For this classic match we go back to Arsenal’s worst ever season since World War Two. This game would turn out to be the biggest highlight of the campaign..
Date: Saturday 20 March 1976
Competition: Football League Division One
Referee: Kevin McNally (Hooton, Cheshire)
Ball 2 minutes, 30 (penalty), Armstrong 33, Kidd 44, 52, 80.
West Ham United 1
Arsenal came into this game undefeated in their previous five games which had pulled them clear of the threat of relegation. However, even the most positive fans would not have predicted what they were about to witness against a West Ham team that had led the First Division in the early part of the season.
Arsenal were quick off the mark when Alan Ball fired home across the face of Mervyn Day’s goal after George Armstrong had allowed a Sammy Nelson cross to run on to him. Ball had the opportunity to double Arsenal’s lead a few minutes later when Arsenal were awarded a penalty after Brian Kidd had been brought down by Tommy Taylor. However, Day guessed right and saved Ball’s spot-kick.
The Hammers soon got their act together and eventually equalized in the 23rd minute. Alan Taylor ran at the Arsenal defence and pushed the ball out to Trevor Brooking on the left who floated a cross in for Billy Jennings whose header left Jimmy Rimmer flat-footed.
Arsenal then took control in a fashion that the home fans had seen far too infrequently over recent seasons. After 31 minutes Kidd was again brought down in the penalty area, and Ball made no mistake this time, placing the ball just wide of Day.
From the re-start, John Radford chased down Kevin Lock, forcing him to lose possession. Armstrong picked up the loose ball just outside the penalty, cut inside and shot from the edge of the area to score Arsenal’s third.
Shortly before half-time Kidd put the game beyond doubt. A free-kick from Liam Brady was headed against the bar by Radford but Kidd reacted quickly to nod the ball over the line before Day clawed it out.
Seven minutes into the second half Kidd scored his second, steering an Armstrong cross past Day from six yards out.
West Ham then made a rare sortie into Arsenal’s half and Rimmer was forced into an acrobatic save from a thumping Frank Lampard volley.
Kidd seemed determined to grab a hat-trick but was twice denied: the first time by an offside decision, and the second by the bar having been set up by Radford following Ball’s tenacity in midfield.
It finally came in the 80th minute when Ball intercepted a poor goal-kick and fed Kidd with the perfect through ball. Arsenal’s top scorer made no mistake, scoring the perfect hat-trick: a header and one with each foot.
Arsenal: J Rimmer, P Rice (substitute: F Stapleton), S Nelson, T Ross, T Mancini, R Powling, G Armstrong, A Ball, J Radford, B Kidd, L Brady.
West Ham United: M Day, K Coleman (substitute: M McGiven), F Lampard, B Bonds, T Taylor, K Lock, A Taylor, A Curbishley, B Jennings, T Brooking, K Robson.
Brian Kidd when asked if he was worried that he wouldn’t score his hat-trick: “The lads were making that many chances for me I was confident it was going to come.”
Frank Lampard: “How can I analyse that? I was part of it. Maybe it had something to do with reaction to last Wednesday’s game. But there can be no excuses for it. They might have scored eight.”
Facts linked to the match or players:
This was the first time Arsenal had scored six goals in a game since September 1970.
Alan Ball had woken up on the morning of the game with a headache and took some aspirin. He then realised that they were actually sleeping pills! He was sat in a cold bath in dressing rooms before the game trying to wake himself up, which, judging by his performance, worked perfectly.
This was Brian Kidd’s second hat-trick for the Gunners, his first came in the previous season against York in an FA Cup tie.
General manager Ron Greenwood was in charge, as team manager John Lyall was away scouting for an upcoming European Cup-Winners’ Cup match. Greenwood knew Highbury well as he was assistant manager at Arsenal from 1957 prior to taking on the West Ham manager role in 1961.
The rest of the season:
Arsenal would eventually finish 17th, their worst league position since 1925. They never featured in the top half of the table from October onwards.
West Ham had topped the table after 15 games but then had a spectacular fall from grace gaining just 14 points from the remaining 27 games and they finished one place below the Gunners on goal average.
Arsenal also failed to progress past the first hurdle of both domestic trophies for the only time in their history, losing to Everton in the League Cup and Wolves in the FA Cup.
Shortly after this game, Bertie Mee announced that he would step down as manager at the end of the season, and there were emotional scenes following the final home game against Ipswich when, despite the poor season, he was given a rousing reception from the Arsenal fans.
West Ham had the consolation of reaching the European Cup-Winners’ Cup final but lost to Anderlecht.
Facts relating to the Season:
This was the last season that goal average was used to determine the position of teams finishing level on points in the League. Goal difference was adopted for the 1976-77 season, a system originally proposed by Arsenal seven years earlier.
Background to the article
This season we’ve been asked to write a regular page in the official Arsenal programme based on a classic match featuring the opponents for each game we play in. Programme editor Andy Exley has kindly given us permission to reproduce the match reports on our blog. We will also be including additional material that didn’t make the final edit of the programme. If you can’t get to The Emirates, the programme is available on iPad, iPod and android for a bargain 79 pence per issue.
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- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches