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  1. The Dark Side entered football He kept his darkest side for Wenger Note: the Steve Bruce mentioned as the author is not Steve Bruce footballer and manager but possibly a poet/writer which I found on the internet. It is difficult to be certain as nowhere seems to have actual details on who the author is. Regular readers will remember a blog I wrote some time ago https://arsenal-bulgaria.com/site/team/london_calling/the-fickleness-of-football-fans-r488/ in which I posited that Alex Ferguson underachieved at Manchester United because they were easily the richest team in England and the world at some points. And yet he never really came close to winning everything and certainly underachieved in the Champions league in that context. I can imagine the foul mouthed abuse I would get if I dared to suggest that he underachieved at Manchester United. Don't speak out, Rafa A new book has come out called The Dark Side of Alex Ferguson by Steve Bruce. I have recently read it and I feel it is worth a blog. Now there is nothing really new in it but he does manage to show the hypocrisy Mr Ferguson had and the power to keep the whole football community in thrall, FA, referees, journalists, the BBC and the media in general. This book reminds you of a lot of the incidents that you may have forgotten about but I feel the biggest remark I can make is that you could not write this about any other manager no matter how great. None had the insidious control to silence both the football authorities and the media once remarked upon by Rafa Benitez. Bully boy Alex The book is short at 100 pages. It covers his early years as a manager in Scotland in which he seemed more of an overt bully than he managed to get himself portrayed in later years. Gordon Strachan was a particular target saying the treatment he got was horrendous. Ferguson never let the enmity drop throughout his life. It also shows his hypocrisy in claiming he was from a poor background and because of that he became a champion of the underdog. Many footballers were truly poor, mostly from Africa and South America but they never tried to make it a defining element of their character. Ferguson was never really poor and a champion mostly of himself not the underdog. Gordon Strachan got dog's abuse We are reminded of his atrocious treatment of John Motson of the BBC when he had the temerity to ask Ferguson about discipline after Roy Keane had received 3 red cards. He managed to fit many fucks in there at a decent man only asking what anyone would ask. Ferguson never forgot to hold a grudge. Destroying Manchester United And so we are treated to the many indiscretions. Roy Keane, after they fell out, went from being the greatest footballer he ever had to not even getting in Ferguson’s top Man Utd team he had managed. Perhaps the biggest was the takeover by the Glazers, which is directly attributable to Ferguson. The Rock of Gibraltar chapter is the most significant of the whole book. If Man Utd fans want to know how the Glazer’s took over, saddled the club with enormous debt, and presided over their drift downtable and downmarket, it is all in there. Ferguson created the Glazer's Briefly put, two main directors of Man Utd, The Irishmen John Magnier and JP MacManus known as the Coolmore Mafia, had promised Ferguson an equal share of the horse’s winnings in return for investing in the top racehorse Rock of Gibraltar. Ferguson decided that it was a share of the stud value he should get, which was worth far more. After a hugely destabilizing court case, Ferguson backed down. The 2 Irish millionaires decided that they could not work with him anymore and sold their stakes in United to the Glazers, who promptly bought it by leveraging the sale with all the physical assets, including the ground and the buildings, which meant Utd would have to pay it all back to the Glazers. A club which was generating huge profits suddenly became massively in debt and caused a vast amount of resentment in fans, which is still felt strongly even now. Ferguson cheerleaded the Glazers and continues to do so to this day. Wenger alone got to Ferguson But this is an Arsenal blog so let’s move on to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. Wenger got under Ferguson’s skin far more than any other, mostly because he was dismissive of Wenger when he came. Japan was rubbished as was Wenger’s five languages, with Ferguson claiming he had a young uneducated foreign footballer there who could also speak many languages. The Professor, he sneered, but then Wenger straightaway won the double, putting Ferguson in his place. Wenger transformed how footballers trained and where, how and what they ate, rotation of squads, and all of that Ferguson had to swallow as he also had to make such