Arsenal History: 1976-1986 – Terry Neill, Don Howe and lots of cup runs

Arsenal History continued: 1976-1986 – the era that brought us Brady and Stapleton to name a few!

Another up and down decade would yet again test the resolve of another former player who became manager of our club.

And taking over from Bertie Mee, was former centre back Terry Neill who came in 1976. After playing for the club between 1959 and 1970, Neill made 241 appearances scoring eight goals.

But this time he was back to try his luck as manager.

It was no doubt a controversial move though as after two years managing our rivals Tottenham Hotspur, taking them to ninth place in his second year in charge, Neill decided to jump over to the red side of North London to see what sort of success he could have at Arsenal, at the time and at the age of 34 he would be the youngest manager of our time, at that time.

It didn’t take him long to grab hold of the reins and bring in some new signings though.

And he did so with the likes of Malcolm Macdonald from Newcastle whom he would spend a club record £333,333.34 to sign and Pat Jennings, the latter whom he stole from his old side Spurs.

These additions, along with rising talents like Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton, made Arsenal a top-eight side again in the League. But the most successful times would only come in the Cups and not the League.

Neill looked to be doing a good job as the club reached a trio of finals. The 1978, 1979 and 1980 FA Cup Finals.

Although we lost the 1980 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final on penalties, the club’s only trophy during this time was the 1979 FA Cup which was achieved with a last-minute 3–2 victory over Manchester United. And as you can guess we lost the 1978 and 1980 finals in-between lifting the 1979 trophy.

The final against United was widely regarded as a classic and was dubbed the five-minute final because after seeming like we were in control at 2-0 up, United would come back to draw level with a brace in the closing stages. However it fell to Arsenal striker Alan Sunderland who would break United hearts by scoring an injury time winner to bring the cup home for The Gunners.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – MAY 12: Arsenal player Liam Brady (l) wearing a Manchester United shirt leads the celebrations after their 3-2 victory in the 1979 FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium on May 12, 1979 with back row, left to right David Price, Pat Jennings, Willie Young, Alan Sunderland and David O’ Leary and front row Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson with cup and Brian Talbot (standing) (Photo by Allsport/Getty Images)

In 1979, if pulled off, Arsenal could have been a very different side, but although he came close, Neill was unsuccessful in his attempt to pull off a major transfer coup for Arsenal by signing Diego Maradona. Whom at the time was a highly rated teenager from Argentinos Juniors and within years we all saw why.

Neill also wanted to cheekily try and sign midfielder Glenn Hoddle from Spurs, but Hoddle had reservations about moving across North London to join his team’s arch rivals. And despite bringing Pat Jennings over, Neill could not pull off a second steal from Spurs.

It was later that Hoddle himself had said: “I don’t think my brother would have ever spoken to me again if I had joined Arsenal.” Referencing to the fact he and his brother were both Tottenham fans, and later on it would appear that his brother had also begun his football career at Tottenham in 1984.

Back to the trophies now and it wouldn’t be until 1980 that Neill would find out how United felt once Arsenal broke their hearts in the 1979 final.

Neill guided Arsenal to the 1980 final of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. In the semi-final against Juventus, Arsenal drew 1–1 in the first leg at Highbury and were expected to have a formidable task in the second leg in Turin. But a late goal two minutes from time by Arsenal’s teenage substitute Paul Vaessen gave Arsenal a 1–0 away victory and a 2–1 aggregate win.

Making it the FIRST time Juventus had lost to a British team on home soil.

However, in the final, Arsenal lost on penalties to Valencia in front of 40,000 people at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, and some United fans would say this was a taste of our own medicine no doubt after what we did to them in the Cup Final.

Arsenal’s success in cup competitions could not be matched in the League though. The retirement of Malcolm Macdonald at the premature age of 29 due to a knee injury, and the departures of key stars such as Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton all but ended Arsenal’s League title ambitions.

In the 1980–81 season, Neill guided Arsenal to a third-place finish in the final table which was the closest in 10 years that we had come to winning the league title. And in the 1981–82 season, Arsenal finished fifth in the league.

Neill’s 1982 summer signing of striker Lee Chapman from Stoke City for £500,000 was anything but a success, as Chapman scored just four goals in 23 appearances for Arsenal before being sold to Sunderland for £200,000, making it a loss of £300,000 upon his sale.

The 1982–83 season saw Arsenal reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the League Cup, but it wasn’t to be as we lost both semi-finals to Manchester United who again would say it was pay back for beating them so sternly in 1979.

