Alex Ferguson Gunned Down

● Saturday 5th August 1967 Kick-Off 3pm


1963-64: 8th Division 1.
1964-65: 13th Division 1, Shock FA Cup round 4 away to Peterborough.
1965-66: 14th Division 1.

In fairness to the Arsenal board it was time to act. Attendances had plummeted at Highbury during the 1965-66 season. Back to back home matches at the end of March and beginning of April against Newcastle United and West Brom attracted gates of just 13,979 and 8,738. Frank McClintock in his autobiography ‘True Grit’ recalls being able to hear the traffic outside. There was an even lower home gate in May against title challengers Leeds United. Of those Arsenal fans who still attended, many barracked the manager within earshot of the Arsenal directors and there was the ‘unArsenal’ like spectacle of fans demonstrating for Wright to be sacked outside the ground after matches. They had not just become frustrated with the poor performances, they saw players who had left the club show a vast improvement on their Arsenal form. In no small part because they were playing in better prepared and organised teams.

Billy Wright’s showbiz connections did not go down well with the crowd. His wife and her 2 Beverley Sisters watched the games and were dressed somewhat over the top and attracted a lot of publicity. The press might have enjoyed their glamorous presence at matches but the fans were distinctly unimpressed. Given the poor performances on the pitch, it gave the subconscious impression of a club not properly focussed. The manager too was suffering and the stress was getting to him, with the unedifying sight of this football legend being physically sick with worry before games. Perhaps it was in everyone’s best interest to make a change.

When the World Cup came around, Arsenal made no contribution to England’s triumph apart from Billy Wright doing some Television punditry. (How galling is it when your side is playing dreadfully and the manager is telling a TV audience how it should be done?)


Many remember this season for one of the most famous shocks in Cup football. Rangers lost to their tiny namesakes Berwick. Of course it was embarrassing, but in every League in Europe every top club has been humbled at some stage usually in an away Cup tie. If the minnows have a goalkeeper capable of brilliance, more than a touch of luck, poor playing conditions and are fit and enthusiastic such a result is always possible. Berwick were managed by goalkeeper Jock Wallace, a former Army Commando, fitness fanatic and former English Division 1 goalkeeper with West Brom. Most famously amongst the Rangers support, he was known as a fanatical Rangers supporter.

The reverse to Berwick actually galvanised the team as Rangers went on to win their next straight 9 matches. Unfortunately Rangers’ real nemesis that year was Celtic who narrowly took the title by 3 points. The rest came nowhere with Davie White’s Clyde some 9 points behind in 3rd spot. More impressive was Rangers European Cup Winners’ Cup run. They reached the final (see Talking Point) only to be edged out in extra time in Nuremberg by Bayern Munich. Many have queried Symon’s team selection that night, in particular the choice of Roger Hynd but Munich fielded an exceptional spine of Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller.

Change was afoot in the boardroom, the board was increased to 6 men and the 2 new additions were appointed for their business acumen and perhaps given their age as custodians for the next generation. John Lawrence was still chairman, the legends Morton and Brown were still there but John Wilson Junior had resigned as vice chairman and from the board in November 1966. He was replaced on the Board by successful Glasgow businessman and avid supporter Ian McLaren. The newcomer had also been a very gifted all round sportsman as a youngster and his father, one of the original shareholders in the club. For all his success he described this appointments as, “The proudest moment of my life.” Meanwhile Matthew Taylor was elevated to vice chairman and the final member of the board could have been determined by a lottery, it was David Hope.

Hope a useful goalkeeper in his youth had transformed the Rangers Lottery, some even referred to it as a miracle. At the end of the 1966-7 Season the Official Rangers Pool had a staggering 180,000 players each paying a shilling week. When he took it over 2½ years earlier there were a mere 19,000 participants. The massive number of players illustrating the wider support of Rangers in the community and that those lotteries which had the biggest jackpots gained the most players. A key factor behind the success had been the creation of an army of enthusiastic agents who had been incentivised with generous commissions especially for selling winning tickets.


