There’s Something About Leicester…

During his speech at our wedding my wife’s father worked in my passion for Arsenal and noted that whilst writing his address he had been looking for a link between the Gunners and his home town club Leicester City. As soon as the words left his mouth I blurted out “First game at Highbury”. My father-in-law said he had asked one of his brothers about a link earlier in the day and had been pointed in the direction of the three all draw of 1954, whilst his own research on the official Arsenal website had led him to the twelve goal thriller that was the 6-6 draw in 1930.

I knew a bit about players who had represented the Gunners and the Foxes, legends like Geordie Armstrong who left London for Leicester in 1977 for a transfer fee of just £15,000 after falling out with manager Terry Neill and was reunited with our great double winning captain Frank McLintock who was by then in charge at Filbert Street, for one solitary season, and had himself moved in the opposite direction as a player when Billy Wright paid £80,000 for his services in October 1964. McLintock had replaced Jimmy Bloomfield as Leicester boss, Bloomfield had spent six years at Arsenal during his playing career. Jon Sammels who took to the pitch in the colours of the Arsenal on no less than 300 occasions scoring the goal that clinched the 1970 Fairs Cup and collecting a league championship winners medal as the Gunners marched towards an historic double the following season. In the week that preceded the cup final win that saw the Arsenal seal their first league and cup double Sammels reluctantly moved to Leicester City in a £100,000 deal, feeling he had become a scapegoat for every Arsenal mistake despite all he had achieved at the club. And amongst others such as Kevin Campbell, Eddie Kelly, Jeff Blockley and Lawrie Madden, who all donned the jersey of both sides at some point in their careers, there was Alan Smith a goal scorer who won the golden boot award in both the 1989 & 1991 Championship winning sides of George Graham. Smudger had been snapped up by Graham for £800,000 in March 1987, however the deal had been finalised after the deadline for transfer completions had passed and Smith was duly loaned back to the side who had just sold him until the season had come to an end and even played against Arsenal when City visited Highbury on April 20th.

Since that day in May 2010 I’ve had a feeling that a vein of history interconnects Arsenal and Leicester City and that an almost unique bond between the two clubs has existed in the background obscured by the more obvious and perhaps ‘Box Office’ links more easily identified. Once I finally got around to really looking into it I found that perhaps this wasn’t a romanticised perception of my mind and that real tangible evidence exists. While they are little more than the first of 129 occasions the clubs have met it all started with the first matches between Leicester Fosse and Woolwich Arsenal in 1895…

This was the Arsenal’s second season in Division Two and while it’s not quite clear if the team had a recognised manager in place at the time whoever took charge of the side on the afternoon of January 7th 1895 was unable to steer the Gunners to victory as they headed back down south having suffered a 3-1 defeat. The return fixture on the 9th March was held at the Lyttelton Cricket Ground, Leyton after Arsenal’s Manor Ground was shut for five weeks by the Football League after crowd trouble had broken out in a game against Burton Wanderers, this second meeting of the clubs finishing in a 3-3 draw.

Fast forward fifteen years to 1910 and the Chairman of Fulham Football Club, Henry Norris, had decided that for him one club was not enough, and after looking into the possibility of taking over either Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspurs it came as something of a surprise when the former mayor of Fulham decided to splash out on Woolwich Arsenal a side rooted to the foot of the Division One table who didn’t have two brass farthings to rub together, a side that played it’s football on the feted bog pit of the manor ground in Plumstead.

Norris’ original plan had been to merge Woolwich Arsenal with Fulham but this proposal was rejected by the football league and Norris was informed that he could only be involved with one club and severed his ties with the Cottagers (According to Arsenal historian Tony Attwood Norris had also been involved with Croydon Common FC but that’s a story for another day). No one really knows why Norris choose to stick with what would have been perceived as the ‘lesser club’ but thankfully he did and in the summer of 1913 began to search out a new site for his club after they had suffered relegation from league one, the only time in the clubs history that it has dropped out of the top flight, amidst dwindling supporter turn out at the manor ground.

With it’s close proximity to Gillespie Road tube station the recreation fields of St John’s College of Divinity was deemed to be almost the perfect location. I say almost because whilst Norris wasn’t worried about moving the club from it’s South East roots to North London he did consider that given the fact one of the main objectives of the operation was to increase the number of paying supporters turning out to watch his side the close proximity of Tottenham Hotspurs and Clapton Orient was something of a concern. However with the ground placed so close to the underground station it was too good an opportunity to turn down and a £20,000 twenty-one year lease was agreed. Objections were raised by Spurs and Orient who felt it unfair that a club from outside the area could encroach upon it’s North London turf, of course Orient would go on to move from their Homerton home to Leyton in 1937 and ninety-eight years after attempting to fend off Norris and Arsenal the O’s would find themselves embroiled in another case of encroachment when Spurs and West Ham United rivalled their own bid for occupancy of the new Olympic Stadium at Stratford.

The local residents of Highbury were also unhappy at the thought of new neighbours and along with the local football clubs they petitioned against the move. However a league management committee turned down all appeals and architect Archibald Leitch was charged by Norris with building a new stadium on the site, his previous experience of designing and building stadiums such as Glasgow Rangers Ibrox Park and Sheffield United’s John Street Stand at Bramall Lane had made him the obvious choice for the job although with just four summer months in which to complete his work time was certainly in short supply.

At a cost of £125,000 Leitch levelled the playing fields, erected a new grandstand on the eastern side of the ground and added three additional banks of basic terracing around the perimeter of the pitch. Although it was far from complete the original Arsenal Stadium which would forever be known as Highbury was ready for the start of the 1913/1914 season during which the club still known as ‘Woolwich Arsenal’ would compete in Division Two and hosted it’s first game on September 6th 1913 when they defeated Leicester Fosse by two goals to one.

