The date no Arsenal fan will ever forget. By Bob Wilson



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.


47 Replies to “The date no Arsenal fan will ever forget. By Bob Wilson”

  1. A massive thank you to Bob for writing this, it was so gripping I wanted more. Fascinating insight,and interesting to hear how clued up and inspiring the late great Don Howe was about certain players and their abilities.
    Heres a link to the second leg and Brian Moore was definitely wanting the Arsenal to win that night.
    I used to work with the son of a very famous art critic years ago who is a massive Arsenal fan and that was his first night, and he said to me he thought it would always be like that!
    Thanks again Bob, can we please have something on the double next?

  2. Hi Bob

    Thanks very much for that
    There are regular commenters on this blog who’ve obviously never ever seen Arsenal play live, so getting a report from someone who actually took part in a match is the next best thing.
    I don’t know if you’re available to answer questions but if you are you might be able to clear something up for me. I heard some years ago that it was you who recommended Charlie George to Arsenal after seeing him in schools football. Is this correct?
    Thanks again.

  3. As an addendum to Bob Wilson’s valuable post, I seem to recall reading a later account of the pre-match atmosphere in the Arsenal dressing room that night.
    Don Howe was said to have ordered “Hit them and hit them hard early on, but don’t forget to help them up,afterwards.
    One player (can’t recall the name) was said to be having an occasional brandy “stiffener”.
    And finally, Charlie George was reported as being sick out of the dressing room window.

  4. Thanks Bob
    I often listen to BBC Radio 4 and when they interview you it is refreshing that you challenge the accepted paradigm with pro-Arsenal and pro-Arsene comments – so it is great to see you featured here on Untold too.
    I look forward eagerly to more.

  5. I was there that night and can always remember Jon Sammels goal but not who scored the others
    It rained most of the match and the pitch was like a mud bath l was on the pitch at the end and if my memory is right we stayed there till the team came out into the directors box in the upper stand
    Bob you might be able to confirm did the team go into the directors box
    Thanks for the memories

  6. As I am from Belgium and in my childhood days supported my local first division team, we hated Anderlecht. They were the elite team (still are in Belgium) full of professionals and my local team was an amateur team playing in the top division. Anderlecht in their Astrid Park was unbeatable. In fact we mostly were happy if we didn’t lost with more than 3 goals difference. At home a draw was celebrated as a win and a win… well then the roof went off the stadium.

    So we hated Anderlecht.

    After the first leg shown on TV in Belgium we thought it was all over. We hated the thought of them winning another trophy. I think the feeling in Belgium was the same if I can remember it correctly. I was 9 years old so could be wrong.

    But then came that night at Highbury… I completely fell in love in the Liam Brady years with my first visit to London in 1979. But the fact that we went to Arsenal in 1979 was because of that night you so amazingly described.
    The night the Arsenal players turned me and my brother in to Arsenal supporters. A team that had beaten the mighty Anderlecht… surely that was for us an amazing team.

    I have seen the images since then of course (I don’t think the match was on TV in Belgium – or we didn’t see it anyway) and the way you described it made me send shivers down my spine….

    If you got some spare time… please, please, please do write more…

    I thank you from the bottom of my heart…

    Now I can brag about being a writer on the same blog as Bob Wilson, who has beaten then Anderlecht of Van Himst, Mulder, Trappeniers (the keeper from Anderlecht)… so many players I have seen play in Belgium and that were top.
    But YOU had beaten them….

    What a walk down memory lane…. fully enjoyed it!

  7. Bob i really enjoyed the article .It brings back memories from the 70s.Especially the bit about getting stuck in.The game has gone too soft these days.This bit made me chuckle. “Their two best strikers can be bullied. Well, bully them. Hit them hard.”

  8. I was there that night, on the North Bank, and later on the pitch, gotta say thinking about it still brings a smile to my face. thanks Bob.

  9. OT

    Sorry for being late to the party, but I think I figured out how to do tables, at least for the time being. Check out my comment. Used the ‘-‘ character as a substitute for consecutive spaces while maintaining a minimum of legibility, plus the code tag to make the font monospace.

  10. The great tragedy of that time was Don Howe leaving and being unable (not surprisingly) to find a coach as good as him.

    If only Don had stayed.

    We miss you on TV.

