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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Tommy’s New Deal & L’OM Preview

Morning all,

Well we’ve a fair bit to crack on with this morning which makes a nice change…

That’s start with the most positive – Arsenal announced yesterday that Thomas Vermaelen had signed a new long-term deal with the club. The new deal will keep the Belgian centre half at the club until 2015 and it is without doubt a major boost at a time when we are again being told that players want to leave the club.

Tommy told Arsenal.com

“I am really happy to have signed a new contract with Arsenal. I always had the intention to stay here. I feel there is a big belief in me from the Club, from the boss and from the fans and that is one of the reasons why I stayed. Arsenal is a fantastic Club. We have great supporters, we’re doing well financially and we are playing with some quality young players now and they will develop, which is very good for the future”

It’s great to hear the defender speak in such positive terms about the club, it may seem odd that he has mentioned the clubs financial status but perhaps it shows that it’s an area of the football club that some players are interested in. Who wants to sign a deal to stay on a ship that is sinking into the financial mire?

The boss was equally delighted to have tied down one of his senior players saying: “We are absolutely delighted that Thomas has signed a new long-term contract. Our plan is always to sign top quality players and with Thomas extending his contract, we have done just that. Thomas is a special player, who has always made a huge contribution on the pitch and we are looking forward to him being a part of our future at Arsenal Football Club”

Now some people have been questioning the sense in extending the deal of a player who has made just nine appearances in the last year, clocking up less than six hours of playing time in total, but we all know that with the former Ajax man in the side we look a much better unit. We win more games and concede less goals with him in the side and whilst it may be a gamble due to his fitness record I think it is a minor one and certainly one worth taking. Hopefully he’ll be back from his current spell on the sidelines in the near future, Chelsea away on the 29th is the target, and can go on to have an injury free run in the side – Wenger has suggested that once Tommy comes back he can play 50 games on the spin, I’ve nothing against that kind of optimism but do wonder if the gaffer is including the start of next season in that or is expecting us to have a run in a cup competition?

Hopefully this news can help convince Van Persie to sign a new deal, it can certainly only act as a positive and will go down as a Pro on the skippers list of reasons to put pen to paper.

Tonight the Gunners take on French side Olympique de Marseille in the Champions League.

While L’OM may be struggling in Ligue 1, they currently sit in 15th and have won only once in their last ten games, beating newly promoted Evian, Didier Deschamps side currently lead ‘Group F’ by two points so I don’t think we should be dwelling on league form too much (especially as ours isn’t exactly great)

In terms of European competition Les Phoceens have beaten both Borussia Dortmund and Olympiacos without conceding a goal so it’s likely that they will sit deep and soak up any pressure we put on them and try to catch us on the counter attack which will undoubtedly cause us problems at the back where will need to put in the kind of performance we saw from our defence in the opening group game against Borussia Dortmund (but without conceding a late goal)

A look at the French sides squad shows  they certainly have quality throughout their side but the danger men are expected to be French Striker Loic Remy, who has been likened to Arsenal & France legend Thierry Henry by Arsene Wenger this week, and Argentine Lucho Gonzalez who was reported to have been close to joining Arsenal on loan during the summer. Another Marseille player who has been linked with us in the past is Andre Ayew who could provide young Carl Jenkinson with a torid evening, so whoever plays infront of the young left back is going to have to provide him with some support.

In Arsenal team news it’s disappointing that Kieran Gibbs misses out due to the muscle injury he picked up during Sundays win over Sunderland but it does give Andre Santos another chance to show what he can do. Aaron Ramsey returns to the squad but it is somewhat surprising that both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ju Young Park have been left at home. AOC has scored two goals in his two starts for the Gunners and has been in fine form for England U21’s, at a time when we’ve not been at our attacking best the youngster may have been expected to take a place on the bench this evening. The omission of Ju is even stranger, having been plying his trade in Ligue 1 with Monaco prior to joining us this summer the South Korean forward certainly has experience of playing against our opponents but that said Marouane Chamakh has similar experience of the French top division and has made the trip. With our over reliance on Van Persie’s goals of late it does make you wonder why we’re not attempting to utilise the talents of two proven goal scorers but I guess that as the saying goes ‘Arsene Knows’.

