We Care Do You Part 2: A certain latitude with historic reality

By Tony Attwood

Continuing my little saunter around the We Care Do You document put out by Arsenal Supporters’ Trust and other groups and individuals, the second paragraph of the piece says that “Off the pitch, fans have never felt more marginalised, less listened to or valued.”

Now the authors of the piece don’t actually tell us how they reached this conclusion, and what historic surveys of fan satisfaction they relied on.  I don’t have access to any such surveys, if there ever were any, but I have a good reason to question the assertion.

All it needs is a little look at Arsenal’s past.  Allow me if I may to take you back to the first half of the 1970s.

Season P W D L F A Pts Pos FAC LgeC Top Scorer Goals
70/1 42 29 7 6 71 29 65 1st W R4 Ray Kennedy 26
71/2 42 22 8 12 58 40 52 5th RU R4 Ray Kennedy 19
72/3 42 23 11 8 57 43 57 2nd SF QF John Radford 19
73/4 42 14 14 14 49 51 42 10th 4 R2 Ray Kennedy 13
74/5 42 13 11 18 47 49 37 16th QF R2 Brian Kidd 23
75/6 42 13 10 19 47 53 36 17th R3 R2 Brian Kidd 11

Now just a quick look at the league table shows how quickly things went wrong for the club.  And that decline was not off-set by anything nifty happening in either Cup.   Worse, we had two seasons in which our top scorer got 13, and 11.

And all this for the club that won the double in 1970/1 having just won their first European Trophy.

But actually it was far, far, far worse than that, and if you want one bit of evidence to show you how much worse it was, try the crowd size.

In the 1970/1 the average League match crowd at Highbury was 43,776 – the stadium in those days could still cram in 65,000, but normally 60,000 was considered about the maximum capacity.   The largest league crowd in the double year was 62,056, and the smallest 32,073.  So just on that basis, getting 59,000 actually to turn up at the current stadium is not a bad deal.  (I will deal with how many no-shows there actually are, a little later in this series of articles).

For the next two seasons with Arsenal coming 5th and second in Division One the crowd average remained just over 40,000.  But then in 1974 with Arsenal finishing 10th in the league it was down to 30,212.  In 1975 Arsenal finished 16th and the average was 28,315.   In 1975/6 we finished 17th and the average was 26,945.

And these were just averages.  In 1973 at mid-season home game against Wolverhampton brought 13,482 to Highbury.

So marginalised, less listened to?  Actually that was really how it was in the 1970s.  Neither the manager nor the board had the slightest concept of PR.  Mee, the ex-army PE trainer and physio, believed in military discipline, yet he was dealing with a group of young men who had come up through the era of youth revolt.  Quite often they wanted to wear their hair long, and have nights out on the town.  They needed to be handled differently; Arsenal was not the army.

And this time was bad because not only were Arsenal actually flirting with relegation during the 1974/5 and 1975/6 campaigns, the manager was talking a pile of whatnot that basically turned everyone off.

Bertie Mee is remembered today for his three trophies in two seasons, but anyone who recalls the latter parts of his reign will remember his as an autocratic, unbending and unimaginative tenure.   His ideas at the time included reducing the full playing squad to just 18 players and getting rid of the two youth teams.

He had fallings out with many of our most beloved players, he refused to even consider the requests for higher pay from players, and even managed to have some of our players go out on strike against him.

And all that before we consider being knocked out of the League Cup by Tranmere at home (yes at Highbury).

Here’s another angle on that era.  In 1975/6 Arsenal really did look as if they could be relegated with just one win in the last seven league games.  However other teams were even worse and we ended up escaping – and this remember with a team with Brady, O’Leary, Rice, Ball…   And the significance of this was that the last time we were in this much trouble was in 1924/5.

That year the manager, Knighton, was finally kicked out and replaced by Chapman.  But in the 1970s the board would do nothing.  The hands on days of Norris as an owner were long gone – he cared about the club deeply and wanted it as a club that was owned by its fans and was financially self-sustaining.  But Mee?  It was awful – for we had come 16th the year before, and he’d done nothing to rescue the situation.  Finally in 1975/6 Mee decided to call it a day.

Now, of course I don’t know the people who wrote the “We Care Do You” document, and I suspect the phrase “Fans have never felt more marginalised” was probably thrown in without much thought of checking the facts.   I suspect also these guys who put the piece together might generally be a bit younger than me.  But if they are old enough to remember the 1970s, or at least widely read enough to have gone through a few books on the 1970s, they might know just what it was like as that wonderful team of 1971 was allowed to tear itself apart by a manager who was more suited to his previous job as a military man, than as a club manager.

And those of us on the terraces?   We really were so fed up.  As we sank down to 18th by the start of December we were not looking at how far off the top we were, we were wondering about relegation.  Unlike now when I live nearly 100 miles from the ground but make it to most home games, at that time I lived a five minute motor bike ride from Highbury, and simply didn’t bother to go to each game.  That was disillusionment.

The tale of the 1970s was not one of glory and wonder, as it is sometimes painted, but mostly of low crowds and misery.  Anyone wanting to relive that might care to read “Arsenal in the 70s” – it is a complete detailed game by game record of the decade from the double to the depths.   And you don’t even have to pay.  It is on the internet.

So when the various groups and blogs that signed up to WeCareDoYou consider their action, I would say to them, if you care, then care about the facts of your club’s history.  And care about the language you use.  By saying “Fans have never felt more marginalised” you are simply revealing your total lack of knowledge of the club’s affairs, and that in turn destroys your argument.

