This week’s Highbury Hero features an integral member of the legendary 1971 Double side. As Bob Wilson put it so eloquently; “The 1971 Double side was like a jigsaw with all the pieces fitting together perfectly”. John Radford or Raddy, as he was affectionately known, was a big piece of that jigsaw.
John Radford was a superb centre forward. Who gave the club wonderful service from the mid 1960’s to the mid 1970’s. He was a big powerful striker and had so many attributes to his game. He was a tireless worker, who made so many intelligent runs off the ball. He was always spinning away from his marker, sometimes going short to hold the ball up to bring other players into the game and a good passer of the ball as well.
Brave as a lion, Raddy could look after himself, giving as good as he got from uncompromising centre halves. He had an excellent shot on him but was also brilliant in the air. He had a fantastic leap and seemed to hover in the air, before powerfully heading the ball into the back of the net.
But above all else it was John’s work ethic and team play that stood out. He was so unselfish. Raddy made it that bit easier for his team mates. Ask anyone that played with him and they’d all tell you what a pleasure it was to have Raddy in the side with them.
Born in Harmsworth, Yorkshire. Raddy signed for The Arsenal as a 15 year old apprentice in 1962. Despite spending the rest of his life living in the South of England, John hasn’t lost one iota of his broad Yorkshire accent.
He quickly progressed through the youth and reserve sides, scoring plenty of goals along the way before making his debut on the 21st March 1964, at Upton Park, against West Ham United in a 1-1 draw.
The following season, 1964-65 he featured 15 times for the first team scoring 9 goals, which included a hat-trick against Wolves at Highbury on the 2nd January 1965. At 17 years and 315 days. I believe this is still a record for the youngest ever hat-trick scorer for Arsenal. Though he was still quite raw at times, there was no doubting the talent was there to become a top class centre forward.
By 1965-66, Billy Wright’s last season. Radford had become a regular in the side and after a heavy 3-0 defeat in the FA Cup, in January 1966, at Ewood Park, against Blackburn Rovers. Joe Baker never played another competitive game for the club and John Radford took over the number nine shirt and became the main striker.
When Bertie Mee took over and appointed first Dave Sexton, then later Don Howe replacing Sexton as first team coach. Raddy developed rapidly, becoming better and better. By the late 1960’s he was the finished article. I recall seeing him score a quick fire hat-trick, in an FA Cup Replay, against Bolton Wanderers, at Highbury, in 1967.
I also remember being behind the goal in the Clock End, in 1967-68 and having a close-up view when he scored a stunning diving header in a 2-1 win, in a League Cup Quarter-Final Replay, against Burnley. He also scored in the 1st Leg of the Semi-Final against Huddersfield Town. Sadly we lost controversially to Leeds United in the Final.
Raddy was at it again in the League Cup, in 1968-69. I was standing in the West Stand Lower, when it was still terracing, to see him score a late goal against Spurs in the League Cup Semi Final 1st Leg to give us a narrow lead to take to Spurs. In a violent 2nd Leg, Jimmy Greaves scored to make it 1-1. But Radford scored yet another late goal to take us through to Wembley. I won’t mention what happened in the Final!
Radford made his full England debut against Rumania in 1969. But only added one more cap, against Switzerland in 1971. Like so many of the 1971 Double side John didn’t get the international recognition he deserved.
Frank McLintock tells this story in his book. Bob McNab, who had just come back from an England squad practice, was being effusive in his praise of Sir Alf Ramsey and his enlightened training routines. Frank couldn’t resist asking Raddy what he thought of the England manager and Raddy punctured McNab’s eulogy with blunt Yorkshire relish: “Don’t like the booger” he said. It was so funny. McNab stood there totally demolished, utterly crestfallen!
