All Change at Highbury
1985-86 The Irish Connection dwindles
I am from Rathfarnham in Dublin and it borders on Walkinstown, where Niall Quinn grew up. I met him once or twice and he married a girl who lived quite close to me, Gillian Roe. I knew the family. Lots of good looking girls, who were successful in their own right. Gillian was a model and the family were very nice. He made his debut this season, scoring against Liverpool. He didn’t set the world alight, though, and didn’t get many games or goals after that, that season. He was very raw, gangly and young looking, and didn’t really look like a footballer on the pitch in his early days. Although he never quite made it with Arsenal, he worked enormously hard on his game and carved out a very decent career for himself. His achievements are testament to being dedicated, and learning and learning until it’s not just your size and heading ability you have to offer, but good football skills as well. I should have mentioned he was tall, very tall, at the time one of the tallest in the division.
Niall Quinn, very tall and awkward at the start
Pat Jennings had retired in the close season as John Lukic had finally secured his place so only David O’Leary was left of the massive Irish connection of the seventies. So, at that time I was really hoping Quinn could make it, but he didn’t really look the part. Pat Jennings had been massive for Arsenal but he was 40, and had seen off all competition for his place since he had come from the Spuds, but time caught up with him, as it does with us all. One of the few heroes for both sides and strangely, he went back to the Spuds as a reserve goalie because he still wanted to play the next year in the World Cup for Northern Ireland in Mexico. He did, and became the oldest player at the time to play in a World Cup finals. I say he strangely went to Spurs because they never seem to forgive anyone going to Arsenal, but that was Pat, he was an exception in every way. He will always be welcome at both clubs and he was loved by both sides of Ireland.
David Rocastle appeared this season as well and increased the black contingent at the Arsenal. He was to become a legend and get his own song, which is still sung to this day. He wasn’t Irish, but he always looked class on the pitch, he had an elegance about his play. Maybe some of that rubbed off on Quinny as the time went on.
The Great Coach had to drive away
But the story was Don Howe. Could we do anything under him finally? Unfortunately for him, we couldn’t. We were up and down all season, but never looked like challenging, really. A 6-1 defeat by Everton was a lowlight as was a 3-0 beating by Southampton. We again had Hereford in the League cup this time, and again took 2 matches to dispatch them, this time 2-1, although it was 2 legs. We were knocked out in the fifth round by Villa 2-1 after a replay.
The Fa cup was little better, as we were also sent home crying by Luton 3-0 after a replay in the 5th round. Don Howe didn’t survive much longer after that. He resigned on March 22nd, although I supposed he was pushed. I mean, he wasn’t doing a bad job, we weren’t too far off the top, but we just weren’t challenging for anything. I suspect it was after a chat with Peter Hill-Wood that he reckoned it was time to go.
We were Going to Spend Big, Big, Big?
Steve Burtenshaw took over as caretaker but he didn’t inspire us to any great heights, lowlights being 3-0 defeats to Watford and Oxford. We ended up 7th, below West Ham in 3rd and Chelsea in 6th. Our days of being kings of London seemed in the past.
Surely never a flash Spud for us?
All the talk was of a new manager and the strongest whispers were Terry Venables coming over from Barcelona where he was successful. I have to say, at the time I couldn’t see it. He was a Spud and a Pensioner and a QP Ranger and a Palace head. Plus he would be bloody expensive! Peter Hill-Wood would have a heart attack spending that much. No, I couldn’t see it at all. But the whispers kept coming. Alex Ferguson who was doing wonders with Aberdeen, was also a strong whisper. Seemingly the plan was to pair him with George Graham as his assistant. The story went that he wanted to lead Scotland in that same World Cup that Pat Jennings decamped to Spurs for, so he turned us down as we wouldn’t wait. So we got George Graham, who was doing superb with Millwall in the lower divisions, on his own. Ferguson went to Man Utd eventually. Personally, I figure they were always going to go for the cheap option all the time, but put the whispers out to make it look like they were willing to buy big. Ferguson had won titles and a European trophy with Aberdeen. He wouldn’t have been cheap, nor Venables. We got an unproven manager but a Gooner.
Fergie Time for Arsenal?
What would that have been, Ferguson in charge? He always liked attacking football, and he didn’t like a drinking culture, so Tony Adams and Niall Quinn, for example, would have had to ship up or ship out early in their careers. I feel that George Graham got the zeitgeist right at the time, a heavily organized defensive team was the way to topple Liverpool, whereas Ferguson’s attacking style took a very long time to gel in Manchester. But still, if we had persisted in our pursuit, could we have become the dominant force in English football? I am not so sure. We don’t like spending money, Ferguson does. He insisted on a higher salary than any player, so he was delighted when star players demand bigger money, it means more for him. Does anyone remember that pantomime with Rooney, when he was classed a traitor for looking for more money or a transfer? He got all the heat, and Ferguson copped the rewards, a wily Scottish bugger. He may not have suited us. Also he had a tolerance for cheating and diving that I didn’t like, intimidating refs and suchlike, anything for an advantage. He would never have replayed against Sheffield United. But, if he had got the results, fans will tolerate anything, look at the Spuds with Mourinho.
But he might have got us this, would it have been worth it?
Anyway, did we get the right man? I figure you all, even the very young ones, know the answer to that. Next week I will look at George Graham’s first season. And could we be Arsenal again?