On this day in 1982, Arsenal paid £500,000 to Bundesliga side Koln for the services of striker Tony Woodcock.
Having reached five finals in three seasons from 1978 to 1980, Arsenal were beginning to struggle and needed a centre-forward to fire them back to success. Woodcock was a proven goalscorer, first bursting onto the scene in 1976-77 as he helped Nottingham Forest win promotion to the First Division, also scoring five goals in two games for England’s under 21’s.
The striker became a mainstay in Brian Clough’s team, helping the club to a domestic double in 1978, winning the First Division and the League Cup, an unbelievable achievement for a newly promoted side. He was also voted PFA Young Player of the Year for his contribution.
Clough, Woodcock and his Forest team-mates would then do the unthinkable by winning the European Cup just a year later in 1979, beating Swedish side Malmo 1-0 at the Olympiastadion in Munich. Another season and another trophy at Forest followed that European success, as Woodcock scored the winning goal in a 3-2 victory over Southampton in the League Cup final.
His form attracted the interest of German side Koln, who shelled out £600,000 for Woodcock, equivalent to around £2.5 million today. He left his hometown club Forest having won six trophies over a six-year spell, scoring 36 goals in 129 games.
He had a relatively successful spell in West Germany, scoring 28 times in 81 appearances, but was unable to replicate the trophy haul he had amassed in Nottingham despite coming close, reaching the semi-final of the UEFA Cup and the final of the DFB Pokal, losing both.
Woodcock became a fan favourite in Koln and supporters must have been sad to see him return to England, joining Arsenal following the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain. Club manager Terry Neill had highlighted the need for a goal scorer and Woodcock proved to be just that, scoring 21 goals in 50 games across all competitions, finishing the season as the club’s top scorer in his first season at Highbury. However, it was once again a case of so near and yet so far on the trophy front for Woodcock, helping Arsenal to the semi-final of both domestic cups, but the club only managed a disappointing 10th placed league finish.
1983-84 would be Woodcock’s best season in an Arsenal shirt. The striker hit 21 league goals, finishing as the club’s top scorer once again, also being voted Arsenal player of the year for 1983. Following a dismal start to the season, Terry Neill had been replaced by Don Howe, and he, along with the goals of Woodcock, dragged Arsenal to an improved 6th placed finish. Woodcock also broke a post-war record for the club that season, becoming the first player to score five goals in a single game during a 6-2 battering of Aston Villa, although he fell just short of Ted Drake’s seven-goal club record.
The following season would see the Englishman’s form dip somewhat, scoring 13 times in 33 appearances across all competitions, with Arsenal dropping a place to 7th, although it could have been so much more, having sat top of the table in the autumn of 1984. Approaching 30 and suffering a serious injury in 1985-86, Woodcock’s Arsenal career was coming to an end, but he did manage 11 goals in his final season. Despite this, he fell out of favour under new boss George Graham, with the club telling Woodcock he was surplus to requirements at the end of the season. Woodcock chose to return to the Bundesliga and Koln, departing North London having scored 68 goals in 169 games.
Despite Arsenal going through a difficult period during the striker’s time at the club, Woodcock was a fan favourite and remains a club legend, although he is not referenced as much as he should be.
His pace, superb control, and eye for goal saw the Highbury faithful fall in love with former Nottingham Forest man, reflected in the fans voting him 48th on the list of Arsenal’s Greatest Players.