By summer 1973 memories of trophies were starting to fade slightly, despite the good second place finish in the League in May, and the new programme cover for season 1973-74 could only feature pictures from the previous year’s league matches, including the one at Old Trafford, and the losing FA Cup Semi Final match against Sunderland, rather than sunny Wembley. There was also the legend “60 years at Highbury 1913/14 – 1973-74” written around an old-style brown leather football.
The programme price remained 5p for its 16 black and white pages, the level it had been at for several years. Full colour photographs had been used in special editions of a couple of Arsenal programmes in the late 1960s, but it was too expensive to use regularly. The recent death of Jimmy Hill has seen him credited with introducing the first colour football programmes for Coventry, but I have some of theirs from 1974, 1975 and 1976, and the only full colour in each is a British Leyland advert on the back. In October 1973, though, QPR proudly boasted that they were the first in the country to print colour action photographs, which they did to begin with as a series of special ‘London derby’ editions when they played Chelsea, Spurs and the Arsenal at home in the same month. As a result their programme price went from 7p to 10p. It remained at 10p the following season, though the colour had disappeared. In 1973-74 Stoke’s was 10p anyway with no full colour (just black and white with splashes of red writing on most pages), while Chelsea’s was 5p for a publication literally half the size of Arsenal’s. Some other clubs’ programmes from the same season do look more modern than Arsenal’s, though the content was not always on the same level. With Arsenal, there is a very middle-class well-educated broadsheet tone and a big focus on history and tradition, as you would expect. Arsenal were also still resisting advertising in the programme, unlike many others.
The list of ‘Players Retained for 1973-74’ is an indication of the old-school style. Players are listed with surname then initials (“Ball, A.J.”), then along with Previous Club, Date Signed and Birthplace, there is an abbreviation for their position. As well as GK for goalkeeper, CF for centre-forward and FB for full-back, these include CH for centre-half, HB for half-back, WH for wing-half and IF for inside-forward. It seemed Arsenal had not moved on from the WM formation of Herbert Chapman!
Still in place for 1973-74 was Topics of the Week, which gave the editor a chance to summarise recent events and (usually) optimistically hope for some success on the pitch.
One of the first signs of the programme moving into pointless trivia to fill space (despite the editor’s claims that there was never enough space!) was the featuring of a picture in the opening programme of the season of a village signpost in Mauritius bearing the legend ‘Arsenal’, sent in by a holidaying fan. The pictures throughout the issues generally became more eclectic, such as those of an Arsenal/Spurs charity cricket match, which Arsenal (of course!) won.
The opening programme of the season is something of a rarity, as it’s for the short-lived third and fourth place play-off match for the previous season’s FA Cup! This should have been played at the end of the previous season, but a message from Chairman Denis Hill-Wood advised that it had been postponed “because of congestion of fixtures and international calls”. Nonetheless the game was welcomed as a warm-up for the season. And: “We are not really looking to finishing third or fourth in anything,” said the programme editor rather ungrammatically, “First must be the target.” I think we can all agree there. The level of interest in a play-off match can be gauged by the crowd of 21,000 to see Arsenal lose 3-1 to Wolves.
The first League match was against Man Utd the following week in front of a 51,000 crowd, and the programme featured – as well as the standard two pages on the visitors – two whole pages of pictures from 1950s and 1960s matches between the two clubs – again, not much evidence of space in the programme being tight! The same thing happened for the Leeds match a few weeks later.
The early programmes also revealed the new pricing structure for the season: standing would now cost 45p instead of 40p, as a result of the introduction of VAT. There is a lengthy explanation of why this had to happen, along with the point that although in many ways it would have been easier to increase to 50p, the club felt it should not add to fans’ financial burdens. Seats now ranged from 90p to £1.90. The cheapest were a relative bargain when you look at the facilities in the stadium at Highbury – many away matches cost more than that for Arsenal fans, with the cheapest being at Chelsea, Everton, Leicester, Man City and Stoke – all 80p – while at Leeds and QPR you couldn’t get in for less than £1.50. Away fans were not allowed at all at Derby and Southampton. Some programmes reminded us that, unlike today, “We do not sell seats for away matches – tickets can only be obtained from the club concerned.” You could of course turn up to nearly all away matches and get in to the terraces on the day.
By 1973 the team was starting to go through a painful and protracted transitional period, as some of the Double-winning stars began to leave. George Graham had already gone and Frank McLintock left for QPR in the summer. The sale of the captain was explained by saying “it seemed likely his appearances in the first team would become fewer and fewer”, so had he remained until his contract was up in 1974 he might lose the chance of another club being interested. McLintock’s Arsenal career was nine years, so he didn’t get a testimonial – FA rules stated that a minimum of ten years’ service was needed, and even then testimonial matches had to be approved in advance. Oddly, after getting rid of McLintock to QPR, Arsenal then bought 30 year old Terry Mancini from the same club halfway through the season!
The squad transition may have been at least part of the reason for an increased focus on youth players in the programmes of 1973-74. The youth team, featuring the Irish trio of David O’Leary, Frank Stapleton and Liam Brady, were highlighted in both training and match pictures as they progressed towards their cup final. Brady, still only 17, also made 13 appearances for the first team, including four as sub. He made his debut from the bench against Birmingham City on October 6, 1973, and had his name featured on the back of the programme for the first time at the following home game against Ipswich. Ironically he was replaced by David Price in the starting line-up that day, and didn’t feature again until January. Of course in those days there was one sub and even he was often not used except when there was an injury.
There was rather a lack of regular programme columns during this season, with only Topics of the Week being ever-present. There were occasional letters pages, or portions of pages – sometimes just a single letter – and with it being the sixtieth anniversary of the move to Highbury, several of these featured memories of supporters who had been going to the ground since it opened.
There were one-off pieces about different aspects of Arsenal history, including one about the rivalry with Glasgow Rangers, against whom semi-regular friendlies had taken place since the 1930s. Unfortunately, as was noted, the last time Rangers came south, in 1967, their fans had terrorised the neighbourhood from early in the morning, “created havoc in the local shops and stolen milk from the front steps of local houses.” At the match later, Rangers supporters attacked the North Bank in numbers leading to scenes “the like of which we had never seen before.” It was still considered far too early to invite Rangers back. Interestingly the programme uses the term ‘North Terrace’ rather than ‘North Bank’, though the latter is believed to have been first used in the 1960s. A different programme uses the term ‘South Bank’ for the Clock End!
The programme for the League Cup match against Tranmere noted that this was only Arsenal’s eighth attempt to win the competition, having never entered until it became compulsory for all League clubs in 1966-67 – the competition having started in 1960-61. We’d been losing finalists twice in 1968 and ‘69, but apart from that had not usually got far. This season was no different – lower-league Tranmere knocked us out 1-0 at home at the first hurdle!
Arsenal hovered in mid-table all season, eventually finishing a disappointing tenth. The programme editor speculated on reasons for this, including poor home form due to crowds in London being less enthusiastic than the provinces! Still, although going from second to tenth was a disappointment, it was still a top-half finish. Worse was to come the following season…
Read about the previous season, 1972-73, here.
And read about the following season, 1974-75, here.