Bob Wilson has most kindly contributed this article for Untold, to coincide with the publication of Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 by John Sowman, for which Bob has written the introduction.
Tuesday 28th April 1970. By Bob Wilson OBE
Tuesday 28th April 1970 is a date to remember for all Arsenal fans. As for that night, ‘unforgettable’ barely comes close to describing what occurred at Highbury.
The joy and fervour of the club’s earliest triumph in the thirties returned with a team performance that defied the odds and ensured a truly great football club captured its first major trophy after a wait of 17 long years.
First there was the daunting prospect of overturning a 3-1 lead gained by their formidable opponents Anderlecht in Brussels a week earlier.
The opposition contained 10 full internationals with Belgium’s Footballer of the Year Paul Van Himst, the star, alongside a Dutch born striker called Jan Mulder, likened by many critics to the great Johan Cruyff. The same Cruyff who, along with his Ajax team had been beaten 3-0 in the semi-final at Highbury but who then went on to be European Champions for the next 3 successive years.
All 51,612 fans who managed to get a ticket have no problem in recalling the three goals without reply, which ensured victory.
Eddie Kelly’s 25th minute opener set up by Jon Sammels and Charlie George. Then an agonising wait before the 70th minute when George Graham found Bob McNab and the full back’s cross, headed in by John Radford. That would have been enough to lift the trophy but almost immediately a Charlie George long pass set up Sammels to make it 3-0.
Those are the basic facts, goals never to be forgotten and totally overshadowing other parts of the game which I still remember so clearly and which show how the game has changed in almost all aspects other than the basic rules of play.
A Highbury pitch, prepared by groundsman Fred Virgo, where the only remaining grass was near the side lines, and a pre-match report compiled by former Arsenal great George Male and delivered by our coach Don Howe. “So and so won’t be intelligent enough to cut crosses out; player B is chicken; the keeper is short and tends to rush from his line a lot, so George Graham might try a chip; watch out for the striker who dives a lot, and player E is out to nobble anyone in his way.”
I remember bumping in to Ken Friar, then Assistant Secretary, who had been at work since 8.30am and who was talking about the massive £100,000 takings from the two legs of the Final!
I recall talk about the referee and linesmen who came from East Germany and were to be paid £342 in total for the privilege, in cash. Then there was our ‘newer healthier’ pre-match meal. Cereals, poached eggs and tea, which had recently replaced high protein steaks. Yes Arsene, I know what you would think!
And then of course, manager Bertie Mee’s words, “You know what this game means to you, your careers, this club and our fans.”
Don Howe concentrated on tactics for which he was a master coach. “First 15 minutes I want as many balls as possible put into their box. Their two best strikers can be bullied. Well, bully them. Hit them hard.”
It’s in the dressing room where fears and nerves have to vanish or be put aside. Leadership comes from within the team with skipper Frank McLintock the ultimate leader, concentrating on the away goal in Brussels, scored by young Ray Kennedy and which means “two nil will be enough tonight.”
So to the bell, the back slapping, the long walk down the Highbury tunnel and then the noise. What a noise! Delivered by amazing fans who were intent on playing their part.
The final whistle when all hell broke loose – presentation of the first European trophy won by Arsenal FC – then a pitch invasion and my attempt to do a lap of the ground, which took at least 15 minutes.
Ultimately that night, that game became arguably, the most famous in the history of Highbury. Nerve wracking, exhilarating, it contained everything which makes football so powerful as an entertainment. Seventeen barren years ended by a team that were to add a League title and an FA Cup the following season.
The book Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 by John Sowman for which Bob has written the introduction is published today and is available direct from the publishers, and as a Kindle book via Amazon. There are more details of the book and how to obtain a copy on Untold Arsenal.