Yeovil Town 0-3 Arsenal
January 6, 1971
By Rob Kelly
The memory is still fresh in Bob Wilson’s mind, 42 years on. “We wanted to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. I am a grass-roots football person, I am a supporter of teams like Yeovil, but it was incredibly satisfying to win that game. We were wound up, but wound up in the right manner. We really wanted to stuff them.”
One man had dominated the headlines in the build-up to Arsenal’s FA Cup third-round clash at Huish in January 1971. Yeovil chairman Norman Burfield, a larger than life character, had sought to get under the skin of his side’s illustrious opponents in the days before the tie by denigrating the two oldest members of the Gunners team, Frank McLintock and Wilson. He poured scorn on the former’s age and suggested Wilson’s reactions were on the wane. It did not go down well in the marble halls of Highbury.
“His big quotes were that Frank should be retired and was an old man, and that I was ‘famously slow to fast balls’,” Wilson told Arsenal.com. “I have never heard a quote like it before or since! I suppose he was trying to say I had very slow reactions but the one thing I could not be accused of was being slow. He went to town and got all the publicity under the sun but we had to be professional.
“However, when we got to the ground he was waiting there for us when our coach drew up outside the entrance to the dressing rooms. He wanted to shake our hands, to which Frank said there was ‘no ******* way’ he was shaking hands with him! Maybe a few did, but I remember completely ignoring him. It was just a wind-up job.”
While the 1970/71 campaign would end in glory for Arsenal, it had hardly seemed likely at the start of the season. They had finished the previous year in 12th place and had averaged just one point per game, but Bertie Mee’s side started strongly and came into their match at Yeovil on the back of a 13-game unbeaten run in the league.
“When the third-round draw was made, the general feeling among many people seemed to be, ‘Oh there you go, Arsenal are through' but as a player you don't think like that at all,” Wilson continues. “We were pleased we had not drawn Leeds, but we also knew full well that there was huge pressure on us to win that game. Anything other than a win, even a draw, would have been seen as a disaster.
“Even though we were doing OK in the league, we were not leading by any stretch of the imagination. Leeds were storming away with it and when we drew Yeovil in the cup, it was all about the fact the mighty Arsenal would be playing on their dreaded sloping pitch.
“It sloped from touchline to touchline and when you headed out of the stand you were looking upwards - the slope was actually up above us! It was very, very tricky to play on a pitch like that, especially against a side who knew how to cope with the conditions. When I walked out, I thought 'Oh my God' as it was like nothing I had played on before.
“But [assistant manager] Don Howe did something great that day. Whereas now you might go out on to the pitch 45 minutes before kick off to warm up, we never did so in those days. We just warmed up in the dressing room.
“But that day Don said we were going out there because he needed me particularly to get used to the pitch. He said the balls struck from the top side would be totally different from those struck from the bottom side. In other words, any ball struck into the box from the top side, he wanted me to just get a touch on it because it would fly off down the hill. It was a big help.”
Despite all the pre-match drama, once the game got underway Arsenal made their superiority count as John Radford’s brace and a Ray Kennedy strike helped them ease into the next round.
“Yeovil were at their home ground, which was very much a leveller, but we had a side that was the perfect jigsaw,” Wilson says. “We had one free spirit, which was Charlie George, but he didn't play that day. We were efficient, everyone knew their jobs and we were very disciplined. It was a perfect fit of individuals for the roles that they played.
“But until you score that first goal or get a few up, you are always going to be a bit anxious. However, we were very professional that day and the game was dead pretty early on. I don't remember having a difficult save to make to be honest. We didn't humiliate them in any way, but they never looked like they would cause a shock.”
Arsenal went on to defeat Portsmouth, Manchester City, Leicester, Stoke and Liverpool on an amazing FA Cup run than culminated in the Club’s first-ever Double. But it was the memory of a publicity-hungry chairman, a sloping pitch and an ultimately satisfying win against Southern League Yeovil that still brings out the competitor in Bob Wilson.Copyright 2015 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source