The 2015 FA Cup Final is almost upon us & once again The Arsenal have made it to the final, our 19th and this final is my 13th. There is no doubt the FA Cup Final regarded by a lot of people as not as important as it once was. But for fans of a certain age like me it will always be a special match.
8th of May 1971 was my first FA Cup Final and that week remains the best week of my life. Winning the Title at White Hart Lane on the Monday by defeating the old enemy Spurs was the greatest night and beating Liverpool at Wembley to win the FA Cup my greatest day.
The first cup final I remember watching on TV was in 1964 between West Ham & Preston & every year since then I’d watched each final on our black & white TV hoping that one day my team The Arsenal would get there & I’d be there at Wembley to watch them win it.
By 1967 I was going regularly to Highbury & by 1970-71 I was attending every home game. The team were getting steadily better in the late 1960s & after winning the Fairs Cup in 1970. I think we all had a feeling we were on the verge of doing something special.
Because I’d been to every home game I’ along with my brother had also bought every programme. Each programme had a cup final coupon in it which if we were lucky enough to reach a final you could cut out & paste the coupons onto a special cup final form. The more coupons you had the better the chance of a Cup Final ticket. Luckily my brother and I had them all in 1970-71!
We arrived at Highbury armed with our forms & a pound note each to secure our cup final tickets & joined a very long queue of fans already waiting in line for tickets. By the time the queue started to move forward it had grown to twice as long as when we got there. Eventually we reached the turnstiles handed over the completed forms & our £1 & finally received our prized FA Cup Final Tickets. I couldn’t stop looking at mine. I felt like Charlie winning a Golden Ticket for Willie Wonka’s Chocolate factory!
The day arrived and I hadn’t slept much the night before as I was so excited about my first Wembley FA Cup Final. We got the tube and as we got nearer to Wembley more & more Arsenal & Liverpool fans were getting on the train. We poured out at Wembley Park Station & we caught our first glimpse of the famous twin towers. We then made our way down Wembley Way, Arsenal one side Liverpool the other. Both sets of fans were singing & the atmosphere was brilliant.
We eventually found our block & climbed the steps to the turnstiles. This was such a magical place where Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup for England five years earlier & the venue for the Matthews Final & so many others.
We went through the turnstiles & made it up the many flights of steps then stepped into an entrance & emerged onto the terraces. It was a really sweltering day & the pitch looked perfect. After all the years of watching the cup final on a black & white TV this was the real thing in glorious colour. The lush green pitch the colours of the fans kitted out with their hats, scarves, rosettes & flags. Plus the atmosphere building as the stadium filled up, the crowd began singing and the atmosphere was steadily building.
A massive roar went up as the two sides were led into the pitch side by side. Liverpool in all red with the legendary Bill Shankly leading them out and The Arsenal, my Arsenal, led out by Bertie Mee. The Arsenal players had those classic blue tracksuit tops with the yellow cannon with the FA Cup above and 1971 below it.
The teams walked onto the pitch like modern day gladiators. The Liverpool fans started singing their famous anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with scarves held aloft. The Arsenal fans responded with “Good Old Arsenal” Followed by “Arsenal Arsenal” over & over then “Champions Champions” which echoed across the terraces.
The players were introduced to the Duke of Kent & then the stage was set for the game. Come on You Gunners shouted the Arsenal fans as the game commenced.
Peter Storey our midfield enforcer was back after missing the game against Spurs and left Steve Heighway in a heap! Charlie George hit one just over from long range & Little Geordie Armstrong almost put us in front with a header which Ray Clemence saved. Liverpool almost scored when Alec Lyndsey struck a low shot which was tipped round the post by Bob Wilson.
The second half The Arsenal began to get on top Ray Kennedy missed a couple of good chances Charlie George fizzed one wide then George Graham headed against the bar from a John Radford long throw then Liverpool cleared off the line from George Graham again.
The whistle blew & it was extra time. The players looked drained from the heat and it didn’t help us having played a hard game at Spurs on the Monday.
Extra time began & Liverpool broke down our right hand side Heighway went past Pat Rice and squeezed a shot in at the near post past Bob Wilson into our goal. Bob Wilson then redeemed himself saving from Brian Hall. The Liverpool fans were crowing but this Arsenal side never knew when they were beaten. With our superb skipper Frank McLintock driving us on and Geordie Armstrong’s endless running we knew we could still do it.
John Radford who’d had a fine game hit the ball over his head into a melee of players & Eddie Kelly who’d come on for Peter Storey touched it on, George Graham appeared and the ball trickled into the net. We Arsenal went wild “Did Stroller score” someone asked “think so” said another” who gives a f*** who scored” said somebody else!
The Arsenal fans were now in full cry. “Come on Charlie give us a bit of your magic” cried someone in the crowd. Then he promptly did! One touch & then he fired an unstoppable shot into the back of the Liverpool net with Clemence well beaten. The Arsenal end erupted & it was pandemonium as the Arsenal fans went mental with Charlie Laying on the Wembley turf arms outstretched in the famous iconic pose.
Liverpool got a last minute corner Bob Wilson came through a crowd of bodies to claim it & as he kicked the ball up the field the referee blew the full time whistle. We’d done it we’d won the Double!
The Arsenal fans were in a frenzy as the players collapsed onto the pitch and a massive roar went up as Frank McLintock climbed the 39 steps up to the royal box then lifted the FA Cup!
I’ve been to many finals since but nothing matches your first one and I’ll remember that day as long as I live. That’s what makes the FA Cup so special to me and every other Gunner there that special day.
A few facts about the 1971 FA Cup Final
Eddie Kelly who was accredited with the first goal was the first substitute to score in an FA Cup Final and Bob Wilson was the first goalkeeper to wear a number 1 on his back in an FA Cup Final
In the week leading up to the Final Arsenal trained on a pitch marked out at London Colney to the exact specifications of Wembley & also let the grass remain uncut to replicate the lush Wembley turf.
The day before the game as Arsenal walked round the Wembley pitch Bill Shankly sidled up to Bob Wilson and tried to play mind games by telling him “Bob, it will be a nightmare for goalkeepers out here tomorrow”
Before the match an FA official knocked on the Arsenal dressing room door to tell them to come out into the tunnel. Bertie Mee said he was just finishing his team talk. They knocked again Bertie told them a couple of the players are just tying their boots. Only at the 3rd time of asking did the players come out. Shankly was annoyed knowing Mee had struck a psychological blow making them wait in the tunnel getting nervous.
Emlyn Hughes complained Liverpool’s long sleeved heavy shirts on a boiling hot day contributed to their defeat.
The night before the match Arsenal stayed at the Grosvenor Hotel and the doorman said that It may be a lucky omen as WBA had stayed there three years earlier when they beat Everton in the final. The Arsenal reception was held at the Cafe Royal.
Thanks Gary Lawrence so much for sharing your amazing recollection of the day will forever be etched into the history of Arsenal Football Club. We have been so blessed to have your memories transcribed so beautifully by you for the site. I am certain that other readers will feel that afternoon come alive as we have. If you wish to now watch the events having read Gary’s words you can do so below and ensure to follow Gary on twitter @Garythegooner56