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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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

Fighting Back

It’s difficult to believe that any club fighting its way to wining the league championship would ever take the opinion that everyone is against them but during the 1990/91 old Division One season that is exactly what George Graham instilled in his players – A solid belief that no one wanted to see the Arsenal crowned league champions for the second time in three seasons, that the national press were against them because “Nothing ever comes out of Highbury“, the Football Association were against them having fined the club £50,00 and two precious points for their part in the brawl that took place at Old Trafford in the October of that campaign. George even went so far as to suggest that the fans were not fully behind the team and in his famous teamtalk at London Colney he reiterated to his players the importance of getting the fans on their side, he even assured the squad that he would play his part in this, that he would get the fans backing the team during their title run in.

Having been at an age where the politics of football held little to no interest for me I can’t honestly say I vividly remember a feeling that we were coming under attack from all sides back then but from the ten thousand times I watched my VHS copy of the season review aptly titled ‘Champions‘ that defiance and felling that it was ‘us against them’ has always stuck with me.

I think it’s safe to say that we’re unlikely to be crowned Premier League Champions this season and while the club have certainly helped stir the fans current irritation with price increases, transfer impotence, the teams poor form etc in recent months (I don’t want to go into too much detail less I defeat my own purpose here) and as a collective we do certainly have a belief that the written press and outlets such as Sky Sports News are against us. That they’re ready and willing to pick up the tiniest of sticks and prod poke and beat us with them. But more often than not we’re assured by our perceived detractors that this simply isn’t true and we’re paranoid (Usually at the foot of an article laying into our inability to do anything but the opposite of all they implore us as a club to do).

This week I’ve enjoyed what to me looks like the clubs attempts at a resistance…

It began with CEO Ivan Gazidis speaking at a Sports Industry Group breakfast at the start of the week.Ivan spoke not only of owner Stan Kroenke’s full involvement with club matters and the muted Americans apparent plans to share his thoughts with fans and media alike when next on English soil, he also spoke of his backing for the boss in the wake of last weekends defeat at Ewood Park. The South African/British chief exec rounded on Wenger’s critics assuring them that the Frenchman is – “As focused on delivering success as ever. He didn’t suddenly become a bad manager, that’s nonsense

We all know that as a public speaker Ivan is somewhat silver-tongued, it’s a natural environment for the former Deputy commissioner of the MLS. W also know that behind the scenes he is frustrated by the hammering the club is getting from all directions and whilst he may have similar views to the rest of us when it comes to expenditure on playing staff and some of Wenger’s methods he is, professionally at least, a company man and wouldn’t be earning his crust if he didn’t attempt to dampen the fire and get the clubs PR reputation back on track. It may have been an odd thing to say but I quite liked his defence of Wenger when he said – “He’s not broken. To see him portrayed as some kind of idiot is damaging to the game“.

Maybe it’s not what Ivan meant but for us all to now round on Wenger and portray him as some kind of fool in the way that Steve Howard would (and does) after all he achieved in the game is somewhat shortsighted and in an age where anyone and everyone in a position of responsibility at football clubs is only a poor performance away from the dole queue it is important for the game that those with the reputation and longevity of Wenger, Ferguson and the like is giving lesser mortals less than a cat in hells chance of getting anywhere near the types of career those two have had.

Ivan’s backing seemed to stiffen the lips and harden the resolve of our boss and our players. After the clubs Carling Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday night Arsene himself came out with some of the old fighting talk, dismissing suggestions that he had received a so-called vote of confidence and that speculation surrounding his longterm future at the helm of the Gunners was foolhardy, he told his inquisitors: “My record? I have just managed 14 years at this club and I have kept them 14 years in the Champions League and I wish it lasts another 14 years

Maybe it was the heat of the interview battle and the line of enquiry from those who talk a good game of club management without ever have come any closer to doing so then a game of Championship Manager, but Arsene did himself a kind of disservice forgetting that he has now been manager of this great club for fifteen years. However he knew how long he had been schooling footballers, when asked if he had plans to add a defensive coach to his staff the gaffer quipped “I’ve just completed 32 years of coaching – I don’t want to answer this kind of question

Then is now doubt that the club was going on the defensive in the media at a time when we’ve been unable to do so on the pitch. It was all very batten down the hatches and keep the enemy at the gates, but it wasn’t overly doing much to win over the fans.That coup de grace came yesterday.