Just as Aston Villa’s Olof Mellberg would be the first player to score a competitive goal at the Emirates Stadium, when Arsenal moved again ninety-three years later, it was an opposition player who first had the ball in the back of the net at Highbury. The Fosse’s Tommy Benfield putting the visitors one nil up before George Jobey scored the home sides equaliser and first goal on home soil, nodding home from Tommy Winship’s corner shortly before the half time interval. The game remained locked at one a piece until, with just twelve minutes remaining, the ball was handled by a Leicester player and the gunners were awarded a late penalty. In front of a crowd of 20,000 spectators Andy Devine stepped up to score from the spot and insure that life at the new home got off to a winning start.

The game was not without incident, Jobey received a kick in the back from a Leicester player and was treated by doctors and ambulance men before being taken home on the back of a cart borrowed from a local milkman.

Twenty years on and we reach that game and it’s gluttony of goals my father-in-law had mentioned. Five days before their 2-0 FA Cup final win over Huddersfield, Herbert Chapman took his Arsenal side to Filbert Street for a game that would create football history.

David Jack had the ball in the home sides goal after just two minutes but his effort was ruled out for offside, by the 21st minute David Halliday had given the Gunners the lead but at half time City headed into the dressing room with a 3-1 advantage. The first of the foxes goals was somewhat controversial, Dan Lewis saved a shoot from Hugh Adcock but was unable to hold on to the ball. Arsenal right back Tom Parker had appeared to clear the loose ball off the line but the referee saw fit to allow the equaliser to stand. Two minutes later Leicester took the lead for the first time in the game thanks to a goal by Arthur Lochhead and just before the half time whistle blew Adcock scored his second of the afternoon, this time firing his shoot through Lewis’ hands.

The Arsenal were as quick out of the traps in the second half as they had been in the first but on this occasion the goal within two minutes of the kick-off stood, Cliff Bastin giving the visitors a route back into the game. Sensing that they could perhaps still take something from the match Arsenal went on the attack and in a five minute period between the 58th and 63rd minute, Halliday scored another two goals to complete his hat-trick and added a fourth to his afternoons tally. The gunners were now leading by five goals to three. Leicester replied with a goal from Ernie Hine but with just thirteen minutes left on the clock Jack played in Bastin who dribbled through the Leicester defence and scored to restore Arsenal’s two goal lead but further goals were still to come. Len Barry pulled the score back to 5-6 before Lochhead scored the twelfth and final goal of the game. This remains the highest scoring draw in top flight English football, although it was matched in a game between Charlton Athletic & Middlesbrough in 1960.

David Halliday, scorer of four of the Arsenal goals that afternoon, went on to manage Leicester City between the years 1955 and 1958. Despite being a prolific goal scorer at Dundee (90 goals in 126 appearances) and Sunderland (156 goals in 166 appearances) the forward only spent one season at Highbury making a total of fifteen appearances and scoring nine goals, four of which came in the game against Leicester. Halliday never really found his feet in London and despite that four goal haul just days before the 1930 FA Cup Final he was left out of the Gunners team that beat Huddersfield to claim the clubs first major trophy. After hanging up his boots Halliday spent thirteen years (1937-1955) in charge of Aberdeen during which time he led the Scottish side to their first ever league championship in his final season before moving back south to take the helm at Filbert Street, guiding the foxes to the 1956/57 second division title and promotion to Division One. Although Halliday was only in charge for one top flight season the twelve season period between 1957 and 1969 remains the foxes longest ever spell in the top tier.

Another Leicester City record came against Arsenal in the form of their record attendance for a league game at Filbert Street. On October 2nd 1954 42,486 fans packed into the old ground to watch that three all draw my father-in-laws brother John had alluded to. With fans literally pouring from the terraces before the game kicked off it is little wonder that there were two fatalities that Saturday afternoon. A cloud of red & white balloons were sent into the air as an Arsenal side which included Tommy Lawton, who had briefly played for Leicester as a war time guest 15 years earlier, took to the pitch.

The City side included Arthur Rowley, holder of the record for the most goals in the history of English League Football. What price would a player capable of scoring 434 goals in 619 league games command today? I’ve no idea if any efforts were ever made to bring Rowley to London but with his scoring prowess and nickname ‘The Gunner’ it would certainly seem a good fit on paper at least. Rowley wasn’t the only productive goal scorer in the foxes starting XI that afternoon, Manager Norman Bullock also had Derek Hines at his disposal. Between them Rowley & Hines notched up a combined 382 goals whilst in Leicester colours and it was to nobodies surprise when the duo put the home side 2 – 0 up soon once this game got underway. The Gunners hit back with goals from Lawton & Jimmy Logie before half time and after the interval Rowley struck from the penalty spot to make it 3-2 before Lawton scored again for the visitors. Arsenal had the chance to complete a dramatic turn around with a penalty of their own but the City keeper saved the spot kick to insure the game finished in a draw.

Terms such as ‘letting a two goal lead slip’ and ‘conceding a late equaliser’ could have been plucked from a variety of Arsenal related match reports from recent seasons and they seem to be something of a regular occurrence in games against the foxes and it was no different when Arsene Wenger took his side to Filbert Street in 1997. If ever an individual performance deserved to win a game it was Dennis Bergkamp’s hat-trick on the evening of August 27th, but football is a team game and so it proved as the Gunners let two points slip yet the Dutchman’s treble has been described by some as the greatest hat-trick of all time.

The first was an incredible shot of power and accuracy from the edge of the Leicester penalty area. With almost every other player in the box the Dutchman received the ball direct from a corner, took one touch to control it then hit a curling shot into the right hand corner of Kasey Keller’s goal. The second came from an Arsenal break deep in their own half, after receiving it from Ray Parlour Patrick Vieira played the ball across the park into the path of Bergkamp who touched it on past the Leicester defence. Keller came rushing from his goal as Dennis chassed the ball and as the American keeper slid in with his feet in an attempt to clear it the Netherlands striker pinged the ball into the air and into the open goal mouth.

