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Arsenal’s Youngest Captain – Too Much too Young for Eddie Kelly

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This week’s trip down memory lane takes us back to the 1970’s, when a young Glaswegian was making his mark at The Arsenal. He wasn’t one of the first names that fans would mention when talking about the 1971 Double squad. Nevertheless, Eddie scored two of the most important goals in the history of Arsenal Football Club. This week’s Highbury Hero is Eddie Kelly.

 

Eddie composed on the ball with a packed North Bank in the background

 

Eddie had most of the attributes to be a top class midfielder. Not the quickest, but had a good engine. He was a fiery combative player with a ferocious tackle. He was an excellent passer of the ball and he rarely gave away possession of the ball. Eddie had good awareness and was a great reader of the game.

He also had a powerful shot and although he did not score that many goals he chipped in with some vital ones.

This is what Charlie George said about him. “Eddie had everything you wanted from a midfield player. He could tackle and move and pass the ball, shoot and score. He probably should have had a better career than he did. He might say the same about me. We were kids, we grew up together and we came from nothing.”

Frank McLintock said this “Eddie was a bit like Bobby Murdoch, the Celtic and Scotland midfielder. He had all the talent and you couldn’t believe how clever he was. He had great aplomb on the ball, a great first touch, two good feet and a great shot. He was brilliant, even as a nineteen year old”.

Jon Sammels said, “Eddie was not the quickest in a sprint but he was a very quick thinker. He knew what he was going to do before the ball came to him. He was very quick off the ball, he had a good first touch and quite often, he would have his pass away before the defence could do anything about it. He was very consistent and had no weaknesses in his game”.

A young Eddie Kelly posing for the camera and he does not look very comfortable doing it!

Eddie Kelly was born on the 7th February 1951 in Glasgow. As a kid, he was a Celtic fan and he played in the same junior side Possilpark YMCA, as Kenny Dalglish, who in those days according to Eddie was a Rangers fan! They were a nursery side for Arsenal. A coach there Bob Weir worked closely with The Arsenal. Therefore, when Eddie was 14 or 15 Arsenal invited him down to London. He met manager Billy Wright, who made Eddie and his dad Charles very welcome.

He signed for Arsenal as as apprentice in 1966. Eddie was glad to get away from Glasgow and when he stayed in digs at Turnpike Lane, he thought it was luxury as for the first time in his life he had his own bed! Alf Fields asked Eddie what size boots he wanted and Eddie replied “A seven please”. Alf then said “And what studs do you want” Eddie stared back at Alf blankly. “I’m sorry Alf; I don’t know what you mean” said Eddie. He could not understand it, as he had never played on a grass pitch before! All the pitches he had ever played on in Glasgow were black or red ash. “You know studded boots,” said Alf. Eddie did not even know what a stud was! Alf then explained, “You’re playing on grass now in England”. Eddie felt embarrassed.

Eddie made rapid progress at The Arsenal and when Eddie was seventeen the club wanted him to sign as a professional. The club had just introduced a new idea where the players received a £250 signing on fee. Eddie sat down with Bertie Mee and he said, “Eddie we want you to sign as a professional and you know you also get £250 to help you out. Are you going to sign?” Eddie replied, “Well I want to sign but I’d like to get my mum and dad something to show my appreciation for what they’ve done for me growing up”. Bertie asked what he was talking about so Eddie said “Is there any chance of the club getting them a three-piece suite or something?” Bertie went berserk and said, “Get up and out of this office. Arsenal do not do things like that. Come back in the morning and your plane ticket will be ready for you to go back to Glasgow”. Eddie was almost in tears and went to see George Male who looked after the young kids. George said yes, the manager’s told me what has happened and you are going home”. The next day Bertie had changed his mind. He said he’d try to sort something out for his mum and dad and they did end up getting that three-piece suite! So Eddie ended up signing as a professional for the club on 15th February 1968.

