With the recent death of Terry Neill (1942-2022), another part of The Arsenal becomes history. Many who have a presence on the internet probably don’t know him, or if they did he might not have meant as much as he did to those of us who witnessed those years? And that’s fair enough. Carrie Fisher once said “fame is obscurity waiting”, and we ironically saw this when Debbie Reynolds, her mother died, it seemed that most people didn’t know who she was. Names and some moments may surivive, but mostly obscurity beckons?
Terry had been a long term player at Arsenal with 241 appearances (1960-1970), clocking up over a hundred games at Hull afterwards, with 59 caps for N.Ireland / who he managed between 1971-75.
Like many others Terry had come to the Arsenal from Tottenham (whom he managed between 1974 and 1976), and after the season that Arsenal flirted with relegation he started to build a new team, getting us back up to 8th. At this time many of the older 70s stalwarts were playing with younger players, new signings( ironically also let go by Tottenham) Pat Jennings, Malcolm Macdonald came in (and was golden boot winner two years running out of his three at Arsenal) but also we started to see the Arsenal Irish wizards come in and Terry formed a new team, or so it seemed to my very young eyes. Of course everyone seemed like a god, and even those with faults were excused immediately.
Sudenly there were many new changes; Alan Ball, Jimmy Rimmer, Wilf Rostron, Peter Simpson, John Radford and Arsenal favourite Geordie Armstrong left, and suddenly seemed as if a new 70s team had arrived, one that would take us on into the 80s?
After the soggy, humid, mishap versus Ipswich in the 1978 final, Arsenal approached the new coming season and all was clicking into place; sadly Supermac was injured against Rotherham in the league cup,and he left and on went the reshuffle, players who looked out of place in the ’78 final now looked in place. And we were a cup force to be reckoned with. Even after Liam left we finished a respectable third in the league.
Yet later despite getting to semi finals of both cups in 82/83 we didn’t ever seem really like winning…or reaching a cup final again.
Although ’78 was a disappointment, ’79 was a moment of heaven, despite the fact it seemed we had thrown it all away. Then the CWC run in 1980, and the final with West Ham, after the titianc endless semi-final games versus Liverpool,which perhaps in someways was the beginning of then end of the TN era? We recall those games, but there were such magnificent moments on the way to those finals. And we played an extraordinary amount of games in the 79/80 season, something that I wish was more remembered as part of our history, even if we did lose both finals that season.
Sadly came the departures of my original heroes, and very soon there was a new Arsenal before my eyes, trying to find its way. The excellent Paul Davis, Kenny Sansom, Chris Whyte, Raphael Meade, Peter Nicholas, John Hawley, George Wood,Tony Woodcock, Vlad Petrovic, Tommy Caton (rip) and for ten seconds Clive Allen and of course North Bank hero Bonnie Prince Charlie all came in and did their best, a new kit with red trim also seemed new and modern. New mates, new heroes( yes I left a lot out but not out of disrespect, I just don’t have time to list every player) the arrival of Mr Adams, John Lukic who would go onto glory later…
We can’t sometimes see change as its happening? Often these players are forgotten as they didn’t make finals, but even if at times it wasn’t the greatest football ever it was a path onto something coming…and in those days I didn’t care, I loved The Arsenal unconditionally. And there were some moments of great football despite it seeming a barren time. And Terry was of course guiding it with Don Howe,Fred Street and Wilf Dixon trying to get us back as a unit and challenging again. They did try.
When Terry left Arsenal in the 83/84 season he was only 41 and subsequently left football, often only to be seen on documentaries or occasionally interviewed for his view point. To a young kid as I was then, it was a massive blow, he had been the manager when I started supporting, and when things change drastically as a kid, it seems the world is caving in. Will we go down? Quickly I was reassured by older people at my local sides Christmas party that it wouldn’t happened; this gave me my first big world sense of who Arsenal are, a club that has a long and proud history, that we are this tremendous huge force called The Arsenal.
I can still see Terry having a crafty oily outside the old elegant glass mangers hut at Highbury( the original one that was super cramped) during the game, and of course burnt in my mind is the photograph in the 1980/81 Arsenal handbook of Terry hugging Paul Vaessen after we beat Juventus in the CWC semi. What a moment that was.
Another memory of him turning to John Devine with a look of disbelief after Mr.Sunderland had scored the winner in 1979…
To many Terry was not the best, fair enough, but neither was he the worst, far from it, he did seem a new hope, and was, and some how ushered us into a new time that directly led onto where we are now and of course held the torch in the Arsenal relay with a steady hand during his tenure, and gave us some highlights (“the ball floats over, its there Alan Sunderland, its 3-2 to Arsenal!)and memorable moments (losing to Walsall in the league cup), joy and tears, laughter and frustration but perhaps managers were lesser stars in those days, and as the landscape of the game has changed so much that those older days seem so far away now?
Slowly the lights of Highbury go out, but perhaps we can savour those memories a little while longer? Thank you, softly spoken Terry Neill, a great servant to our club, both player and manager. And to me a true Arsenal hero. Gone but not yet forgotten.