Leicester found a lifeline thanks to an Emile Heskey goal. A long ball was played into the Arsenal box and as David Seaman came out to collect it Lee Dixon somehow got himself in-between the goalkeeper and Heskey. The ball bounced off of the right backs chest and back into the path of the man the home fans affectionately  called Bruno who steered it into the open goal. The Foxes drew level from a low drive from Matt Elliott which bypassed everyone including Seaman as the game creeped into stoppage time. The goal which completed Bergkamp’s treble came from the restart and it was a goal of absolute majesty, David Platt had spotted the Dutchman’s run into the City box and lofted the perfect ball into his path. Bergkamp took the pace out of the ball with an incredible first touch then flicked it past Elliott with his left foot, while the Leicester defender stood wondering where it had gone Dennis placed the ball past Keller into the top right corner. Yet still the game hadn’t finished, after about six minutes of stoppage time one final chance fell to the homes side. The ball pinging around the Arsenal box fell to Steve Walsh who headed it into the goal to spark scenes of jubilation for the Foxes and their fans and utter outrage from Wenger and his players.

Bergkamp is by no means the only Arsenal player to put three past Leicester in any era let alone during the Wenger reign, Thierry Henry scored a total of 226 goals during his time at Arsenal, including eight hat-tricks, the first of which came against Leicester City in a 6-1 win at Highbury on Boxing day 2000.

We then come to the season of all seasons…

In the last league game of the 2003/04 campaign Arsenal needed to avoid defeat in order to become the first side to complete an unbeaten league season since Preston North End had achieved the feet in 1889. North End had competed in a 22 game season winning 18 and drawing 4 games, PNE also won the FA Cup that year without conceding a goal during their run to the final, becoming the first side to win the league and cup double. Arsenal completed their own Invincible campaign having played a 38 game season, almost double that of North End. The Gunners record stood at an outstanding 25 wins and 12 draws as they took to the pitch for the final time that season and their chances of reaching the incredible land mark were put under pressure in the 25th minute when former Gunner Paul Dickov headed the visitors into the lead. Arsenal hit back from the penalty spot in the 44th minute to put the record attempt back on track after Ashley Cole had been brought down by a clumsy Frank Sinclair challenge.

The Gunners made sure that the landmark season finished with a win when captain Patrick Vieira clinched the winner in the 66th minute but the unbeaten record wasn’t the only celebration at Highbury that day. Of course the Gunners had already clinched the league title at White Hart Lane after a 2-2 draw on April 25th and it was the late substitute appearance of Martin Keown which added to the emotional atmosphere at Highbury.

The stalwart, in his second spell at the club, had been assured a league championship winners medal after coming on to replace Freddie Ljungberg in the 87th minute. This was to be the defenders 449th and final appearance for the club as he left on a free transfer that summer to join Leicester City. Keown would only spend six months with the Foxes making just 17 appearances before an apparent falling out with then boss Mickey Adams saw him move on to Reading in January ’05 in a deal that would take him up to the end of the season. After just five appearances for the Royals Keown hung up his boots at the end of the campaign, twelve months after bringing down the curtain on his Arsenal career.

I’ve been reliably informed that the Arsenal’s 250th League goal came against Leicester Fosse and the Gunners 2000th & 2500th league goals came against the side who had by that time become Leicester City and that Bobby Gould was the first ever Arsenal substitute to score a goal which came in a game against guess who. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if even more of these quirks existed.

Maybe I’m romanticising it all a little for personal reasons and maybe if you started to dig around you’ll find little crotchets of fate scattered everywhere but I can’t think of any other side that has played such a prominent part in Arsenal’s 125 year history without ever getting much of a mention.

*As of 23/11/2011 This article features on acclaimed football  site In Bed With Maradona

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The answers

Good morning to you all…

So yesterday we held the inaugral Up The Arsenal Blog Arsenal Quiz – The response was quite litterally amazing. In the sense that no one bothered to take part (You do know that I can tell how many of you visited the site yesterday don’t you?) Undeterred by the apparent lack of interest I’m still going to provide you with the answeres to the questions because A – I’ve got a long train journey to go on today so not much time to write a proper post and B – I wrote this yesterday…

So here we go with the answers –

Q1 – Who scored a hat-trick in Arsenal’s 5-1 opening day victory over Wimbledon on the opening day of the 1988-89 season?

A1 – Alan Smith – Smudger scored 23 league goals to clinch the golden boot as the Gunners wrapped up the league title so famously at Anfield. Smith was the divisions top scorer again during the 1990/91 title winning season and scored the only goal out in Copenhagen as an Arsenal side seen as rank outsiders defeated Italian giants Parma 1-0 to clinch the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1994
Q2 – Which player wore the number 22 during the 2000-01 season?
A2 – Oleg Luzhny – The Ukranian made a total of 110 appearances for the Gunners between 1999 & 2003 never scoring a single goal. The last of those appearances came in the 2003 FA Cup Final at Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium which saw the big defender collect a winners medal before moving to Wolves on a free transfer that summer.
Q3 – Who made their only Arsenal appearance in the League Cup against Everton on the 8th November 2006?
A3 – Mart Poom – Despite not even appearing on the bench in Paris the Estonian shot stopper collected a Champions League runners up medal after being named in Arsene Wenger’s 25 man squad for the final.
Q4 – Which former Arsenal player became manager of Bishops Stortford FC in 1999?
A4 – Martin Hayes – After leaving Highbury in 1990 Hayes turned out for twelve different clubs. The last of those was Bishops Stortford where he became player-manager in 1999 and remained at the helm until 2008.
Q5 – Which former Arsenal defender also played for Cambridge United, Dagenham & Redbridge and Hong Kong Rangers?
A5 – Gus Caesar – Despite making only 51 appearances for the Gunners between 1984 and 1991 Gus Caesar is a player who has become part of Arsenal folk lore mainly for the error which sparked Luton Town’s comeback in the 1998 Littlewoods Cup Final.
Q6 – David Seaman became the oldest player to feature for England in a European Championship qualifying match in 2002 during the three lions 0-0 draw with which side?
A6 – Macedonia – Despite being one of the greatest Goalkeepers this country has ever produced and winning 75 caps for his country the big Yorkshire man is still tainted by the memory Artim Sakiri’s goal directly from a corner kick in a 2-2 Euro 2004 qualifier, ironically also against Macedonia.

