The forging of a lifelong bond
The Arsenal jersey when I was a kid
So, I went from being 11 years old in 1969 and watching Arsenal being beaten by a 3rd division side Swindon, to 1972 and 14 years old when beaten by Leeds in the FA cup. I was a voracious reader and I had learned of Arsenal’s history after that Swindon defeat. We used to be great, we had the glorious Herbert Chapman years, winning trophy after trophy. But in 1953 we won our last league title, in 1950 our last FA cup. We were has-beens. We were mostly a mid -table team since ’53. And we had no real Irish connection at the time. Everyone around me loved the glamorous Liverpool and Manchester (though, not so much City) teams with Leeds emerging with the Irishman, Johnny Giles as their maestro. These cities had big Irish connections with huge numbers having Irish ancestry. They had top class Irish players.
I loved the Shirt
Somehow, I was attracted to Arsenal, though. I loved the jerseys which I could only see in full colour in the football magazines at the time. TV was black and white as were newspapers. Other kids around me teased me about Arsenal. My older brother was a big Man U fan. Arsenal were beaten by a 3rd division team. But there was something about Arsenal rescuing the next season by winning the Fairs Cup and our first European trophy (now the Europa league cup)despite finishing 12th in the league and being dumped out of the FA cup and League cup. If we had done nothing in the Fairs Cup, would I have stayed with the Arsenal?
I am really not sure. It was hard to explain why I liked them in the first place. They didn’t have top players, playing in the World cup or European Nations cup which were the real glamour matches of the time. The excitement flowed from watching the great Brazil team of the era, Pele, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto, Rivelino, The English with the Charltons, Bobby Moore, Alan Ball, The Italians with Fachetti, Boninsegna and Riva, West Germany with Beckenbauer, Müller, Overath. These were the great fixtures, football played at a tremendous level. We were out on the streets and greens being all those players, not Arsenal ones. Charlie George was the most exciting player we had, but even he was up and down. Still, he had long hair and was flamboyant. And everyone knew him.
As for me, I wanted to be Pele, he could do everything.
Our first European trophy
Coming back from a poor season to capture our first European trophy was significant, then. We were on the big stage. The match was shown live on TV. Only big matches and internationals were shown live at the time. The win against Anderlecht meant I had something to talk about. Arsenal were a football team with a trophy. It kept me there, hanging in.
But the Double was the clincher. From 12th, we started far better, we were keeping pace at the top, if never really being there. We kept battling on in the Cup, fighting through the replays. Slowly, the season was turning out to be good. It reminds me of years later, of the Invincible season, where lots of draws early on, meant we probably wouldn’t win the league. In the Invincilble season, though, we had a great recent history. Then we had no such, high mid-table was our best. I refused to let myself believe. I was just hoping we would stay up there, finish as high as possible. As I have said before, the other teams had the top players, the players you wanted to be out on the green.
Afraid of being relegated
To be honest, at the start, because I was aware of the one record that we had, being the longest serving team in the top division, I wanted that to continue, so pretty good results at the start meant we wouldn’t get relegated. When you are 12th, you worry about such things. Drop a few places and you are staring at the 2nd division as it was called then. Relegation might well have meant the end of the dream. I can’t truly answer if I would have taken the easy option and switched to maybe Man U or some other team. I cannot remember really thinking about other teams, much, though.
Arsenal just kept coming through all tests, winning the replays, staying close to the top of the league, finally, and gloriously, capturing the title at the home of the Spurs and coming from behind to beat Liverpool. Arsenal were top dogs and I was top dog.
By that stage I was Arsenal forever. Next season was disappointing, yes, 5th in the league, behind Tottenham even, and beaten by Leeds in the FA cup final, didn’t put a tiny dent on my allegiance. Arsenal were my team. I would stay with them always.