The Rise and Fall of Bertie Mee – Part 1 The Rise!

The Rise
The 1965-66 season had been a bleak one for The Arsenal. Dumped out the FA Cup in the 3rd round by Blackburn Rovers 3-0 at Ewood Park. Finishing 14th in the League and playing in front of a pitiful 4,554 in our final home game against Leeds United. The fans had voted with their feet. Billy Wright had proved the old adage “A great player doesn’t always make a great manager” Whichever way you looked at it, Arsenal Football Club were going nowhere under Billy Wright and he had to go.
A bright new dawn was about to follow. It was 1966 and England had just won the World Cup. The swinging sixties were in full flow. The Beatles, The Stones, The Who & The Kinks were in their pomp and London was where it was it. The red half of North London was waiting to hear who The Arsenal were going to appoint as their new manager. Surely it was going to be another big name like Billy Wright or maybe an up & coming young manager. But it was neither of those. When the name Bertie Mee was announced it was so left field nobody could have predicted it.
Whittaker also a Physio first

Whittaker also a Physio first

What looked a strange choice of manager, to say the least, wasn’t as odd as it seemed upon closer inspection. Arsenal had trodden this path before in 1947, when they appointed Tom Whittaker. Bertie had some striking similarities with Tom Whittaker. Like Tom Bertie’s playing career was cut short by injury. Both served in the Army, where Bertie rose to become a Sergeant. Both of them also became physiotherapists and ended up as successful Arsenal managers. So the Arsenal Board have to be commended for going in-house and promoting from within.
Bertie Mee came to Arsenal in 1960 replacing the long serving Billy Milne as Arsenal’s physiotherapist. But even Bertie himself wouldn’t have expected to take the reins of one of the most famous clubs in World football. In fact the pragmatic Mee had it written into his contract that he could return to his old job as physiotherapist after a year if things didn’t work out!

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Fortunately for Bertie and Arsenal it worked out very well indeed. Bertie Mee’s main strength as a manager was his organisational ability and being able to delegate people to certain tasks. His biggest weakness was that tactically he was vey weak, but to his credit Bertie knew his limitations in that aspect of the job and wisely made the excellent Dave Sexton his 1st team coach. For all Billy Wright’s shortcomings as a manager the one thing we can be grateful to him for, was setting up the youth system at Arsenal with no less than 10 home grown players out of 17, in the 1971 Double squad. Though Billy didn’t get the chance to see them all blossom. Bertie took full advantage with so many of the club’s youngsters breaking through to the 1st team under the expert care of Dave Sexton and things were looking up for the Gunners.
Sexton and excellent Mee appointment

Sexton and excellent Mee appointment

Unfortunately after only one year things then took a turn for the worse. Chelsea had dispensed of their manager, former Arsenal player Tommy Docherty and decided to make Dave Sexton their new manager. As Frank McLintock said, the players were devastated at losing him. But Bertie shrewdly pulled off a master stroke by promoting Don Howe as his 1st team coach. Don like Dave Sexton before him was another top quality coach. His mantra was discipline, teamwork, commitment and desire.
Organiser and tactician. Mee and Howe

Organiser and tactician. Mee and Howe

So began the slow but sure ascent to the greatest season in Arsenal’s history and Bertie Mee’s finest hour. Arsenal hadn’t come anywhere near to winning a trophy since lifting the Title in 1953 and it was such a heavy burden on the players that the club acted on Frank McLintock’s suggestion to abandon the famous red shirts with white sleeves and change to an all red shirt without the white sleeves, to try to rid themselves of the ghosts of the players from Arsenal’s glorious past. This unpopular experiment lasted just two seasons, with the club reverting back to their famous shirts for the 1967-68 season. Arsenal came close to ending their trophy drought getting to two League Cup Finals. But lost both. The first a narrow 1-0 loss to Leeds United in 1968. The second a devastating, humiliating defeat in 1969, at the hands of third division Swindon Town and their star man Don Rogers.
Mee with the Fairs Cup 1970 (

Mee with the Fairs Cup 1970 (

We finally ended our long 17 year wait for a trophy, on a glorious pulsating night at Highbury, overturning a 3-1 defeat at Anderlecht, where Ray Kennedy gave us a lifeline with a late goal. We went on to destroy Anderlecht 3-0 with goals from three of our home grown players Eddie Kelly, John Radford and Jon Sammels, to give us our first European trophy, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and provide us with the springboard to go on and win the Double the following season. Bertie had already brought silverware to Highbury, where Jack Crayston, George Swindin and Billy Wright had all failed before him.
Leeds United were 7 points clear at the end of February 1971, in the days of two points for a win. But we had two games in hand, having played 29 games to Leeds 31. We then put a brilliant nine game winning run together, only to lose controversially 1-0 at Elland Road, to a hotly disputed winning goal for Leeds. However this Arsenal side never knew when they were beaten, worked hard for each other and we rallied to beat Stoke City 1-0 at Highbury with an Eddie Kelly goal to set up a memorable final week of the season. I was fortunate enough to see us clinch the Title at White Hart Lane, on an electric, unforgettable Monday night with another late Ray Kennedy goal from a Geordie Armstrong cross, winning us the Title by a single point from Leeds United. (I wrote about it here.)
Mee historic Double 71

Mee historic Double 71 (

I was there again for the second part of the Double, winning the FA Cup Final at Wembley, coming from 1-0 down to equalise through Eddie Kelly, then the brilliant famous winning goal and iconic celebration from Charlie George, to complete the elusive Double. Bertie Mee had achieved something no other manager had done before him. Not even the great Herbert Chapman. Arsenal were only the second team in the 20th Century to win the Double and match Spurs achievement of 1961. Not too shabby at all for an ex-physiotherapist.

Our Thanks Gary Lawrence back once more as an always welcome guest columnist.

I am sure Gary won’t mind me saying he is one of the wise senior statesman of Arsenal Twitter so we suggest you get following @Garythegooner56 

 He is back with Part 2  – The Fall! later today so look out for it!

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4 Responses to The Rise and Fall of Bertie Mee – Part 1 The Rise!

  1. Hec November 27, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

    Good article, I was also there White Hart Lane ,the Monday night and Wembley .
    McLintock was immense we would never in a million years done it with out him , he scored in tight 1-0 games, he drove the team , he got the best out of “stan” peter S. ,he helped Bob Wilson takeover from Big Mim , the mighty Quinn, Mc Nab, Pat Rice, Peter Storey who had moved into the holding midfielder, sometimes Sammy Nelson, Frank McL. In the end was treated quite shabbily by Arsenal, and even today there will be no one who has done more for Arsenal the Frank.

    • Dave Seager November 27, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

      Agreed and I am fortunate to have spend some times in his company through the writing of the Geordie book and after. Dave


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    […] Hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Thanks for reading and Part 1 from earlier is here […]

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