  11. Mr. Wilson, thank you for visiting our site and contributing in such a personal way!!

  12. Bob Wilson

    Thank you so much for contributing to Untold Arsenal. That night I was listening to the radio decorating the kitchen of our newly acquired bungalow a few weeks before getting married and moving in. We are still together and have met and talked to you on two occasions, one being a Highbury stadium tour at the start of the final season there.
    Ever since I was a small boy I followed my Dad in supporting Arsenal and I was too young to remember the 1953 title but have memories from 1955 with the double signing of Vic Groves and Stan Charlton standing out. That’s why I am so pleased to see this book published as it takes in all my childhood memories of those unsuccessful years of Arsenal but there was still some great players and characters who represented us and some memorable matches. I have just ordered it and look forward to reading it and pleased you have written the introduction.
    I was so thrilled at winning the Fairs Cup and what happened the next season was fantastic and you such an important part of it. That is why many of the supporters on this site are patient when things are not going as well as we would like but know Arsenal success tends to come in waves and when it happens we appreciate all the more.
    Keep well and thanks again.

  13. OT
    Man C win tonight largely due to another terrible decision. They scored from a cross where the ball was clearly delivered from outside the field of play, it could have been cleared up in 10 seconds with video technology. We are now seeing game after game where goals are incorrectly being allowed to stand or incorrectly denied and results are now as much about decisions as actual play, it seems to be happening more and more frequently. When are we going to see games decided by skill as opposed to wrong decisions. It’s making a mockery of the sport.
    Give us video technology now.

  14. Just got in , and seen this.
    Bob Wilson, wow, an Arsenal legend, and a man who transcends his sport. A man who embodies the very spirit of this great club.
    I am speechless, and textless

  15. Mick

    It’s been confirmed that video tech is coming next season and will be trialled in the FA cup.
    I think there’s also a chance that it might be used at Euro 2016 if they can get it in place in time.

  16. Great walk down memory lane Bob…..hope this is just the start of a long and fruitful UA relationship!

  17. Thank you , Bob , a very nice first article on everyone’s favourite site. Do hope that you will write further articles , especially the 1970-71 double .

    Maybe even a book to follow up on this one , probably titled -Arsenal: The second Long Sleep 1971- 1989 ? That would surely be of interest to me personally , as I started following the club in the 1971-72 season , and waited patiently for that special night at Anfield in 1989 to win the title.

    Am also looking forward to your insider’s insight to AW and his methods .

  18. I too was there on that great night and viewed it all from the North Bank.
    In my memory Bob Wilson’s elevation to the first team was one of the key moments in the making of the modern Arsenal.
    Together with the inspired positional changes made by Don Howe (eg McLintock from midfield to centre back) it gave us a stability and a mental strength that has seemed to have put the Club on the front foot ever since. I still have his 1971 autobiography on my bookshelf at home – the first of very few player-written books that I have ever bothered to buy.

  19. I was there, too, on the North Bank. John Radford looked like a huge flying angel as he rose to head the second goal in, right in front of us. At the final whistle, my pal Vincent and I just stared at each other in disbelief – the Gunners had actually WON something! – and then we danced and hugged each other. A bigger thrill, somehow, than beating Liverpool a year later to do the Double. Although, it has to be said, that beating Spurs 0-1 at White Hart Lane the Monday before that was very, very sweet.
    Nice article Bob, a true gentleman as I recall and an intelligent one into the bargain

  20. Sadly, this match was a year before my time – I became a fan following Charlie’s goal at Wembley the next season.

    Brickfields – I lived in Malaysia in 72/3 and used to badger my parents to find (several days old) English newspapers that may have the results as we chased Liverpool all the way for the League, sadly unsuccessful in the end.

  21. PS: some eejit has ‘Disliked’ every comment up to Brickfield at 8.44, except Serge’s. Hmmm..

  22. Thank you Bob, I was not born at the time, but my father was there and often recalled memories of the game. Hopefully you can contribute a piece again.

  23. Kenneth Widmerpool/Steve Vallins

    That was my 2nd game ever, and what a contrast it was to my first, which was the 3 – 1 defeat to Swindon Town, who where at the time in the old Division 3, in the League Cup Final at Wembley.

    I was only 9 years old at the time and watched the entire match, again played on a paddy field, sat on my dear old dads shoulders. Sadly I had a perfect view as Ian Ure, bless him, had as they say ‘a bit of a mare’.

    The Fairs Cup final the following year I watched sat on the rail that ran behind the old HT score boards situated by the corner flag to the left hand side of the North bank.

