Given that Liverpool and Arsenal have won so many trophies – 32 leagues titles, 21 FA Cups, 10 League Cups and 30 Community Shields between them – it is a surprise that they have only faced each other at Wembley five times: twice in the Community Shield, once in the League Cup final and twice in the FA Cup finals. The most recent of those FA Cup finals at the national stadium, in 1971, was hugely significant for Arsenal fans as it not only saw them secure their first Double but also emulate their local rivals.
Arsenal went into their final match of the 1970-71 season one point behind league leaders Leeds, who had already completed their domestic campaign. League positions were decided on goal average rather than goal difference at the time, meaning Arsenal had to either win their final match or secure a goalless draw. To make things even more dramatic, their final fixture was a trip to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham.
Just in case anyone was concerned that Spurs would not be motivated for the visit of Arsenal, their captain Alan Mullery ratcheted up the pressure on the eve of the match by saying: “Arsenal have got as much chance of being handed the title by Spurs as I have of being handed the crown jewels. They are the last people we want winning the championship.” Added motivation for Spurs, if any were needed, came from the fact that Arsenal had never won the Double before but Spurs had done so a decade earlier under Bill Nicholson.
The derby was a taut, tense affair that was finally settled three minutes from time by a header from 19-year-old Ray Kennedy, the youngest player in the Arsenal team. Kennedy had started the season as a reserve, only being drafted into the team because Charlie George broke his ankle in Arsenal’s opening match of the season, but the youngster finished the campaign as Arsenal’s top scorer with 26 goals in all competitions. “I am expecting to be dropped any minute,” he said during the season.
There was barely any time for Kennedy and his teammates to celebrate winning the title – the club’s first in 18 years – as the FA Cup final was just five days away. It was Arsenal’s 64th match of a gruelling season, but manager Bertie Mee stuck to a winning formula in selecting the same XI as he had done for the crucial league encounter at White Hart Lane. Their stamina was to be severely tested by the energy-sapping Wembley pitch, the warm weather and the half hour of extra time.
After a goalless 90 minutes, Steve Heighway scored for Liverpool in the first minute of extra-time and it looked as if Arsenal had blown their chance to emulate their local rivals. The Liverpool manager seemed to think so, as Hugh McIlvanney noted in his report for the Observer: “Bill Shankly rose from the Liverpool bench to make victory salutes to his followers and the Cup did indeed seem to be on the way north again.”
But this Arsenal team was made of stern stuff and they drew level 10 minutes later through a scrappy goal. George Graham claimed it, fooling the commentators, but it was later clarified that Eddie Kelly had touched the ball last, making him the first substitute to score in an FA Cup final. Arsenal’s winner – a magnificent strike from George that flew past Liverpool goalkeeper Ray Clemence – also made a little bit of history. It remains the only time a team has gone behind in extra-time and come back to win the game before full-time.
George’s flamboyant celebration after his goal has become one of the iconic images of FA Cup history. Although he later pointed out that he did not collapse on the turf with his arms outstretched to attract the cameras. He was simply exhausted after 111 minutes of football: “I fell down because I didn’t have another drop of energy left in me,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking I ought to do something that people will remember. I was just fucking knackered.”
Shankly could not hide his bitter disappointment after the match. “We had the game won when Heighway scored his goal,” he said afterwards. “It was all over. I would have laid odds of four to one against Arsenal scoring. In a position such as that I thought nobody could beat us.” Despite the defeat at Wembley, thousands of Liverpool fans lined the streets of the city to welcome the team home. Shankly made a rousing speech on the steps of St George’s Hall in praise of the supporters, saying. “Since I came here to Liverpool and to Anfield, I’ve drummed into our players time and again that they are privileged to play for you and, if they didn’t believe me, they believe me now.”
Mee was somewhat overwhelmed by his team’s achievement. “I know we have done the Double, but at the moment it is too much to take in,” he said. “I wanted the boys to win the Cup for Frank McLintock [the Arsenal captain, who was also voted the football writers’ player of the year that season]. The league championship was for my chairman Denis Hill-Wood. For myself? I wouldn’t mind the European Cup next season. ”
Mee did not get this wish in the European Cup. Arsenal lost home and away to Ajax in the fourth round of the competition in 1972, Kennedy scoring their only goal as they lost 3-1 on aggregate. Soon Kennedy and George – the two players who had scored those decisive goals in the final week of the season in 1971 – left the club. George, who was born in Islington and had only ever played for Arsenal, fell out with Mee a few times as his rebellious nature rubbed against the disciplinarian manager.
George was a cocky character. According to McLintock, when he first joined the club he would often wander into the dressing room and greet the senior pros as “wankers”. His mouth got him into the odd scrape. In the season after Arsenal won the Double, he was suspended a couple of times for various misdemeanours, including head-butting Kevin Keegan, who joined Liverpool after the 1971 FA Cup final.
George’s most infamous indiscretion came when he celebrated scoring a goal at the Baseball Ground by joyously flicking a V-sign to the Derby supporters. As his problems grew and his form dipped, he was dropped and eventually placed on the transfer list. In July 1975 he moved to Derby, where he had already acquainted himself with the fans.
Kennedy was Arsenal’s top scorer again in both the 1971-72 and 1973-74 seasons, attracting the attention of Liverpool, who signed him for £200,000 in the summer of 1974. The day he arrived at the club coincided with Shankly’s departure but Kennedy achieved an astonishing level of success under Shankly’s successor Bob Paisley. Unlike Arsenal, Kennedy did go on to win the European Cup, lifting the trophy in 1977, 1978 and 1981. Ultimately, the European glory that Mee had craved was to be the preserve of the player he had drafted in as a temporary replacement.