Mirroring the introduction of a new generation in the boardroom, there was significant change afoot in Scot Symon’s backroom staff. By the start of the 1967-68 Season, David Kinnear had been moved sideways to Physio to accommodate outside expertise and youth in the form of Bobby Seith and Davie White.

Bobby Seith had been appointed trainer-coach during the 1966-7 season and subsequently became the manager of Preston in 1968. Bobby had the rare distinction of being part of Championship winning teams in both England with Burnley in 1960 and in Scotland with Dundee in 1962. Upon his playing retirement in 1964 he quickly earnt an excellent reputation in Dundee’s coaching set up and was hand picked to work at Ibrox.

Clyde’s player manager Davie White worked wonders on a shoestring budget getting the team into a 3rd place finish in 1967 before accepting Rangers summer invitation to become Symon’s assistant. Clearly a man of considerable potential and of whom we will hear much more.

Come the original Summer of Love, the reinvigorated Rangers board released the purse strings. Player wages were dramatically increased and Scott Symon was allowed to go on a summer spending spree. Presumably they had every confidence in their manager.

There was a strong Danish feel in defence. Goalkeeper Erik Sorensen signed for £25,000 from ‘Denmark’ Morton was strong, acrobatic and a Danish International. He linked up with former Morton and Danish teammate Kai Johansen who joined in 1965. Initially he had struggled at Ibrox as Scot Symon tried to curtail his attacking runs but soon won him over with his speed and all round defensive talents. Though he did not feature in this fixture, Rangers had also gone for some Swedish style acquiring Orjan Persson from Dundee United in a swap for Davie Wilson and Wilson Wood. Yet this was not Rangers first liaison with Scandinavian talent in the 1960’s. Therolf Beck of Iceland and nicknamed Totty joined Rangers from St Mirren in November 1964. The signing was based on his excellent performances as an opponent but he had been unable to replicate his form at Ibrox and soon returned to Iceland. In Summer 1965, Rangers made their first acquisition from Denmark Morton in Jorn Sorensen who was swapped for Craig Watson and a fee of £12,000. A highly skilled Danish International midfielder, unfortunately for him and Rangers his age was catching up with him and he lost the pace that had enabled him to dictate games and he left Ibrox after 1 year. The Scandinavian link actually goes back to 1921 when Dane, Carl Hansen joined Struth’s all conquering Rangers. In his 3 years at the club he was not able to become a regular, nevertheless in his 23 League appearances he netted 14 goals. He was fondly remembered for his baffling body swerve, ball mastery and deadly shot. When Rangers embarked on their Danish tour in 1959 he was there to meet them at the Airport. Indeed in Rangers fixture against Vejle they faced an amazingly acrobatic goalkeeper called Sorensen who despite conceding 2 goals defied the Rangers forwards time after time. Of course if you read Chapter 3 you will recall one Albert Gundmundsson of Rangers, Arsenal and AC Milan.


Mee later told Gerhard Vinnai author of Football Mania. “Some players may be exciting to watch, but the end product is what matters. I want a high level of consistency – a man who can produce it in 35 games out of 42. You can tolerate 7 indifferent performances in a season, but you cannot win championships with 22 out of 42.”

At this stage Mee had signed just 2 players, the rest of the squad had either been signed by Billy Wright or risen through the ranks. There were already a number of good professionals on Arsenal’s rosta of players and the one legacy from the Wright era was the crop of very promising youngsters. Having cut out the dead wood and inconsistent performers from the club the key for Mee was to blend the youngsters breaking through into part of his unit.

Looking at the pen pics, the one thing Arsenal seemed to lack was height in midfield and attack which perhaps underlines the decision to play a counter attacking game. In Arsenal’s starting XI, there were 4 Scotsmen, including 2 Glaswegians. In Arsenal’s overall squad of 33 players, there were 6 Glaswegians and 4 Ulstermen, clearly a rich seam for Arsenal’s scouting network.

At this stage Frank McLintock played on the right hand side of midfield before Mee later converted him to a centre half. His tough, resolute defending combined with clever passing convinced Arsenal to fork out a record fee for his services. A complete midfielder and passionate, dedicated professional made him ideal leadership material.

