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Arsenal vs Leeds Rocky: Didn't want to leave us We Leed the way Leeds are our rollercoaster team, we either seem to go on long unbeaten spells or they do. Some of our greatest names have been involved with them as well, George Graham, David O’Leary, David Rocastle and John Lukic spring to mind. And I am going at the weekend to see them and I hope obviously, we win. It is particularly important as The Spuds have Liverpool away and they could easily drop points. We could be four or five points ahead come Sunday, making the showdown less of an ordeal on Thursday May 12th. He loved us both We first played Leeds on 20 December 1924 and we hammered them 6-1 in the old first division. It was their first season up and we showed them what Arsenal meant. They learned from that to beat us in the return in April 1-0. But we have had plenty of big wins since and they have put 3 and 4 past us a few times and paid us back for that 6-1 with one of their own in May 1973. Those early clashes were little dippers compared to the later ones. We won 3 and they won 3 of our first six. Between 1932 and 1938 we were unbeaten for 11 games. In 1959 to 1968 they were unbeaten for 10 games. We beat them 4-3 in May 1968 (I would take that this May even if it gave me a heart attack) but then they were unbeaten the next 6 until 1971. And for that win 1-0 in April, we thought we had handed them the league but we came back to win the double on the last match against, well you all know, the hapless Spuds. They like beating us in finals They beat us the next year in the FA cup final 1-0 for their only FA cup win. But we truly had a torrid time against them in the 60’s and 70’s, scarcely winning a match and they went on a another long unbeaten spell from their famous 6-1 in May 1973 to 1977, winning most. That time, in the late 60’s through a lot of the 70’s was Leeds golden spell, with 2 league titles, one FA cup and 2 Uefa cups plus challenging strongly all the time. They should have won more and Johnny Giles famously said years later the reason was that Don Revie, their manager, had a blind spot, playing Gary Sprake in goal instead of David Harvey. Most fans regarded them as the best team in England for many years until Liverpool finally emerged to dominate. 3 of these boys on the scoresheet for Arsenal - surely a record? But it all turned around in the 80’s. Just before that, in September 1979 we played them in the league cup winning 7-0 with 3 Irish getting on the scoresheet, Brady 2, Sammy Nelson 1 and Frank Stapleton 1, and that may be the only time 3 Irishmen scored for Arsenal in one game, I can’t remember another. After that match they missed have hated us as we let them beat us 1-0 in the league in January 1980 because we just kept beating them like poor whipped puppies after that with a long unbeaten spell of 15 matches until March 1992. It was like little dippers on the rollercoaster after that with us winning some and them winning some until November 2003 when we won 4-1 at Elland Road in the Premier league. We haven’t been beaten since and I really want that to continue this Sunday. We are the Arsenal, let’s show it, team. Make it 12 undefeated, we are the undefeatables, after all. We smash them on trophies Of course when it comes to trophies we are well ahead, they have 3 league titles to our 13 and one FA cup to our 14 and they beat us for that one in 1972. They have one league cup to our 2 but they also beat us in 1968 for their one. They seem to like taking trophies off us. They have 2 Uefa trophies to our one and one European cup final appearance to our one Champions League. The other Alan Smith who liked playing for Leeds So on most metrics we are nicely ahead, with 50 wins to their 41 and 33 draws. They have been up and down divisions regularly whereas we never have. I have to say I always liked Leeds even when they were a dirty team in their heyday in the 60’s and 70’s. They had Johnny Giles, one of our greatest ever, and a team of superb players such as Billy Bremner, Alan Clarke, Terry Cooper, Jack Charlton and many others. They took our gorgeous great George George Graham took them over when his Arsenal greatness disappeared with the bung scandal and he set about making them a top team again but didn’t stay too long as Tottenham, then pretending to be a big team, poached him from them. David O’Leary, his assistant took over and brought on lots of teenagers such as Alan Smith (the other one), Jonathan Woodgate (now England manager), Ian Harte, and others who went on a great run reaching Champions league semi-finals in 2001. George and David - among our greatest And so we have had lots of interactions, a true rollercoaster of emotions as we start winning and keep winning, then they start winning and keep winning and then we start again. We need to keep it going. C’mon the Arsenal. Beat a team near the bottom and make us all happy. Mikel needs Champions league, or does he? I feel qualifying for Champions League will be the boost Mikel Arteta needs in his quest to gain respect from experienced professionals. My good friend Zdavko Talvi of this Arsenal parish ventured his opinion that maybe Europa League might be best in some ways next season as it will allow him to play the youngsters in that. I like the way he thinks longterm. This is a strong argument, for sure, but I believe a greater need is for Arteta to believe in himself and for the players also. When David O’Leary took over Leeds he may have had the same problems, experienced players giving him problems, and he preferred to play the youngsters. It mostly worked out for him but he was probably too nice to be a successful manager longterm. Arsenal are a far bigger team, expectations are far higher, and Arteta is not too nice to make hard decisions, we have seen that. But he must be able to have an experienced spine in the team and bring in big names if necessary, and not have them acting like prima donnas. A strong finish to the season, knocking over the Spuds on the way, will do that. It will do wonders for his confidence and the players attitudes. Let’s start with Leeds and continue our rollercoaster climb upwards. Keep smiling till the end of the season, Mikel
