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.
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…
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