May 8 is a special date in Arsenal’s history.
The club’s most recent double was achieved on this day in 2002, when Sylvain Wiltord scored the winner away to Manchester United, securing the league title four days after beating Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
It was also when the Gunners won the double for the first time. After ending an 18-year wait to become league champions by overcoming neighbours Tottenham Hotspur on May 3, 1971, they then overcame Liverpool at Wembley five days later. This is the game we will focus on, as there are more than a few kit-related areas of interest.
First of all, there is the fact that Arsenal wore yellow and blue while Liverpool stayed in their usual red.
Up until then, the ruling was that both sides should change – in the 1950 final, Liverpool wore white with Arsenal in old gold, while just three years previously West Bromwich Albion – clad in white shirts and shorts with red socks – had overcome Everton, who were in their amber and blue change kit.
Quite why there was a change is unclear – in reporting the development in April, the Liverpool Echo noted that both clubs had been accepting of the fact that both would have to change:
“Liverpool will play in their normal all-red strip at Wembley. That was the decision of the Football Association yesterday after a surprise turnabout on their own rules. FA secretary Denis Follows held a private toss of a coin with one of his assistants after deciding to waive the rule which states: ‘Where the colours of the two competing clubs are similar, both clubs must change unless alternative arrangements are mutually agreed by the competing clubs.
“Liverpool were ‘tails’ and won the toss. As a result, they will play in their normal red colours and Arsenal must change to their reserve strip of yellow and blue. Yet immediately after the semi-final replay between Arsenal and Stoke, Liverpool manager Bill Shankly agreed with Arsenal manager Bertie Mee what colours would be used at Wembley. Liverpool then had agreed to play in all-white with Arsenal in yellow and blue. Later, however, the FA stepped in.”
During the season, Arsenal had played in long-sleeved yellow shirts with yellow collars and cuffs and a new set was produced for the final, featuring the FA Cup silhouette above the cannon and ‘1971’ underneath.
However, Umbro were also asked to do a short-sleeved set and it was this – with the blue collars and cuffs – that was chosen. The long-sleeved jerseys were used during the 1971-72 and the practice of Arsenal repurposing unworn cup final shirts (still with commemorative embroidery) would continue during the 1970s.
Speaking on Match of the 70s in 1996, Liverpool’s Emlyn Hughes (wearing a Toffs reproduction of the Reds’ shirt) mentioned how their long-sleeved set – featuring the words ‘Cup Final’ and ‘1971’ below the Liverbird – was very heavy in the blazing heat:
“It was boiling hot and we wore these jerseys, they were brand-fire new. They were so heavy, you couldn’t breathe through them.
“I felt absolutely shattered in that game.”
The story goes that Liverpool manager Bill Shankly wanted to cut the players’ sleeves at half-time but was prevented from doing so. Incidentally, Liverpool’s shorts included the Umbro logo of the time.
After a scoreless 90 minutes, the game went to extra time and Steve Heighway put Liverpool in front before Arsenal equalised through Eddie Kelly, though at the time there was confusion as to whether it was he or George Graham who got the final touch.
There was no doubting the scorer of the winner as Charlie George fired home from outside the penalty area in the second period of extra time and immortalised the moment with his famous celebration, lying flat on the Wembley turf.
One other sartorial item of note was the fact that Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson had the number 1 on the back of his jersey, at a time when most custodians had blank backs. He enlisted Ethel Donnelly – wife of kitman Tony and launderer of the strip – to sew on the large digit.
In addition, Wilson dispensed with an Arsenal tradition that had existed since 1927 – after Dan Lewis let a shot slip through in that year’s final against the victorious Cardiff City, the incident was blamed on the sheen of his unwashed new top and, thereafter, Gunners’ keepers wore old, washed jerseys for cup finals until Wilson took what proved to be a successful stand.