There are important points to be made about Arsenal today and Arsenal in the past, but “Never felt more marginalised” is not one of them.

More on WeCare anon.



12 Replies to “We Care Do You Part 2: A certain latitude with historic reality”

  1. Good piece. It’s always nice to reflect that football comes with the good and bad. Like life.

  2. Tony
    I remember in those awful years how everybody around me on the North Bank thought relegation was a strong possibility. Sometimes a sense of history tends to put things in perspective.

  3. OT: Bielik has left for Derby County

    Good luck young man. Thank you for the time you spent here.

  4. @Tony is our banner still displayed? I didn’t see any info on it after the Emirates Cup, so hence the query.

  5. 1973 through to early 80’s was when I went to probably 80% plus of home games and any away games I could afford.

    It was a tough watch at times but that’s love for you.

    I lost count of how many times our little crowd of mates would say “That’s it. Never again”, on the way home from a match, only to be eagerly organizing ourselves for next Saturday come Monday, but that’s love for you.

    I’ve mentioned this before but my Nadir was one cold, wet and windy night on the 28th of February 1978:

    Arsenal 0 v 0 Norwich City

    Attendance: 23,506

    Look, I understand people get upset and disappointed when results are not going well, but it seems to be that what we are dealing with here is rampant entitlement allied to a complete and utter loss of perspective.

    Not only perspective in the current climate of oil and state sponsored opponents, but perspective in relation to our own history, and that is shameful.

  6. I do remember those days , having had just started to support the club in the 1971-72 season.
    I remember we being trounced 5-0 by Derby County, and losing to Leeds Utd in the FA Cup final.
    We were sliding down gradually and my worst moment was the sale of Charlie George to Derby. The only favourite ever Arsenal player.
    And that 2 ex-Man Utd ,European Cup winners, ie Kidd and Rimmer, saved us from relegation.

  7. As for me and as far as Arsenal Football Club is concerned, I Care and I Do for the club. And no going back on my caring for the club in my capacity as a fan of Arsenal FC. The slogan “We Care Do You?” petition written by the Arsenal FC supporters at various level of supports and signed by over 105,000 of them who took it upon themselves to dangle the petition to the Arsenal owner, Stan Kroenke’s face. Which forced him to start caring for Arsenal FC immediately as he authorised funds be released immediately to sing Pepe who the club have signed. But hitherto, Kroenke would not have authorised funds to sign him if not for the petition. Or would he?

  8. I do hope that those clowns who came up with that alleged transfer figure are feeling foolish with our recent transfers , amounting to EUROS 104,00 Million , double of what they claim it to be.

    And that the that shut their traps in the future , and not mislead Arsenal fans , nor try to divide them for some gain (?) or other. Would they do the honorable thing and resign their posts . Are they that noble ?

    Or would they go on the offensive and claim that they,and only they, made the board and owner act. Would not at all be surprised , as there are other morons in very high places claiming victory as theirs , despite screwing it all up royally .

    Good riddance to these pests . Don’t let your arses injure our doors on your way out!

  9. Unfortunately, like a few of you guys, I too am old enough to remember being on the terraces in those days. The one thing I don’t remember though (but I guess it’s not perhaps as sharp as it once was) was people booing the players. Yes there was frustration and one or two players might get a mouthful of abuse for another woeful mistake or repeated wayward passes. But I don’t remember booing…..or banners. Am I right about that?

  10. Mikey

    “Yes there was frustration and one or two players might get a mouthful of abuse for another woeful mistake or repeated wayward passes. But I don’t remember booing…..or banners. Am I right about that?”

    Unfortunately not Mikey.

    My personal memories are that we were not that bad, but even back then we certainly had our ‘boo boys’ and they sadly contributed (although how much is a mute question to be honest, given the whole picture) to the downfall of an Arsenal hero.

    That hero was Paul Vaessen who sealed one of Arsenal’s greatest triumphs against Juventus back on the 22nd April 1980. His moment of glory was short-lived. Injury wrecked his career and led him to the depths of drug addiction and crime.

    It is a sad sad story that has been brilliantly told by Stewart Taylor in his wonderful book: Stuck in a Moment – The Ballad of Paul Vaessen

    Here is an excerpt from a fairly recent book review By Allan Kemp:

    ‘The Juventus game is pivotal. It’s covered superbly by Taylor, using the memories from teammates and fans who attended, as well as the experiences of those, such as Vaessen’s family, watching at home. The chapter, and those before it, all build up to Vaessen’s goal, the climactic moment that would define his life.

    From that point, Taylor takes us on the tragic journey that transformed Vaessen’s destiny. From becoming the victim of the terrace boo-boys, through a career-ending injury, to the much darker world of depression and drugs. As the story progresses and Vaessen’s situation becomes increasingly desperate, Stuck in a Moment becomes a brutal, emotional and hard hitting read.

    So sadly, yes we did have our boo boys.

    But it wasn’t just the boo boys that contributed to Vaessens down full, the club themselves, or rather the ‘game’ itself, were just as culpable.

    Here are some more quotes:

    “But, at 21, he was told by doctors he would be crippled if he played professional football again. His whole life was turned upside down and he was totally desperate. In those days there was no counselling or after-playing help and he was told by Arsenal, “Goodbye and good luck”.

    “It’s a big shame what happened. He used to say he wasn’t looked after by Arsenal.”

    Mikey and any other gunners should read this book.

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