Q7 – Which former Arsenal legend was the first to make tournament appearances for England in three separate decades?
A7 – Tony Adams – The legendary skipper represented his country at Euro ’88, Euro ’96 and the 1998 World Cup in France (as well as Euro 2000). He was also the last England International to score at the old Wembley Stadium…
Q8 – Who was the Arsenal’s sole member of England’s 1966 World Cup Squad?
A8 – George Eastham – The former Newcastle inside forward, who went on an eight month strike in 1960 when the Magpies blocked his move to London despite the players contract having expired, was named in the England World Cup squad by Sir Alf Ramsey. Despite scoring in a pre tournament friendly against Denmark Eastham didn’t make it onto the pitch at any point during the three lions historic triumph meaning he didn’t collect a winners medal (He did retrospectively collect a medal in 2007 along with all the other non playing members of the squad) 1966 was also the year Eastham left Highbury, moving on to end his career with Stoke City.
Q9 – Which former Gunner is the only player to receive a medal before an FA Cup Final?
A9 – Steve Morrow – After scoring the winning goal in the League Cup Final victory over Sheffield Wednesday in 1993 Steve was unable to collect his winners medal after being dropped on the hallowed turf by skipper Tony Adams during the teams celebrations at the final whistle and subsequently being rushed to hospital. Steve was presented with his winners medal before the FA Cup Final, also against the Owls, a month later.
Q10 – Which Maidstone United & Arsenal player was the youngest player on the pitch in the 1994 UEFA Cup Winners Cup Final?
A10 – Ian Selley – The midfielder made a total of 51 starts during his Arsenal career and may have added even more had he not suffered the agony of a shattered left leg in a game against Leicester City in 1995. Selley spent more than a year recovering from the dreadful injury but after a loan spell with Southend United midway through the 1996/97 season he was sold to Fulham where he suffered another broken leg shortly after arriving at Craven Cottage. After his spell with the cottagers Selley moved Wimbledon before taking on a tour of the lower leagues of English football which included stints at Woking, Lewes, Maidestone & Dorchester Town. Ian is still playing and is currently on the books of Isthman LEAGUE Premier Division side Kingstonian. I wonder how many players with European winners medals the K’s have had?
Q11 – Who was in goal for Arsenal when John Jensen scored his only goal for the club against QPR on New Years Day 1994?
A11 – Vince Bartram – Bartram moved to Highbury in August 1994 from AFC Bournemouth in a £400,000 deal. Understudy to David Seaman during his four years with the club the most famous of the keepers eleven starts between the sticks for the Arsenal must surely be that game on New Years Day, I wonder if he has one of those ‘I was there when Jensen scored’ t-shirts?
Q12 – Which former player of Malaysian side Sabah and Arsenal legend was capped 14 times for England?
A12 – David Rocastle – The man they called Rocky was an Arsenal legend in every sense of the word. An Arsenal fan, the Lewisham lad rose through the clubs academy ranks to become one of the finest footballers to ever wear the famous red & white. During his time at the club Rocastle made 277 appearances, 260 of them starts, and was an integral part of every Arsenal team he played in helping those sides to the 86/87 League Cup as well as the 88/89 & 90/91 league championships. In the summer of 1992 the midfielder was devastated when George Graham told him he had accepted an offer from Leeds United for his services. Begrudgingly Rocky moved on but his time at Eland Road and subsequently Man City, Chelsea, Norwich and Hull he was unable to capture the form he had shown at Arsenal and the player ended his career out in Malaysia with Sabah. Rocky was always held in high esteem by all Gooners and it was with great sadness that the news came in March 2001 that aged just 33 David lost his battle against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The memory of the man will never be forgotten he was as true a Gooner as anyone has ever been.

So there we have it, all the answers and maybe a few other facts as well. Maybe I should have made the questions slightly easier and along the lines of ‘Who is Arsenal’s all time leading goal scorer’…

Well either way I quite enjoyed thinking back on some of the players mentioned above, the part they played in our great clubs history and their football lives outside the Arsenal. I hope that you also found that enjoyable at least?

Tomorrow morning the will be a full match preview of the West Brom game rather than me sodding about and I hope you’ll join me for that…

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

One Ton Dutchman

Apologies for the lack of a post match post yesterday, it really was one of those days which was all made better in the end by toad in the hole (that’s not a euphemism by the way)

I imagine by now you’ve seen highlights, read varying match reports etc relating to our victory over Bolton Wanderers so don’t need me to cover old ground. Essentially the key elements of the game were – We won. We kept a clean sheet. We didn’t have anyone sent off. Robin Van Persie scored his 99th & 100th goals for the Arsenal.

As the title of this post suggests the hot-shot Dutchman is the focus of today’s article.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Robin has joined the ‘100 Club’  and the achievement should not be taken lightly. Look at the company he keeps in that list of seventeen Arsenal legends who have scored one hundred goals or more in the red & white, Joe Baker, Alan Smith, Denis Bergkamp, John Radford, Cliff Bastin, Ian Wright and Thierry Henry to name but a few.

We don’t take the achievements of any these goal scorers lightly and each and everyone have left their mark on the club and will be long remembered and hero worshiped by us Gooners, even if we never saw them play. Eleven of the seventeen men who have hit a ton did so before I was born but I hold them in as high regard as I do Smudger, Wrighty, Denis & Henry (as footballers at least). We certainly shouldn’t think any less of Robin or dismiss his century, the fact that he achieved this feat as Arsenal Captain affords him even more kudos. It seems that the legends of football heroes can be built up long after a player has hung up his boots and in modern terms some players can be labelled heroes and legends without having done very much to deserve it.