changes to Man Utd if he was to keep up. So the insolent Frenchman made him change his ways. Oh, the indignity. He alienates two Keanes The book is an enjoyable read, showing so many petty grudges, jealousies, bullying, hypocrisies, and sometimes downright nastiness of a man who ruthlessly fought off any attack he perceived, whether justified or not. It covers Roy Keane and even a cruel and unnecessary remark about a very young Robbie Keane. It covers agents, his manipulation of so many football people in favour of his sons, his treatment of journalists, banning so many for the most trivial of crimes such as asking him a question about his team. It goes over a life characterized by bullying, but somehow getting away with it in a manner no other manager has ever managed. A big falling out And so he is revered as a great, often referred to as the greatest ever manager, and has had so many hagiographies written about him it is almost unreal. But perhaps the greatest criticism he should get, but doesn’t, is that Man Utd’s troubles, stemming from the Glazer takeover, are squarely down to Alex Ferguson believing he could bully the Coolmore Mafia. They were Utd fans, unlike the Glazers, and they would have backed him to the hilt without putting the club in debt. The moral of the story is bullying will always do badly in the end. Arsenal finished above Man Utd last season. This season we are challenging for the title. I hope we always stay classy and never have such a book written about any manager of ours. It is ok to attack a 19 yr old Robbie Keane
  2. Arsenal v Man Utd part 2 Handbags, surely? A most serious war Fighting! That’s the key to Arsenal vs Manchester United. So many fights, and so spectacular. The thing is, though, it became the biggest derby in English football purely on football terms, which is unusual. Normally it is your local rivals who are your biggest opponents, not so these two. It was football, it was that mad scramble for superiority, to be better. Yes we had big games, the FA cup final of 1979 which I wrote about here being one. I also wrote about the brawl at Old Trafford in 1991 here. I was there in 1991 when Arsenal had a 20 man brawl with Man Utd at Old Trafford. As far as I am concerned, Man Utd were the instigators as any examination of the videos will confirm but Arsenal got the worst punishment. The beginning of the belief that Alex Ferguson always got better treatment from authorities. It was spectacular, with almost everyone involved although not really vicious except maybe for Brian McClair kicking Nigel Winterburn on the ground, for which Winterburn got booked! Arsene Wenger Vs Alex Ferguson But they were just tasters, little morsels to whet the appetite for the big battles first with George Graham and Alex Ferguson and then the supreme one, when Arsene Wenger arrived on the scene. He seemed straightaway to get under Ferguson’s skin and of course in his first full season he was 12 points behind and going nowhere when he did the impossible, reeled them in and essentially got the title with a Marc Overmars wondergoal at Old Trafford. From then on, they all knew, there was a new kid on the block and they were Arsenal. No wonder Ferguson was sickened and bitter. No more Mr Nice Guy Of course, Arsenal never quite managed domination under George Graham, but Man Utd, under Matt Busby, not that long past, were a great and dominant side just as Manchester United were becoming under Ferguson. They seemingly could just march to the title every season. Eh hello, Arsenal are here now. It was our first Premier League title. And the true start of what was to become the biggest rivalry in English football. They hated each other, hyped themselves up for every match as if their life depended on it and they were always feisty affairs. Both sets of players were desperate to win Now, Ferguson and Wenger seem friends. Ferguson, though, then, was far more responsible for the war. He liked to use any method to gain an advantage, mindgames, a sense of us against the world, firing players up, diving. Even the arrival of Arsenal he used to push his team to their first Champions league. They had to get better to beat Arsenal and that was also good enough to beat Bayern Munich. Wenger always wanted it to be about football, sporting competition, and doing things the right way. Thanks, Patrick, for the eye examination However his players didn’t see it that way. They also wanted to win in any way possible, Adams, Keown, Vieira and others would try to intimidate opponents, to fight as hard as they could for victory. Witness Patrick Vieira intimidating Gary Neville in the famous tunnel incident. This fired Roy Keane up so much that he wanted to fight Patrick Vieira before the match. I had never seen this before in football and kept expecting Keane to