My personal view on our starting XI is that Theo should start from the bench, I think his pace could be better utilised coming up against a tiring defence late on. Arshavin impressed upon coming on against the Mackems and should start on the left of our front three with Gervinho, who is another Gunner with experience of Ligue 1, moving over to the right. So my starting eleven would be –

Szczesny – Jenks – Koscielny – Mertz – Andy Santos – Song – Arteta – Ramsey – Gervinho – RVP – Arshavin.

That said, I suspect that Wenger may keep the Ivorian on the left and Theo on the right. We’ll wait and see if furtehr conclusive proof of why I’m not a top level football manager is produced…

With Dortmund taking on Olympiacos this evening the Germans will be expected to pick up three points, so we really need at least a draw to keep our noses in front of the Bundesliga champions in the race for qualification. Of course Deschamps and his players know that a home victory will put them five points clear at the half way stage of the group phase so we’ll hopefully see an exciting and attacking game.

As a little aside there may well be an unwelcome reception for Boro Primorac. Wenger’s right hand man was in charge of Valenciennes in the early ’90’s when L’OM player Jean-Jacques Eydelie and General Manager Jean-Pierre Bernes attempted to bribe three of his players, Jacques Glassman, Jorge Burruchaga and Christophe Robert to throw a game. Boro blew the whistle and was integral in the fight to bring down Eydelie, Bernes and former OM chairman Bernard Tapie, as was Wenger.

Bernes is something of a super agent now, but is embroiled in a row in France due to his representation of a number of French international players as well as coach Laurent Blanc. You might be interested to know that Bernes had a hand in a certain former Gunners lucrative move to Manchester this summer…

Enjoy the game wherever you’re watching it and 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

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.

Boo Who?

Winners

Well the Emirates cup came & went this weekend and what do we have to show for it?

A few positives certainly, which I’ll come to shortly, but on the whole not great deal but then it’s just another couple of meaningless pre season friendlies right? Well judging by the reaction of the crowd at the end of the game yesterday you would have thought it was much more than that.

We know that last season ended badly, very very badly, that in the final games both home & away there was a lot of anger projected towards the management, the players, the board, the club as a whole. The reasons for this ire are well known & documented so there is no reason to go into that here, just as there was no reason for that ill feeling to be projected again after a couple of disappointing draws in a pre season tournament that holds little to no value.

Over the course of the weekend I’ve seen people criticise the lack of atmosphere in the ground & the Mexican waves & I’ve heard people defend those accusations by pointing out that it’s a family day out, a chance to introduce kids to live football (as opposed to watching on the telly) and most importantly to the Arsenal. I completely agree with that, these Junior Gunners are the future of the club in terms of support & who knows there may have just been a Charlie George or Jack Wilshere in the crowd, it’s important that these kids get integrated into the club. What these youngsters shouldn’t be getting accustomed to is booing their team off the pitch, especially when the game & result were so utterly meaningless.

You pay your money to go to see your team play & yes that gives you a right to express your opinion but who needs counterproductive opinions? What did the booing achieve yesterday, what/who were people even booing? Kyle Bartley? I hope not, the late NYRB equaliser may have been turned into the net by the lad but it was by no means his mistake which lead to the goal. Were Wenger & Gazidas being booed for not spending millions of pounds in transfer fees this summer? Was it just the fact that from being in winning positions so late on in both games this weekend we threw those leads away & didn’t get to parade around the ground with the trophy at the games end? Maybe everyone was a bit miffed that ref wouldn’t allow Henry to play the last five minutes of the game in the red & White of the Arsenal…

Whatever people’s individual reasons were yesterday I just don’t think it was right. There is too much ill feeling and bad blood going about so close to the start of the new season. I agree that it is frustrating that the team hasn’t been strengthened as much as we would like & all know it needs to be, that the same old failings are rearing their heads & that the Cesc situation is still unresolved but this is our team & our club and as supporters we are there to support – if we just wanted people to turn up and criticise we would sell tickets to Spuds.

