Arsenal History 1956 – 1966 – No trophies, 4 managers and a Tottenham Double

Our history continued: 1956-1966 – Mediocrity and Bitter pills to swallow!

The 1950’s to the 1960’s was not much of a successful decade for our Arsenal and it was a time where we would see our biggest rivals claim a double.. Something in which should be a long time memory.. Well it is for them as that would be the last time they achieved something and long may that continue!!

We had spent most of the decade in mid table and had gone through four managers in the space of 10 years…

The next three managers after Tom Whittaker, were Jack Crayston, George Swindin and Billy Wright who all went through their time trophyless at the club.

After the appointment as manager in 1956 of Jack Crayston and his inability to be able to replicate any of the previous managers’ success, he resigned in May 1958 and in came ex Arsenal goalkeeper George Swindin one month later.

Swindin had a successful stint as player and so decided to return to the club in 1958 as manager.

He was signed by the club in April 1936 for £4,000 as a player and had made his debut against Brentford on September 3rd 1936 playing 19 games in his first season. His time at Arsenal can be described by being full of nervous and erratic displays which can be compared to that at times of Bernd Leno and Lukasz Fabianski from back in the day.

Swindin shared the goalkeeping role with Alex Wilson and Frank Boulton. However, he would overtake both of these players when he played 17 league matches in 1937–38, the same year Arsenal would go on to win the League title.

The Second World War interrupted his career somewhat, but Swindin continued to play through the war for Arsenal, while serving as a Physical Training Instructor in the Army.

Once football had resumed Swindin was our number one and remained there for a few more seasons. Once his erratic play was out of the way though he became a commanding goalkeeper who was known for his aerial ability and strong assured handling of crosses, and with a strong physical resilience he was definitely not one to be messed with.

He won his second League title in 1947–48 but after the arrival of Ted Platt in 1950, Swindin had to share the goalkeeper’s spot for the 1949–50 season yet managed to play in both the 1950 and 1952 FA Cup Finals, one we won and one we lost. We would then not get beyond the quarter-finals again until at least another 18 years.

By 1952–53, Swindin was beginning to show his age, and another talented keeper, the Welshman Jack Kelsey, had taken his first-team place. Nevertheless, Swindin played 14 matches that season as Arsenal won the title again, giving him his third Championship winner’s medal. All in all, he played 297 first-class matches for the Gunners and even he never would have guessed that a few seasons later he would return to manage the club which had served him well.

So Swindin arrived in 1958 and his side initially started strongly, finishing third in the same season of his appointment.

However, the team soon weakened and spent the next three seasons in mid-table. Despite signing players such as George Eastham and Tommy Docherty, Swindin was unable to bring any silverware to the club during his time there.

And it was in 1960-61 that Arsenal had to sit back and watch while our biggest rivals Tottenham Hotspur, won the Double in that year. And what a bitter pill that was, as of course even to this day any success for Spurs is disgusting and unacceptable for any Arsenal fan to see!

Swindin would then move on from his role as manager after Arsenal chairman Denis Hill-Wood confirmed that they would not be renewing Swindin’ s contract at the end of the 1962 season.

Arsenal then turned their attentions to former England captain Billy Wright, after releasing Swindin, and he was appointed for what would end up being just four years, from 1962 to 1966, despite his lack of managerial experience and the fact that he had no prior experience with the club.

So it seems like Arsenal had experience in appointing managers with a small to zero amount of experience then, much like they did with Mikel Arteta in more recent times, they did so long ago as well.

Wright like his two predecessors was not very successful either, although it was under his leadership that the club made their debut in European competitions which came about in the 1963–64 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup after finishing seventh in 1962–63.

In 1966 which would turn out to be his final season, Arsenal ended the season in 14th place which was their lowest position in 36 years. They also recorded the lowest attendance at Highbury, a mere 4,554 in a match against Leeds United on 5 May 1966.