Later when Eddie was about eighteen his parents had split up and his mother wanted to get away from Glasgow. Eddie asked the club what they could do and they kindly let Eddie’s mum and his sister have one of the flats in the West Stand at Highbury for a few years and Eddie never forgot that act of generosity the club did for him and his family.

Eddie made his debut for Arsenal, coming on as a substitute, replacing David Court, against Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury on the 6th September 1969. In February 1970, Bertie Mee told Eddie “You have got a run of 10 or 15 games to show what you can do” and true to his words, Eddie started in the last sixteen games of the season.

Those games included the last six games of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup. Having been well beaten in the First Leg 3-1 by Anderlecht out in Belgium. The players were down in the dressing room. Until skipper Frank McLintock came out the showers and lifted the whole team with a Churchillian style speech, except Frank’s had plenty of swearing in his!

For the second leg of the Final at Highbury the team were well up for it thanks to Frank McLintock and the fantastic support of The Arsenal fans. The players said it was the loudest they’d ever heard them. The fans had waited seventeen years since the last trophy and were desperate for the team to win the Fairs Cup.

Eddie sent the team on its way to a 3-0 victory when he smashed the ball into the net to open the scoring, then further goals from John Radford and Jon Sammels meant that Arsenal had finally ended their long wait for silverware.

 

Eddie opens the scoring for Arsenal in the 2nd leg of the Fairs Cup Final at Highbury 

 

In the Double season, I remember playing Leeds United at Highbury in September in a 0-0 draw. Leeds were Arsenal’s biggest rivals for the Title and the games against them were invariably very tight and very physical. Leeds were masters of the dark arts. The games were very personal as well. When Leeds got a corner, even Bob Wilson would shout right into Jack Charlton’s ear “Leave this bastard to me”. That night at Highbury Billy Bremner went over the top and did Eddie on his knee and thigh. Eddie retaliated and Bremner made the most of it. He knew exactly what he was doing and got Eddie sent off. Eddie started the Double season as he had finished the previous season. He was playing well and chipped in with goals against Chelsea away and against Everton and Derby County at home.  He started every game right up to the 2-0 win against Liverpool at Highbury, when George Graham came on as a substitute for Eddie and scored one of the goals.

Eddie scores in the Double season against Derby County at Highbury 

 

Bertie Mee told Eddie he looked tired and was going to rest him for a month and put him in the reserves. Eddie did not mind that at first as he was feeling a bit jaded, but because the side was so consistent, Eddie couldn’t get back into the team. It was five months before he returned to the side against Burnley at home and that was only because Peter Storey was on England duty, then Peter was back in and Eddie was out the side again.

Eddie had got into bad habits. He was not training properly and he was getting the hump at not being in the side. Don Howe then gave Eddie the biggest bollocking he had ever had saying, “Eddie, you are a fucking disgrace. Look at the state of you. You are 20 years old and you are walking around being miserable because you are not in the side” Eddie said that was the way he felt and he thought he was good enough to be in the team. Don said, “You are one of the best players we have here, but your attitude is one of the worst and until you get that sorted out you will be in the reserves”. Don then almost got Eddie by the throat and said “Peter Storey is not as good as you as a football player but as a competitor and in terms of attitude he is 100 per cent better. That is the way our team works. It is up to you to get yourself in the team and make sure you are not the one left out”. Eddie knew Don was right. He was a bad trainer and his attitude had been crap.

However, fate dealt Eddie a helping hand just as the season was reaching its climax. Arsenal had been beaten 1-0 by Leeds up at Elland Road. If Arsenal had managed a draw, all they needed was a home win against Stoke in their final home game to win the Title. Now they needed to beat Stoke just to stay in the Title race. I remember Pete Murray and Cardew Robinson going onto the pitch at Highbury with red and white scarves on before the Stoke game with microphones, then running up to the North Bank getting on their knees and bowing to the North Bank fans then saying “Who’s going to win the League?” “Arsenal’ roared the North Bank. “Who’s going to win the Cup?” “Arsenal” again was the North Bank’s reply!