Ian Wright: Right Wright Even this achievement he managed to make funny 58 today. Is he our second GOAT? He must feel that the gods conspired against him to ensure he wasn’t our GOAT because he was 27 before he finally made the big time at Arsenal. He still managed to become our best goalscorer, scoring good goals, great goals, scruffy goals, important goals, not so important goals, left foot, right foot, headers, and in off any part of his body that was legal. He was a poacher, a guy who could feed off scraps, he could accelerate to make space, he could dribble and make a goal by himself. If he was a bit taller, top defenders would have been crying even harder when they had to face him. His lack of height never deterred him, though, he would spring up into the air as if on, well, springs. Alex Ferguson once famously said that this guy is destroying us as he took apart the Man Utd defence. He was consistently our top scorer but unlike Henry, the team had bad seasons under George Graham, and, of course, the personally disastrous one that Wright had under Bruce Rioch when he banished him to the wing. A great role model But kids, if you ever need a role model, take a good look at Ian Wright. He grew up poor, black, in a bad part of London where drugs and crime were prevalent. He had a father who left and then a stepfather who abused him. He had talent for football but was small and struggled with that bane of a young footballer’s life, he was born in November, which meant as he went through the years, he was always up against kids almost a year older than him, which also was affected by his height, making him even smaller. He overcame a humble beginning He found it hard to get noticed at pro clubs, having some trials but never making it. By 21 he was still playing amateur and such players rarely make the jump to the pro leagues. That dream was more or less dead. He had essentially got married young, had a child, and had to work as a plasterer on building sites to get by. He ended up in prison for not paying tax and insurance on his car. So he was 21 years old, with heavy marital responsibilities, in prison and the one thing he loved doing in his life, playing football, was not going to be his salvation. But he decided, no, this prison cell is not me. I have the talent, I will force the belief to come, I will make it as a footballer. He needed a chance And of course, he did. Crystal Palace gave him a trial, liked what they saw, and his foreman at the building site gave him his blessing, said, Ian, go for it, I will always give you your old job back. This chance was all he needed. He knew that there were many super players playing in the amateur leagues that will never make it. But with grim determination, he vowed he would not be one of them. At Palace he showed he deserved his place at the top table I loved him when he was at Palace, and saw him playing against the Arsenal in the 80’s when I lived in London. The partnership he formed with Mark Bright was one of the best I have ever seen. The 2 of them were quick, could win the ball like midfielders, could hold the ball up, and terrorise any defence. They enabled Palace to play almost with 2 banks of four, and rarely give away goals. I was thrilled when he came to Arsenal, and I would have been delighted if we took both of them, although Alan Smith may not have been too happy. He soon settled in to become our top goalscorer. The hunger came from his life As I have said, though, he is a great role model. He had a hunger to develop, born of his years in the wilderness, he stayed on at the grounds to practice, working on his skills and probably felt a little of the imposter syndrome, that if he didn’t work hard, keep getting better, they might discover he was that little kid who was nearly a year younger than the rest, and not able to cut it at the highest level. At Arsenal, he became a great And so he learned from all the top players, as he got into the England squad, his own teammates and his opponents but he credits the arrival of Dennis Bergkamp as being the transformation in improving his skills. Bergkamp trained hard, but smart, all about becoming a better player, even though he already had sublime skills. Ian realised that the harder he practised, the luckier he would get. People would say, did he mean that, or was he just lucky? Clever training means that you develop the ability to do things that others can’t, and so they say that was lucky. Eh, yes, maybe a little, but it is born of all the practice. Time for regrets? He also had, in common with all great sportsmen, that overwhelming, crushing desire to win that made defeat unbearable. He wanted everything that football could give him, trophies, goals, respect and he got it all. Regrets? He probably has a few. More England caps and goals for sure. Lineker and then Shearer blocked his way. Going to Arsenal as a kid, like his great buddy, David Rocastle, would probably be another. Then he could have been our GOAT and the 185 goals he got from 27 years old would have been a dwarf figure, maybe 350 or 400. Henry would never have been able to leave us as he chased that record. Didn't really get the chance he deserved at England But perhaps that was never the plan of the cosmos. He had to suffer, he had to be humiliated in jail, to have had his difficult upbringing, to overcome it all on the way to becoming Wrighty, known by his nickname to all as if he is their best friend, a guy who has a joy for life, who loves laughing and smiling most of all. Have the greatest birthday ever We at Arsenal Supporters Club in Bulgaria have had many encounters with this extraordinary ambassador for Arsenal football club. My regret is that I wasn’t aware of their existence until a couple of years ago and I have never met him. I hope, one day, to rectify that. Happy, happy birthday to the right man, Ian Wright, Wrighty, keep smiling and always remember, you are our true GOAT for all the things you bring to the club. Some members of ASCB at a great day in their lives in Athens getting to meet the birthday boy. Our own Georgi Stoyanov meeting with Lee Dixon and Ian Wright in Sofia
