Continuing my potted history of Arsenal through the medium of the match programme, we reach 1977-78.
It’s fair to say that the 1977-78 was not a particularly vintage year for the Arsenal programme. It appeared the editor thought he’d seen enough change in recent seasons, so stuck with almost exactly the same format as 1976-77. So it was 16 pages, the cover and centre pages were in colour, the teams were listed on the back, the front cover picture changed several times during the season but not for every game and the price remained at 15 new pence (as they were still called). Even the formatting on the cover was identical – same font, same header, same size picture, same small white crest in the top left corner.
Inside it was a similar story. Page 2 remained the preserve of Comment, which contained information for travelling fans, news of supporters clubs for both home and away supporters, occasional reminders of club history, appeals for information and even some items that were actual comment. One such was an item about playing surfaces, as Arsenal had dropped a point away at Leicester on a poor pitch, but also – horror of horrors – lost at home to Villa on a Highbury pitch that was described as ‘a quagmire’. Pitches in the ’70s were so bad that even Arsenal had problems. The groundsman’s art was not yet fully developed. Another comment (one that had to be repeated) concerned trying to sneak kids into the stadium: “We are still experiencing problems with spectators trying to gain admission to the stadium carrying young children. We stress that all children MUST be paid for.” The cheek of it!
There were actually very few features in the programme this season, but page three was always politely given over to The Other Side, where a representative of the day’s opposition could provide us with their thoughts on the upcoming match or past encounters between their humble bunch of yokels and the mighty Arsenal. When Ipswich visited in January the duty was given to Brian Talbot, who would be transferred to the Gunners six months later. At that time Ipswich under the young(ish) Bobby Robson were one of the country’s top teams and had just been knocked out of the UEFA Cup on penalties by Barcelona. They’d beaten Arsenal on the opening day of the season (though Arsenal had a goal disallowed when a non-interfering Malcolm MacDonald was ruled offside), but by the new year Arsenal were above them. Talbot was determined that Ipswich would do everything to get back into Europe the following season, but it didn’t look promising when the opening day win was reversed by a 1-0 Arsenal victory, and Ipswich slipped further down the table. Robson and Talbot had the last laugh of course: they went on to beat Arsenal by the same 1-0 scoreline in the FA Cup Final (and of course qualify for Europe), while Arsenal went a seventh year trophyless.
Pages four and five had Question Time, where the editor posed questions to a member of the Arsenal staff. Bob Wilson appeared twice – he had retired from playing, but returned this season as an emergency goalkeeper, playing three reserve matches before breaking his wrist in training. Old Bob Wall, 49 years an Arsenal employee and newly promoted to the Board from his position of General Manager, remembered the famous defeat to Walsall in 1933. He recalled the squad believing that Herbert Chapman would put the usual team out, and were only told a lot of regulars weren’t going to play after the team train had left Paddington for the Midlands. There was talk at the time that several were left out as they hadn’t recovered from flu, but Bob dismissed that notion.
Another interesting interviewee was Ken Friar, then in his early forties, who’d taken over from Bob Wall as Club Secretary. Ken was asked about the planned groundshare with Spurs at Alexandra Palace. Both clubs were keen to move and share a purpose-built ground on the 192 acre site, but the Greater London Council had vetoed it due to residents’ concerns. Chairman Denis Hill-Wood also spoke at length on the subject, even suggesting that a new stadium could take over as the FA’s home venue “because in 1982 their present contract with Wembley runs out, and Wembley are facing tremendous financial outlays under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act.” Denis ruled out Arsenal ever moving to share a redeveloped White Hart Lane, or Spurs moving the other way, but was sure if nothing came of the Ally Pally plan that the subject would not go away permanently.
Back to Ken, who also claimed that the club’s resurgence – Arsenal finished the season fifth as well as reaching the FA Cup Final and League Cup semi-final – had generated 10,000 letters a day from fans! Really Ken? Ten-thousand a day? Sixty-thousand a week? Close to 2.5 million in a 40-week season? Hmm. The Post Office would have had fleets of trucks along Avenell Road and the club would have had to employ every inmate in Holloway and Pentonville to answer them all. Even if he was including all ticket applications it wouldn’t come close.
Brian Moore, presenter of ITV’s The Big Match, said that his TV programme received around 300 letters a week – a more realistic figure than Ken’s. Moore also said that the full recordings of matches were only kept for six months, due to the cost of videotape, but the highlights package that was broadcast was kept permanently.
Don Howe, now returned as Coach following a few years away, claimed in his Question Time interview that clubs had smaller squads than only seven years earlier in the Double season, due to the financial pressure on clubs. It was now apparently all too easy to lose patience with young players and let them go before they’d had a proper chance to impress.
The list of Players Retained for 1977-78 included 23 professionals and just six apprentices. None of the apprentices made a career at Arsenal. Of the pros, all but six had started their careers at Arsenal, with their previous club listed as “School’. Of the six who came from other clubs, three had followed manager Terry Neill from Tottenham: Pat Jennings, Willie Young and Steve Walford. Alan Hudson from Stoke, Malcolm MacDonald from Newcastle and James Harvey from Glenavon made up the remainder.
Moving on through the programme, we had up to two pages on the visitors (exact amount depending on how big a club they were and how many times Arsenal had played them previously to fill the Past Matches list), with squad picture and descriptions, and a couple of pages always dedicated to action pictures from recent matches. These were in black and white, but even so it was easy to see the state of the pitches. As the season wore on mud and divots became ever more common, unlike the constant billiard-table surfaces of today.
The last four pages of each programme, cover aside, were taken up with statistics, league tables, forthcoming fixtures, the programme of music from the ever-present Metropolitan Police Band and small filler items such as news of injuries or a paragraph on the day’s officials. Sometimes there were adverts for items on sale in the club shop. Sometimes the advert just said “Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Gunners Shop”, or even “The Gunners Shop is waiting to see you!” – that was it! That was the advert!
There was also the new Make Money With Arsenal scheme to promote. This was introduced on February 4, 1978, with a top prize of £1,000. You bought tickets for 10p a pop and had to find two matching halves with the same prize amount to win that prize. Money raised was ostensibly for the benefit of fans, as the scheme was ‘Promoted under Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976 by Arsenal Football Club Ground Improvement and Development Association.’ Denis Hill-Wood also said the club were “endeavouring to keep admission prices down to the lowest possible level”.
And that was about it, apart from the two centre pages of colour pictures. It strikes me now that the programme editor hadn’t really worked out what to do with the new-fangled colour. Colour film wasn’t really yet good enough for fast action sports photography, so the colour pictures used tended to be of the players in the dressing room before or after matches, or perhaps relaxing on away trips or at home. Sometimes it was just portrait head-shots of players that seemed a little too close up.
Maybe it’s the film used, or the general lack of bright light, but backgrounds in these pictures are almost universally some shade of brown. Even the white tiles of the Highbury dressing room look dingy and brownish. Where the players relax is brown. Even the portraits have brown backgrounds. Or maybe it’s just the 1970s. The 1970s were the brownest decade ever, and even an Arsenal on the rise was not yet enough to overcome that.
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