By the start of the 1978-79 season it had been seven full years since any Arsenal silverware, but the Chairman’s mood in the first programme of the season, home to Leeds, was optimistic. Arsenal had been FA Cup finalists and League Cup semi-finalists and had finished fifth in Division One a couple of months earlier – after being 17th just two years before that. Arsenal were also back in Europe for the first time since 1971-72 (eventually reaching the giddy heights of the third round of the Uefa Cup), so Denis Hill-Wood was in such good mood he decided to take up a page and a half to talk to fans rather than the usual half a column. As well as the obvious optimism for the new season he also mentioned that Arsenal turned down the chance to sign Ardiles and Villa, who had gone to Spurs instead. “We certainly had the opportunity and did discuss it,” he said, but the Board felt the two “must represent something of a gamble.” Sometimes, though, gambles pay off.
The programme layout was not radically different from the previous season. We still had a format of 16 pages, with the cover and the centre spread in full colour. Five different cover pictures were used through the season, and there was a new more rounded font and frame for the picture. All the usual features fans had come to expect were present and correct: lists of fixtures, league tables and results, details of the opposition of the day, forthcoming away trips with directions for driving, a pen-portrait of the day’s ref, action shots from previous games – still usually in black and white – team line-ups on the back page… However, despite no extra pages or colour, the price was up 33 per cent from 15p to 20p – inflation was bad all round in the seventies. There was also a crossword, but no letters page.
The back page also had another feature common in the seventies but no longer used: the result of the corresponding fixture from the previous season. On Saturdays – Saturday being the only weekend day for League football then, of course – there was also the Half-Time Scoreboard, where the other matches of the day were represented by letters of the alphabet, and at half-time the scores were posted in large numbers next to the corresponding letters in the corners of the ground. This was actually the last season of the old-style scoreboard at pitch level in the north-east and south-west corners, though it was not until 1989 that electronic scoreboards were installed on the East and West Stands. In the meantime we had to make do with scores being read out over the PA system.
Inside the front cover, what had been the Comment column the previous season, and Topics Of The Week before that, had now gone back to being Voice Of Arsenal, its pre-1970s title. The content was still the same – basically everything that didn’t fit somewhere else in the programme, plus whatever took the Editor’s fancy. For the FA Cup Sixth Round replay against Southampton the Editor regaled readers with a series of Cup facts, including that if Arsenal made it to the semi-final it would be their tenth FA Cup tie of the season, a record. A Wembley appearance for the Final would also be the tenth, one off the record. We’ve since raised the bar to a record of 18, of course.
There were other subtle changes to the features: the Question Time feature from the previous season had given way to the Personality Page – the only difference really being the title – where Denis Hill-Wood was swiftly followed by Terry Neill telling us: “We all know that our squad needs one or two additions to bring it up to requirement” – familiar words! The squad picture printed in colour in the September 2 programme shows all 36 professionals at the club, though the first team squad pictured two weeks later had just 16 players – certainly small and in need of one or two additions by modern standards. The list of 36 pro’s included Keith Flight, Kevin Stead, Steve Brignall, Clifford Cant and Jim Harvey. Well, not everyone is going to go on to a stellar career.
If they couldn’t find a personality to interview then the page was replaced by Memorable Matches, subtitled ‘by the men who played in them’. One of these was the 1950 Cup Final, remembered by two-goal hero Reg Lewis, who revealed that his bonus for the brace of goals was £20, and he also got his share of the £550 ‘talent money’ that was for all the players who’d appeared in Cup matches that season. Another featured match was Arsenal 2, Charlton 5 from February 1951, the debut of one of Arsenal’s great keepers, Jack Kelsey. “I was reasonably pleased by my performance,” said Jack, “but some of the players in front of me must have had better games.” Similarly, Joe Mercer remembered Sunderland 7, Arsenal 1 from September 1953, when Arsenal were League Champions. That was the eighth game of the season but left Arsenal already amazingly 12 points behind the leaders, in the days of two points for a win! Thankfully the 1978-79 season started better, though anything resembling a title challenge in North London was hard to find.
A new idea was advertised in the opening day’s programme: the Travel Club; annual membership £1.25. For comparison, seat tickets cost between £1.50 and £3. By February, a half-page picture was celebrating the Travel Club’s 3,000th member, who was presented with his membership card by Terry Venables of all people, then the visiting manager of Crystal Palace. A month later the Travel Club was up to 5,000 members, with Willie Young presenting train tickets to the lucky punter.
The previous season’s big idea, Make Money With Arsenal, was still going strong and heavily advertised. There was often a full page promoting it, including long lists of winners of prizes from £25 to £1,000. Make Money was also sometimes advertised on the front cover, though unlike other clubs’ programmes there were still no ‘non-Arsenal’ advertisements to be seen.
As colour film manufacture and developing improved, the colour pages in the centre of the programme started to feature action shots from matches more regularly. Evening matches and dark winter afternoons still weren’t conducive to good sports photography, so we also got a lot of posed pictures of the squad players and the dressing room or the tunnel before and after matches – even Terry Neill signing into a hotel for an away match. There were always at least two other pages of black and white action shots, meaning that sometimes a third of the programme was slightly grainy pictures of Arsenal players running around.
As the season started to draw to a close, it looked as though the Chairman’s early optimism was justified, with advertisements for Wembley souvenirs featuring heavily: “Scarves, sew-on patches, posters, streamers. And plenty more good things to come!” we were told. Good things certainly came at Wembley, with the last-minute win over Man Utd, while in the League Arsenal finished seventh, two down from 1978 – though that was in the days when seventh, a European campaign and the FA Cup was considered an extremely successful season!
Fore previous seasons, click here.