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Arsenal’s Fairs Cup triumph at 50: Bob Wilson on facing Johan Cruyff and beating Ajax to reach the final

PUBLISHED: 12:08 28 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:09 28 April 2020

Action from Arsenal Fairs Cup semi-final second leg against Ajax. Picture: Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia Commons

Action from Arsenal Fairs Cup semi-final second leg against Ajax. Picture: Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia Commons

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To celebrate 50 years since Arsenal won the 1970 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the Islington Gazette spoke to Bob Wilson about his memories of winning the trophy. In part four, he remembers how the Gunners beat Ajax to reach the final and facing off against the great Johan Cruyff.

Action from Arsenal Fairs Cup semi-final second leg against Ajax. Picture: Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia CommonsAction from Arsenal Fairs Cup semi-final second leg against Ajax. Picture: Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia Commons

Arsenal were into the last-four. A first European title and the end of their 17-year trophy was just four games away, but that wasn’t on the mind of Bob Wilson as the squad’s worst nightmare was waiting in the next round.

“I don’t think winning it ever came into our minds because we were looking at the best European side by a million miles at that time in the form of Ajax.

“At that time, they were just a law unto themselves. You could see how exciting they were in the manner they played. We had our eye on trying to avoid Ajax until the final.”

Instead of facing them in the final, the Gunners would have to beat the Dutch giants in the semi-finals.

Action from Arsenal Fairs Cup semi-final second leg against Ajax. Picture: Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia CommonsAction from Arsenal Fairs Cup semi-final second leg against Ajax. Picture: Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia Commons

Ajax were led by the great Johan Cruyff and facing off against the future three-time Ballon d’Or winner created a mixture of feelings for Wilson.

“I was excited to be up against him because he was the best in the world at that time, and a little bit scared because I knew what he was capable of,” said the goalkeeper.

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“He was like a greyhound. He’d go from zero to 100 in the space of seconds and he had all the tricks. There was certainly an element of fear.”

Action from Arsenal Fairs Cup semi-final second leg against Ajax. Picture: Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia CommonsAction from Arsenal Fairs Cup semi-final second leg against Ajax. Picture: Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia Commons

Such was Ajax’s quality, they would go on to win the European Cup the following season, but on the night of April 8, 1970 Arsenal were just too good as a brace from Charlie George and a Jon Sammels goal secured a shock 3-0 win at Highbury.

“That game at Highbury was extraordinary,” recalled Wilson.

“When you think of the players and the reputation they had it was incredible to win 3-0. The biggest thing was that they didn’t score so they didn’t have the away goal.”

Ajax won the second leg 1-0, but the Gunners were through to the final and that game in Amsterdam brings back fond memories for Wilson.

“We knew it would be a siege in Amsterdam, but personally it was one of my favourite games I played in,” said the Scotland international.

“The pressure was constant, but to actually hold that side down to scoring just one goal was brilliant.

“There was massive anxiety going into that game, but at the end of it, the joy of actually winning it made it so memorable.”


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