By Tony Attwood
At the 2013 AISA Arsenal History Society social event at the House of Commons we had Sammy Nelson as a guest speaker, and I have to say I was impressed. I’ve not heard him speak before and he was entertaining and lucid, and it was a pleasure to see him again. Anything you read about Sammy will tell you he has quite a sense of humour, and some of the stories he told us (which I wouldn’t like to repeat in print) certainly showed that to be true.
Sammy was born on April 1st 1949 in Belfast, and he joined Arsenal on his 17th birthday in 1966, right at the end of the Billy Wright era, which gives us two anniversaries in one.
Soon after he joined, Arsenal changed manager, and the new man, Bertie Mee, retained Sammy Nelson to play in the reserves, initially on the left wing, then later at left back.
He made his first team debut on 25 October 1969 playing at left back. Bob McNab had been injured in the previous game and substituted – but he was back after missing just one match, so Sammy had to wait until December 6 for his second game – which like the first ended in a draw. In all he made four appearances in the league and he played in the drawn home game with Blackpool in the FA Cup 3rd round.
In 1970/71 he only made two starts in the league, and was a sub twice but he also played once as centre forward for Arsenal in a 0-0 draw in the league cup.
It was injuries to Bob McNab in 1971/2 that gave him more of a chance and he played 24 games and scored one goal. He also played six FA Cup games, but didn’t make the final. He was however by now playing for Northern Ireland and won 51 caps through his career.
The situation of Nelson only playing when McNab was not, continued until 1975/6 when McNab left, and Sammy became the first choice in the position, playing 36 league games that season.
He also played in the three FA Cup finals (1978, 1979 and 1980) and the Cup Winners’ Cup final against Valencia.
He was finally displaced from the first team in 1980 by Kenny Sansom, and he left for Brighton, having played 339 league games, scoring 12 goals.
Amazingly though that was not the end of the highlights for him, as he played in the Manchester United v Brighton Cup final of 1983.
After retirement he went on to be a coach at Brighton, before moving into insurance and working on the Legends Tour at the Emirates.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches
Other sites from the same team…
- Untold Arsenal
- Referee Decisions – just what are the refs up to this season?
- Full index of the Arsenal History site