On Wednesday morning The Sun newspaper ran a story on it’s back page which suggested that the perceived poor attendance at the Emirates on Tuesday night was the fans making it known to Wenger, Gazidis, Kroeke and the world that they were unhappy. Coupled with an almost full page picture of empty Emirates seats “journalist” Charlie Wyett mocked the attendance figure of 46,539 for a league cup third round fixture against a side that is three divisions below us. True it was the lowest attendance the clubs new home has ever seen but the paper seemed unwilling to level this against other attendance figures such as Manchester City’s paltry 44,026 at the United Stadium last week for their first ever UEFA champions League game against Italian side Napoli. They didn’t mention that more fans had attended our fixture on a Tuesday night then were in attendance for Tottenham’s Premier league win over Liverpool on Sunday lunch time.

Now Wyett & Co were content to dismiss our attendance figure as little more than laughable and yesterday the club stuck two fingers up at them with the release of not only a thank you to the fans for their support at the game but also the attendance figures for every Carling Cup game played this week and a selection of last weekends Premier League games to.

This was the clubs best bit of PR in a long time and it was fantastic. It certainly got the backing of the fans and has produced a little of that ‘us against them’ spirit.

Wenger has told his players that it is their responsibility to lead the crowd not the other way home and I hope we see that in our game against Bolton Wanderers tomorrow afternoon and that the fight back starts here.

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

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.

Something different

Recently its been suggested that this blog should offer something to differ it from other Arsenal related blogs. In the main it is difficult to do that because all Arsenal blogs share one common theme – Arsenal Football Club

But on the other hand I can see what people are saying, and today I think I’m going to talk about something I can’t imagine any other Arsenal blog will –

Underhill. Saturday 3rd September. Npower League Two – Barnet 0-0 Accrington Stanley

Now before you close this window and mutter something about not giving a shit, may I ask you to hold off and reassure you that Arsenal will still be encompassed within the post.

With no top level football taking place over the course of the weekend past, due to the coma inducing International fixtures, there was a black hole camped within the lives of hundreds of thousands  of football supporters,  myself and Dave included.  So when he sent me a Tweet suggesting a trip to watch the mighty Bees take on the team forever immortalised in that Milk advert, the vortex swirling before me began to evaporate.

Now neither of us are exactly strangers to the old ground and it’s famous slope, and not just because of the once traditional but sadly now defunct annual pre season friendly between the Gunners & the Bees or indeed because it is the Arsenal second strings (now) part time home ground. This is mainly due to having a mate who is indeed a Barnet supporter and over the years we’ve been there with him to see the home side slip out of and bounce back into the football league all whilst surviving on a shoe string. However for reasons I won’t go into here, he was unable to attend the game.

So here we were two Arsenal supporters strolling in the Saturday sunshine down towards the stadium which has played home to the football team for more than one hundred years. Now don’t get me wrong it didn’t instil within me the same sense off excitement and anticipation as I get when walking down St Thomas’s Road towards the Emirates (or Highbury as we all once did) but that thrill of going to see a game of football was there and I don’t know if anything encapsulates and adds to that feeling as entering a football ground via a good old fashioned iron turnstile – paying your money to a person sat in a booth no bigger than the cells used for solitary confinement in prisons and places of torture. And nothing beats doing that on a bright summers day – stepping into the darkness of the turnstile and exiting back into the sunshine but an environment far different from the one that exists outside the four stands/terraces that surround in this case the slanted pitch.

We're the Clock End Highbury

It’s one of those feelings that takes you back to your youth and for me personally will always evoke memories of the Old Clock End at Highbury and in particular the last home game of the 1991/92 season. I had always had a ticket to sit up in the East Stand every time I had been to Highbury and I had always been accompanied by an adult, but on this day I managed to convince my parents that I could be trusted to go along with two friends to be there on the North Banks final day as an old fashioned standing terrace. I had never had the experience of the famous old stand and was determined to be one of the thousands crammed in for the game against Southampton, it was undoubtedly the naivety of youth but I honestly expected to take my place on the North Bank that day but of course was left somewhat disappointed. I think the terrace was full to bursting before I had even left home that day and so it was on the Clock End I stood on Saturday 2nd of May 1992 for the first time as the atmosphere, teams performance and 5-1 score line really provided a fitting send off for it’s opposite end.