John Sammels, a scheming forward with great talent and a fierce shot had been on the verge of full England honours. A former England Youth international he went on to win Caps at Under 23 level but had not made the final breakthrough. The slightly built George Johnston was a goal poacher, double footed and a quick mover. Although perhaps more of an individualist than team player.

George Graham (the boy from Bargeddie) joined from Chelsea in a cash and player swap for Tommy Baldwin. Another of Mee’s brainwaves was to later convert forward George Graham into a left sided midfielder. Not only could he still ‘weigh in’ in with goals, but he was a fantastic passer of the ball. Indeed at this time he was more of a target man than an out and out goalscorer with a natural sense of positioning. At this stage Arsenal used his passing and high leap / heading to bring other players into attacks. Unlike the traditional goal poacher most of his goals came from more than 6 yards out and his distance shooting was excellent but his lack of pace earnt him the nickname of Stroller.


Arsenal we worried at the increasing episodes of football hooliganism at Highbury towards the end of the previous Season. Denis Hill-Wood went on to write about it in his ‘Message’ and secretary Bob Wall went on to write another full page. Bob attributed the problem to, “A group of ill disciplined teenagers who frequent the North Terrace,” who were not responding to appeals for better behaviour.

One response was the banning of walking sticks. Some fans had a penchant for carrying walking sticks, painted with the club’s colours and used them to strike rival fans.



With so many Scotsmen on display, it is not surprising that Rangers former goalkeeper and Scotland manager Bobby Brown is at the game and no doubt enjoying the ‘famous half time spread’ in the Arsenal boardroom.


Hopefully he can hear the strains of The Metropolitan Police Band. Their playlist Including a Salute To Rangers with “The Swing O’ the Kilt” by Ewing and The Arsenal Song to the tune of “Beer Barrel Polka”.

Question? Why did the police band at Arsenal never get involved in sorting out crowd trouble? OK they had no truncheons but a clout over the head with a trumpet could have brought reason to a situation.


Straight from the break, Arsenal swing into attack. A top drawer save by Sorensen prevents Sammels from scoring.

Rangers immediately reply with an Alex Ferguson header. On target but again denied by Furnell.

Sorensen looking far more composed this half, makes a finger tip save from an Armstrong shot destined for the far corner.

The afternoon is not getting any better for Rangers. Their best attacker is Willie Henderson working doggedly to shake off Peter Simpson’s close marking.

A Mighty Roar From The Rangers Fans
News filters through on transistor radios that Spurs have levelled against Celtic in the Queen’s Park Centenary game at Hampden Park.

Ferguson who cannot be faulted for effort again misses a good opportunity. Willie Henderson plays him in on goal but instead of instinctively striking the ball, he dwells on it and tries to scoop it over the advancing Furnell, giving the ‘keeper enough time to make the save.


As Armstrong breaks away. “A sway started behind the Rangers goal. (the North Bank) and dozens of youngsters are carried on to the track as ambulance and policemen dash to the scene. One fan is led around the track with blood streaming from his face by 2 policemen. 3 youngsters are led away by first aid men.” (Peter Hendry in the Evening Times)

Fans had been throwing bottles at each other, those on the track had been escaping the trouble.


Following the restart Rangers almost score with a superb Henderson shot. For once Furnell is beaten but Terry Neill appears from nowhere to boot clear.

Penman tries his luck with a powerful shot but it is blocked and ricochets off one of the forest of defending red shirts.

RANGERS GOAL DISALLOWED : The ball is crossed into the penalty box, Furnell and Ferguson crash into each other and the ball falls to Willie Johnston who slots home. However the referee disallows the goal for Ferguson’s infringement.

73 mins : GOAL 2-0 : 20 year old forward and £20,000 signing George Johnston snaps up an inch perfect pass from Ian Ure to side foot the ball past Sorensen.

Arsenal now in control of the game push more men forward and Sorensen (who the Daily Record placed at fault for the first 2 goals) makes some excellent saves to keep the score down. Including an effort from Armstrong which he somehow finger tips as it flies like a guided missile towards the far upright.

Arsenal continue to press. Jon Sammels accurately volleys and Ronnie McKinnon rescues Rangers with a goal line clearance.

