May 8, 1971, 50 years ago: Having won the Football League 5 days earlier, Arsenal Football Club of North London now prepared to take on Liverpool Football Club, at England's national stadium, the original Wembley Stadium in West London, for the FA Cup Final.
This is what the world was like at the time:
The monarch of both nations was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed. The Prime Minister of Britain was Edward Heath, and of Canada, Pierre Trudeau. The President of the United States was Richard Nixon. The Pope was Paul VI.
The current holders of those offices? Boris Johnson was about to turn 7. Pierre's son Justin wasn't born yet. Joe Biden was in his 1st year in public office, on the New Castle County Council in Delaware. Pope Francis, then Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was teaching at a seminary in his native Argentina. There have since been 10 Presidents of the United States, 10 Presidents of the United States, and 5 Popes.
There were still living veterans of the Indian Wars and the Northwest Rebellion. Peter Mills, the last American known to have been born into slavery, was still alive. Norman Borlaug, leader of what was being called the food production revolution, was the holder of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Arsenal had dethroned Everton of Liverpool as Champions of England's Football League, and would play Liverpool to dethrone Chelsea of West London as holders of the FA Cup. The winners of Europe's other major soccer leagues that year were Celtic of Glasgow in Scotland, Olympique de Marseille in France, Valencia in Spain, Benfica of Lisbon in Portugal, Feyenoord of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Borussia Mönchengladbach in West Germany, Internazionale of Milan in Italy, Górnik Zabrze in Poland, Dynamo Kyiv in the Soviet Union, and Galatasaray of Istanbul in Turkey.
A month later, Ajax of Amsterdam in the Netherlands would win their 1st European Cup, defeating Panathinaikos of Athens, Greece. The year before, Feyenoord had become the 1st Dutch team to win it. The holders of the North American sports titles were Baltimore in both baseball (the Orioles) and football (the Colts), the Milwaukee Bucks in basketball (beating the Baltimore Bullets and denying Charm City a treble), and the Boston Bruins in hockey (but the Montreal Canadiens were about to take the Stanley Cup back). The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Joe Frazier.
The Olympic Games have since been held in America 4 times; Canada 3 times; twice each in Japan, Russia, Korea; and once each in Germany, Austria, Bosnia, France, Spain, Norway, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Britain and Brazil. The World Cup has since been held in Germany twice, and once each in America, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Brazil and Russia.
Major novels of 1971 included The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines, Being There by Jerzy Kosinski, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin, Honor Thy Father by Gay Talese, and The Winds of War by Herman Wouk.
Under his pen name Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel published his environmental allegory The Lorax. Books that were edgy about sex were still very much in, including Joan Garrity's The Sensuous Woman and Xaviera Hollander's The Happy Hooker: My Own Story.
J.R.R. Tolkein was still alive. Stephen King was a newlywed, and had yet to publish a novel. George R.R. Martin was about to get his master's degree from Northwestern University. J.K. Rowling was 5 years old.
Major films of the Spring of 1971 included Summer of '42, Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Woody Allen's Bananas, Billy Jack, The Beguiled, They Might Be Giants (inspiring the name of a band), a remake of Wuthering Heights, Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Klute, Carnal Knowledge, and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Gene Roddenberry was kind of lost after the end of Star Trek, writing and producing the sexploitation film Pretty Maids All In a Row. George Lucas had just premiered his 1st directed film, THX 1138. Steven Spielberg's 1st, Duel, would premiere on ABC on November 13. Sean Connery had just wrapped up his last official James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever. Jon Pertwee was playing The Doctor. George Reeves, dead for 12 years, was still the last live-action Superman, while Adam West was still a recent Batman.
All in the Family had recently debuted. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Columbo and Soul Train were on their way. CBS had just done its "Rural Purge," ending The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry R.F.D. and Green Acres. The Ed Sullivan Show had to be canceled after 23 years, because Ed was slipping into dementia, and died in 1974.
The Number 1 song in America was "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night. The Rolling Stones released their album Sticky Fingers, they introduced their lips-and-tongue logo, and lead singer Mick Jagger married model Bianca de Macias. John Denver released "Take Me Home, Country Roads," Stevie Wonder "If You Really Love Me," Jerry Reed "When You're Hot, You're Hot," Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells a Story, Johnny Cash The Man In Black, Paul McCartney Ram, Ringo Starr "It Don't Come Easy," and Elvis Presley Love Letters from Elvis. The Carpenters and The Doobie Brothers each released their self-titled debut album.