Of course 1966 was famous for England winning the World Cup but the only Arsenal player to feature in England’s World Cup-winning squad was George Eastham, who did not play at all during the tournament but was a presence in the camp.

 It was then in the same year that the Arsenal board had yet again seen enough with regards to a manager and Wright was dismissed by the Arsenal board in the summer of 1966 and replaced by club physiotherapist Bertie Mee.

But after such a poor decade, I bet the whole club including players, fans, staff and managers were happy to see the back of the 1956-1966 season!

To be continued……

Shenel Osman


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  1. “any success for Spurs is disgusting and unacceptable for any Arsenal fan to see.” One would hope that the majority of Arsenal fans are bigger people than that and give credit where it is due.
    The Tottenham Hotspurs team which won the double in 1970/71 under captain Danny Blanchflower was a great football team, as was the Arsenal team which emulated Spurs double achievement in 1970/71 under captain Frank McLintock.
    Arsenal shouldn’t have to build itself up by diminishing the achievements of others!

    1. Excellent reply OG, although you got your dates mixed up regarding the spuds double team!!
      Thought I’d point it out, as some on JA might call you out for this small error, rather than digesting what your saying.
      That spud team was brilliant and we lived through years of hell from their fans, before Bertie Mee’s boys put them in their place and at their own dive.
      George Eastham was a brilliant player and was, I believe, the first ever professional footballer to go on strike, when he wanted to leave Newcastle.

      Keep these going Shenel, as you get nearer to the present day, I’m sure you’ll get the response your articles deserve.
      At the moment, it’s old f@@ts like OG and myself who enjoy being taken back to the “good old days”… if one could call them that!!

      1. Apologies Ken, as 1970/71 is so ingrained in my physchy! On my trip to Highbury in 1977 I bought the 1970/71 book, which I still cherish.

      2. Peter Storey in his Autobiography, True Storey, revealed a few shocking things that happened that happened under Billy Wright. Billy turned to drink and one day turned up at youth training the worse for wear and reduced one of the players to tears. Another time he couldn’t face going to the dugout at Highbury, got drunk and spent the time in the tunnel. His last game as our manager the crowd hung an effigy of him in the Northbank.

  2. I think you’ll find that many, including myself, would go to Highbury one week and the next to White Hart Lane back in the day. A love of football overrode the rivalry. After all, some of us had relatives and friends who supported Spurs and I don’t think there was the hatred like there is today.
    Regarding George Swindin, I was present at New St Station after we had played (and lost) at Villa around 1961. The Arsenal team were travelling back on the same train as the fans and while the Arsenal party was on the platform, one fan asked him about Arsenal signing Jimmy Greaves who was unhappy at Milan. Swindin said “He’s a trouble maker.” Seeing that Spurs had done the double the season before and Arsenal were basically mid table fodder, I doubt very much that we could have signed him anyway. ‘A trouble maker?’ Well George Swindin was right; Jimmy Greaves made trouble for countless defences in his career!

    1. Arsenal 1952, Just a year older than you and I agree that back then there was not the intense and widespread “hatred” between Arsenal and Spurs fans. I paid a regular two shillings(ten new pence) to get into Arsenal each fortnight with the same at Spurs during the in between weeks. Programmes were 6d. Players back then earned around £20-£40 a week or thereabout, with win bonuses as extra.

      I admired, though was envious of, the great Spurs ’60-61 double team and can easily reel off Brown, Baker , Henry, Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay, Jones, White, Smith, Allen, Dyson, as their usual team without recourse to cheating by Googling.
      They made a huge impression on me and though I used to wear my Red/ White Arsenal scarf when Spuds played any team in red, I always thought them a great team, though even then I always wanted them to lose. Jealousy obviously!

  3. In this period (1961 I think) I went to the Valley to watch Arsenal and Charlton play a pre-season friendly.

    The Arsenal team included their new signing, George Eastham. A man most famous for taking Newcastle to court over some clauses in his contract that Newcastle were using to try and stop the transfer. Georgie boy won the court case!!

    Look it up, interesting reading!

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