By Dave Faber
Three points secured the previous day, the clocks have gone back so it is dark early. What do you do on the longest Sunday evening for six months? This Gooner reached for the dvd of our first double season, 1970-71.
The triumphs that season were made all the more remarkable by the fact that the club went into the season with a squad of seventeen players, which they did not supplement at any stage. Astonishing as after the opening day of the League season they had three players out with long term injuries. Of the other fourteen one, the reserve goalkeeper Geoff Barnett, did not make a single appearance all season. Two others, Peter Marinello and Sammy Nelson, started just one and three matches in the campaign. You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out that the other eleven were pretty busy for a while. And we think we are down to the bare bones now.
On 21st November 1970 we welcomed central defender Peter Simpson and midfielder Jon Sammels back into the team for the first time in what would become an historic season. At Ipswich we secured a one-nil win courtesy of Geordie Armstrong’s second-half strike, but more importantly we now had more than a dozen outfield players to pick from. Sammels, scorer of the clincher in the previous season’s European Fairs Cup triumph was a welcome addition to a functional midfield shorn of his passing ability and fierce shot.
A week later Jon featured again in a 2-0 win over Liverpool but was substituted by George Graham, who went on to score. There were mutterings in the crowd now used to seeing Peter Storey and Eddie Kelly battling whoever wanted to stop us playing, while George Graham strolled forward to telling affect and Geordie Armstrong supplied a stream of crosses on which the twin battering rams of John Radford and Ray Kennedy feasted.
It seemed that Jon was contesting a place with ‘Gorgeous George’, and although more skilful the former was struggling to regain match fitness. Graham’s goals gave him the edge although he too did not enjoy universal acclaim from a tough Highbury crowd frustrated at both for a perceived casual approach at times.
"It seemed that Jon was contesting a place with ‘Gorgeous George’, and although more skilful the former was struggling to regain match fitness"
Jon missed the next match, a 4-0 romp against Beveren Waas, but replaced George again for the impressive 2-0 defeat of Manchester City at Maine Road. There followed a run of seventeen matches when Bertie Mee decided to go for a blend of beauty and the beast where Jon replaced Eddie Kelly in the starting line-up. At the start of February Charlie George, who had broken his ankle on the opening day of the season, returned in an FA Cup replay against Portsmouth. George Graham lost the number eleven shirt and Jon held on to his place until a Fairs Cup nightmare against Cologne in March.The boo boys got to him and the more prolific scorer returned to the team.
He would not start a game in an Arsenal shirt again, although ironically in the next match, at Crystal Palace when he was dropped to the bench, he came on to score a typical Sammels strike in a 2-0 win. That was his last goal for the club. He made two further appearances from the bench, firstly in the FA Cup semi-final which Peter Storey turned round single-handedly against Stoke, and finally at the end of April in a 2-2 draw at West Bromwich which I attended.
I wish I had known I wouldn’t see him in red and white again. In the wake of the Fairs Cup Final triumph a year earlier I had written to him asking for advice on striking a football (he had the fiercest shot on him) and how to improve my game. I didn’t expect a response, and certainly not a hand-written one that stretched to four pages of velum. I was already a fan, but at thirteen I was understandably overwhelmed at his kindness.
As the double was secured Jon had already decided he could no longer accept his treatment from the segment of the Highbury crowd who had turned on him. Bob Wilson was quoted in Jon Spurling’s excellent Highbury: The Story Of Arsenal In N5 thus,
“Jon was my room-mate and the night before the FA Cup final, he was seriously choked up. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for him to miss out on the climax to the Double season, after he’d been at Highbury all those years. You hate to hear one of your team-mates receiving criticism from the crowd. Fans have a much bigger influence on players than they think.”
It the ensuing summer Jimmy Bloomfield, an experienced player at Arsenal when the teenage Sammels surfaced, paid £100,000 to take him to Leicester, where Jon would stay for seven seasons as a mainstay of what many Foxes supporters would argue to be their most exciting side. Many Arsenal supporters would care to remember what had gone before.
A boyhood Arsenal supporter in his native Suffolk, Jon joined Arsenal as a 16 year old in 1961. He made his debut at 17 and scored in a 2-3 defeat at Blackpool. He finally established himself in the 1965-66 season, sharing the playmaking duties with George Eastham, an England international. In November of that season Arsenal played a Brazil XI, preparing for the World Cup tournament won by England the following summer. Jon scored in each half as Arsenal beat the reigning world champions 2-0.
With Eastham’s departure Jon became the Gunners playmaker and soon found himself surrounded with familiar faces as Bertie Mee increasingly gave responsibility to the youth assembled largely around the Billy Wright era. Bob Wilson, Peter Storey, Peter Simpson, John Radford, Geordie Armstrong. He won admirers as a stylish passer with good control in either foot and a devastating shot. I was in the Clock End in 1969 when he slammed the goal of the season past Manchester United’s Alex Stepney from over thirty yards out. I can see it today. A special memory.
That season ended with his glorious chest down and cross shot inside the far post against Anderlecht, thus securing the first trophy my generation saw the Arsenal win. For that reason alone he would live in the memory, but the man who went on to become a driving instructor in Leicester (let that sink in David Bentley and your ilk) will always be fondly remembered by most who saw him proudly wearing the cannon on his chest.
So sad that an ignorant few deprived us of a talent that may have helped us avoid the all too quick return to temporary mediocrity so soon after that double triumph.