Arsene Wenger on more than one occasion now has likened out latest centurion to Lionel Messi. Last year the gaffer suggested that had the player he signed from Feyenoord in May 2004 not been cursed with so many injury problems then he would be spoken about in the same glowing terms as the Argentine genius, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. After Saturdays exploits Wenger made the comparison again saying: “He is like Messi, because he doesn’t play like a real centre-forward but if you look at his movement he is very intelligent. In tight spaces he can make a difference

That kind of comparison will be dismissed by some, but maybe should not be done so too easily. They are of course very different players particularly the roles the two men play for their respective clubs. Personally I would love to see Robin play a similar role to Messi or indeed be utilised in the kind of partnership that saw Bergkamp and Henry flourish at Highbury. Whilst RVP continues to prove he could replicate his fellow Dutchman it’s the role of record goalscorer Thierry Henry that would be much harder to fill, Theo did his chances no good whatsoever on Saturday.

Robin in the traditional number 10 role could be wondrous, although the player himself has suggested he see’s himself more as a nine and a half.

Anyway I digress slightly…

Whilst Van Perise currently sits in 17th place in the hot 100 he could, form and fitness permitting, make it into the top ten by seasons end. He needs just a further twenty-one goals to surpass Bergkamp.

Much of the focus this morning has moved away from Robin’s on field exploits and is highlighting his apparent reluctance to sit down and sign a new deal with the club, but it is worth considering that the player is currently 28 years old, if he signs a new three our four-year deal to add to the two years he currently has left to run then you have to start wondering just how far up that scoring chart he can get – another 86 and he passes Wrighty and nabs second place. I would imagine that bagging another one hundred and twenty-seven thus eclipsing Thiery Henry may be beyond him but you’ve got to have something to aim for right?

There are two things that are now imperative with Robin, we have to keep him fit and we have to get that new deal agreed. To do the latter we have to show him that committing to the club and signing what will most likely be his last big deal would not be a mistake. So we need to be competing, we need everyone to show the same spirit and fight he did on Saturday and continues to do so every week. He still has another six years, at least, left at the top and that could well mean that his best days are yet to come, to see him enjoy those in the colours of any side other than the Arsenal would be a tragedy, because he is now a true Arsenal legend.

Thanks for reading.

Paul

Super Swede

Back in the summer of 1990 I was a mere 10 year old caught up in the hysteria of England’s march to the Semi-Finals of the World Cup out in Italy.

There are four things that have lingered in my memory from that summer (aside from Pavarotti’s ‘Nessun Dorma’, Gazza crying & Chris Waddle attempting to take out a Russian Satellite with his “Pelanty“) –

Unbelievable Tekkers

  • David Platt’s volley against Belgium in the last-minute of extra time that put us into the Quarter finals.
  • Spending hours in the garden trying to replicate Platt’s technique (Sadly no video footage exists)
  • My Dad falling through an old garden chair while being forced to photograph me doing the above.
  • Arsenal signing Anders Limpar from Cremonese.

Upon hearing of the signing (There was no Sky Sports News or Internet in them days) my first question was “We’ve signed who from where?”.

Due to the ban on English clubs competing in European football after the Heysel Stadium Disaster in 1985, which incidentally was lifted in 1990/91, knowledge of foreign players and clubs was, in most cases, limited to the likes of AC Milan & Marco Van Basten. No one that I knew had ever heard of the Swedish footballer of Hungarian decent who had been plying his trade at a small Italian side enjoying a rare sortie into Serie A, so when George Graham splashed out £2m on the diminutive winger there certainly wasn’t cries of jubilation.

That was until we got the first glimpse of Anders in an Arsenal shirt at ‘The Makita International Tournament’, a forerunner to the likes of our own ‘Emirates Cup’ which was hosted initially at Wembley Stadium. Arsenal had won the preceding two tournaments, which were the first two, beating AC Milan and Liverpool respectively.

1990’s competing teams were – Sampdoria, Real Sociedad, Aston Villa and the Arsenal.

Anders made an immediate impact opening his Arsenal account after thirty-four minutes in our opening game against Villa – That was it, I was mesmerised and Paul Merson had lost his place in my affections.

For those of you who are too young to remember the original ‘Super Swede’ then basically he was everything you wanted in a winger. He loved to have the ball at his feet, his touch was light, he had pace to burn and an eye for goal. When he ran he glided even though he was so quick. In my eyes he was footballing perfection.

He scored two of my favourite ever Arsenal goals –

The lob from the half way line against Liverpool at Highbury and his goal from a corner at Old Trafford – Can you imagine that being given now? He also played his part in the dust-up that took place that afternoon and saw both clubs deducted points leading to this fantastic team talk by George Graham.

The little Swede was certainly what you would consider a flair player and ultimately that did for him at Highbury as Double G demanded he increase his defensive duties – like we didn’t have enough players doing that at the time.

It’s often said that the football played by George’s Arsenal was dull and boring and achieved nothing more glamorous than slender one nil victories, this isn’t in fact true. Well not for the most part at least.

Under Arsene Wenger we’ve seen some wonderful attacking teams who have played some of the most expansive and expressive football I have ever seen, but as Matt Law in the Express and Blogs on the Arseblog have stated today that brand of football, at least for the short-term, is being curbed. It was much the same with Arsenal under George, his teams played some of the most exciting football I have ever seen – Being born into a family of Gooners who came from Manor House I was always destined to join the ranks of the red & white army but it was Graham’s teams, starting with the side that won the league in such dramatic style at Anfield in ’89 and those which followed, that hooked me on football.

