By Tony Attwood
As I have started looking at the players who played in the Bertie Mee sides that won our first Euro trophy and our first Double, it has become apparent just how many of those stars of 1970 and 1971 were actually signed during the Billy Wright era, which ended in the summer of 1966.
Although we might automatically think that George Armstrong was perhaps the most famous of these, the fact is that he was signed by George Swindin, and then had quite a career with Wright before the managerial change over. Indeed he is such a long serving player he must be one of the few, since the Chapman/Shaw season to have played under four managers.
The following table excludes substitute appearances and cup games.
To say that we all loved George would be to state the obvious. To be an Arsenal fan at the time, and to be at the ground watching games, was to support Geordie. He was in many ways unique.
George was born on 9 August 1944 in Hebburn, and trained as an electrician, being rejected as a footballer both by Newcastle and Grimsby. (Shades of Ray Kennedy there – for he was kicked out of Port Vale by Sir Stanley Matthews).
Armstrong joined Arsenal as a youth player in 1961 as an inside forward then as a winger, and made his first start aged 17.
What we all remember about him was his crosses and his running – he never seemed to stop running his crosses always seemed to find the right player.
He played in both the League Cup finals under Bertie Mee that led up to the three triumphs, and was one of the three all-match players in the Double season. He set up the winner in the final game of the league season against Tottenham – which is enough to make anyone famous for life.
It is said that he fell out with Terry Neill when he became manager, and so moved to Leicester, but the fact that George only managed 14 games with them suggests that in reality after a magnificent career his time as a player was over. Without his tireless running, he was never going to get into position to cross the ball – and that was what he always delivered.
He retired from football in 1979 having become Arsenal’s top player for appearances – 621 – before O’Leary and Adams came along.
After retirement as a player he worked for a number of clubs as a coach, including Fulham, Villa, Middlesbrough, QPR, Enderby, FK Mjølner, and amazingly the Kuwaiti national team, returning to England just before the Iraq invasion of Kuwait.
That brought him back to Arsenal as reserve team coach, and he stayed there through the coming years until 2000. Perhaps his most famous apprentice was Ray Parlour – one often wonders how the two men ever understood each other!
On 31 October 2000, George suffered a brain haemorrhage while running a training session at the club and died the following day aged just 56.
He is, of course fondly remembered by Arsenal fans as a player but he is one of those people who must also be remembered as Arsenal through and through. A true and total servant of the club we love.
The Bertie Mee Decade
The players who made it for Mee but were signed by Wright: – Bob Wilson
Swindin, Wright, Mee: Out of the Darkness and Into the Light
Bertie – the life and times: The trophies, ballroom dancing, left hook and OBE
The First Double: a series of five quizzes to test your knowledge on 1971