Arsenal League Cup memories: Bob Wilson recalls ‘Horse of the Year’ Wembley pitch after Swindon Town shocked Gunners in 1969
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In the week of the Carabao Cup final read our series detailing previous Arsenal League Cup finals by talking to the people who were there. We spoke to Gunners legend Bob Wilson who kindly shared his memories of one of the biggest giantkilling acts in the history of English football as third division Swindon Town upset the odds by beating the North Londoners 3-1 in the 1969 Wembley showpiece.
Speaking exclusively to the Islington Gazette, Bob, who launched the much-loved Willow Foundation, and who is ambassador for The Arsenal Foundation, shared his memories of that fateful day etched in the club’s history half a century ago.
Bob recalled it was in the aftermath of Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat by Leeds United in the 1968 League Cup final that the then number one keeper Jim Furnell made a mistake in a league game a week later, which helped launch Wilson’s career.
“Jim, bless him, used to make some brilliant saves then he’d drop one in.
“He let in a really silly goal in the last minute of an FA Cup tie at Highbury against Birmingham [in March 1968] when he caught it then dropped it and we drew the game.
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“I came in for the replay which we lost but that was me in from that moment, apart from injury. In the 68-69 season that led up to the Swindon game in the League Cup final, all the chat was ‘Arsenal to buy new goalkeeper’.
“I found out from Frank McLintock Bertie Mee bless him was trying to sign Gordon Banks from Leicester but this was years later when Frank revealed it.
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“I would never have had a career if they had. What happened then was that I played in the opening game of the season at of all places White Hart Lane. I had an absolute blinder. Again, that shows you the difference with goalkeepers.
“There are two positions on the pitch where you can be a nobody or a second hand piece of furniture because I’d been there since 1963. The first six weeks of that season it was ‘Where has this guy come from? ‘He’s been here for three years why has he not played before?’
“It’s because I wasn’t ready, I didn’t know the game. It kicked off that season which ultimately led to Wembley and the League Cup final.
“That defeat, well, Swindon were better than us but we played on a pitch you would never be allowed to play on now.
“It was Horse of the Year show two days before and when we arrived they were trying to suck the water off the pitch.
“That is one excuse and the other is that we had a flu epidemic. Five players were flu ridden but having said that, on the day it was nightmare.
“I still say, having lost to Leeds the year before in the League Cup final and then that taking it up to 17 years without a trophy at this great club, we made a couple of personnel changes and as a group we said ‘We’ll prove you wrong. We aren’t far away. We will show you we can do it.’
“I still say that Swindon defeat, albeit traumatic, especially in the newspapers afterwards allowed us to prove them wrong. We won the Fairs Cup the following year, the first European trophy, the year after we won the double and either first or second in every major competition. It was the change, right up till 73-74 when I decided I had to pack it in.”
To learn more about the Willow Foundation visit www.willowfoundation.org.uk.
For more on The Arsenal Foundation visit www.arsenal.com/thearsenalfoundation.
Bob is also backing a wonderful book called Glove Story, the Number 1 book for every goalkeeper past and present - which supports Willow. Buy it on Amazon now.