June 1983 saw another signing by Neill when signed striker Charlie Nicholas from Celtic for £800,000. Liverpool and Manchester United had also been keen to buy Nicholas, who had scored an impressive total of 50 goals in all competitions for Celtic in the 1982–83 season. But his destination was to be Arsenal and Nicholas reportedly became the highest paid footballer in Britain after his move to Arsenal. He later went on to become somewhat of a worshipped figure at the club.

After being given an improved three-year contract at the start of the 1983–84 season, Neill was sacked by Arsenal on 16 December 1983. The dismissal came as somewhat of a surprise and was reportedly a decision that club chairman Peter Hill-Wood had agonised over yet still went ahead with.

Neill then retired from football that same season and he was only 41 years old. A far cry from the ages that some managers nowadays reach before retiring that’s for sure!

Yet again Arsenal were on the hunt for a new manager and in his place would come Don Howe, another former player who played as a centre back for the club from 1964-1966. Howe was signed by Billy Wright in 1964 and was made club captain.

However, misfortune occurred and in March 1966 as he broke his leg playing against Blackpool and only played two further first team games that both came in September 1966, firstly against Manchester City in the League on the 10th and then on the 13th against Gillingham in the League Cup. Howe was capped 70 times for Arsenal altogether, yet that injury would mean the end of his playing career and so he retired and became reserve team coach under Bertie Mee, he then stepped up to first team coach after the departure of Dave Sexton in October 1967.

And so in he came as permanent manager in 1983 and managed to stay for three years.

Despite introducing young players including Tony Adams, David Rocastle and Niall Quinn to the team during the mid-1980s, he was unable to win trophies, as Arsenal finished either in sixth or seventh place under him, despite briefly topping the league in October 1984.

After just over two years in the job, Howe resigned on 22nd March 1986, shortly after Arsenal’s match against Coventry City. Yet his time will be remembered for introducing the likes of Adams and Rocastle!

Two absolute legends that would go on to have an immense career at the club!

So losing Howe, of course meant a new manager was being scouted and so in May 1986, in came George Graham who succeeded Howe and he was on the hunt for our first trophy in seven years…

To be continued…

Shenel Osman



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Tags Don Howe Liam Brady Terry Neill Valencia


  1. What a great read and brings back so many good and bad memories
    Was fortunate to go to all 3 finals
    2 rubbish and 1 great final
    I look back at that team and think we had a few great players and a lot of the team were predominantly Irish. Had a center half we got from the spuds …Willie young. …omg, how bad was he. ” 6ft 2 eyes are blue Willie young is after you”
    Pure crap
    Stapleton who went to United and for some reason now supports United more then us ?
    We Ll agree Brady is better then hoddle.
    If any one dares complain about todays team please remember some us had to endure this team . Great in the cups but to my recollection rubbish in the league
    The standing In the North Bank or clock end was electric
    Tightly packed in like sardines, the sway and god forbid a glory moment happens, you ended up 50 ft away from where you were first standing
    Not so much the glory days but glory atmosphere
    Great read and memories Shenel

    1. Willie Young’s debut was against Ipswich. Gave away a penalty as we lost 4-1 at home. Northbank sang “fcuk of back to Tottenham”.

      1. 🤣🤣🤣🤣
        Also didn’t he give the goal away in the up final against West ham
        We had a lot of switch overs from the spuds in those days

        1. Not sure Willie can solely be blamed for the goal as there were a couple of players that could have cleared the ball.

          What he is noted for was bringing down Paul Allen when he was clean through on goal. At that time there was no red card for being the last man.

          OT, have you read True Storey, the Autobiography by Peter Storey ? Your namesake caused a big problem when his father announced in the press how much Alan was being paid. £200 per week, which was double than anyone else.

          1. I haven’t
            But will have a search and read of it
            I was with every penny 🤣🤣🤣

  2. Neill’s second season in charge sticks in my memory for one reason, beating the vermin at Highbury 1-0 to relegate them.

    Heysel in ’80 was a great trip apart from the result. There was a national rail and boat strike in the UK on the day of the game, so the lastest you could leave was the Tuesday and the earliest you could return was the Thursday. Me and 3 mates drove down to Dover on the Tuesday and bought return tickets for the boat and train to Brussels for the princely sum of £14.50. The stadium was in need of repair even then. Lot of trouble before the game on the previous night and after the game which apparently didn’t make the news back home.

    Neill’s sacking wasn’t really a suprise considering the run of poor results. Losing 2-1 at home to Walsall in the League Cup after taking the lead was the final nail in his coffin for the fans, as they protested outside the East Stand after the game. Neill Out. Finally after our defeat away to West Ham he was sacked.

