Former Player Remembers: Eddie Kelly
He also won promotion to the top flight with Jock Wallace’s Leicester City.
Sitting in an executive box the King Power Stadium, Glasgow born Eddie started by explaining how he became an apprentice at Highbury.
“In Glasgow, I played for Possilpark YMCA, a nursery team for Arsenal. Kenny Dalglish played for them. I went down to Arsenal when I was 15. Coming to London was a whole new experience. Arsenal were great to me and to my family. Billy Wright (capped 105 times for England) was the manager.
“When I was 17 I signed professional forms. I got £18 per week and a signing-on fee of £250 which was amazing. Club captain (and ex-Leicester City star) Frank McLintock had told me before signing that the Club would help me, so when I went in to sign the contract, I asked the Arsenal manager Bertie Mee if there was any chance of Arsenal helping my mum and dad by getting them a three piece suite’. He stood up and told me to get out of the office! When I came out, Frank asked how I had got on. I said, ‘He threw me out of the office!’ He said, ‘Just leave it!’ The next day Bertie Mee said Arsenal would help my parents and they paid about £120 for my parents’ three piece suite.
“Frank McLintock was a big influence on me. Like me, he came from Glasgow. He was the first guy I saw in Highbury’s Marble Halls and we have been great friends ever since. He is an amazing man. He was a 110% winner.”
Eddie can only vaguely remember his debut against Sheffield Wednesday in September 1969.
“I think it was snowing. I was 18. After that I never played for a while. Then Bertie Mee told me he was going to give me a run of ten games to prove myself. It was a good idea because when you make your debut, you could be terrified, because your adrenalin is flowing and you are playing against such great professionals.”
Later that season, Eddie scored a goal in the 4-3 aggregate win over Anderlecht in the final of the Fairs Cup, a forerunner of the Europa League.
“The first leg was in Anderlecht and we got slaughtered. To win the second leg 3-0 at Highbury was fantastic. The atmosphere was amazing. I preferred that to winning the Double, to be quite honest. I scored the first goal. It was great for the supporters. It was great for Frank McLintock as well. He had played for a few years but this was my first year. I’d played in the Final. I scored the goal and we had won. You couldn’t wish for any more.
“The following year (1970/71) we won the League and Cup Double. Winning the league at Tottenham in the last game of the season was fantastic. The previous Saturday we had played Stoke City at Highbury. I came on in the last 25 minutes and I scored the goal to make it 1-0. If we had drawn that game, we would have lost the League to Leeds United on goal difference. That was a very important goal for Arsenal and for myself.”
The following Saturday, Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 in extra time in the FA Cup Final, with Eddie unaware that he had scored Arsenal’s equalising goal.
“I thought George Graham had scored. It was such a bad goal. I didn’t know I’d scored it! Then Charlie George scored the winner which was the icing on the cake. Frank McLintock was amazing. After it was finished he was just drained. I was only 20 at the time. I can’t really remember a lot about the open top bus parade afterwards because we were still drinking!”
In 1974, Eddie became the Club’s youngest ever Club captain at the age of 23. He regards that as his greatest achievement, better even than winning the Double and scoring in Cup Finals. In September 1976, after playing over 220 games for the Gunners, he rejoined Frank McLintock at Queens Park Rangers.
“I’d had a few injuries and I fell out with the manager Bertie Mee. These things happen! Frank McLintock was the reason I went to QPR. They were a good side. They had a great manager in Dave Sexton. I was only there a year because Frank got the Leicester City manager’s job (in July 1977). I was his first signing and I couldn’t get there quick enough. It was just unfortunate that it never worked out for Frank. When you are a player it’s very difficult when you become a manager. Frank still wanted to still be a football player. You are dealing with twenty players. Everyone is a different individual. Frank was so honest with everybody. I think he actually got a raw deal at Leicester.
“Frank wanted to bring players in but there wasn’t a lot of money about at the time. He brought in some ex-Arsenal players but that was clutching at straws to try to get us out off the bottom of the old First Division. The transfers never worked for him. We also brought people like Roger Davies, Billy Hughes and Geoff Salmons but it never worked. Frank left and we got relegated.
“It was the first time I’d ever played in the Second Division. It was a big blow. It was a shock to the system but you are relegated because you are not good enough. I stuck my hand up to be counted like a lot of the players but unfortunately some of the players never put their hands up.”
Jock Wallace replaced Frank McLintock in June 1978.