be sent off before the match had even started. Maybe that is not in the rules so he wasn’t and United went on to win 4-2. Keown was the hardest fighter of all Martin Keown’s most famous image is when he screws up his face at Ruud Van Nistleroy when he missed a penalty at Old Trafford after Diego Forlan had gone down soft. It ended 0-0 and all the Arsenal players celebrated wildly, so wildly that several of them got suspensions. Nothing for Man Utd. Ferguson, unbelievably said that Arsenal’s conduct was the worst he had ever seen in football. Ah, good old Fergie, always playing the mindgames. Get closer, Martin I have to mention Pizzagate as well. The next season, at Old Trafford, Utd ended our great unbeaten run with Van Nistleroy scoring a late penalty and Wayne Rooney scoring even later to give them a 2-0 win. Arsenal had played the better football, controlling the game to that point. It boiled over into the tunnel, and Mr Ferguson got pizza thrown over him by a young Cesc Fabregas, allegedly. This time, both teams kept shtum and no punishments were handed out. Surely not innocent Cesc Fabregas? So there were plenty of fights, red cards, yellow cards, wild tackles, squaring up, and sly grins when intimidation worked, as Wenger vs Ferguson, Keane vs Vieira, Keown vs everybody and lots of other battles raged all around us. It was a time of heightened emotions as the two great teams of English football battled throughout new players in a ten or so year yoyo war for supremacy. Every time a team got knocked down they got back up and knocked the other down. It was a fantastic football war as well But what about the football, I hear you ask? It was high class. Dennis Bergkamp had brought football to a new level as did Thierry Henry, Vieira and superb players for the Arsenal. Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, and others were world class for Utd. Ruud Van Nistleroy ramped up the rivalry by trying to keep up with Henry, but eventually conceded Henry was better as he skulked off to Real Madrid. They fought on football skills though, I never remember them getting physical with each other. Nistleroy was beaten by Thierry Henry During George Graham’s time, Ferguson famously said that Ian Wright was destroying us and he did acknowledge that Arsenal players could play. He also thought that Tony Adams should have been a Manchester United player. And Ferguson learned from Wenger. All the modern ideas he brought were swiftly introduced at Old Trafford, diets, training methods and grounds, pitch technology, large squads, rotation, he was always one of the best learners in football. One thing both managers believed in was attacking football, always trying to score. They were never good at holding on to a lead, always wanting to increase it by preference. Hence the high scoring matches as both sides, once they fell behind, kept trying to win, leaving gaps for the other to exploit. The infamous 8-2 to Man Utd was not as one-sided as the scoreline suggests, as Arsenal continued to press forward, looking for a miracle. Watch it again if you don’t believe me. Are there battles to come? There is no doubt in my mind that Utd had reached an easy pinnacle until Arsenal arrived to challenge, winning title after title, and that push helped Ferguson to get his players to perform better. Both sides had managers and players who only cared about winning, battling and fighting to the end for that top prize of not losing. For trophies, they have the edge and we would need a long great spell to catch them up. It is not impossible, though. Can we overtake them on money, however? Probably not, they are at the top level of fan support with an income to match. They can pay huge salaries even as they are struggling at the moment. A long period for us in the doldrums makes it harder to get the owners to spend money. Again we would need that long great spell to match them for money. They do go in with an advantage, a bigger fan base, a bigger ground, owners who spend more money, and, of course, a stronger modern tradition. What do plucky little Arsenal have to offer? A potentially exciting young manager, who, if he tackles his weaknesses in dealing with players, could become a true great. We also have an extraordinary range of young talent, which, with improvement and some of that battling ability which I have written about here, could bring us that dream spell of dominance. I believe in this team, do you?