84 mins : GOAL 3-0 : Sammels nets his second with another blockbusting effort from 30 yards out. This was even better effort than his earlier goal. The ball swerves and smashes an upright on its way into the net.

FINAL SCORE : ARSENAL 3 (Sammels 2, Johnston) RANGERS 0
Attendance : 34,586

Post Match : John Greig receives treatment for a knock to the leg.


Writing under the headline ‘Ibrox Men Must Learn This Lesson’, Alister Nichol of the Daily Record felt that Rangers had to get to grips with this new form of tactical soccer and would need to learn new methods for breaking down organised defences such as Arsenal’s. He felt that more variety was required. He was not particularly impressed with the new signings but felt that Ferguson was the best of the new players on show.

Peter Hendry of the Evening Times was disappointed at the indecision in Rangers’ defence and the goalkeeping display from Sorensen. He felt that the forwards had not yet blended but was pleased by the work rate, if not the finishing of Alex Ferguson. Saying, “Alex Ferguson put in no end of effort into his work but his anxiety to do well was almost certainly his undoing when he missed 2 possible scoring chances by trying to be too precise with his finishing.” For Rangers he was impressed with the tireless effort of Henderson, and took solace in that 2 of the best displays from Arsenal came from Scotsmen, McLintock and Ure.


Following the game, Arsenal banned the sale of all bottled and canned beer and beverages in the ground. Rangers were blamed for this in the following Arsenal programme a fortnight later.

“Incidents such as the one which occurred on the North Terrace when we played Rangers cannot be tolerated and unless strong action is taken the terraces of football grounds will be occupied only by thugs; decent people will stay away. Although on this occasion the trouble was caused by a group of Rangers’ supporters there was enough evidence from last season for us to know that it could happen again.”

I have heard it from a few sources that there was more to the violence than met the eye. Islington, Highbury and Holloway had a particularly large first and second generation Irish population and that some of these local residents spent the day provoking the Rangers fans.

Matt Busby said to Bill Shankly
Have you heard of the North Bank, Highbury?
Shanks said no
I don’t think so
But I’ve heard of the Rangers aggro.

Football broadcaster, author and Arsenal fan Tom Watt in his book entitled, The End (80 Years of Life on the Terraces) recalls this fixture as a seminal moment for Arsenal fans. He suggests that the ‘taking’ of the home end by Glasgow Rangers fans in 1967 established a precedent that the teenagers on the North Bank found unacceptable. In their eyes, protecting the terrace became as much a part of the lads’ duty to the club as cheering on the team.

He also quotes several eye witness accounts from Arsenal fans. Including boxing promoter Frank Warren (at the time of the game aged 15 1/2), “The first fight I ever saw at Arsenal was at a friendly match against Glasgow Rangers which was diabolical, they were slinging bottles, really bad news, and that all happened in the North Bank. Glasgow Rangers supporters were in there and that was the first sign of seeing any hooliganism… I come from a rough part of Islington anyway. You’re not going to say you’re not used to seeing it, but for football it was the first time I was ever in where it happened.”

Perhaps the then young Frank and Tom had not gone West with Arsenal to Bristol Rovers earlier in the year, 28th January 1967, to be precise. According to Chris Brown in his book Bovver this fixture saw the first ever full-scale hooligan invasion and occupation of Rover’s home terrace (The Tote End) by a set of visiting fans. Let he who has not cast the first stone or bottle.

Frank and Tom might also have asked their grandparents about football hooliganism, in the 1920’s and 1930’s there were the vicious street fights between Spurs and Arsenal hooligans with knives, knuckledusters, iron bars and metal chains. A particularly unpleasant weapon was a razor blade put into the peak of a cap. Arsenal’s most violent fans from nearby Islington were known as the Islington mob. Another regular ‘off’ back in the very distant day in North London was for the visit of Portsmouth who always brought up a large ‘firm’ of matelots and dockers. In the 1950’s Chelsea fans seemingly did not like the ticket pricing policy at Highbury and gatecrashed over walls and turnstiles in to the ground.