The Temptations released "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)," and Eddie Kendricks left the group. The Doors released L.A. Woman. Within weeks, lead singer Jim Morrison was dead. The 1st Glastonbury Festival was held, and promoter Bill Graham closed the Fillmore East in New York and the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Don McLean first performed his song "American Pie," and referenced the closings in the last verse: "I went down to the sacred store, where I'd heard the music years before, but the man there said the music wouldn't play."
Inflation was such that what $1.00 bought then, $6.49 would buy now -- or, more to the point in the country in question, £1.00 then would be £15.60 now. The tallest building in the world was the Empire State Building in New York, but the World Trade Center in New York and the Sears Tower in Chicago were both under construction, and would surpass it. Mobile telephones were still in development.
There were no home video game systems. Computers could still take up an entire wall. Steve Jobs was 16 years old, and Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee were about to be. Apollo 14 had landed on the Moon 3 months earlier. Automatic teller machines were still a relatively new thing, and many people had never seen one. There were heart transplants, liver transplants and lung transplants, and artificial kidneys, but no artificial hearts. There were birth control pills, but no Viagra.
During the Spring of 1971, there was a military coup in Argentina. East Pakistan declared its independence, becoming Bangladesh, and suffering a war, a famine and a cyclone, which led to the charity concert at Madison Square Garden, hosted by former Beatle George Harrison.
An earthquake killed over 1,000 people in Turkey. A plane crash in Rijeka, Yugolsavia killed 78 people, mostly British tourists. Neville Bonner became the 1st Indigenous Australian to sit in his country's Parliament. And the Montreal Canadiens overcame internal strife, made worse by recent Quebec separatist terrorism, to win the Stanley Cup.
In America, on the day of the decisive North London Derby, the largest antiwar demonstration in the nation's history, 750,000 people, hit Washington; and President Nixon ordered Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, named in memory of a former political rival, to be used as a giant holding center for arrestees, who numbered over 12,000 -- about 1 out of every 62 demonstrators.
The Ed Sullivan Show aired its final episode. Lieutenant William Calley was convicted in the My Lai Massacre. Starbucks, Southwest Airlines and Federal Express were founded. The Supreme Court ruled that busing of students may be ordered to achieve racial desegregation. Amtrak took over the nation's passenger rail service. The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers. President Richard Nixon declared the War On Drugs. And the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Championship.
Thomas Dewey, and Igor Stravinsky, and Ogden Nash died. Ewan McGregor, and Selena Quintanilla, and David Tennant were born. So were legendary athletes Pavel Bure and Picabo Street. Pep Guardiola was born the preceding January, Neil Lennon and Fabien Barthez were both in June, Howard Webb in July, and a less important person in Manchester United's eventual success, Roy Keane, in August.
On May 3, Arsenal beat their North London arch-rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, a.k.a. "Spurs," in the final game of the League season, 1-0 on a late goal by Ray Kennedy, to win the League title.
When Spurs became the 1st team in the 20th Century -- since Aston Villa in 1897 -- to win The Double, in 1961, they had time to properly prepare: They won the League on April 17, beat Sheffield Wednesday at home, and didn't have to play the FA Cup Final for 3 weeks, beating Leicester City on May 6.
That Leicester team included Frank McLintock, who would also lose the 1963 FA Cup Final with them, to Manchester United; and captain Arsenal onto the Wembley pitch in the League Cup Finals of 1968 and 1969, also losing. He was winless there, about to make his 5th attempt.
Arsenal would have just 4 days to prepare. As a result, although Liverpool finished 5th in the League, 14 points behind Arsenal, some betting companies installed them as the favorites. It was not outrageous, as they had won the League in 1964 and the FA Cup in 1965, and they still had some of the players from those teams. But they were in a bit of a transition, as those players were starting to get old, and the players who would help the Mersey Reds dominate the 1970s were still working their way in.