  3. The 80’s Were we Better? My first full decade as an Arsenal supporter was the 70’s. It was an amazing time but a rollercoaster. We flirted with relegation, we got to many cup finals and won the impossible double. We had an astonishing Irish presence that is unlikely ever to be achieved again at any English club, and so many legends were of this time. Charlie George, John Radford, Frank Mclintock, Bob Wilson, Terry Neill, Don Howe, Alan Ball, our longest serving player, David O’Leary (why is there no statue?) and our sublime magician, Liam Brady were among the names and in fact almost every player we had could fit into that frame. We had no sponsors at the start But the 80’s belonged, more than anyone else to a player also from that era, Stroller himself, George Graham. He took over in 1986 from Don Howe, who had taken over from Terry Neill. George was different. I am not sure that I have ever seen a manager who decided that things had to be done his way as much as he did. Possibly Jack Charlton also was similar. He imposed discipline and did away with any weak links. John Lukic was his goalkeeper and there were few better but he was replaced by one who was, David Seaman. Kenny Sansom was a superb fullback but it seemed that Nigel Winterburn better fitted Graham’s ideas. Niall Quinn was working hard on his game, was always a handful but was deemed, probably fairly, to be a bit short of greatness and had to go elsewhere. He often elected to play David O’Leary as a sweeper as he had a good touch and could find the midfielders. We had good players in every position He played a solid spine of black players, Thomas, Davis and Rocastle were the right blend of strength and finesse to provide goals and attacking flair. Alan Smith, in another era, might have been an England regular but the England front three of Lineker, Barnes and Beardsley picked itself and players such as Mark Hateley were also pushing strongly. But for Arsenal, he caused huge problems for the opposition, he scored with his head, he had a deft touch, right foot, left foot goals, and he held the ball up very well. Graham always played him and never seemed to consider selling him. So what did we do in the 80’s? We started well. Got into 2 finals but lost both. The Fa cup to West Ham and the European Cup Winners Cup to Valencia in 1980. After that we were waiting for George Graham to arrive to make us challenge again. In 1987 he delivered a League Cup, our first. In 1989 he gave us the League at Liverpool in the most dramatic game ever and we also won the Centenary Trophy that season. Not so good in the rankings Where did that leave us in the 80’s? Quite a bit down the rankings it has to be said. A long way behind Liverpool as I would need a calculator to tot up their trophies. Well behind Everton who had a purple patch in the middle of the decade with League wins in 1985 and 1987, FA Cup in 1984, Cup Winners Cup 1985, but they contested many finals and were runners up in the league as well. Aston Villa won the league and charity shield in 1981, the European Cup in 1982 and the UEFA Super Cup also. Forest won the European Cup in 1980, the League Cup and the Full Members Cup in 1989. Manchester United won the FA Cup twice in 1983 and 1985 winning the Charity Shield in 1983. Tottenham won the FA Cup in 1981 and 1982, Charity shield shared twice following those, and a Uefa Cup in 1984. I am going to argue that the League trumps both of the last 2 but Spurs and United fans probably wouldn’t agree. As I always wanted Arsenal to win the European Cup/Champions league I am going to give Forest a marginal nod over us. Feel free to disagree. The Fifth team in England? That puts us as the fifth team in England in the 80’s and only barely above Man U and Spurs. We were the last champions though so the best at the end. That is reflected in our league positions as well. 4,3,5,10,6,7,7,4,6,1 which would put us around fifth as well. The 80’s weren’t so good for us but a definite improvement when Mr Graham took over. He would have kicked out Tony Adams? As he was at least 3rd choice behind Terry Venables and Alex Ferguson could we have done better with those two? I never wanted Venables but Ferguson? I think with the players that were coming through at the time and the fact that he reckoned Tony Adams was a Manchester United player maybe he could have come through quicker with the league at Arsenal than Man U. But despite his admiration for Adams he hated a heavy drinking culture so would he have booted him out? And Niall Quinn, his drinking buddy? And others who liked a drink? George Graham, though known as a tough disciplinarian, obviously tolerated that aspect of players lives. I never heard of players being kicked out for that reason. I would say that we got the right man. Mr Arsenal liked to win The Kings of London I think we can say we were kings of London though. Spurs really were the only challengers to us. They had a good decade for them and still we beat them. Their league positions – 14,10,4,4,8,3,10,3,13,and 6, I feel gives us the edge. West Ham and Wimbledon won the Fa Cup once and Chelsea the Full Members Cup. Watford, QPR and Palace had some good