It was a tense game with very few chances. Stoke were doing their best to ruin our Title challenge as revenge for knocking them out in the FA Cup Semi-Final replay. Peter Storey our midfield enforcer then had to go off injured and Eddie came on to replace him and there was Eddie to drive the ball home to break the deadlock and give us a 1-0 win. Eddie’s goal had ensured the race for the Title went to our final league game of the season at White Hart Lane and only a win or a 0-0 draw would give us the Title. Any other score and the Title went north to Leeds.

Eddie started the Title decider as Peter Storey hadn’t recovered from the injury he suffered against Stoke and Eddie played his part in our wonderful 1-0 victory over the old enemy and anybody who was there will never forget that incredible night with at least 30,000 Arsenal fans in there to cheer Arsenal on to become the Champions.

So to Wembley five days later to win the FA Cup and complete the elusive Double, which had only been achieved once before in the 20th century. Peter Storey was still struggling and he thinks that Bertie Mee did not want to take a chance on him and wanted Eddie to play. Bertie put Peter through the most rigorous of fitness tests. Peter said Bertie used all of experience as a physio to try to get Peter to fail it. However, Peter was determined to play and though he was in great discomfort he managed to pass the test and got the nod to play, with Eddie named as substitute. My brother Tony and I were lucky enough to get a ticket for Wembley through having all the programme coupons.so on a sweltering day off we went to Wembley.

 

The Arsenal line up before the 1971 FA Cup Final at Wembley

 

Peter Storey lasted 64 minutes before he had to be replaced by Eddie. The game went into extra-time and Liverpool went in front with a goal from Steve Heighway. Arsenal equalised with what we all thought was a goal by George Graham followed by Charlie George’s brilliant goal to win the FA Cup and complete the Double. It was only later that replays showed that it was Eddie Kelly that scored the equaliser and not George Graham. So Eddie became the first ever substitute to score in an FA Cup Final. Both George Graham and John Radford were superb for The Arsenal that day. However, Raddy reckons George only got the Man of the Match Award because of George being originally credited with the goal. He is still waiting for George Graham to hand the award to him!

Arsenal win the FA Cup and complete the Double

 

Unfortunately, Eddie never fulfilled his full potential. Injuries played a part in that but there were other factors as well. Sometime later Eddie met Bob McNab and Bob said “Eddie you were the most talented nineteen year old I have ever seen. What the fuck happened?” These are comments from his teammates taken from David Tossell’s brilliant book “Seventy-One Guns”.

Frank McLintock said, “Eddie was a fool to himself. He liked a pint of lager and would eat crisps and that sort of stuff – the wrong diet. He struggled to get up and down the pitch on a regular basis over the years. That was the only thing that stopped him being a superstar. Maybe modern-day football, with all the special diets, would have suited him more”.

Bob McNab goes on to say, “Eddie wasted the talent he had. He was like an old man on the field because of his great knowledge. You could tell him nothing. The only problem was that in the end he used that knowledge to cheat. In cross-country, he would be a little bit smart, cutting across the course. People who do that do not realise they are cheating themselves. Eddie was an impact player; good shot, good awareness, but used it to cut corners in his game instead of building. But I liked the team with Eddie in it”.

 

Peter Simpson said, “Eddie had all the ability. He had a fiery streak, which was not a bad thing and he liked to get stuck in. He could have been the best player at the club. But I am not sure he took the game terribly seriously and he had a little bit of a weight problem”.

George Graham added, “When the good times tailed off, Eddie tailed off because he needed to be in a well-organised machine”

Youngest Skipper

Eddie would not argue with any of that but thought that Arsenal could have helped him more in controlling his diet and weight. But despite this Eddie was still regarded highly enough by Bertie Mee to be named as the youngest ever Arsenal captain at just 23 years old, later Tony Adams would take that record. This was the last season at the club for both Bertie and Eddie in 1975-76. Eddie considered being Arsenal captain was his greatest honour, even better than winning the Double and he was gutted at the way Ballie retained the captaincy after Bertie Mee had promised to give it back to Eddie once he had recovered from pneumonia. In fact, when Eddie returned to the team Bertie did not tell him Ballie was keeping the captaincy until fifteen minutes before the kick-off.

