The 1980s were not the most exciting for Arsenal fans. A 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup final to 2nd division West Ham was a glimpse of the relentless mediocrity to come. The football was terrible, Liam Brady buggered off to Italy, and crowds at Highbury dwindled.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s now clear that Arsenal’s big problem in 80s was a grubbiness not conducive to winning trophies. It wasn’t poor management and a poor playing squad, it was soiled kit. The low temperature wash stopped the red winning into the white, but the whites weren’t really white.
Can you be expected to top Division 1 with grass stains on your sleeves? Isn’t it too much to ask players to play to their full potential when they’re pulling on half-clean jerseys? Winning cups with muddy bits on your arms from those no-man’s land pitches back then was simply an impossibility.
Then along came Ariel Automatic and with that an up-turn in Arsenal’s fortunes. The ad aired in 1987, the very same year that Charlie Nicholas scored twice at Wembley to win the Littlewoods Cup against Liverpool. Coincidence? I think not.
Within 2 years, with sleeves whiter than Erik Estrada’s teeth, Arsenal won the league for the first time in 18 years when Michael Thomas scored that late goal at Anfield.
Many point to the impact of George Graham, the arch-disciplinarian who moulded together a team far greater than the sum of its parts, but we all know who the real mastermind was.
God bless you, Ethel Donnelly, Arsenal’s unsung hero.