    Don Howe walked when he found out the club were talking to Venables behind his back about becoming our manager in the following season. Iirc we had just gone into 4th place in the league.

  3. Always been struggling with history even at high school.just can’t get what this history talks is all about,all in all i’m proud of my club.

    1. It’s simple really Fk, what your witnessing today, will be history tomorrow – can’t see what’s hard about a simple concept like that.
      Another good read Shenel – if you read Pat Jennning’s autobiography, he gives an incredible insight into how Arsenal and spuds were poles apart in their treatment of players and was one of the reasons he switched clubs… what a goalkeeper he was, hands like shovels!!!

      1. Yes. You are so right. That autobiography of Pat Jennings was released in 1983. Living in Australia at the time, I missed out on a copy. It was advertised in Shoot! magazine which was 6 months late because of shipping delays. The book went out of print back then. Keith Burkinshaw made a huge blunder in letting Jennings go in 1977. There was alot more to the whole debacle. Jennings was 32, and in top form ( nothing new there). In 1976 Jennings was voted and awarded the PFA award. A rarity for a goalkeeper to win it in those days, Gordon Banks being another goalkeeper to win the award prior to Jennings. Jennings turns up to training one morning, and Burkingshaw tells him he’s no longer needed. No explanation was given. Jennings walks to the carpark to go home, and the Tottenham board members walk straight past Jennings with their heads down and totally snub him. No golden handshakes of, ” thanks for your 14 years service at the club”. That hurt Jennings. Ipswich Town, Manchester United and Aston Villa came in for Jennings. Arsenal made a half hearted approach (Terry Neill). Jennings’ decision to move to Arsenal was based on 2 reasons. One, was to rip it into the Tottenham board members to make them look like fools. And secondly and most importantly, he didn’t want to uproot his young children. Tottenham had a policy of helping long serving players in buying a house. They realised Jennings was long due for that(14 years service). They bailed out. Jennings did a rare hour long interview last year. It’s on YouTube. He hasn’t a bad word about Arsenal. They gave him two testimonial games. He was the first player in English Football to play 1000 matches. That was Arsenal vs West Bromwich Albion February 26, 1983. He kept a clean sheet. Don Howe sent Jennings packing in 1985, full knowingly knowing that Jennings was happy playing reserve grade football to be second choice to the young John Lukic. Jennings wasn’t finished,,, far from it. He was first choice for Northern Ireland. Playing reserve grade football was keeping him in shape for Northern Ireland’s 1985/86 World Cup qualifying matches. Tottenham came back and offered Jennings reserve grade football to keep in shape. Jennings singled big handley got Northern Ireland into the World Cup 1986(aged 40). His last international game was against Brazil on his 41 birthday in the World Cup. The was one big party. Northern Ireland were only beaten 3-0. Jennings kept the score line respectful. Again, he was not quite finished. Although Northern Ireland bowed out of the World Cup in the early phase, Jennings was voted “Best Goalkeeper” and was selected for The Rest Of The World verses South America. He was named Rest Of The World captain. That match is on YouTube. After the World Cup of 1986, Jennings announced his retirement. However some clubs, one was Sunderland I can recall, offered Jennings a contract to keep playing. It’s only now that he regrets not playing on. In 1993 he was goalkeeping coach at Tottenham, as well as working in hospitality there. Today at the age of 76 Jennings is working with the young goalkeepers at the Tottenham Academy. He still has the same hair do, but grey, and can still hit a decent ball at the young goalkeepers. Speaks very highly of Arsenal to this day. That was Gentle Giant Pat. This is me with some useless boring trivia. Cheers

        1. pjennings, Spurs’ treatment of Pat Jennings has to be the classic example of how not to treat an employee, let alone a long term loyal professional footballer.

  4. My first visit to Highbury was during the TN era. I was a huge fan of Supermac at the time, a bit of a selfish player but his record speaks for itself. He and Alan Hudson fell out with Terry Neill over-drinking during a pre-season tour and got sent home and their relationship did not recover after that. I felt Terry Neill underachieved with what was a very good side. Brady and Stapleton leaving was devastating and to this day I have never heard as much abuse given to an ex-player as I did when Stapleton returned to Highbury with Utd. Don Howe was a great coach but like so many before and since have proved good coaches don’t necessarily make great managers but he did lay the foundations for George. Expectations were low in those days, we knew we were not going to win the league it would make our day just to get a result against Utd or Liverpool which made the 1989 triumph just amazing no one expected it to happen.

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