After the Second World War George Allison remained in charge at Arsenal. Some players also remained, but it was blatant for all to see that the 1930’s magic that had won us 5 League titles and 2 FA Cups, was long gone. And the loss of key players to retirement – Cliff Bastin and Ted Drake – added to the burden. Finishing 13th in the 1946/47 campaign epitomised this.
Allison, now in his mid-60s, decided to retire after that campaign. His assistant, Tom Whitaker, took up the reigns the effect was immediate. The 1947/48 season saw Arsenal win the League, finishing seven points ahead of Manchester United. Two more years down the line and we would also win the FA Cup once, beating Liverpool 2-0 in the final.
Before retiring, Allison’s last major contribution at Arsenal was bringing Joe Mercer to the club. The bandy-legged left-half would turn out to be an inspired signing, going on to make 275 appearances for Arsenal before suffering a double fracture of his leg in a collision with teammate Joe Wade against Liverpool on April 10, 1954.
However that 1950 FA Cup Final was perhaps his finest hour for Arsenal. Mercer had not moved to London after his transfer to Highbury, but instead retained his grocer’s shop in Wallesey, and commuting down for games. He trained with Liverpool during the week, but as the Final approached he inevitably had to sit out certain sessions.
Whitaker’s side became a major force during the early 1950s, and a lot of this was down to Mercer’s flare. Arsenal were contending for the double for almost the entirety of the 1951/52 season, but lost out at the last breath, finishing four points off champions Manchester United, and losing to Newcastle United in the FA Cup final – which could have been a different story had Wally Barnes not picked up an injury early on, a time where there were no substitutes, and Barnes was a passenger for the rest of the game, or in other words, of no use.
Whitaker’s Arsenal did manage to recover the following season, winning the title by the narrowest margin in history. Another record for the Gunners. Arsenal and Preston both ended the season with identical records and we took the honours by 0.099 of a goal on goal average.
Unfortunately it was Arsenal’s last trophy for 17 whole years. Whitaker’s team grew old and he could not attract quality names to his team. He himself was also growing old, dying in late 1956. The club attempted a new idea with stalwart players as managers – Jack Crayston and George Swindin. Neither could reignite Arsenal’s glory days, with our strongest finish in the entire 17 years, being third.
A change of stance saw Billy Wright appointed manager, in 1962. Previously he was a magnificent captain of Wolves, but also England, not to mention that he was a boyhood Arsenal fan. Nonetheless he had little experience as a manger anHe had been a wonderful captain of Wolves and England (plus a boyhood Arsenal fan) but he had little experience in a managerial role. The side hardly competed under Wright, but he did sign Bob Wilson, Frank McLintock and Joe Baker. The club’s youth team also won the FA Youth Cup in 1966. The seeds of the Double side were being sown.
Bertie Mee the architect of that triumph, took over from Wright that same year. He was formerly the club’s physio, and his first actions were to bring through the likes of Pat Rice, John Radford, Ray Kennedy and Charlie George. This side would end the 60s losing successive League Cup finals.
However, much greater glory lay just ahead.