Without dwelling on the subject, the various programme notes for this game clearly indicate that Arsenal had more than their own fair share of hooligans. There was neither any segregation nor were the Rangers fans directed to any part of the ground. When Rangers fans had visited in the past many had stood on the North Bank and enjoyed each others company. Unfortunately 1967 was the year of Skinheadism and when modern English football hooliganism really kicked-off in earnest. (A subject looked at in the next Chapter.) Yes, it seems that a minority of supporters of both clubs participated in the disorder and I’m sure it wasn’t the first time in history that a cocktail of too many males drinking too much alcohol in the hot sun was a major contributory factor.

Shortly after the Rangers match, The Islington Gazette reported that with no segregation, a small section of the crowd threw bottles at each other and a few fans had to make a trip to ‘A&E.’ According to the Islington Gazette, those arrested mainly received £2 fines which in their opinion was far too lenient. They described the protagonists behaviour as, “Nothing short of shocking and tantamount to a national disgrace.”

To give the Gazette credit they did try to think of solutions for dealing with the problems. They felt a ban on all bottles was necessary and that all beverages should be served in cardboard containers.

However their comment that, “it seems only a matter of time before spectators have to be fenced in like cattle with high strong wire barriers.” wasstupid in the light of events.

At least genuine fans were able to escape the bottles. Had there been fences it would have been impossible to evacuate on to the pitch and getting treatment to the injured would have been more difficult. There was also the potential of fans rushing away from missiles only to be caught in a crush if there were fences and it was also easier for police to get into a terrace without fences at the front. Arsenal deserve enormous credit for having never erected any fences around the Highbury perimeter.

Arsenal were featured in the very first edition of Match of the Day in August 1964, losing 3-2 at Liverpool. A rescheduled fixture against Leeds United on 5th May 1966 attracted their lowest crowd since World War 1 of just 4,544. Why? The European Cup Winners Cup was televised live at the same time. At least the Arsenal board wouldn’t have to pay out the attendance related bonus and think how much they would have made had there been a penalty clause for a sub standard gate. The fear of the impact on live attendances was a key reason why football had not embraced live broadcasting of matches.

Though the redoubtable Lord Lonsdale had long since departed, the Arsenal board could still probably have given any other boardroom something of an inferiority complex on matchday. Just have a look at what they got up to during the week and they had enough letters after their names for a game of scrabble.

Denis Hill-Wood’s family were Lancashire cotton barons. He held directorships in Hambros Bank, the Allied Investors Trust, the West London Property Group and some 17 other companies. How he fitted all this and Arsenal into a week, I do not know, he must be the chairman who never sleeps.

• Sir Guy Bracewell-Smith Bt (A Baronet no less), MBE, MA : Director of the Park Lane Hotel, the Ritz Hotel, Eagle Star Assurance and Wembley Stadium.
•Sir Robert Bellinger GBE : Chairman of Kinlock Provision and Lord Mayor of London in 1966.
•S C McIntyre Esq, MBE, FCIS : Deputy chairman of Pearl Assurance and a director of the Charter Trust and the Property and Investment Trust.
•The remainder of the board comprised of Denis’ son Peter and for some godly assistance the Reverend N F Bone.


Ferguson was of course disappointed in that he expected to win plenty of Cups and Scotland Caps. Ambition is good but among others Dennis Law, Alan Gilzean and Colin Stein were far better Scottish players who combined effort with a lot more skill. Playing for Rangers does not guarantee a Scotland Cap, it provides an opportunity for the player to showcase their talent. The Scotland manager between 1967 and 1969 (the selectors’ panel had been abolished) chose the best players for Scotland not simply because they played for Rangers. Ferguson never won a Scotland cap, he did represent the Scottish Football Association in 1967 but even being generous that was in effect Scotland’s ‘B’ team, so no caps were ever awarded.

You hardly needed to be a football genius to work out that Rangers needed something special to catch up with Jock Stein’s remarkable brand of management which had transformed Celtic into one of the most effective club sides in Europe. Moreover when Rangers were on the verge of success, it might have helped had he not given away a penalty at Leeds in the 1968 Fairs Cup and shamefully ignored his manager’s orders to cover Billy McNeill at corners in the 1968 Scottish Cup Final. (Colin Stein was suspended see Chapter 6) Ferguson claimed that the goal was in effect Ronnie McKinnon’s fault, but then again it usually is someone else’s fault. For Rangers to win silverware, they had to beat Celtic and he needed to score against them. In his time at the club he scored a grand total of 1 goal against them in that most irrelevant of tournaments, the Glasgow Cup.

