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Focus On; Frank McLintock

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In October 1964, Frank McLintock was signed by Arsenal for a club record £80,000. He endured a poor début at Highbury, mishitting a back-pass to allow Nottingham Forest’s John Barnwell – who ironically had been sold by Arsenal to finance McLintock’s transfer – to score an easy goal. He found that manager Billy Wright had no identifiable system of play and McLintock soon regretted joining the club as his first four games all ended in defeat. He was in poor form in the 1964–65, 1965–66 and 1966–67 seasons but remained a regular first team player as the Gunners struggled in mid-table. He insisted that the club change strip from red and white to all red so as to rid the team of the stigma of failing to live up to the highly successful red and white Arsenal teams of previous years; the experiment lasted for just the 1966–67 season before Arsenal reverted to red and white. Dissatisfied with the club’s management, he put in a transfer request, which was denied by the board.

The new management duo of Bertie Mee and Dave Sexton began to slowly turn the team around, and Arsenal improved to ninth place by the 1967–68 campaign. After Sexton’s departure Don Howe was promoted to first team coach and continued to improve the team’s training methods. They reached the League Cup final at Wembley Stadium in 1968, but were beaten 1–0 by Leeds United, with Arsenal having an equalising goal ruled out after McLintock was judged to have fouled goalkeeper Gary Sprake. In the summer he was named as Arsenal’s Player of the Year and his initial four-year contract came to an end.

He was appointed as team captain for the 1968–69 season, taking over from Terry Neill, and signed a new four-year contract. For the second successive season Arsenal reached the League Cup final, and as opponents Swindon Town were from the Third Division McLintock expected that he would finally secure a trophy on his fourth visit to Wembley. However Swindon won 3–1 after extra-time and McLintock blamed an influenza outbreak that affected him and five other teammates on the day and also blamed the Horse of the Year Show for ruining the pitch. The disappointment did not detract from their league form however, and they secured a place in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup with a fourth-place finish.

He started the 1969–70 season at centre-half after initially filling in at the position for an injured Peter Simpson towards the end of the previous campaign; this in turn allowed George Graham to move back and play in midfield.  McLintock and Simpson formed a highly effective centre-back partnership, and soon mastered the offside trap. In Europe he missed the first two rounds due to injury, before returning to the starting eleven for victories over Rouen (France), FCM Bacău (Romania) and Ajax (Netherlands) to reach the final against Belgian club Anderlecht. Arsenal lost 3–1 in the first leg at Constant Vanden Stock Stadium as Anderlecht outplayed them. They turned the tie around at Highbury though and won the game 3–0 and the tie 4–3 to secure the club’s first major trophy in 17 years.

He captained Arsenal to the Double in the 1970–71 season, in what was only the fourth time the feat had been accomplished in the history of the Football League. Aside from a 5–0 defeat to Stoke City, Arsenal built their success on a solid defence, and claimed ten 1–0 victories during the campaign. They secured the title with a 1–0 victory over North London derby rivals Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane, Ray Kennedy scoring the winning goal. In the FA Cup final they beat Liverpool 2–1 after extra-time, with Charlie George scoring the winning goal. To complete the campaign McLintock was named as FWA Footballer of the Year.

McLintock later said that Arsenal were never the same force after Don Howe left to manage West Bromwich Albion in the summer of 1971, and that complacency crept into the squad. He felt that new coach Steve Burtenshaw was not tough enough on the squad and failed to keep the players focused. The pressing game was abandoned to suit new record signing Alan Ball, who was talented but did not fit the style of play that had brought the team success. McLintock held a clear the air meeting with the players in January, and asked the coaching staff not to attend, and though the team accepted that their standards had fallen the meeting still did not have the desired effect of improving performances. They exited the European Cup at the hands of Ajax, McLintock giving away a disputed penalty at the Olympic Stadium.[60] They ended the 1971–72 league campaign in fifth place, six points behind champions Derby County. Arsenal did reach the FA Cup final, but were beaten 1–0 by Leeds United.

McLintock was dropped midway through the 1972–73 campaign, and reacted badly to the news by exploding with anger towards Bertie Mee. He returned to the first team in February following an injury to Jeff Blockley, but was told by Mee his return was only temporary. He made a formal transfer request in March 1973, and in doing so gave up the chance to be granted a testimonial game for ten years’ service to the club.

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