Anders Limpar epitomizes this era for me as much as Rocky, Michael Thomas, Merse, Tony Adams, Uncle Bouldy, Smudger, Ian Wright, Big Dave Seaman and Dixon & Winterburn.

It was a period when we were blessed with players who have entered the annuls of Arsenal folklore and for me the Super Swede deserves his place amongst them. At times when I’m asked to name my all time Arsenal XI he is still placed out on the right flank and if ever I wanted my love for the Gunners to be embroiled with my love for Back To The Future then it would be to either go back and watch Limpar in his pomp or indeed just stick two fingers up at the space-time continuum, fling him in the back of the DeLorean and drop him off at London Colney so he could take his place in our current side. Theo my old mucker, you would be out on your ear.

I was gutted when Anders moved to Everton in March 1994 and I hated seeing him in any sides colours but those of the Arsenal.

Whether you remember him fondly or you’ve never seen him kick a ball I suggest you stop what you’re doing and jump on YouTube and watch goals like this.

A few years ago whilst on a visit to the Swedish capital I was desperate to visit his aptly named ‘Anders Limp-Bar’, especially as we were there for the stag-do of my best mate who happens to be a Sp*rs fan and as Best Man I was in charge of the itinerary. Sadly it transpired that the bar was no longer open for business so I consoled myself with a rendition of…

“Super, Super Swede, Super, Super Swede, Super, Super Swede, Super Anders Limpar”

Thanks for reading.

Paul

It’s New Start Eve…

Morning all,

Well it’s new start eve and I understand the club are busy pimping out the Emirates ready for tomorrows festivities when we’ll finally get to unwrap our presents before spending the afternoon feasting upon Swan.

I know it’s a cliché but all I really want from the day is three points and a bit of harmony, everyone to just get along (I’m looking in the direction of our cousins who insist upon wearing those black scarves) – Oh and also if it could be drummed into our players that nobody needs to receive any cards tomorrow, especially those that come with vouchers for a three match spa break.

Gunnersauraus is often accompanied by a helper imp

One rumour I can dismiss right now is that Peter Hill-Wood will be dressing up as Gunnersauraus and handing out presents to Junior Gunners. There are two reasons for this – A – PHW will be asleep in his chair by the time kick off comes after helping himself to three bottles of Sherry & B – The Gunnersaurus is of course real so there is no need for anyone to dress up…

"Where's the brandy?"

I’m assuming that by now you’ve all realised that there is little Arsenal news doing the rounds today and until Arsene has completed his pre match press conference that is pretty much the way it’s going to stay. Yeah I could go in to possible permutations of time line up and the like for tomorrow but then that would really kind of defeat the object of tomorrows post.

What we do have today are some good bits of player PR and some awful club PR and as I don’t want to end today’s post on a sour note, because frankly I’m too excited about tomorrow and don’t want to dampen that, so lets start with the bad PR.

Astonishingly Arsenal have unleashed a team of lawyers and pointed them in the direction of a hat shop in the Spanish city of Seville. Alicia Simon is being forced to change the name of her business after Arsenal took objection to the name ‘Arsenale’.

Now this shop sells hats, not silly hats related to Arsenal Football Club, not cheap imitations of hats sold officially by the club with a rogue ‘e’ tacked onto the end of the word ‘Arsenal’ just to try and slip under the radar like those Ralph Lauren shirts and their three legged horses. No, It just sells regular normal hats, the types of which they all wear in Spain I imagine…

I bet Eboue has one of these

You know, great big things that resemble fruit bowls and those little black ones that matadors wear and maybe a few sombreros for the tourists,  but none of them having any connotations with Arsenal Football Club.

It is an absolute PR disaster, and the fact the club have been pursuing this for four years does little but make it all the more lamentable. The reasons for the shops name are clear & as I said there is absolutely no suggestion that Alicia has been trying to surreptitiously make a living from the clubs recent on field successes or indeed lack of them.

One word sums it all up – Pathetic

I dream of Tony

Now to a bit of PR that has us all giddy as kippers (I’ve never understood that phrase but my wife uses it a lot) – Per Mertesacker, or ‘Mertz’ as I’m going to be referring to him as, has been speaking about his admiration for an Arsenal legend… Tony Adams.

In an interview with the Arsenal Player the German Centre half speaks of the admiration he has for our former captain and how, despite a lack of television broadcasts of the Gunners in Germany, Mr Arsenal was for him “The One”.

When I watched the interview yesterday and heard Mertz utter those words of affection I think for a brief moment I understood how women must feel when they watch films about two people who meet, don’t like each other, continue to bump into each other in a series of highly unlikely situations before settling down with other people then realising that they actually love each other after all, get together but then just when you think it’s all going to be ok they fall out before being reconciled right at the end. Those kind of films go on for hours and hours, this interview goes on for under two minutes.

Another bit of great PR from Mertz is the revelation, in the same interview, that he wasn’t given an Arsenal shirt by an aunt. No it’s better than that, he choose it himself. He walked into a sports store as a gangly ginger German child with visions of Tony Adams in his eyes, saw his (clearly less intelligent) brother foolishly pick the jersey of a much lesser side and with a heart full of pride selected the red & white of Arsenal as his choice.

I think I actually might love him a little bit!

Right that is your lot for today, head back this way tomorrow morning for an actual preview of tomorrows game.

Oh, ok ok – You can have one present now, but that’s your lot! Theo & Gibbs should be fit for tomorrows game & Frimpong is back from suspension… well that’s what it says here

Yes I know it’s only a little thing, I’m saving your big present until the morning. Now go on, the sooner you go to sleep the sooner it’ll be time to have it. You little scamps…

The Rooney Rule

Continuing with Monday’s theme of discussing something different on this blog I want to take a look at the ‘Rooney Rule’ this morning –

If you are unaware of the ‘Rooney Rule’ then in a nut shell it is this – A requirement in American Football for teams to interview at least one black candidate when a managerial vacancy arises.

