liverpool 6 13 31 2 2 6 37
Tottenham 1 8 11 3 0 6 17

So throughout this whole period from 1953 (and as you will have seen I included the 1953 league win) to the three cup finals at the end of the period, Arsenal were somewhere around the seventh most successful team.  It is a very crude measure of course – but it is a rough guide.  We were on a par with Tottenham, but as the final section below shows, we beat them on one score…

For what we didn’t do of course is go down to the second division unlike Nottingham Forest, Blackburn, Leeds, West Ham, Everton and Southampton who started the era in the second division (Southampton being relegated that year to the third).

Those relegated during the period under consideration included Liverpool (relegated 1954), Sunderland (1958), Aston Villa (1959), Leeds (1960), Newcastle (1961), Preston (1961), Chelsea (1962), Man City (1963), Ipswich (1964), Wolverhampton (1965), Villa (1967), Blackpool (1967), Sunderland (1970), Burnley (1970), Blackpool (1971), Nottingham Forest (1972), WBA (1972), Southampton and Man U (1973), Chelsea (1975), Wolverhampton (1976), Sunderland and Tottenham (1977), West Ham (1978), Chelsea (1979), Derby (1980).

Perhaps it wasn’t so bad after all.

Anyway, that’s it.  I’m now going to try and turn the whole Arsenal in the 70s material into a book, but meanwhile the blog will return to articles about individual players for Arsenal through the ages.  I hope you have found something of interest in the whole project.

Arsenal in the 70s.

Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace.

By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson

Arsenal: The Long Sleep is the definitive detailed account of the seventeen seasons immediately after the record seventh Football League championship win in 1953.  It is available as a 384 page printed book (9″ by 5.75″ trade paperback size) for £19.95 plus delivery, and also on Amazon Kindle for £9.99.   The paperback edition is available exclusively through Untold Arsenal and the Arsenal History Society.   The Kindle edition is available through Amazon.

You can see an extract from the book here 

You can order the Kindle edition here – it is free with Kindle Unlimited, £9.99 otherwise.

You can order the paperback edition through our on line shop or with a credit card on 01536 399 011 or by fax on 01536 399 012 or by post with a cheque or credit card details to Hamilton House Mailings Ltd., Earlstrees Ct., Earlstrees Rd., Corby, Northants NN17 4HH.   The price is £19.95.

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