'It was as good a cross as I ever hit'

The Big Interview - Bob McNab

It's 45 years since Arsenal lifted the Fairs Cup following victory over Anderlecht in the final of the competition.

The Gunners met the Belgian outfit over two legs in 1970, recovering from a 3-1 first leg defeat in Brussels to lift the trophy with a tremendous 3-0 victory at Highbury.

It was the club's first silverware since the 1953 FA Cup triumph, ending a barren run of 17 years. It proved the catalyst for further success too - the following season Bertie Mee's men won the league and FA Cup double for the first time.

The regular Arsenal left-back at that time was BOB McNAB, who played 366 times for the Gunners between 1966 and 1975.

We caught up with Bob at the home Champions League game against Anderlecht - the first time the teams had met in London since that unforgettable night in April 1970.

"It was a great group of lads so we had fun that night celebrating. We had had the League Cup final defeats in the previous two years, which were annoying to be honest, but now we felt we were on the right road after winning the Fairs Cup"

Bob, what are your memories of the 1970 Fairs Cup final?
From my perspective, my main memory is that I made the second goal with my cross. It was as good a cross as I ever hit. I saw it on TV a couple of years ago for the first time. It was interesting because in my mind's eye George Graham had fed me a great ball, I'd timed my run and bent the cross in first time to the near post where Raddy scored. But when I actually watched it I realised that George had played the pass a bit outside me, which was actually better because it meant it was easier for me to cross it for a header. The ball was still moving, and on the old playing surfaces we had, the ball was always bobbling and bouncing, so you virtually had to volley your crosses. But I had to go wide to receive George's pass, which meant the ball had almost stopped and was easier to cross. I surprised myself by hitting it perfectly and there was Raddy to head it in at the far post. A fabulous header. Then Sammy got the last goal later.

How good was that Anderlecht side?
Very, very good. Jan Mulder hit the post when it was 2-0 in the second leg. I would say he was one of the best players we ever played against. What a great forward. They were a very good team in fact. They had beaten Inter Milan in the semi-finals, and this competition at the time was very difficult to win, because only the champions played in the European Cup, so the second, third and fourth best team in each country played in the Fairs Cup. We beat Ajax in the semi-finals, then they went on to win the European Cup in each of the next two seasons, with Johan Cruyff and the rest.

How despondent were the team after losing the first leg 3-1 in Belgium?
Well Ray Kennedy scored late on in Belgium and quite honestly that elevated us. Frank McLintock came in the dressing room after the game and was telling us all to get our heads up. Frank was a remarkable captain. He'd had a tough night, playing against Mulder, but he forgot about that and put the team first, telling everyone we could still do it in the second game. 

What was the night at Highbury like?
Oh it was a great night. I got off the field quite quickly at the end, but Bob Wilson and Frank ran around with the cup. I don't know how they got it, I don't remember too much of the presentation to be honest - the crowd invaded the field. It was a great group of lads so we had fun that night celebrating. We had had the League Cup final defeats in the previous two years, which were annoying to be honest, but now we felt we were on the right road after winning the Fairs Cup.


Fairs Cup 1970

Fairs Cup 1970


The team then went on to win the double the following season. How good was that side?
Well people called us a defensive side, but that irks me a bit because no one attacked from full-back more than me and Pat Rice. We used to bomb forward. The team really came together at that point. We only had six goals against us in 21 games at home in the league in 1970/71 - that shows as well how many teams came and 'parked the bus' as they say now. So we can't just have been defensive, we had to break teams down. We won 4-0 against Man United that season, 4-0 against Everton, there was a 6-2 as well. The other thing that people never remember is that we had no natural centre-halves. Peter Simpson was basically a midfield player and Frank McLintock, as everyone knows, was also converted from midfield. That was very useful, especially in Europe, because it meant our defenders could come forward and play.

Did the team feel under much pressure prior to the Fairs Cup win, having gone 17 years without a trophy?
I think we did, especially with the League Cup situation when we lost the 1969 final to Swindon. I've always said I'd rather be lucky than good, and anyone who watches the film of that game will know what I mean. The media gave us stick because it suited their agenda. We had 15 corners to Swindon's one in the 90 minutes, yet it was called a victory for attacking football. I was camped out in their half the whole game. I was one of five of our players who had been in bed ill until the Thursday, so once it went to extra-time we were gone. I could run all day but I'd done so much forward running, and it was the most unplayable field I'd ever played on. It didn't stop raining all week beforehand. We went to see the pitch on the Friday and they had about 50 industrial heaters on there in an attempt to dry it out. I'll never forget, before kick off I was on the red carpet, then I stepped back onto the pitch and the water went over my ankles and into my boots. I always hated that. What a day! Yet we battered them in truth.

How difficult was it to bounce back from that disappointment?
Well it was, but some people used it as motivation. As a group we wanted to put it right. You saw that two years later when we played Liverpool in the FA Cup Final. We went behind in extra-time but we went forward again and battered them. We certainly had a great resolve in the team, but we didn't really talk about it much.


John Radford scores in the Fairs Cup final

John Radford scores in the Fairs Cup final


How different do you think the modern game is compared to your era?
Well I would love to play on the pitches nowadays - they are perfect. They play on better surfaces in January than we played on in August. I've often said that the greatest leveler between two sides is the playing surface. Other teams used to flood their pitch before we played them. We would adapt our game to the pitch each weekend. Dave Sexton, our coach at the time, introduced 'forechecking' which now they just call pressing. But we started that under Dave Sexton and it came from him watching ice hockey, he introduced it to football. It worked especially well on the terrible pitches.

Finally, what are you up to now Bob?
I'm retired now, living in America. We're fortunate to live in a beautiful place. I still watch the football though, we get an early game on the Saturday, and if you want you can spend your whole weekend watching English football in America. There are five or six games on TV, even some from the Championship, so it's very popular. The Italian, Spanish and German games are on too. The MLS is doing really well too.

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