Liverpool did have one big advantage in getting there: A home draw in every round, until the Quarterfinal, with the Semifinal and the Final being on neutral ground. Arsenal, on the other hand, had gotten away draws in every round.
May 8, 1971. An unseasonably warm day in London. For some reason, Liverpool had the choice of kit for the Final. so they wore their all-red gear, meaning Arsenal couldn't wear their usual home kit, red shirts with white sleeves, and white shorts. Instead, Arsenal wore their "change strip," yellow shirts with blue trim, and blue shorts.
Arsenal had several chances in the game. In the 1st half, Charlie George, who grew up within walking distance of the Arsenal Stadium at Highbury, and rode his local status, long hair, rebellious attitude and great ability to become the team's most popular player, blasted one just over the crossbar. This led Brian Moore, broadcasting the game for British network ITV, to say, "He really does strike those balls beautifully."
In the 2nd half, Kennedy hit a dribbler that just scurried past the goalpost, leading Moore to say, "Kennedy! Oh, what a miss!" When the 90 minutes, plus stoppage time, was over, it was 0-0. Arsenal had dominated play, but had nothing to show for it.
This was Arsenal's 66th game of the season, combining all competitions, and McLintock and played every minute of every game. Now, physically and mentally exhausted, and seeing Liverpool's Emlyn Hughes receiving treatment for a cramp, he had to convince his teammates, equally "knackered" (as they say over there), to hang on through extra time. On the video, he can be seen gritting his teeth and pumping his fist, telling them to keep going.
But right after the restart, Liverpool's Irish forward Steve Heighway fired a shot from a ridiculous angle, and put the ball past Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson. Liverpool were up 1-0, and all seemed lost for the Gunners. Yes, they had the League title, but now, it looked like the talk would be that they had "bottled" The Double.
But it wasn't sudden-death: The entirety of extra time would be played, no matter what. McLintock rallied the troops, telling them to get Bob off the hook.
They did. They stiffened up, and prevented Welsh forward John Toshack from making it 2-0 to the Scouse team. And then, in the 101st minute, there was a scramble, and the ball went past Liverpool goalie Ray Clemence. 1-1.
George Graham claimed the goal. But did he score it? Interviewed many years later, forward John Radford said, "Every time I look at the tape, he's got a guilty look on his face." Indeed, the video replay showed that Graham never touched the ball, sweeping his left foot at it, and missing. The last man to touch the ball was Eddie Kelly, who had been brought on in the 64th minute, as a substitute for midfielder Peter Storey. Substitutions had only been legal in English football since the 1966-67 season, and this made Kelly the 1st sub to score in an FA Cup Final.
In the 111th minute, Radford was on the left wing, and sidefooted a pass to George, at the edge of the penalty area. He launched a net-seeking missile. Moore had the call: "Radford. Oh, Charlie George, who can hit 'em, oh, what a great goal! Charlie George! Oh, what a fabulous goal by George! Clemence had no chance with that!"
Charlie turned, and dropped to the ragged Wembley turf, his arms spread out. No smile this time, like there was in the Manchester mud earlier in the tournament. He was as tired as anybody else.
The soundtrack to the musical Jesus Christ Superstar had been released during the season, and Charlie's raised arms reminded people of the lead character. Soon, to the theme song, people began singing, "Charlie George, superstar, how many goals have you scored so far!" (Opposing fans, noting his long hair -- though not as long as Jesus' -- sang, "Charlie George, superstar, looks like a woman and he wears a bra!")
But the celebration made him an icon, making him more famous than his talent, as great as it was, would otherwise have taken him. To the tune of the Christmas carol "The First Noel," fans went on to sing, "Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, Charlie! Born is the Ki-ing of High-igh-bur-y!"
It was 2-1. The Arsenal defense held on for another 10 minutes, and the Double was won. Although Arsenal had previously won 7 League titles and 2 FA Cups, this game would be their signature victory -- until 1989, when another 18-year League title drought came to an end. That legendary game would also be against Liverpool.
The Arsenal players climbed the steps to Wembley's Royal Box. King George V had handed the FA Cup to Arsenal Captain Tom Parker in 1930. His son, Prince Albert, Duke of York, had handed it to Alex James in 1936. In 1950, the Duke, now King George VI, handed it to Joe Mercer.
