For the 1972-73 season the programme, still retailing at a bargain price of five new pence for 16 pages, featured a cover design showing pictures from the previous season’s FA Cup Final (v Leeds) and what appeared to be a Highbury match against Spurs. As before, the cover pictures remained unchanged throughout, but inside the content had started to evolve.
Although no bigger than before, the programme had several new features. The most obvious of these was a regular two-pager profiling one of the first-team squad, usually pictured wearing a loud shirt with a long rounded collar of the type fashionable in the early seventies. By halfway through the season, though, they’d run out of players, and moved on to coaches, scouts and medical staff, finishing up with manager Bertie Mee in April.
Topics of the Week still dominated pages 2 and 3 of the programme, with the usual mix of injury news and fixture updates, along with occasionally answering fans’ queries – though the West Ham programme in August was at pains to point out that putting programme collectors in touch with each other and helping fans find pen-pals “we are afraid, is hardly within the province of a club programme”. Ten years later that seemed to be all there was in it!
Arsenal’s home game against Liverpool on September 16, 1972, was famous for having Jimmy Hill take over as linesman, and the full story was Topic of the Week in the next programme, v Birmingham. It doesn’t actually say what happened to original linesman Dennis Drewitt, but the picture of him being carried off suggests a hamstring problem, and a newspaper report confirmed a ‘damaged leg muscle’. The game was halted for some time and an appeal went out for a replacement, eventually answered by ITV pundit Hill when he realised no one else was going to step forward. Amazingly, if no one had, the match in front of 48,000 spectators would have been abandoned and replayed later.
With the blessing of both teams, Jimmy was given a flag and a sky-blue tracksuit to wear (appropriately, in view of his later connection with Coventry City), but felt too conspicuous, so changed into black kit at half time. He’d also been given size eight boots for his size ten feet, which again he managed to change at the break (the boots, not the feet). Both captains were asked not to question decisions in view of the circumstances, and the programme editor names that as one reason a promising game never developed into a scoring spectacle, and ended 0-0.
Another programme regular was referees’ supremo Ken Aston’s column, in which he noted that on the same day Jimmy Hill had taken over from an injured linesman at Arsenal, the referee at Exeter City had collapsed and died on the pitch. Keep it cheery, Ken! Earlier in the season Ken reported he’d been at the summer Olympic football tournament in Munich that Poland had won. The communist countries at that time used the same players in Olympics and World Cups, but Ken thought England had little to fear in forthcoming World Cup qualifying from Poland. Ahem.
Half a page in each programme was dedicated to a What Happened to Them When They Left Arsenal? feature on past players. These were usually stars of the thirties and forties, including greats like Alex James and Ted Drake.
Letters to the Editor were still not featured in every programme, but they were becoming more common. When they did appear, there was much discussion of the problems of hooliganism and general falling attendances, the latter being largely blamed on the former, but also on boring defensiveness, players’ behaviour, prices, too much football on TV and too much football in general. Some letters are remarkably forward-looking, with Derek Ainslie of London N8 suggesting a free-kick for back passes to the keeper would cut out timewasting, while M Ellis of Hendon wanted goals scored to be used to separate teams on the same points instead of goal average. Mr Ellis was so fed up with defensive football he wanted no points awarded for a draw. I must admit I’ve never thought of this, but if there were (literally) no point in holding out for a draw it might promote more attacking football than the later adopted change of three points for a win. On the other hand, if a team scored early would they park the bus even more than at present?
In the Boxing Day programme (v Norwich) there was a Christmas message from Club Secretary Bob Wall (no relation) where he suggested that while removing the point for a draw would be useful, perhaps the League should be decided purely on goals scored, forgetting about points altogether! A step too far, perhaps. Later that season Bob announced that he was stepping down as Club Secretary, to be replaced by a whippersnapper called Ken Friar.
The manager’s thoughts were still not considered of sufficient interest to be included regularly, but Bertie Mee did write a page in the January 6 programme (v Man Utd). He spoke of the difficulty of keeping the Double squad together now that they were all two years more experienced and all determined to play every week. George Graham had been allowed to leave for the day’s visitors just 11 days earlier as he was no longer an automatic choice, though a letter writer bemoaned the loss of a man who was ‘the most talented and gifted on the playing staff’.
Man Utd were bottom of the table at new year, but the programme noted they were the only club to generate Arsenal programme sales of over 40,000 on each of their previous nine visits to Highbury. They did manage to haul themselves clear of relegation by April, under the management of ex-Arsenal favourite Tommy Docherty.
Visiting teams now had to make do with only two pages dedicated to them in the programme rather than four as previously. Half a page was usually the team photo for the season – pictures that tended to include more long hair and sideburns than a Slade tribute night.
Three or four other pages were always dedicated to action shots from recent matches, sometimes with slightly odd headlines alluding to reaction to the games, such as “Whatever is said afterwards we beat Crystal Palace 3-2”. The pictures are almost always of Arsenal attacking or scoring rather than defending, and one programme noted that this was what fans always asked to see rather than being a deliberate slight on the defence.
In the spring the programme warned that ticket prices would be higher the following season due to the newly-invented VAT. This replaced Purchase Tax, which hadn’t applied to tickets.
The last home match of the season was against Spurs, with Arsenal sitting second in the table by a single point from eventual Champions Liverpool. Arsenal had just lost the FA Cup semi-final to Second Division Sunderland, but the programme editor was still hopeful of League success (we needed two points to “keep our chances simmering”) despite having to end the season with four away matches. Ultimately Arsenal remained second, despite a draw with Spurs and a 6-1 thrashing by third-placed Leeds on the last day. The programme continued to improve in the following seasons, but this was to be the high point in the League for another 16 years.
Read about the previous season’s programme, 1971-72, here.
And click here for the following season, 1973-74.