“When he first came I wanted to leave but Jock Wallace persuaded me to stay. He told me to give it a go to see how I would feel. We were honest and up front with each other from the off. He was the best manager I worked with. He could give me a kick up the backside but would also give me a pat on the back. Everything was straight down the middle. He was the same with the young kids as well. He treated them the same as the senior pros. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t.
“All the players respected Jock Wallace. He changed the club. He brought a lot of youngsters through giving them the chance to play in the first team .The first season was quite hard for him. The second season we got promotion as Champions. He put people in like Gary Lineker, Tommy Williams, Andy Peake, Ian Wilson and Kevin MacDonald. Alan Young was a great signing. There was also Dave Buchanan, another young player who was a better player than Lineker at that time. He also bought Bobby Smith and Martin Henderson.
“At Arsenal, Bertie Mee let Don Howe do most of the talking and the coaching. Jock Wallace did the majority of it himself. He gave people a buzz. Some of the youngsters used to be quite frightened of him. He had a big strong powerful voice but he had so much respect from the players here.
“He offered me the captaincy but at that time I didn’t want it. I didn’t think the club had gone in the right direction. I gave him the truth how I felt about the club. Also, I never got on with one or two of the players. I just thought it was the wrong decision for me to become captain. Jock Wallace respected me for this decision.”
Despite his rejection of the captaincy, Eddie was the experienced guiding force in the young side which won the old Second Division title in 1980. However, he left the Club at the moment of triumph.
“We got promotion but I was only offered a year’s contract. I thought I was worth a two or a three year contract which is what a lot of the younger players were getting. I went to Notts County. The next season they got promoted to the top division swapping places with Leicester who unfortunately got relegated after that one season.”
In August 1981, Eddie left Notts County for Fourth Division high fliers Bournemouth, managed by his ex-QPR and Leicester City teammate Dave Webb, before he made a surprise return to Filbert Street four months later.
“I was going to retire but Dave Webb persuaded me to go to Bournemouth. I only trained two days a week there and I loved it. I was there about four months. Then Jock Wallace rang me up and he said, in his big rough voice, ‘Right Eddie, get yourself up here.’ They were his first words on the phone! I actually thought it was another guy that was talking. I never thought he would want me to come back but he said ‘I want to sign you back. I made a mistake letting you go.’ I told him, ‘I don’t want to come back.’ He said, ‘Don’t be so silly’. That was basically it. The following day I told Dave Webb that Leicester wanted me back .One of the reasons I did come back was because of the respect I had for Jock Wallace. I still knew a lot of the players anyway.”
Back at Filbert Street, Eddie was in the side which finished 8th in the Second Division and reached the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur, but Jock Wallace left at the end of the season to go to Motherwell.
“Spurs had a fantastic team. They had Hoddle, Hazard, Ardiles. We were a young side. On the day they were far better than us. Tommy Williams broke his leg. Ian Wilson scored an own goal. That’s life!
“It was disappointing when Jock left for Motherwell. You have just got to get on with things. Gordon Milne came in and took the team back to the First Division in his first season. He made me captain, which was great but unfortunately I fell out with him! That was my life in football! I kept falling out with managers! I said to him that I thought it would be best if he let me go. It wasn’t working out for him or for me.
“So I left and got a pub called the The Fox Inn in Melton Mowbray for a couple of years. I then went to play for Torquay United, managed by Dave Webb. I hadn’t played for a year and a half, other than for a local Melton Mowbray side. Dave told me to say I had spent my time out of football playing in Cyprus or somewhere! I was supposed to be player-coach but I never did any coaching because I was always playing. The assistant manager at the time was Brian Wilson who was married to one of the Nolan sisters. I played for about a season but it was difficult playing in the Fourth Division. They kicked the players more than they did the football! I am still living Torquay. It’s a lovely place to live, but football wise it is probably one of the worse places to live because you are so far away from it.”
Eddie, capped by Scotland at under-18 and under-23 level, concluded by explaining why he missed out on a full Scottish cap.
“I got picked for the Scotland squad when I was 19, but Bertie Mee said I was too young and wouldn’t let me go. Two years later I was playing for the under-23s. After the game, a few of us went out and then had a few drinks in the hotel. This was normal at Arsenal. But manager Tommy Docherty banned three of us for playing for Scotland again. Jock Wallace tried to get me reinstated but I never got picked. I’ve never told many people about that!”
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