Arsenal’s success in 1979 FA Cup final helps fill blanks in childhood memory
- Credit: PA
This week marked the 41st anniversary of Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Manchester United in the 1979 FA Cup final, arguably one of the most thrilling in the long history of the competition.
Born in the summer of 1974, I was too young then to know much about that historic May 12 clash – my brother’s second birthday may well have taken centre stage! – and unable to recall any vivid memories.
So it was great to see ITV show highlights of a true classic at the weekend, allowing for some interesting observations.
Arsenal’s staff were sporting pale blue pastel suits on that Wembley day, while many of the players boasted the big hairstyles of the time and goalkeepers Pat Jennings and Gary Bailey saw no need for gloves.
United made a bright start and Joe Jordan headed over from a corner after a clash of heads with Willie Young, left bloodied by the blow and allowed to wear a gold chain beneath his shirt.
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But Arsenal opened the scoring after a great crossfield run by Liam Brady, before Frank Stapleton picked out David Price in the box to skip past a defender and pull the ball back for Brian Talbot to turn home, or was it Alan Sunderland?
Players appeared to be losing their footing quite a lot and Jennings saved from Micky Thomas and Jordan, while more desperate defending denied United at a corner.
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It was somewhat surprising to hear Liverpool’s anthemic ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ start to ring around Wembley, before Graham Rix had a low shot saved by Bailey and Pat Rice was booked for obstructing Sammy McIlroy in the United half.
Jordan headed over, then clattered into Sammy Nelson but escaped a booking, and Jimmy Greenhoff fired just over.
Stapleton’s overhead kick from a Nelson cross was just too high, but Lou Macari headed straight at Jennings and McQueen had an effort from a corner ruled out, having used his hand to beat the Arsenal keeper.
Arsenal then doubled their lead on a counter-attack as Talbot found Brady, who beat two men in the box and crossed right-footed for Stapleton to head home.
Commentator Brian Moore noted it was: “The first real genuine flash of Brady. A telling thrust and beautiful cross.”
United started the second half brightly, with McQueen heading over from a corner and Rice then clearing off the line.
But Brady played a lovely ball to Rix, whose deep cross found Stapleton to send a header off the legs of Bailey as Sunderland lurked at the far post as well.
Jennings tipped over a Macari header, then saw Steve Coppell fire a shot on the turn straight at him after Stapleton had an angled effort held around the hour mark.
Another Arsenal counter saw Rice deliver a cross towards a diving Sunderland, only for Jimmy Nicoll to hook the ball clear as co-commentator Brian Clough noted: “Typical Arsenal break, magnificent football.”
Price – “a quite unspectaculr player but he gets through a fair day’s work” – was replaced by substitute Steve Walford late on, but United hit back with four minutes left as Coppell’s free-kick reached Jordan, who turned the ball back into the middle of the box for McQueen to sweep home.
“Are we in for an amazing upheaval?” asked Moore, who sounded like he might be partial to a United victory.
Seconds later, Coppell’s ball over the top found McIlroy, who beat O’Leary and Walford and scuffed a shot in off the far post to level.
“Arsenal were preparing their victory speeches, now their dumbstruck. What an amazing turnaround,” gushed Moore.
But virtually straight from the restart, the ball reached Brady inside the United half and he stabbed it out to Rix, whose deep cross cleared Bailey and was put in by Sunderland, another seen to be wearing a gold chain, to bring the cup back to Highbury.
“An incredible turnabout. Arsenal worked hard, Manchester United helped to make it one of the best cup finals I’ve seen for years,” said Clough.
Players were seen being told to wait to swap shirts after the formalities, yet Stapleton and Brady were still in United colours behind Rice, who was playing in the fourth of his five FA Cup finals for the club over the course of a decade.
Arsenal: Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price (Walford), Rix.