In the 1969-70 season, Highbury staged probably its greatest ever night, against Anderlecht, in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup Final 2nd leg, where Arsenal overcame a 3-1, 1st leg deficit, to win the match 3-0 and lift the trophy. Ending a 17 year barren spell, Raddy scored the 2nd goal that night, a fine towering header,
In the following Double season, Charlie George broke his ankle, in the first game of the season, in a 2-2 draw, against the champions Everton, at Goodison Park. Ray Kennedy came into the side and Radford and Kennedy formed one of the best strike partnerships the club has ever had. They were a formidable duo and scored 47 goals between them in the Double season. After winning the Title at White Hart Lane.Radford laid on both of our goals in the FA Cup Final against Liverpool, to secure the Double and many thought he should have got the Man of the Match award that went to George Graham.
This is what Frank McLintock said about the Raddy and Ray partnership in his book True Grit. “That season I wouldn’t have swapped Ray and Raddy for any other partnership in the division. If I was ever in trouble I knew I could put my foot through the ball and the two of them, thanks to hours of extra afternoon sessions with Don Howe, would deal with it in textbook fashion – one would fight for the ball, the other would be ‘on his bike’ to create space or position himself to pounce on the knock-through. Both of them could face up, back to goal, and collect the ball, something which takes great courage to maintain throughout a season when fourteen-stone centre halves would launch all their bulk into a tackle targeted at your Achilles tendon”.
“They made such intelligent runs, too, zigzagging all over the place. Defenders hate that, as you have to keep stamping all your weight from one foot to another, and it scrambles your brain since you focus solely on the player you’re marking and lose perspective. Furthermore, the two of them had worked so hard at coming short and losing the marker – who would stick to his zone – that I could play it short or, if their man has shadowed them, I could hit it long and they would spin him and sprint into the vacant gap”.
“They got so good at it that they could bluff and double bluff, changing direction in a split second, moving as if they were going to spin and drive forward and then come short. We worked on this so often in training that I could read their body language and interpret what they wanted me to do, so, even if I had my head down, I could guess their next move by how their feet were placed”.
Raddy and Ray what a Double act!
In the 1972 FA Cup Semi Final with Stoke City. Raddy had to go in goal when Bob Wilson was too badly injured to carry on. Raddy managed to keep Stoke at bay and in the replay got the winner, to take us to Wembley, turning in a Charlie George near post cross. But once again, Leeds United narrowly beat us 1-0 in the Final.
In 1972-73 Arsenal came very close to the Title, finishing runners-up, just three points behind Liverpool. Raddy got a magnificent goal at Anfield that season, in a 2-0 win, beating a Liverpool player in our half, running into the Liverpool half, slipping it past another Liverpool player before bearing down on Clemence. He rounded him before rolling it into the net.
By 1975-76 Frank Stapleton had come to the fore and Radford played just 15 times that season, scoring three goals. The last of which, was his last ever goal for Arsenal, the winner away at Middlesbrough, on the 28th February 1976. Time was catching up with Raddy and the injuries from years of being kicked by tough defenders had taken their toll.
In 1976-77 Arsenal signed Malcolm Macdonald and Raddy partnered Supermac in the first game of the season, at home to Bristol City. He never started another game for The Arsenal, though he made one final substitute appearance against Stoke City at Highbury, on the 16th October 1976, coming off the bench to replace Frank Stapleton and that was it for Raddy. Stapleton was the new kid on the block to take Radford’s place, just a he had replaced Joe Baker ten years previously.
By the time West Ham paid Arsenal £80,000 for Radford’s services, he was finished. Ravaged by injuries and a shadow of the player he once was. John Radford was underrated outside of Highbury. But the Arsenal staff, players and fans knew what a talented footballer he was. He scored 149 goals in 481 games for Arsenal. Only Cliff Bastin, Ian Wright and Thierry Henry stand above him in the all-time list of Arsenal goal scorers.
Raddy was one of the first footballers to have a tattoo. Long before David Beckham! Raddy’s tattoo simply said “Death before Dishonour” which was very apt for a man who gave everything for the cause of Arsenal Football Club.
As always thanks for reading Highbury Heroes. They’ll be another trip down memory lane next week.