We're the North Bank Highbury

At Underhill on Saturday there was no historical significance, well not that I’m aware of anyway, and we took our place on the East Terrace (Sorry Bees fans, I know it’s more complicated than that in terms of the names of your stands) right next to a pile of cat shit – I wonder maybe if it had been deposited by a famous cat?

I think we must have been stood in someone’s regular spot because we were flanked either side by a guy who muttered commentary under his breath for eighty-five minutes (He left early, probably to beat the traffic) and a woman who with the whole section of terrace to choose from stood right next to Dave.

I’ve no intention of going into any kind of match report here, quite frankly it was one of the worst displays of football I have ever had the misfortune to see. The most exciting moments were Stanley’s two sending offs which pretty much sums the contest up.

It was more the social aspect of the occasion that really struck me and has lead me to pen this post. As I say we have a Barnet supporting friend but he wasn’t with us to take in the stalemate, we were just two football fans who wanted to go and see a game that afternoon. Three O’clock on a Saturday, surely tradition and heritage dictates that we should have been doing nothing else. Sadly not these days.

The fact that the action on the pitch was anything but transfixing I took to listening to some of the conversations around me, well I did when there wasn’t a certain Barnet fan screaming god awful insults at the referee. When I say god awful I don’t mean that he was hurling unrepeatable threats of torturous violence against the officials wife and children. No, I mean that they were themselves an insult to the tradition of insulting mach officials. Anyway…

There is a very good chance that we had pitched up in the concessions stand as most of the supporters around us were probably in attendance in September 1907 for the grounds first game – a 1-0 victory for the mighty Barnet Alston F.C against Crystal Palace –  some of them were, like us, supporters of other clubs. In front of me were a group made up of veteran Spurs fans discussing recent results, departures and signings at their club. Dave and I spent a large portion of our time discussing similar subject matter but it was obviously the more important details related to the Arsenal and what film Dave didn’t want to see with his wife. There was a father and his young son who both had Liverpool backpacks and I’m sure there were many more fans from sides higher up the fottball pyramid. Most I’m sure attend Barnet home games far more regularly than Dave & I and I’m also sure that the vast majority of home fans are just that and not football tourists. I’m completely certain that the 27 Accrington Stanley fans were genuine supporters of their club.

But my point is that all these people of varying ages and differing alliances had taken the decision to attend a game in the fourth tear of English league football which even at that level could never be considered a glamour tie. It’s that draw of attending a match, giving your kids their first taste of live football, standing on the same slab of concrete as you have for sixty years, letting the frustrations of everyday life disappear for a few hours while you become part of a collective, all searching for that same feeling of excitement and passion. The feeling of being part of something, wanting to see the same outcome as everyone else in the ground bar the opposition fans and then shortly before five o’clock you all turn as one and enter back into near reality sometimes disappointed, other times overjoyed. Always someone to criticise or hero worship, discussions of how the manager got his tactics right or wrong. The fact that you have no chance of victory in your next fixture. Every little element and microcosm of thought that the ninety minutes creates and inspires. Come rain or shine, win, loose or draw glad that you were there.

I’m not at all suggesting that a trip to the kind of mega structure that plays home to our side offers anything less or can never compare, but to be one of the 2,320 in attendance at that old fashioned ground with it’s old stands and slopping pitch has made me feel humbled and during a time when Arsenal has given us much that has frustrated us, given us cause to criticise and question the sums of money required to follow a club of our size paying £16 to walk through that iron turnstile and stand on that terrace whilst twenty two men kick a ball around reminded me of every reason I love football, every reason I attend football and every reason it matters.

It’s more than what just goes on out on the pitch, which players you sign & which players you sell. It’s more important than which trophies you win and those that you don’t. It’s far more important than a collection of pundits, former players or journalists discussing and dissecting only the elements they deem important.

It’s about being there, it’s about communicating & socialising, contributing to something your community can be proud of, be part of & help build. It’s every reason we all fell in love with football.

I’m not suggesting you pledge alliance to the badge of another club but maybe, if you don’t already, look up your local sides fixtures and if you can pop along to a game. It might not be pretty to watch but you won’t be disappointed you did.

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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