- As with all Arsenal content here, the primary source is the inestimable The Arsenal Shirt, by Simon Shakeshaft and James Elkin
The 1960s were something of a lost decade for Arsenal.
In the five seasons from 1960-61 to 1964-65 inclusive, the club never finished higher than seventh and so, when future club captain Frank McLintock came to manager Billy Wright with a suggestion, the former England skipper was willing to hear him out. According to McLintock:
We felt like there was a curse on us, we were desperate and confidence was low.
With all good intentions, I got in the manager’s ear, suggesting that a change of kit may bring a change of fortune.
Don Revie had done the same at Leeds with a change that signified to the fans a new beginning.
The Scot’s idea centred around removing the element that set Arsenal apart from other red teams, their white sleeves (though it should be noted that the club’s first FA Cup win in 1930 and inaugural league title in 1931 featured red-sleeved shirts). So it was that the Gunners looked like this in 1965-66.
Having finished 13th in 1964-65, Arsenal ended up in 14th in 1965-66, with a record low attendance of 4,554 at Highbury for the game against Leeds. Wright departed and was replaced by Bertie Mee, who had previously been the club’s physiotherapist – see this clip for a pithy response when asked about his credentials.
Mee had trained as a physio in the Royal Army Medical Corps after his career was cut short by injury, rising to the rank of sergeant, and he brought a no-nonsense attention to detail to his new role.
One of his first acts was to request a change back to white sleeves, but the club were unable to effect this in the league for 1966-67, having missed the deadline for registration of kits.
This article, from the Irish Independent of November 5, 1966, shows both Mee’s straight-talking nature and a mention of the impending kit-change for 1966-67.
However, they would be able to line out with white-sleeved shirts – featuring the cannon for the first time – for four games in 1966-67. As the FA Cup was a competition which teams entered separately from the league, there was nothing stopping Arsenal from specifying a different kit for that (Southampton availed of such an option in 2013).
Having beaten Bristol Rovers and Bolton Wanderers (after a replay), Arsenal exited the cup with defeat to Birmingham City in the fifth round. The socks used referenced the navy and white hoops used from 1933-60, though in the drawn away game at Bolton a plain white set was worn.
The white sleeves were back for the league in 1967-68 and there was a new navy change kit, too – but that only lasted until November 1968 as the FA ruled that such dark strips caused confusion with the black of the match officials. The kit would have one last outing as a third shirt against Blackpool in 1970-71.
The previous white change shirt was also worn on occasion this season, while the red-sleeved shirts were used away to Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion early in the campaign.
The white and navy home socks were replaced at the start of 1969-70, as relayed in the programme for the season opener against Everton.
The programme is inaccurate in that the change shirts were yellow rather than the amber used by Everton, while the socks were in the same style as the home set.
These were the kits used in the double season of 1970-71 – though of course the short-sleeved yellow shirts had blue collars and cuffs in the FA Cup final win over Liverpool – and the basic home style would remain until 1982, with the only changes coming from the addition of Umbro and JVC logos and the addition to the crest of three cannonballs featuring the club initials.
While Mee is held in high regard for his success as manager, his input into Arsenal’s kit developments is overlooked compared to Herbert Chapman.
As Simon Shakeshaft says:
He added the cannon crest, reintroduced the white sleeves, brought in the ‘captain’s choice’ sleeve tradition and changed the away colour to navy, replacing the white, and then of course deciding on yellow in conversation with [kitman] Tony Donnelly and Jim Terris of Umbro through distributor Ron Goodman as “the colour would rarely clash with opposition if a change was necessary”.