    Obviously I was very young so a lot of it passed me bye, but I have 3 distinct memories that have stuck with me throughout the years.

    1-The Crowd.

    Even after Wembley this was something else. Packed !!! Loud !!! You name it. I had never experienced anything like it. It was a visual and sonic explosion beyond anything I could of imagined. It was THE most amazing night, and to be honest very little since has compared to that night.

    If that didn’t hook you in for life nothing would

    2-Radfords goal.

    For some reason his majestic rise and bullet header is seared into my memory.

    3-Post match celebrations.

    As Bob infers, the pitch was just a mass of joyous humanity. I remember the bright lights, the smiling faces, the dancing, the singing, and of course the big gleaming trophy. For a 10 year old this was just beyond dreams.

    To be honest I doubt at the time I realised the significance of all this in footballing terms, I think my memories are all about the visual, Audial, and emotional experience it all had on an impressionable 10 year old.

    As I say, if that night didn’t reel you in, nothing would.

  24. Sorry, meant to say Thank you Bob for sharing your experience of what was, as you say, a night that anyone who was there will ever forget.

  25. Wow! Bob Wilson. Yes.

    I’ve got a Jamaican friend who lives in the USA. Years ago I told him I was an Arsenal supporter. My friend used his hand to show me how Bob Wilson could turn his body whilst in the air, in order to catch a swerving or deflected ball. He said Bob Wilson is a fantastic goalkeeper.

    For my part, I’ve seen Mr Wilson presenting footy progs on the TV. Modest, interesting and humorous, Bob became one of my favourites.

    More importantly, during these post Highbury years, Bob has continued to support The Arsenal. There have been many times when Bob has spoken positively and correctly about Arsenal’s progress or problems – counteracting unnecessary criticism and outright lies. For this I’m eternally grateful.

    I rather worried at the start of this season. Bob Wilson had “welcomed” Petr Čech to Arsenal days before the official announcement appeared on the dot com. I had my doubts about Petr’s move. After all, he’d be coming from Chelsea. Worse still, what would happen to Sneezy and Ospeeny?

    It appears just as I’d suspected all along – Bob is and remains a trusted “insider” at Arsenal, and so his welcoming of Petr was timely and genuine.

    There’s also the Willow foundation. No mean feat, that!

    A respectful request, Mr Wilson:

    More, please.

    And thank you.

  26. Thanks Bob. I was born in ’72 and have no real memory of this day, so wonderful to have it bought alive by you. Even, putting aside your ‘Arsenal-legend’ status, you are one of the great figures of the late 20th Century game. Your intelligence and humanity are respected throughout the game. I also think you don’t get enough credit for your contribution as our GK coach. Our goalkeepers were generally one of our great strengths during your time, and our record has not been as good since you retired. I personally feel that you helped people like Jennings and Lukic to get every ounce out the talent that they had. After all Jennings was supposedly washed up when he came to us!

  27. Aha. Working backwards – I’ve just read the previous article and comments where Tony flagged the posting of this article.

    My feelings and some memories were already written.

    Thanks again.

  28. Cheers Bob.
    I was bought up in Islington, my late grandfather was a massive fan. Along with my Dad, we walk from Highbury Corner, through Highbury Fields to the great Highbury stadium. I was 7 years of age when we won the Fairs Cup and I remember the celebrations as if they were yesterday.

    This proves what heart and desire can achieve. This result and the belief it gave the team played a large part in our double success the following season.
    I recall the diappointment when Steve Highways extra time goal in the FA Cup Final crept into the bottom corner but the team put aside the diappointment and went on to win, Charlies finish and the celebration making it extra special. A celebration he put down to just being dead on his feet! Would have been easy for heads to go down and legs to get heavy on that huge pitch on what was a very hot day. Character and leadership epitomised. Great memories.

  29. PS: The constant dislikes just goes to prove the point about the intellectual capacity of those who are only happy belittling this great club. Immature.

  30. Thank you Bob,

    I’m (just) a little too young to remember that game. My memories kick in a season later!

    As an aside you was my dear old Nan’s (she didn’t like to be called Grandmother) favourite footballer ever! She was heartbroken when you retired. She loved football and for years after, whenever watching a game would say ” That goalie is not as good as Bob Wilson”. 🙂

  31. Thanks Bob for the history and for honoring us at Untold with the personal, first-hand retelling of it..

  32. I was lucky enough to be at my 3rd Arsenal final. Like Jambug I saw us lose to Swindon. Even in those days the authorities didn’t like us as there had been a flu bug at Highbury the week before and our plea for a postponement fell on unsympathetic ears. I had also seen us suffer the year before at the hands of Leeds.

