1974 was a momentous year for the Arsenal programme: every issue became FULL COLOUR! Well, to be precise, the front cover and the middle pages of the 16 became full colour, the rest of it remained resolutely monochrome. The price rose from five to ten new pence as a result, which no doubt caused people at the time to complain, probably exclaiming “Two shillings! For a programme!” as they approached the sellers for the opening home match against Ipswich Town.
The front cover picture, as in previous seasons, remained the same for every match – in this case Eddie Kelly and Peter Storey charging down a free-kick, while Geordie Armstrong protects his valuables. But in celebration of the FULL COLOUR the picture had taken over the front page completely for the first time, with the writing superimposed on it. The bright red home kit certainly makes the most of the colour printing. The back cover had the expected line-ups for the day (no sub or squad players listed – in the absence of injuries teams remained largely unchanged week to week, so were usually easy to predict), the teams’ colours (socks still referred to as ‘stockings’), the programme of music to be played by the Metropolitan Police band, the details of the day’s officials and finally, up in the corner, the Cup Final voucher (not actually needed again until 1978).
The full-colour centre pages often featured posed pictures of the individual players in their kit on the pre-season Highbury turf (new signing Brian Kidd is pictured with Bertie Mee and what looks like Fred Street wandering about in the background), with occasional shots of them in training or relaxing on the golf course. For a couple of weeks there were dressing room shots from before and after a match, then for a few weeks ‘the story of an away match’, including a nervous-looking Alan Ball in bed and the full-backs tucking into breakfast alongside coach Bobby Campbell. The room is sunlit, but Rice and Nelson must both have been up before dawn to blow dry their hair to the state it’s in. Later in the season there were some random match action photographs in colour, but occasionally also some in the centre pages in humble black and white.
The long-standing Topics of the Week inside the front cover had become simply Comment for this season, though the subjects remained largely the same: injury and squad news, travel arrangements, ticketing, occasional concerns about the state of football, and usually a dose of optimism about the matches ahead. As the season wore on, though, optimism started to be a little difficult to find. After a slow start we found ourselves in the bottom half of the table; by the end of October, after playing 13 games and winning just two, we were bottom. Injuries to experienced players were blamed, with youngsters like Liam Brady and Richie Powling being thrown into the deep end.
Other regular features were a small paragraph about the day’s referee, two pages on the opposition for the match in question, pictures of one or two of the players of the next team due to visit, a page of fixtures and results for the first team, reserves and youths, a crossword, and ticket price listings (ranging from £1 for a seat in the East Lower to £2 for the most expensive centre-block upper tier seats). This left enough room for one or two ‘Guest Writer’ spreads, which might be on any subject.
Often the guest writers were past players: Ted Drake wrote on the subject of ‘Why are so few goals scored nowadays?’ – he blamed the influence of Johnny Foreigner’s negative tactics and the decline of wingers following the ’66 World Cup, among other things. A couple of weeks later future Arsenal player Malcolm MacDonald guested to claim that, while defenders were all very well and might even be considered a useful part of the team in certain circumstances, it was only strikers like him who were worth their weight in gold. He justified this by citing transfer fees for forwards compared to those paid for defenders.
Club General Manager Bob Wall wrote about Sir Stanley Rous, who had just been voted out of his role as President of Fifa in favour of Joao Havelange. In hindsight the problems in that organisation that continue to dog it were already setting in: it had already become as much about politics as football. “The countries of Northern and Western Europe are now repeatedly finding themselves out-voted and out-manoeuvred, which, in the end, may lead to a breakaway,” said Bob. The President of Uefa had recently said that his organisation had no intention of “yielding their position in world football” to the “emerging nations.” Bob justified this by pointing out that the game developed in the way it did because it began in the moderate climate of Britain, with its usually soft grassy pitches where “the players are drawn from a phlegmatic race”. He saw other countries’ attempts to get laws changed as “the tail beginning to wag the dog!”
Other writers, usually with strong Arsenal connections, included Cliff Bastin, Denis Compton, his brother Leslie, Bob Wilson, future manager Bruce Rioch (on why he turned down Arsenal as a schoolboy), cricketers Brian Close and Bill Edrich, and boxer Henry Cooper, who couldn’t get along to Highbury as often as he wanted these days because “I have a busy time usually on Saturdays opening fetes and bazaars, and appearing at various events”. Well, it’s a living. Other celebrity fan writers included DJ Pete Murray, Bernie Winters (born in Upper Street, and first visited Highbury as a 2-year old) and, er, Cardew Robinson. Exactly – ask yer granddad.
There was still no regular letters page, and in fact most programmes this season featured no letters at all. Those that did appear were on such diverse subjects as what Jimmy Rimmer kept in the bag he took to the field with that sat in the back of the goal, why Rimmer didn’t stand on the goal line for corners as most other keepers did (the editor refused to discuss this top secret tactical information), various people congratulating Arsenal and their fans for good behaviour, a request from Russia for programme swaps and the radical suggestion of end-of-season playoffs to decide some of the relegation and promotion places – there had been a change from two up/two down to three up/three down, and not everyone liked it, as it was seen as promoting negative play among struggling Division 1 teams who would do anything to cling to a point. “Secondly,” said Mr JR Scutt of Potters Bar, “it has meant that a number of Second Division clubs unworthy of First Division status are still in a challenging position [at Easter].” Well those of us who’ve been in the First Division for longest must keep out the riff-raff! Mr Scutt proposed that only the top and bottom placed teams in Second and First Divisions respectively should automatically swap, while second and third played two-legged matches against second and third bottom.
The opening Ipswich programme featured a message from Chairman Denis Hill-Wood, who assured fans in time-honoured tradition that there was constant work behind the scenes to bring in new players, and “If a transfer does not result it is not for want of trying very hard on our part”. That script is a perennial favourite! While on the subject, Mr H-W also noted the departure of Ray Kennedy and the arrival of Brian Kidd. Finally, he acknowledged that for the first time in Highbury’s 61 years Arsenal were “accepting ground advertising as an economic need”.
Some programmes carried interesting statistics, such as a list of all the players who’d scored more than 50 goals for Arsenal (Cliff Bastin leading the list of 25 players with 176, down to Jon Sammels on 52), and the numbers of appearances of all the players on the current staff. This went from G Armstrong (503) to J Rimmer (1).
Later in the season, with Arsenal still hovering dangerously near the relegation zone, Mr W Kearsey of St John’s Wood wrote to say that he believed the club would soon celebrate its 1,000th win in the top division. Beating Liverpool on February 27 was the 999th, but we then lost three in a row. “It could come today,” wrote the programme editor for the match against Birmingham on March 15. It didn’t – we drew 1-1 – but we only had to wait another three days to beat Newcastle and get to four figures of wins with just the tenth victory of the season.
The Newcastle programme featured two pictures from the 1930 FA Cup final, Arsenal’s first trophy, as a contrast with the more recent match action from a 2-0 loss at home to West Ham in the current season’s competition. “Yes, we lost, but we had reached the 6th round,” said the page heading above the pictures, in a lame attempt to cheer everyone up.
The Birmingham programme in March gave details of the number of seasons Arsenal had appeared in each division, who Arsenal had played the most times in Division One (Everton then Liverpool, as it remains), and the number of times Arsenal had finished in each position in the table. We had finished at least once in every position from first to twentieth, apart from sixteenth. After a poor season, the worst in the League since the 1920s, guess where we finished? Yep – sixteenth.
Read about the previous season, 1973-74, here.