Wenger and his players in street brawl

June 23, 2011

Written by dandan

Imagine the consequences if Arsène actually did do such a thing today, no doubt the sky would fall on his head. But that is exactly what happened to Bertie Mee the then Arsenal manager as he left a restaurant in Rome after an Inter City Fairs Cup, first leg tie against Lazio.

Back in 1970 it was usual for both teams to share a meal after the game and this they did. The match itself had already been marred by an over aggressive Lazio side not only sliding right through the Arsenal players from behind in the tackle, taking  the man out, with or without  the ball.  They were experts also at elbowing or  pinching  under the arm when supposedly helping players to their feet, but worse of all spitting, all the tricks in the book came out that night. The Arsenal side had however kept their nerve and battled to a 2 x 2 away draw and left the field happy that Lazio now had to come to Highbury for the second leg.

The players changed and went to the restaurant for the post match meal by coach, which was then parked outside  in a very narrow road waiting to return them later, to the hotel.

During the meal as the players enjoyed a glass of wine it became apparent that tempers on the Italian side were not calming down, away goals counted double and they knew the task that awaited them in London.

Ray Kennedy was the first of the Arsenal players to leave the restaurant and was immediately set upon by 3 Lazio players. Geordie Armstrong and Bob Mcnab saw what was happening, yelled back to those following and pitched in closely followed by George Graham and Frank Mclintock. The rest of the Lazio team were now also involved and the melee grew bigger as the more of the Arsenal squad left the restaurant and were joined by coach Done Howe, George Wright the physio and Bertie Mee as they fought their way to the bus.

McLintock who lost his gold watch in the punch up,says Mee was not rated very highly by a number of the players as he was a typical stiff upper lip, ex Army PI instructor type, a real martinet and disciplinarian. But the sight of this little guy getting stuck in alongside his players did him no harm in the popularity stakes.

The police helped restore order and the players left for the hotel bruised and blooded but swearing revenge at Highbury, as they sought to hold onto the trophy they had won the year before.  Two weeks later in front of the most hostile crowd I have ever been part of, they duly won 2 0, only to lose to Cologne in a later round before, going on to do the league and cup double.

Lazio’s punishment for their loutish behaviour, a small fine, some things never change it would seem.

Incidentally it could be at this match that an Arsenal institution first saw the light of day, as Dennis Hill-Wood when asked about the street fighting, said I didn’t actually see anything . I wondered where that came from?