seasons but a long way behind us. Kings of London for sure. The difference for me was palpable as we headed towards the end of the 80’s, though. We had a team that was hard to beat, well organized and packed with top players, although we didn’t have many England regulars, even though virtually all the team were English. It was an exciting time as I felt we were on the verge of greatness. I must point out that 2 FA cups and a League title plus a UEFA cup in the 70's meant we went backwards in trophies but I felt that finally we were going forward. The board took a gamble with George Graham. Typically Arsenal, they took the cheap route, and appointed an unproven manager at the top level. It worked. In boxing, it is where you are at the end of the fight that matters. At the end of the 80’s we were Champions, we were Arsenal and ready to send all teams home crying to whatever footballing dungeon they operate from. Not a Stroller as a manager Still 61 points total to play for. For a change we won easily at Newcastle and it should have been easier. They rarely mounted an attack and made us look good. I hope it is great for our confidence as our next match is our biggest so far. We must win. And play a striker Arteta! We have Aubamayang, Lacazette, Martinelli, Pepe, Nketiah and Balogun but none are considered good enough to play as a striker? Nonsense! However, if you said at the start of the season that we needed to beat Villareal 1-0 or better at home to reach the final, we would have said that sounds doable. It is. Let’s do it, Arsenal.
  4. The First Old Trafford UFC Fight We had driven over from Dublin that morning in my battered old Honda Civic. We made our way via Holyhead through onto Manchester and on to Stretford and Old Trafford. We had done this in previous years but this time we had an ace in the hole. My brother Pat had been able to get us tickets for free in previous years as he knew one of the Manchester United director’s, Tom Williams. He had a huge wallpaper company and my brother was the manager of the trade section at Wigoders, which at the time were one of the biggest hardware stores in Ireland. They bought a huge amount of stock from him and he was always offering my brother VIP passes which Pat turned down. This time we said let’s take them. So myself, Pat and my Manchester United supporter brother Joe took our VIP passes and I parked my ancient car in the carpark, reserved for players and VIP’s. It was a totally different experience than all the times before. No worrying about parking. Flash the card and we were through. 1990 October 20th Old Trafford. A great day, or was it? I should say it was early, and we went to reception to be greeted by legends. Denis Law, Pat Crerand, Bobby Charlton and others were all there, making us feel at home. Alex Ferguson was walking around, talking to everyone, from cleaners to stewards and amazingly, he would have a quick chat with them all by name, asking after their family by name, and little incidents about them. He knew all about their lives. I suspect that was one of the reasons he was so effective at people management. He seemed to genuinely care about them. And he was smiling all the time, in contrast to the grim image he portrayed on screen. He could smile, sometimes The Irish superstars had arrived We were given champagne on arrival, given a tour of the ground, as they explained that the grass had extra deep roots so that it would stay green. Grass technology had arrived. It was a magnificent stadium vastly improved from what it had been the initial time I was there in the 70’s. This was, strangely, though, the first time I had really looked around. It truly was impressive. It was so nice inside as well. Suddenly we were in an environment we weren’t used to. There were luxurious carpets everywhere. Ubiquitous Man Utd crests adorned doors and hallways. This was how the other half lived. We had worn fairly nice clothes as we didn’t want to look out of place like my old car did. We were ushered into a fabulous dining hall for what has to have been one of the best culinary experiences of our lives. The Man Utd crest was on everything, the napkins, the cutlery, the wine, and the food was fabulous. Pat and I were Arsenal so we had to be circumspect. We were asked to forecast the result and I put 1-1 but Pat put 1-0 to the Arsenal. It was for a prize to be presented by the players after the game. I should have said that we were scheduled to meet them as part of the deal. I was trying not to drink much as I had to drive back home but with so much food inside me I was soaking up all the alcohol. Famous people on and off the pitch There were famous people wandering around and all sorts of legendary players, Gordon McQueen, Martin Buchan and others and I was grabbing autographs whenever I