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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A chance of Victory?

As Big Dave Taylor and I sat in the pub on Thursday afternoon after that mornings AGM the bar staff were busy giving the place a Halloween themed makeover, the TV screen directly in front of us, muted and set to Sky Sports news, was seemingly showing images relating to the same three stories over and over again…

Firstly there was the female hockey player who looked like Zara Phillips, then came footage of Arsene Wenger & Stan Kroenke at the event we had earlier attended, then came something to do with this lunchtime’s opponents and their lack of success in convincing a fans group to sell the Stamford Bridge pitch to Roman Abramovich. In truth we paid little attention to the on-screen footage or the stories they were attempting to tell, we were far too busy discussing how tall Georgie Thompson is and occasionally breaking into song as Motown classics flooded out of the bars speakers.

But then the Barclays Premier League table appeared and showed Arsenal sitting in seventh place six points behind Chelsea up in third and immediately my brain began to calculate how much higher we would be able to climb after defeating the west London club and collecting three points this weekend. Yes that’s right, I was working on the assumption that Arsenal would win the game because that is what I always do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naïve enough to think we can’t be beaten and then surprised when we are. To be honest I can’t really explain to you why I do it? Whoever it is we’re set to face in the league, I always add three points to our current tally when having a pre match look at the current league standings. It’s just one of those things I’ve always done, in the same way I always back one of our strikers to finish as the country’s top goal scorer at the start of every season, always predict we’ll win at least one trophy every season and whilst I don’t always share it (partly so as not to jinx it) in my mind I’m always sure that this is the season Spurs will be relegated. Reality always kicks in and on those occasions when I know we might struggle for the win or gladly take a point I readily accept it.

But since that brief league table maths work out, and it’s almost instant dismissal, I’ve started to hear the voices of the cast of Escape to Victory in my head, you know the bit…

*Spoiler Alert*

At half time in their exhibition match against Ze Germans, John Colby and his team of Allied footballer POW’s, aided by the French Resistance, are escaping into the Paris sewers via the Columbes Stadium baths when suddenly despite freedom being only moments away and trailing the match 4-1 a shout of “But we can win this” comes up from midfielder Doug Clure (Russell Osman)

But we can win this” those five words keep popping into my head and the more I think about it the more possible it seems…

Let’s remember we’re in a rich vein of form, perhaps not in the sense of the football we’ve been playing but certainly in the sense of our recent results and Chelsea are without the suspended Didier Drogba. Since the Ivorian has been at Stamford Bridge we’ve never lost a game against the blues when he hasn’t played.

Ok, we haven’t won away in the league in eight matches and our hosts are unbeaten in their last ten London derbies on home soil but encouragingly Andre Villas-Boas’ side haven’t managed to keep a clean sheet in their last eight games and we’ve got goal scoring sensation Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman has bagged 25 goals in 26 Premier League matches in 2011.

When was the last time we won at Stamford Bridge? 2008. Who scored the Gunners goals in that 1-2 victory? Robin Van Persie. Is that a sign? Most likely not, it just me plucking positives from anywhere I can find them.

Would I settle for a point if it were offered to us right now? Perhaps, but then I drift back to 1943, to Paris and the Columbes Stadium. I can hear the cries of the oppressed Parisian crowd as they break through the barriers, storm the German troopers with the sheer size of their number and cover the allied players in coats and hats, moving them towards the gates and streets of the French capital “Victoire” they cheer “Victoire, Victoire, Victoire“…

After his rousing speech at the AGM perhaps our French manager can continue to lead and inspire our own resistance and escape from the early season form that has seen any chance we have of achieving something of merit this season dismissed by many. Perhaps at Stamford Bridge this afternoon Wenger can lead his men to Victoire and those three points…

Thanks for reading – enjoy the game wherever you are watching it.

Paul.

Make it stop, please make it stop

So far this summer I’ve tried not to discuss the Cesc saga too much in my posts, but I’m now at the point where I have gone far beyond fed up with the situation.

It seems that the Catalan club have actually only made one concrete offer of £26m, that in my eyes is incredibly laughable and disrespectful firstly to the player himself but more importantly our club and that’s where it stands for me – Our club is more important than Barcelona’s wants & desires and more important than Cesc Fabreagas.