That King's daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, supposedly an Arsenal fan, hasn't attended an FA Cup Final in many years. In 1971 -- as it would be again in 1993, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2005 -- it was the Queen's cousin, another grandchild of George V, who gave the Arsenal Captain the Cup: Prince Edward, Duke of Kent.
McLintock holds high the Cup.
Bob Wilson shakes hands with the Duke of Kent.
The woman in yellow is Katharine, Duchess of Kent.
(Charles, Prince of Wales, would give the Cup to Pat Rice in 1979. In 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2020, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, handed the Cup to Arsenal's Captains.)
McLintock later said he was so knackered, he couldn't feel anything as he walked up the steps. The ITV cameras told another story, as did their commentator, Brian Moore, who noted, "What a smile!"
In his 1992 memoir Fever Pitch, Arsenal fan Nick Hornby would call 1971 "Arsenal's annus mirabilis" -- "Miracle Year." It took Bertie Mee, Don Howe, Frank McLintock and the rest 5 years to build a dual champion, and one particularly hard year to finish the job.
But it quickly ended. Howe was offered the manager's job at his former team, West Brom. He took it, and later admitted, "That was the time that I left when I should have stayed. Because that team, the Double team, had more in it."
He was probably right. The 1971-72 season was the closest in League history. Derby County won the title, and Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester City were all just 1 point behind. Arsenal were 5th, 6 points back; Tottenham, 6, 7 points back. And Arsenal again reached the FA Cup Final, this time losing to Leeds, who got a little bit of revenge for losing the '71 title to Arsenal. (They had won the League in 1969, and would again in 1974. And they didn't walk away empty-handed in '71, winning the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.)
But without Howe, Mee had no one to rein him in, no former player in a place of some power to serve as a buffer between him and the players. Team scout Steve Burtenshaw became the assistant manager, but it ust wasn't the same. So Mee became more and more tyrannical. He had already alienated midfielder Jon Sammels, who put in a transfer request, and as sold to Leicester City.
Mee purchased Alan Ball, a member of England's 1966 World Cup-winning team. He had helped Everton win the League title in 1970. But his addition meant the end at Arsenal for George Graham, whom Mee sold to Manchester United.
Things weren't bad, but the seeds of getting worse were sown. Mee began to push McLintock out, buying centreback Jeff Blockley from Coventry City. Mee decided that buying Blockley was his biggest mistake as Arsenal manager. In 1973, Arsenal fought Liverpool for the League title all season long, including a 2-0 win away to Liverpool on February 10. They were still close on March 26. But their last 6 League games were 1 win, 3 draws and 2 losses, and they finished 2nd, 3 points behind Liverpool.
McLintock was sold to West London team Queens Park Rangers, a.k.a. QPR, and the era was over. Wilson, Radford and George Armstrong got older. Mee alienated Ray Kennedy, and sold him to, of all teams, Liverpool in 1974. He starred for them for a few years. Pretty much anybody who remembers him, unless they're an Arsenal fan, remembers him with Liverpool. His career began to decline when he developed Parkinson's disease: While still alive, he has had to leave not just football in any role, but public life entirely.
Mee alienated Charlie George, and ended up selling him to Derby in 1975. And replacements simply weren't forthcoming. The next-to-last game of the 1974-75 season was a Derby at home to Tottenham, and it was "a relegation six-pointer," won 1-0 by Arsenal. Spurs survived by winning the next week. But Arsenal finished 16th, and 17th in 1976. Mee was fired.
Former Arsenal centreback Terry Neill was brought in to manage, and he brought Howe back. Together, they led Arsenal to the 1979 FA Cup. Pat Rice had become Captain, and was the only 1971 regular still with Arsenal as they won the 1979 Cup. Sammy Nelson, a backup on the '71 team, started in '79. And the '79 Arsenal goalkeeper? None other than Pat Jennings, whom Spurs had let go a few years before.
But they lost the FA Cup Final in 1978 and 1980, and the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1980. Neill was fired in 1983, and Howe promoted to replace him. "Now, that was the time I stayed, when I should have left!" Howe said. After 3 years of being good, but not quite good enough, Howe resigned.