could. Bryan Robson was another as he was out injured and I have never seen a player so patient with fans, he signed autograph after autograph, and lined up for photo after photo. We took our seats in the VIP section and we had incredible seats. Did I mention they were playing Arsenal? Liverpool, United and ourselves had made good starts to the season. This was an early defining match. We were second to Liverpool who had won all their matches whereas we had won five and drawn 3. United were 5 points behind us so a win and they were breathing down our necks. Alex Ferguson had pretty much got the United team he wanted at that point and they were soon to start their period of dominance. Graham had brought in Anders Limpar of Sweden and he was a magician. He really made an impact bringing a flair and a style to Arsenal that we had been missing. I never accepted the boring, boring Arsenal epithet as we scored plenty of goals, were involved in many exciting matches and always kept fighting to the end. But George Graham was a defensive minded manager, that was certain. Get that right was his first order. He also knew you had to kill them from the front as well. All of his players could play football, they were good in the air and on the ground. He had them well organized. Anders Limpar made all the difference Rough and tough from the start They needed to be, that day. United came charging out of the blocks and Steve Bruce clattered into Alan Smith. I knew we had a game on our hands. They laid siege to our goal, coming close from corners and David Seaman was very busy and superb. As were the whole team as defenders, trying to keep out the Red waves coming toward us. We had scarcely a chance for the whole half until Anders Limpar skipped through, fired a scorcher which Les Sealey parried. Keith Hackett, the referee, was in the perfect position and he said it was over the line. 1-0 to the Arsenal! Against the run of play. But I had to jump inside because we were surrounded by Utd supporters. I bravely smiled, though. It was a tough match. Lots of fierce tackles and players lying on the ground. They were always feisty affairs, derbies in all bar name. United came out for the second half ready to take revenge and continue the one sided way it was in the first. We were a bit better, though, and caught them a few times on the break. Thomas. Rocastle and Limpar had good chances to put the game to bed. The United players were getting frustrated, feeling that Keith Hackett was not giving them justice although the kicking, as far as I am concerned, was coming more from them. The kicking had increased, and Denis Irwin, aimed a sly kick at Anders Limpar as he lay on the ground. Stop the handbags, ladies Shortly afterwards Limpar was crude in the tackle and then it all kicked off. Nigel Winterburn was on the ground and Brian McClair was kicking him over and over. Suddenly both teams got involved and it was difficult to see who was doing what to whom. I had a great view and honestly, United players seemed the worst offenders. But Winterburn, who was being kicked on the ground, astonishingly got booked as did Anders Limpar. No one from United. Nigel Winterburn got a yellow card for being kicked We won, though. I would still challenge anyone to look at that match and say Arsenal were rougher than Utd. Arsenal were fined 2 points and Utd one. They had the bigger clout at the FA. It meant for a very subdued atmosphere post match. Only Neil Webb and Mike Phelan turned up to meet the VIP guests. Pat was presented with 2 Manchester United wine bottles in a presentation box for getting the correct score. Of course he did, no Manchester United fan was ever going to forecast that, everyone, including the players looked at him suspiciously but he didn’t care. He had got it right and he had won. They tasted very nice, by the way. Hey, we won, I had a great day. We were treated like kings and despite all the handbags being thrown on the floor at Old Trafford, no-one was seriously hurt. Bitches will fight. We could look after ourselves, and Limpar had added the flair we were missing. We were Arsenal and it was United who had to crawl back to their luxury Cheshire homes defeated and crying. We, of course, went back to our very ordinary Dublin homes where that picture of Pat being presented with his wine takes pride of place on the wall to this day. With Neil Webb and Mike Phelan! Would they be smiling if they knew they had a Gooner in their midst? 64 Points max total With six games to go and Everton and Chelsea to come, it is very hard to see Europa League qualification. The final route to Europe is a Final. Can we do it? It is hard to be optimistic but on our day we can. We need to be the Arsenal football team and not Team Kroenke.
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