Now I would like to make it clear from the outset that I have no objection to this rule being implemented in English football , if indeed it is,but at the same time I am certainly not a lobbyist for its inclusion and in this post I hope to explain my reasons why.

Having grown up in North London multiculturalism is very much the norm within the communities I have lived in, if I’m totally honest then I can say that there has been a sea change in attitudes down the years in terms of the integration of ethnicities and the mindless racism that would sadly sometimes accompany it, but it’s been a change for the better.

Mickey & Rocky

Throughout my life time we have always had a large proportion of black footballers on the books at the Arsenal, those that instantly come to mind include Viv Anderson, Gus Caeser, Paul Davis, David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry, Paddy Vieira… There are many many more…

Batson at Highbury
 

The first black player to pull on the red & white was Grenada born Brendon Batson who after making a total of ten appearances for the Arsenal moved to Cambridge United where he first linked up with Ron Atkinson. Batson followed ‘Big Ron’ to West Bromwich Albion where he Cyril Regis & Laurie Cunningham were dubbed ‘The Three Degrees’ as it was the first time that an English side had fielded a trio of black players.  After having his career cut short by injury Batson, who was capped three times by the England ‘B’ team became an integral member of the Professional Footballers Association and was awarded the MBE for ‘Services to Football’ in 2000. Batson is himself in favour of the rule being introduced and was  in attendance with representatives of the PFA, LMA, FA, Football League & Premier League at Wembley yesterday to hear the views of American civil rights lawyer Cyrus Mehri who was instamental in the rules introduction to Gridiron.

In more than twenty years of watching football at Highbury and the Emirates I have never encountered any racism directed from our fans towards players, I’m not saying it has never happened but I have certainly never been witness to it. We Gooners as a whole are made up of a real myriad of nationalities

United Nations

                                                                                                                                                                                           

In more recent times we have seen players from every corner of the globe represent our club and in an era of globalisation we’ve witnessed the rise of Arsenal supporters clubs across the world as our fan base has expanded far beyond the streets of Islington.

Far Flung Fans

My point, with all this talk of cultural diversity and our acceptance of it, is I can’t see that we as a collective would have any problem with the appointment of a black manager should it ever happen – indeed were we not one of the first clubs to put our faith in a foreign manager back when it was anything but fashionable to do so?

Arsene Who?

Were we not chastised for it as we have been in the media and the wider footballing community in this country for having the audacity to field a side made up of eleven ‘Johnny Foreigners’?

We, and Wenger in particular, have been accused of killing English football so many times that we must surely be undertaking the worlds most drawn out assassination attempt.

Yet look at the amount of England internationals our club has produced during this same era, or at least how many of them have represented both our club and the country that plays home to it. Indeed Emmanuel Frimpong, a black footballer born in Ghana but raised in England, has represented this country at various schoolboy levels and was recently selected by the England U21 side after making sufficient inroads to the Arsenal first team. Frimmers didn’t accept the call, due to an alleged injury, and has before and after made it clear the he wishes to represent the country of his birth at international level.

As far as I’m concerned the colour of your skin and/or your country of birth matter not a jot as long as your footballing CV suggests you are the best candidate for the job of Arsenal manager and I would hope that is the belief of all Gooners.

But… if, hypothetically, Arsene Wenger were to leave the club at the end of this season who would be on the shortlists complied by fans, bookies, journalists and Sky Sport news to replace him?

 Names in the hat would perhaps be Owen Coyle & David Moyes, Dragan Stojkovic supposedly mooted by Wenger himself as his eventual successor. I’m sure there would be whispers of former players who are currently working within the game – Adams, Bergkamp, Bould, Garde and of course those of the long odds Mourinho & Guardiola.

Rijkaard

I wouldn’t expect to hear names such as Frank Rijkaard, Piso Mosimane or Chris Houghton…

But that isn’t because they are black men, it’s because they simply aren’t good enough to replace Wenger. Rijkaard was the man in charge of Barcelona when the Catalan club beat us in the 2006 Champions League Final. He won two La Liga titles back to back & steered his native Netherlands to the Semi-Finals of Euro 2000, he clearly has a pedigree but he would still be unlikely to be considered a likely replacement for the man who came in and revolutionised English football.

To make it compulsory for our board to interview at least one black manager for the role would be wrong in my opinion. As with any job the candidates interviewed should be those who best match the requirements as laid out by the employer, skin colour should never come in to it.

The inclusion of the rule would suggest that there is a racist undertone drifting through English football and in particular at the very top-level where money men and executives pull the strings. If that is indeed true then how does the inclusion of the ‘Rooney Rule’ eradicate this? (Please note that it certainly would need eradicating) If clubs were forced to interview one black candidate then what mechanism would be in place to stop it being anything more than a token gesture? Boardrooms full of faux smiles and handshakes, thanks but no thanks. Would that then go on for two, five, ten years until someone says “Hold on, they’re interviewing black guys but  still not enough of them are getting the jobs” – What would happen then?

Not cut out for it

There are black footballers like John Barnes & Paul Ince who were wonderful, fantastic players who served this countries national side with distinction but they seem not to be cut out for football management much in the way Paul Merson isn’t. They aren’t unsuccessful in their management careers because they’re black – you can argue that given his relative inexperience Ince has actually managed to achieve a high level of success when compared to the managerial highlights of contemporaries such as Merson & Barnes, it all depends on the yard stick by which you determine success.

Merse man

Barnes & Ince shouldn’t be given job interviews  simply because they’re black just as Merse shouldn’t be given job interviews just because he is a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Puzzled by a lack of job opportunities

I understand the argument that says black bosses should be given an advantage so as to build their experience because without that experience how do they get ahead or build a career, but what top manager has walked into a top job?

Often the best bosses haven’t had much of a playing career but no one hands interviews to them because they were mediocre players no one had ever heard of but believed were more deserving than household names.