For reasons that have never been made clear to me, neither England nor Scotland gave many chances to Arsenal players. Look at these totals for Arsenal players of the 1970s:
Total caps for England: Alan Ball 72 (but only 12 after he came to Arsenal), Ray Kennedy 17 (but none until '76, after he left), Graham Rix 17, Malcolm Macdonald 14 (the last in '75, before he arrived), Brian Talbot 6, Bob McNab 4 (the last in '69), John Radford 2 (the last in '71), Brian Kidd 2 (the last in '70, before he arrived), Charlie George 1 (in '76, after he left), Alan Sunderland 1; George Armstrong, Jon Sammels, Peter Simpson, David Price and Steve Walford, between them, none. Peter Storey was an exception, getting 19.
Hell, Jeff Blockley, considered by some to be the worst Arsenal defender of the decade, got as many England caps as Charlie George, considered the most talented Arsenal player of the decade: One.
Total caps for Scotland: George Graham 12, Frank McLintock 9 (the last in '71), Willie Young (the last in '75, before coming to Arsenal), Bob Wilson 2 (the last in '71), Eddie Kelly none.
It was different for the other "nations" of the British Isles, due to manpower levels. The Republic of Ireland gave Liam Brady 72, Frank Stapleton 71 and David O'Leary 68. Northern Ireland gave Pat Jennings 119, Terry Neill 59, Sammy Nelson 51, Pat Rice 49. Wales gave John Roberts 22.
Bob Wilson, Pat Rice and George Armstrong went on to be assistant coaches for Arsenal. George Graham was named manager in 1986, and led them to the League Cup in 1987, the League title in 1989 and 1991, the 1st-ever FA Cup and League Cup "double" in 1993, and the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1994.
Arsène Wenger was named manager in 1996, and kept the '71 Double players on as coaches. In 1998, Arsenal came from 12 points back in March to defeat Manchester United for the Premier League title (which replaced the old Football League Division One in 1992), and beat Newcastle United for the FA Cup, for Arsenal's 2nd Double.
In 2000, Armstrong became the 1st player from that 1971 team to die, as he suffered a brain hemorrhage while running a training session at London Colney, Arsenal's training camp in suburban Hemel Hempstead. He was 56 years old, and a training pitch (practice field) there was named for him.
Wilson and Rice remained, and Arsenal won a 3rd Double in 2002. This time, the way the scheudule worked out, they had even fewer days to prepare than in 1971: They beat Chelsea in the Final on May 4, and Man United to win the League on May 8. They nearly won yet another Double in 2003, taking the Cup, but faltering in the League to finish 2nd. At that point, Wilson retired from coaching. Rice remained on through the 2012 season, helping Wenger guide Arsenal to an unbeaten season in the League in 2004, another FA Cup in 2005, a trip to the UEFA Champions League Final in 2006, and into the new Emirates Stadium the next year.
Bertie Mee died in 2001, at the age of 82. Don Howe died in 2015, at 80. Backup centreback John Roberts died in 2016, at 69. Backup goalkeeper Geoff Barnett died this past January 15, at 74.
Steve Burtenshaw is 85, Frank McLintock is 81, Bob Wilson is 79, Terry Neill (sold right before the Double season) is 78, Bob McNab is 77, George Graham and Peter Simpson are 76, Jon Sammels and Peter Storey are 75, John Radford is 74, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson are 72, Peter Marinello is 71, Charlie George and Eddie Kelly are 70, and Ray Kennedy is 69.
Back row, left to right: John Radford, assistant coach Steve Burtenshaw,
Peter Marinello, Peter Simpson, Jon Sammels, Geoff Barnett, Bob Wilson,
John Roberts, Charlie George, David Court, Pat Rice.
(Court had played for Arsenal 1962-70,
but was already gone before the Double season.)
Front row, left to right: Bertie Mee, Bob McNab,
George Graham, Don Howe, Frank McLintock,
George Armstrong, Sammy Nelson and Ray Kennedy.
The 1970-71 Double team was, for many years, the signature Arsenal side. It was succeeded as such by the 1988-89 League title winners, and then by the 2003-04 "Invincibles." Now, with the great teams of the 1930s, '40s and '50s having passed into afterlife, they are the oldest remaining great team. They remain a precious memory for whose who are old enough to remember, and a milestone in team history for those of us who are not.