Finally Ferguson has made some unpleasant remarks about Rangers and Scotland stalwarts Willie Henderson and Ronnie McKinnon.
                                                                                                Willie Henderson 29 caps Alex Ferguson 0.
                                                                                                Ronnie McKinnon 28 caps Alex Ferguson 0.

Despite an assortment of England’s elite on Arsenal’s board, the real power at the club rested with club secretary Bob Wall. Then in his mid 60’s and always wearing a bow tie he gave the initial impression of being someone from another time and place, which to an extent he was. He had originally joined the club in 1928 aged 16 as personal assistant to Mr Chapman. His influence did not come from any shareholding but through his ability and knowledge of Arsenal and football. On face value one might have expected a figure who railed against modernity but like his mentor Chapman he did not want Arsenal just to be up with the times he wanted them right at the cutting edge. I’m convinced that his mentor would have been most impressed when Arsenal became the first club to install under soil heating in 1964 and it proved a worthwhile investment as Highbury had an excellent record of staging matches when other London clubs had postponed.

He wrote a book entitled ‘Arsenal From the Heart’ in the late 1960’s and although much of the book is understandably reminiscing he also gave careful consideration to the future of the game and made some rather interesting and far reaching predictions and observations.

•“As in big business the future shape of football will involve a top elite of companies.”
•“The Arsenal teams of the year 2000 may not even play at Highbury.”
•“I am certain that, within the next quarter of a century, the vast majority of grounds will become all seating stadia.”
•Clubs building additional facilities in stadiums so that they can be used every day of the week.
•“Personally I do not think it will be long before we see the formation of a Continental League.”
•Synthetic Football Pitches to be introduced.
•An influx of foreign players when UK enters the common market but with a limit of 1 or 2 foreign players at a time.
•Building flat or retractable roofs over stadiums. Arsenal commissioned Anthony Odone a North London civil engineer to design, cost and make a model of a sliding roof for Highbury.
•Football Hooliganism will move away from grounds to railway stations or around grounds.
“I believe the incidence of hooliganism will be halted when more seats are installed in football grounds.”
•He also made reference to Lea Valley being an ideal location for a new stadium. (Olympic Stadium anyone?)


• ARSENAL 1967-1968
Arsenal’s following season concluded with a 9th place finish but their new found competitiveness was a hint of better things ahead. They made an overdue return to Wembley in the League Cup Final where they narrowly lost 1-0 to Leeds United.

• RANGERS 1967-1968
Rangers made a flying start to the League that season. At the end of October, Rangers were unbeaten and top of the League with a record of 8 matches played, 6 wins and 2 draws including a 1-0 triumph over Celtic. On 1st November 1967, Scot Symon was dismissed. A shock decision all the more peculiar given the money that the board had made available in the summer. Yes his last game in charge was a 0-0 draw with Dumbarton at Ibrox and there was booing from a frustrated crowd but surely there was something much deeper and had been brewing up for longer. It has been widely suggested his removal was not unanimously approved in the boardroom, so taking at it on face value, a natural assumption would be that the 2 new younger board members wanted a new younger manager and this would ultimately have been endorsed by the chairman. Some have said Scot Symon rejected an offer to become general manager with the obvious implication that Davie White would have taken charge of the team. Decades later and still only those directly involved in the affair know what really happened. What certainly was distasteful was the manner of Symon’s notification of dismissal through a third party. If I’m not mistaken trainer coach Bobby Seith tendered his resignation in disgust at what happened. After taking time out Scot Symon went on to briefly figure as a director at Dumbarton and manager of Partick Thistle where he was always pleased to see his old players. Scot Symon neither criticised Rangers nor sold any ‘exclusive.’ Taking over the baton from Bill Struth made it an impossible mission but Symon emerged from his shadow to become one of the greatest Rangers of the 20th Century.