    The Fairs Cup win was the beginning of an era.

    My fourth final however was the one. 1971. My parents had moved north and it was the day of my sisters 21st birthday, I was told I wouldn’t be allowed to go. Most cruelly, they left me for days before producing a ticket my uncle had acquired.

    Wonderful days. And many thanks to Bob for the memories. However, he’s also to blame for my two broken fingers. As a goalkeeper at school I used to try and emulate the bravery he showed on the pitch ….much to my great discomfort.

    I wouldn’t have missed any of it for the world.

  33. proudkev
    Re the dislike button.
    Unbelievably I have picked up three dislikes for advocating the use of technology to ensure that games are won by football means rather than incorrect decisions from incompetent referees.

  34. Serge

    Bob was on Arsenal’s books as an amateur in the 1963/64 season, training twice a week in the indoor centre behind Highbury’s Clock End. Among the schoolboy hopefuls who trained alongside him on those evening sessions. Even after turning professional, Bob still kept his hand in teaching at Holloway School where Charlie reluctantly was a pupil, so strictly speaking Arsenal already had eyes for Charlie George and vice versa – hope this helps.

  35. Serge

    Re my comment just now, after evening sessions, it should have read ‘was Charlie George’

  36. I just liked all the posts and disliked my own offering, who gives a toss? For those of us that were lucky enough to be there, that’s all that matters. I was a teenager and rather small and I remember being crushed against the little fence at the front, when i jumped up onto the pitch to get away from the crush a copper threw me back over. At the end I was forced onto the pitch by the surge from behind and ran around waving my candy-bar scarf like a lunatic. I didn’t know I would be doing the same at White Fart Lane a year later..

  37. The horse of the year show did for The Arsenal in 69. Highbury was amazing that night on a pitch which looked worse but at least was flat.I was so pleased for Jon Sammels a player often derided by his own to grasp that bit of Arsenal history was well deserved. Frankie Mclintock as a captain drove the team on, perhaps only Big Tony comes into his class.We could use a skipper like those two now

  38. @ Pete – January 28, 2016 at 9:55 am – Other than the local papers write up on Mondays , the only other source at that time was of course the newspapers at the British Council building .
    We would go every Saturday morning not only to read them all , but also to borrow ‘story’ books as they were called then.
    Magazines came 2 months late , but was welcome all the same .

  39. Kenneth Widmerpool
    I went to both the league cup finals Swindon they had the horse of the year show at Wembley a week before and l think the horses damaged the drainage system l hated Don Rogers and Jack Charlton of Leeds for what they done to us in those two finals
    I went to the double final against Liverpool on my own problem was l was in the Liverpool end could’nt wait to get home and watch it again on TV

  40. @Mick W – nobody cares, but it indicates the level of moronity that is out there. And I was there too, as my earlier comment attests.
    @Steve Vallins -yes! I was stuck in the Liverpool end too, with my mate Vince and his dad Arthur -all Gooners-and we got our tickets from Arsenal via the matchday programme voucher scheme!

  41. Oh wow. Bloody hell. Fantastic stuff. Thank you Bob. I was there on that night. And you are so right Bob. That night was an outpouring of immense emotion. As a 16 year old boy, having lived in the shadow of Tottenham’s double since I was 9, having lived with mainly Spurs supporting mates and Spurs supporting uncles and cousins and having to deal with their relentless ribbing following each of the two heart-breaking League Cup Final defeats (including the humiliation of Swindon), this night was an elation of joy and relief. At last, at bloody last!!!
    What a night, what goals, what a goalkeeper. And although we didn’t know it then, so much more was to follow. God bless Bertie Mee, Don Howe and Georde Armstrong. And thank you Bob for being the most brilliant and passionate of Arsenal ambassadors. You should be on the Board. Chairman in fact.

  42. Steve V-thanks— any anecdote of games/times before mine started(77/78) are fascinating. As a kid I knew these times well via b/w photos as I bought the back catalouges of the match programmes. I’d seen the Fairs final on Yt many times and when I watched it again the other night with my partner she mentioned that the atmosphere was electric. It seems that looking back it was so,maybe its a trick of the mind or media? Thanks again.
    Great anecdotes from everyone who were at these games.Thanks!

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