Arsenal v Leicester City 70’s cup ties – Part Two

Reminiscence time – 1974-1975. The meetings with the Foxes continue

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John Radford beats Jeff Blockley to score the winner in the February 1975 FA Cup Replay

(Ed’s note – Part One of David’s article was posted yesterday and can be read here.) After avoiding each other in the 1973/74 season, the gods made up for it by drawing them to play in both the following season’s League Cup and FA Cup. In September 1974 the sides met in the League Cup 2nd Round: the tie ended 1-1 at Highbury with a goal from Brian Kidd, the second of his fledgling Gunners’ career, and a week later in the replay City for once prevailed 2-1. By the time they met in the 5th round of the FA Cup, five months later, Arsenal’s star, unsteady for a while, had nosedived headlong into the first of two successive relegation battles, but never-the-less there was something special about that season’s cup run. A seemingly innocuous home third round tie with struggling second division York City nearly became a notorious afternoon, Arsenal escaping with a 1-1 draw which resulted in a potentially horrific replay at Bootham Crescent (a foretaste of the disaster to befall us there in 1985 and an echo of the defeat at Villa Park against second division Aston Villa the year before in a replay). On a muddy pitch The Minstermen pushed Arsenal into extra-time and eventually a Brian Kidd hat-trick secured a 3-1 victory. The game had been covered by Radio 2, and I can still remember sitting huddled in my bedroom tensely listening to Terry Mancini heading endless crosses out. That season was such a struggle that even a victory against York City felt like relief from the chill winds that blew around Highbury that winter. The fourth round and another mud heap: this time at Highfield Road where a fighting performance in the face of a gale secured a 1-1 draw and a replay back in North London. The game at Coventry was a cup classic: played at 100 mph on a pitch which cut up atrociously after only 10 minutes. Kidd had a blaster cleared of the line before a deflected Alderson shot wrong footed the otherwise imperious Jimmy Rimmer to give the hosts a lead which lasted but one minute before Alan Ball followed up his own shot to scramble it home. The final thirty minutes was end to end with Mancini again standing resolute with mud splattered all over his bolding pate! Alan Ball covered some ground too that afternoon. It was an honest scrap with no quarter given, the sort of game which stands as a credit to the football of the time.

The following Tuesday beneath foggy Islington skies Arsenal turned in one of those performances that made you scratch your head in frustration: two goals from Geordie Armstrong and one from John Matthews gave Arsenal a convincing and elegant 3-0 victory plus a safe passage to the 5th round where they had been drawn inevitably to meet Leicester City.

Leicester had had their own ‘York City’ moment in the fourth round. Drawn away to non-league Leatherhead, the game was moved to Filbert Street where the Tanners raced in to a 2-0 lead, which but for a goal line clearance from an effort from Leatherhead’s answer to Stan Bowles, Chris Kelly would have been 3-0! City held their nerve and fought back to win 3-2 in a game which was the main feature on that evening’s Match of the Day.

With a young Liam Brady restored to the starting line up the tie at Highbury ended goalless in a game mainly and ironically remembered for the assured performance of Jeff Blockley who had by then moved to Leicester from Arsenal. Four days later the two teams played out another goalless 90 minutes with Arsenal sitting deep and Rimmer again demonstrating the form which would soon earn him an England cap; in extra time Radford scored for the Gunners and a late Birchenall goal meant it all had to be done again. So it was back to the East Midlands when City won the toss to stage the second replay.

Before the saga could continue Arsenal lost 2-1 at Derby County in a league match which in a disappointing season was another low point: a game which saw both McNab and captain Alan Ball sent off. Both were back for the replay in Leicester though, despite misgivings from Denis Hill-Wood and the board who were unhappy with the offending pair and the damage to Arsenal’s reputation: an unhappiness which along with the board’s ultimate refusal to back Ball’s appeal would later be identified as the catalyst for the Arsenal captain and the club falling out. Despite the more ‘nip and tuck’ approach to the two games so far, there was never-the-less just short of 40,000 crammed into Filbert Street on a February Monday evening. Yet again 90 minutes yielded nothing in terms of goals but much by way of tension. It was another rearguard action from the Gunners, a performance which perhaps bore testament to the last remaining dregs of the spirit of ’71 still to be found in the famous red and white shirt; something like a residual memory carried by veterans of the double year still at the club: Rice, Storey, Simpson, Armstrong, and Radford. With 5 minutes of extra time remaining, one of that group, John Radford was bending over pulling his socks up, perhaps killing time, when Alan Ball knocked an innocuous looking free-kick sideways to him, and from 25 yards Arsenal’s centre forward belted one into the corner. We’d done it again! Tired, muddy and beaten City had nothing left to try to retrieve the situation and Arsenal advanced to the 6th round and a London derby at home to West Ham. History records the Hammers came and won 2-0 with two goals from a young Alan Taylor: on an absolute mud bath it was our turn to gripe: one goal came from the ball sticking in the mud; we should have had a penalty, and the unlikely John Matthews forced two world class saves from a young Mervyn Day.

That defeat to West Ham was heart breaking at the time. I recall my dad saying: “There’s always next year”: twelve months on and we lost ignominiously 3-0 at Wolves in the 3rd round! But now, the 1975 cup run, indeed the whole series of cup ties against Leicester from back then remain with me as exemplars of that strange kind of beauty that only football in the 70s could illustrate: on universally awful muddy pitches, in front of packed, baying crowds, under misty, frosty skies or floodlights, endless replays and extra-time: charms that perhaps no longer fit with the modern conception of football.

Those days have gone and taken Highbury and Filbert Street with them, but the memories remain, reminiscences of the magic of the cup! Like a derelict building those memories stand, brooding in the background, a constant reminder of the traditions and the ways and manners from which the modern game has evolved.

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