 

PHOTO 7

 

Eddie goes to QPR

Eddie lost all heart after that and his last game for Arsenal was on Boxing Day 1975 against Ipswich Town, at Portman Road. When Terry Neill took over, he told Eddie he wanted him to stay but Eddie wanted to get away and QPR bought him for £50,000 in September 1976. His old skipper Frank McLintock signed Eddie for Leicester City in 1977 where he stayed for three years, being relegated and promoted in that time, then he had spells at Notts County, Bournemouth, Leicester City again, then one game for Kettering Town and finally finished his career in 1986 at Torquay United where he played in midfield with Tony Currie. Eddie said they were the slowest midfield in the league!

 

Eddie in his Leicester days

I had the pleasure of meeting Eddie at the book launch of “Geordie Armstrong on the Wing”. He was so down to earth and modest. I reminded him about when he did his Max Wall walk on the pitch, which featured on the opening credits of The Big Match. He smiled and said “Bertie Mee gave me a bollocking for that. He said it was unprofessional”.

Sadly, Eddie never got to play for the full Scotland side. He scored against England on his debut for the Scotland under 23’s and played three times for them. However, after the last game, he had a party in his room with two other players and Tommy Docherty said to Eddie and the club he would not be picked for Scotland again and that was that.

A more recent photo of Arsenal’s two goal scorers at the 1971 FA Cup Final

Eddie Kelly played 222 games for The Arsenal and scored 19 goals. Of course, a footballer with Eddie’s talent could have achieved so much more in his career. However, he can be rightly proud of what he did accomplish. Not many people get to score in two major Cup Finals, win the Double and be named the youngest ever Arsenal Captain.

 

Editor’s Note – It has been pointed out today that in fact Terry Neill was the club’s youngest skipper in the 60s. Gary and GT apologise for the error and hope it did not spoil your reading about Eddie

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4 Responses to Arsenal’s Youngest Captain – Too Much too Young for Eddie Kelly

  1. Graham Perry July 23, 2017 at 11:00 am #

    what a great piece Gary.
    Wonderful to read and it is the detail and the contributions that make it a stand out item – eg that information about AFC giving his Mum a flat for a few months – even Bertie had heart.

    Eddie’s goal against Anderlecht – so vital – in the first half but we were looking for an early goal to create momentum. It did not happen and then Eddie got the ball in the D of the Clock End – I don’t remember him “smashing” it so much as calmly placing it in the top left hand corner of the net. We had the goal – we needed more and they came abut Eddie’s goal was priceless. We knew then we were going to win.

    for many of us Anderlecht at Highbury was a greater night than WHL in 1971 or Mickey Thomas in 1989.
    17 years wandering in the wilderness – and then we were back.

    Will always remember Eddie – one of my heroes for his spirit, determination and all round AFC love.
    Thankyou Gary

    Graham P
    @arsenalcircular

  2. Jami October 1, 2019 at 2:06 pm #

    Eddie’s my nan’s sister’s son,apparently. His mum’s a Crosgrove.

    • Dave Seager October 1, 2019 at 6:12 pm #

      Will ask him as he is a friend. Had a beer with him before Villa

  3. Kevin Gilvary December 22, 2020 at 9:10 pm #

    I was at the Leeds match in Sept 1970 when Eddie got sent off. It happened in line with me. We thought that Bremner kicked him first and Eddie was caught retaliating. The noise the crowd made during the rest of the game was deafening. The highest quality and most entertaining 0-0 draw ever.
    BTW Why wasn’t he banned for his sending off?

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