I’m not going to waste time quoting Xavi, Rosell, Guardiola et al, their words are little more than irritation to me. Wenger, Gazidas & PHW have made our position quite clear so I’m not going to go quoting them either. The person I would like to hear from and be able to quote is Fabregas himself & I don’t mean any of the sitting on the fence patter he has given previously.

Now I’m not saying I want us to sell the Spaniard, I’m not suggesting we would be better off without him or anything of the kind but I am saying that if he really wants to stay he would come out and say so. It would be simple, all he would have to do is sit in front of the assembled press and say “I do not want to return to Barcelona, I want to remain at Arsenal and as such would ask Barca to end their futile chase. I ask my friends at the club to stop speaking on my behalf, these are the only words that matter – I want to stay at Arsenal

But we all know we’ll never hear that and we know why…  Cesc does want to return to Barcelona! Not in a few years, not one day in the future… Now.

And you know what, that’s ok with me (I’ve always thought he be off after Euro 2012 anyway). Maybe in these days of player power I’m a naïve old romantic but my opinion is – If you are not fully committed to the club then move on with our best wishes.

We hear a lot about how Cesc is as unwilling to say that he wants to leave as he is unwilling to say he wants to stay, this is apparently because of the respect he has for Arsene Wenger, the club & the fans. I appreciate that & respect it but I don’t think it is right any longer. There is no need for Cesc to go down the Modric road and release statements akin to that of a kidnapped child, that would be disrespectful to all those people at the club he respects but I see no harm in him saying “I want to return to Barcelona but I know and so do they that this can only happen if they meet Arsenal’s valuation of me

That I would respect because it is the complete truth. If the required bid still failed to materialise then Cesc would know how much Barca & his hero Pep Guardiola really want him, we’ll still respect him because he was honest, and hey come on we’ve always known he had the desire to return anyway.

I’m sure if  everyone laid their cards on the table & the deal didn’t come off then Cesc would continue to give the same amount of effort & commitment to the Arsenal as he always has done. If he wants to go and feels we’re denying him the opportunity then surely he is more likely to give less than 100%?

So again, I’m not saying I want to sell or that we should sell but it is time for Cesc to speak up as well as Barca paying up (As Arseblog says ‘Cough up or Cock off’)

In an ideal world he would truly want to stay no matter what but in an ideal world we would have this starting XI at the peak of their powers each time we play – Seaman -Dixon-Adams-Keown-Winterburn-Limpar-Vieira-Merson-Pires-Bergkamp-Henry (Well in my ideal world anyway)

The one thing I would remind Cesc is that a return to Barca means a return to the god awful Barnet!

Check out the guns on Jags

In other news it is reported that we’ve had a £12m bid for Phil Jaqielka rejected by Everton. According to Sam Wallace in the Independent  the former Sheffield United man remains Wengers first choice centre half and the player himself would reject any move to North London. We’re also being linked with Cahill, Samba & Dann still but I’m starting to get a feeling that we won’t see any of the defensive reinforcements we’ve been expecting, not unless one of our current centre halfs leave and who the hell is going to sign Squillaci?

Needs to visit Sagna's barber

It seems that Chelsea have made a bid for Anderlecht’s Romelu Lukaku – This is a player I really would like to see us sign. Strong, powerful & pacey, experienced enough to make an immediate impact, young enough to improve. Alas the Belgian is a big admirer of Didier Drogba and Chelsea & AVB most likely hold more of an attraction than us at the moment, that’s before you even get into money matters and as Mr Hobbs tweeted last night on that aspect of any potential bidding war “To be honest with our philosophy on spending we’d have been buggered if Blackpool had put in a bid”

Whats that you're lifting Sylv?

Lastly – Sylvain Wiltord has come out of retirement to sign a one year deal with fallen French giants Nantes at the age of 37. Good luck to him next season, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out to see how he gets on. Who will ever forget this!

Lastly, the site stats show that plenty of you have been visiting and reading of late so it would be great if we could get some discussion going in the comments section below each post.

Thanks for reading.

Up The Arsenal!

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