As I said at the start, there were certainly positives to be taken away –

Gerv

Gervinho continues to impress, both on & off the ball he keeps working & he looks like he has the industriousness that we are so often missing in spades.

Frimmers

Emmanuel Frimpong – I know that many feel we need tried & tested cover for Alex Song & the young Ghanaian is too raw but he has natural ability & could make a big impact this season in my opinion. The lad is built like a tank and really wants to make up for lost time after the disappointment of missing the lions share of last season due to injury. He loves the club & like Jack Wilshere has a natural desire to make a career at the grove, similarly Benik Afobe has that too. After impressing at Huddersfield last year it looks like he may get a chance to follow in the footsteps of Frimmers & Jack, his performance yesterday would certainly have enhanced that chance.

Afobe replaces Jack

Tommy Rosicky looks refreshed & ready to have one last crack at making his time at the club more than the butt of injury related jokes & rumours. I know many have stated he should be shipped out this summer but as I’ve said before we don’t have many players with his experience & if the Czech international can finally add fitness & form to that then he’ll be integral this season.

Like Tommy Andrey Arshavin seems to have renewed verve & vigour this summer. I remember that from as early as the opening weekend last year the Russian was discussing his lack of form & fitness before a ball had even been kicked. Again it has been suggested that he would be off this summer but he may just surprise us all and showcase the talent we know he has this term.

Traore & Gibbs both gave good accounts of themselves and at this moment in time I couldn’t pick between them but suspect that come August 13th Wenger will pick the Englishman.

Jack Wilshere went off early with an ankle problem yesterday but we’re told it is only precautionary and there is no risk of him missing that clash at St James’ on the opening day, however he is unlikely to play any part in England’s upcoming friendly. I suspect that none of us are too disappointed.

Legend

Yesterday was most likely the last time we’ll see Thierry Henry grace the Emirates turf, and it was frustrating to see him operating for long periods of the game all alone up front with no support & no service. My wife doesn’t pay a great deal of attention to football the majority of the time, which is surprising considering how often it is on in our house, and it seems that she was unaware that the Frenchman was now seeing out his playing days in the states & was for some reason quite disappointed by the legends choice of club saying “Seriously, New York Red Bulls? That’s embarrassing, he may as well play for Gregs the bakers”. You just can’t argue with that to be honest!

So we’ve now got a whole week of the Barca/Cesc debacle before our final warm up for the new season against Benfica. Hopefully we’ll have some new signings by then and all the boo boys will be happy… Well a man can dream can’t he?

Thanks for reading.

Up The Arsenal!

And so it goes on

I'll miss you so much

I’ve been debating having a summer holiday for a while & I’ve finally taken the plunge & booked something – It’s nothing fancy, only a little place in a remote English village. My wife was expecting one of those fancy spa retreats & I guess in a way I’ve gone for something similar as there are ‘treatments’ of sorts – Japanese water torture, sensory deprivation, solitary confinement, water boarding, keelhauling & sleep deprivation to name a few.

Now I know that may not be to everybody’s taste but right now I’m pretty certain that any of the above methods of torture would be more enjoyable then the continuation of the ‘Cesc Saga’. 

I thought that now Big Brother was no more we wouldn’t have to spend an entire summer seeing/hearing/watching morons bleat on & on & on… 

Don't say f*ck or bugger

Xavi has become the new Davina McCall, impressive to look at but you wish to Christ the pair of them would shut up! *with regards to the diminutive Spaniard being impressive to look at I mean watching him play football, I’ve no idea if he looks good in a dress.

Instead of the newspapers speculating on who is going to be the last to leave the house they’ve moved on to speculating on Arsenal’s cut off date for Barca to stump up the required cash. For a few weeks now it was supposedly this Friday, but as this Friday draws ever closer whilst the deal seemingly doesn’t the date or ‘C-Day’ as it were has been moved to Monday.

Will it ever end?

