Match Of The Past: Arsenal vs Southampton, December 1970
It may come as something as a surprise to learn that England has had twenty-five White Christmases over the last fifty years until we remember that the Met Office defines a White Christmas as “one snowflake to be observed falling in the twenty-four hours of the 25th December somewhere in the UK.” Shortly before Christmas in 1970, a cold front pressed down between Scotland and Iceland covered the south-east of England in a layer of snow which reached eight inches on high ground and three or four inches on lower ground.
Such conditions these days would, of course, lead to widespread cancellations across the entire country, but on Boxing Day 1970 the prospect of a large Bank Holiday crowd was too great a windfall for anyone to ignore, and so it was that Arsenal took to a snow covered pitch to take on Southampton in a First Division match at Highbury. Arsenal were the division’s surprise team. Prior to the start of the 1970/71 season, it had been twelve years since the club had finished above fourth place in the table – the 1960s were very much Arsenal’s “lost decade” – but manager Bertie Mee had built a talented team around such talented players as Frank McLintock, Charlie George, John Radford, Ray Kennedy and George Armstrong and they went into this fixture off the back of a run of nine wins and a draw from their previous ten matches.
Southampton, meanwhile, were still relative arrivistes to the First Division. Having been promoted into the top flight for the first time in in 1966, they’d spent much of the intervening five years fighting against relegation and had finished in nineteenth place in the table at the end of the previous season, just two places and three points – albeit it under two points for a win – from the drop. Their form guide for the ten matches since the middle of October had read DWDWLWDWLW, which hints at inconsistency which stifled their hopes of European football, although they did end the season in seventh place in the table, which put them above Manchester United, Manchester City and the following year’s champions Derby County in the final league table.
The real star of this match, though, is the weather. In conditions which can make a modern audience shiver even when seen in black and white, the two teams crash about in the snow, kicking up puffs of snow as they try to force the ball into each others’ goals without a great deal of success. It’s also notable that – and it’s difficult to say this for sure on account of the monochrome pictures – Arsenal are wearing dark shorts for this match. So familiar are we with the traditional Arsenal home kit of red shirts with white sleeves, white shorts and red socks that to see them in their home kit with dark shorts is oddly jarring. Southampton are in their change kit – which we assume to be yellow shirts and blue shorts – so Arsenal, in order to avoid a kit clash with both Southampton and the snow, are in red shorts for this particular match. Thanks to Museum of Jerseys for tidying that up, once and for all.