It is incredibly disappointing that from the talent pool of black footballers this country has produced over the years we’re yet to see more than a handful of managerial careers. As Oliver Holt Tweeted yesterday, there were two black managers at the top end of English football ten years ago and there are only two now. But look at how many black footballers we have playing here now compared to just thirty years ago, many were born on these shores and there are many who not so long ago would have been lumped in with any footballer from an other country as a ‘Johnny Foreigner’ or could have been racially abused every time they stepped on the pitch.

I’ve no doubt that many of the players plying their trade in our leagues today will become football managers, some will be successful others won’t be but it will be due to their ability not the colour of their skin.

It is also important to consider that there may be those who don’t wish to be given a foot in the door via the ‘Rooney Rule’ and it could be seen as tokenistic, patronising and divisive.

If we truly believe that there is an underlying reluctance within English football to employ black managers and coaches, at all levels not just Premier League, then we need to really get to the root cause of this and eradicate that way of thinking just as we should with any form of institutionalised racism. We also shouldn’t just assume that any racial disadvantage exists only at the coaching level of the game. When did you last see a black football journalist sitting around Brian Woolnough’s kitchen table on Sky’s Sunday supplement?

I’m all for the increase of minority groups within football just as I’m eager to see the complete eradication of racial discord in this country – disharmony and unbalance between race groups is not confined to sport in general let alone football, it sadly exists in many walks of life and businesses and that kind of imbalance must be addressed and realigned from the education system upwards if we are to see a real welcome increase in the numbers of black football managers, policeman, politicians, fireman and indeed all professions.

I just want to end this post by enforcing the point that no one, whatever their colour or creed, should be discouraged from achieving all they dream of achieving be it in football or any other walk of life. And if discrimination has been encountered it should be used as a tool for motivation not discouragement. Natural ability, determination & self belief will always win through – they have to because that is all that any of us really have.

It would be great to know your thoughts on this…

Thanks for reading,

Paul.

So long Cesc Fabregas

That’s it, it’s over.

Unless Cesc arrives at Camp Nou and suddenly has a moment of revelation he’ll sign for Barcelona this morning and one of the longest running transfer saga’s in the history of football along with a chapter of Arsenal history will be completed.

 This move shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone, it’s been coming at a slow pace from a long distance for a long time now, the only thing I can equate it to is ‘Squatter & the ant’.

Make no mistake, Arsene Wenger did not want Cesc to leave so there is no point pointing fingers in his direction, there is enough of that going on right now. This move is and always has been fuelled by the players desire to return to the City of his birth, the club he has supported all of his life and the club he left to join us as a sixteen year old in 2003. That desire and Barcelona’s insistence in completing the deal because, well they can.

The Catalan club have flirted with Cesc in public & in private, the likes of Xavi, Pique & Puyol have whispered in his ear every sweet nothing he wished to hear and they used all & every opportunity when a microphone was placed in front of them to discuss not only their own desperation to see a deal concluded but also Cesc’s.

All of this Catalonian conspiring & suasion has done little but muddy the waters of the golden pond that should be Cesc’s Arsenal career. There should be no doubt that whilst it may have been Barcelona and their La Masia academy that first began to tutor a natural footballing talent it was at The Arsenal, London Colney, Highbury & Ashburton Grove that Cesc was really schooled & educated. It was Arsene Wenger & all the Arsenal coaching staff who gave him a football career and helped him become one of the finest midfielders on the planet.

Xavi can talk all he likes about Cesc having Barcelona DNA but there should be no doubting that after eight years in London during which time he became Arsenal’s youngest ever first team player at the age of 16 years & 177 days (V’s Rotherham United at Highbury on Oct 28th 2003), Arsenal’s youngest ever first team goal scorer 35 days later (V’s Wolves at Highbury on Dec 2nd ’03) and gaining the captains armband in November 2008, that there is as much Arsenal in the players genetic footballing make up as there is Barcelona.

While the player himself has wanted the return to the place he calls home his affection for our fans, our staff, our club, should never be put under any doubt. He always gave 100% for the cause & it was as much his dedication and drive as well as his talent which saw him carve his name into Arsenal history.

There are many memories to think back on now –  The Pizza throwing at Old Trafford, the substitute appearance against Villa when he changed the game single-handed although injured, the rallying of the troops and Ssshhhing of Tony Pulis at the Britannia when Rambo was injured, the goal against Spurs, the belittling of Mark Hughes and those incredible performances in Europe against Inter & Real to name but only a few. It’s incredible to think that for all he achieved and inspired he leaves the club with a solitary FA Cup winners medal.

Last night Arsène Wenger told the official club site: “We have been clear that we didn’t want Cesc to leave and that remains the case. However, we understand Cesc’s desire to move to his home town club and have now accepted an offer from Barcelona. We thank Cesc for his contribution at Arsenal and wish him future success.”

There is no doubt that the gaffer will be feeling the pain of this parting as much as any Gooner, he has always felt he has controlled the departure of players, moving them on at a time when it benefited the club. With Cesc it’s different, the affinity the Frenchman has for the young Spaniard was unparalleled and he believed that with him controlling games from the midfield he could build his greatest team around him. Sadly that never happened and now that mantle will have to be passed on and we’ll all have to start from scratch.

There is never a good time for a world-class player to leave your club but this could be as good a time as any in some ways, as I said a few days ago in mind Cesc had already moved on so it is best for everyone that he goes now.

We all know we’ll receive nothing like his actual worth but there is little we can do about that now, I honestly feel the club have held out and pushed for the best deal they could get and due to the players desire to see the move happen we were always fighting a losing battle and despite the length of contract we had Cesc tied to gradually our hand was always becoming weaker.

The thing that will gripe me the most about it all will be the pleasure & posturing we will now see from Barca, I expect Cesc to retain his dignity but, perhaps Guardiola aside, I’m sure the knife will be stuck in by Xavi & Co.

 Good luck Cesc, it was good while it lasted. Maybe you’ll be back one day?

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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