It appears we’re no closer to seeing any new arrivals at the grove prior to the much maligned Emirates Cup this weekend. I’m sure folks are looking forward to seeing the Arsenal but with the lack of any big signings and the above mentioned balagan not even the impending return of Thierry Henry (albeit in a New York Red Bulls shirt) can raise the lack of excitement  or hype surrounding the mini tournament.

Theo Walcott could miss the games against Boca Juniors & NYRB after heading home early from the German training camp with an ankle injury. There is no news yet on how serious it is but it must be more than a knock if Theo has had to return to London Colney for treatment rather than stay with the team in Deutschland. Lets just hope it’s nothing that could force him to miss the start of the season, he needs to keep as injury free as possible this year.

Tractor Boy

Jay Emmanuel-Thomas completed his move to Ipswich Town yesterday in a £1.1m deal, it seems that for all the individual talent the captain of the FA Youth Cup winning side may posses it was his attitude which ultimately lead to Wenger feeling he had no long term future at the club. I certainly wish JET all the best for the future and hope he doesn’t crash his new tractor.

Emmanuel-Thomas could soon be followed out of the exit door by Craig Eastmond & surprisingly Henri Lansbury. I’m not sure we could go as far as to say this is the end of ‘Project Youth’ but it is interesting that Arsene seems more prepared to let young players leave the club, especially those he had earmarked as future first teamers, unless at the end of the day the players in question just maybe didn’t cut the mustard?

After strong suggestions that Emmanuel Eboue was close to completing a move to Galatasaray yesterday it’s all gone quiet however we Arsenal fans know better than most that transfers can drag on a little sometimes.

Have you seen this man?

Finally I would like to put out a missing persons report – since being spotted by 42,000 people in the Emirates car park last Thursday French international Franck Ribery has not been seen.

Right I’m off to stick pins in my eyes while listening to recordings of Xavi talk about Cesc, lovely.

Have a good day, thanks for reading.

Up The Arsenal!

Traore’s hat & Emirates Cup News

*Originally posted 28th April 2011

Morning all,

Well the most exciting news to reach us this morning is the line up for this years Emirates Cup. New York Red Bulls, Boca Juniors & PSG will be competing with Arsenal in the now annual pre season pocket liner competition.

It’s nice to see that rather than just European opposition, as has been the standard of previous tournaments, we’ll be getting to see two clubs you wouldn’t normally expect to see in London and of course we’ll all be wanting to see a certain Monsieur Henry.

It’s been suggested that the Emirates airline have had more of a hand in picking the opposition this time around, with NYC & Buenos Aires being key destinations but as I said I’m quite happy with the variation whatever the reasoning.

The club have also announced that they have signed an extension with Emirates to sponsor the tournament until 2013.

So when I say that is the most exciting news, I actually mean that it is all the news really. So I’m going to wow you with this picture of Armand Traore’s personalised baseball cap…

I moved into a house a couple of years ago in North London and Armand had been the previous tenant. I have always been surprised that he never returned for his hat, especially when he went on loan to Juve. Surely he’ll have needed it in the hot Italian sun?

The Frenchman also left behind a picture of him and a group of (at the time) youth team players on a night out – I’ll get that scanned so I can wow you with it on another slow news day.

My wife was always disgusted by the fact that the left back could have had Danielle Lloyd in the house, I explained that Miss Lloyd had most likely spent at least a casual afternoon in most footballers homes, apparently that didn’t do anything to change her opinion of (Insert Footballers name) ex and she didn’t like the fact that I used to tell guests they would be sleeping in the ‘Danielle Lloyd Suite’.

So if anyone has a line to Armand, tell him we have now moved and if he want’s the cap back it’s going to cost him. *I am also open to offers from other bidders.

Even though we don’t play until Sunday Arsene is holding his pre match presser this afternoon, apparently due to the royal wedding!?

Are all the football journos going to be covering the big day then? Don’t know who’s report I’ll most look forward to, Martin Samuel or Paddy Barclay…

So hopefully tomorrow I’ll have some real news for you and you won’t have to read anything like the drivel I have used as filler today.

Thanks for reading.

Up The Arsenal!

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