Trying to see light in the darkness. Season 1981-82 continued our lack of ambition. 3 points for a win was brought in but we had got a taste for selling and didn’t care about that. Frank Stapleton was sold to Manchester United for the then large sum of £900,000. So last year our best player was sold, Liam Brady, and now again our best player was flogged. Stapleton had been our leading goalscorer every year since SuperMac got injured and retired. Man Utd had ambition, as always, and were never afraid to splash the cash. Stapleton, being homegrown, was on a lower wage than some brought in on transfers. Again, I don’t remember much anger directed at Stapleton. He had been playing for several years with only one FA Cup to show for it. Our best player, playing for Man U, definitely not what we wanted The Irish connection was dwindling, only Pat Jennings, David O’Leary and John Devine were left. Dubliner Paul Gorman was trying to come through but he never made it and went down through the divisions in his career. Although I still liked Terry Neill, it seemed like no-one high up at Arsenal had ambition. Yes we finished 3rd in 1981 and qualified for the UEFA Cup but was that it? We’re ok. Keep our money in our pockets. They didn’t seem to care that Villa won the League and Ipswich came second, both teams that were smaller than us but with bigger ambition. We were letting the light go out Well, it didn’t go well for them. This season Liverpool would win. Ipswich, again second, then Man U with our top goalscorer, and then? I don’t even want to say who were next. The Spuds! Playing attractive football, full of big names, buying top players and not selling their best. This was the pattern for the teams around us. They didn’t sell their best. Only Arsenal. Yes, I guess 5th was ok. We were ok. We were not Arsenal but we were ok. Would we ever get our Arsenal back? And so the Spuds? Laughing at us. Beat us 3-1 at Highbury and drew 2-2 at White Hart Lane. Sent us home crying in the 3rd round of the FA Cup 1-0. Despite the fact that the league position was better than the dark days of the 70’s, this felt worse. The flair had gone, we were flat. But at least we now had no top player to sell. Don’t get me too wrong, we still had good players, Jennings, Sansom, O’Leary, Rix, Sunderland and others were top players, but our goalscorer and our creator were gone. All because of a lack of ambition. A feeling that ok was enough. Liverpool knocked us out of the League Cup in the 4th round 3-0 after extra time and a replay. We started the league with 2 losses and 2 draws out of our first five so we knew early on we would never really challenge. We were beaten by Fc Winterslag, now Genk, from Belgium in the UEFA Cup on November 3 and they celebrated wildly thinking they had beaten a crack English team. So in early January when the Spuds knocked us out of the FA Cup that was it for the season. I suppose the board were looking around to see if there was anyone else we could sell. Could the light come from people with dark skin? But were there green shoots? Well, yes there was. Paul Davis and Chris Whyte came into the team as regulars. Davis, a combative midfielder, was to become an Arsenal stalwart and win many trophies later on. Whyte formed a partnership with David O’Leary, replacing Willie Young. What was good about that aside from being good footballers? They were black and it started Arsenal’s association with black players. Brendan Batson had been there mid seventies but never made a regular slot. Many started to appear over the next years, Viv Anderson, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, later on came the Arsenal Fan Club of Bulgaria’s favourite, Ian Wright, and many others were to become club legends. Paul Davis had a great career at Arsenal, if a little under appreciated For me it was, and still is a great thing, to hear, every single time I have been at Arsenal stadiums, the chant for Rocky, because he’s one of our own. Himself and Ian Wright were childhood friends and he pushed Wrighty into believing in himself, despite being a few years younger, he told him he could make it as a professional. Rocky was right about Wright. Now, you cannot have a list of the best Arsenal players ever without plenty of black players high on the list. We love this guy at ASCB They shined their light on English football But what was it like for black players in England? At that time, virtually none had played for England. They got subjected to terrible abuse amid suspicions that they were soft (hah, tell that to Sol Campbell). Fans thought nothing of raining down all sorts of horrible insults every time they came near the ball. Sport should be about fairness, equality, a meritocracy. You are striving to be the best and that is all that should matter. But imagine having your family there, with you having achieved your only dream, to play football at the highest level, and all they hear are the disgusting names they call you. If it was me, I would have been crying inside for the whole match and humiliated that my family heard that. And if it was my kid, I would be heartbroken for them. Chris Whyte formed a solid partnership with David O'Leary Luckily those Arsenal pioneers were made of sterner stuff. Without them the glory days wouldn’t have appeared. But black players still face discrimination and abuse. As I have said, the world should be a meritocracy, where the only thing that matters is how well you can do something. The 80’s were a period of fan hooliganism, of non-white faces appearing on sports pitches, of unspeakable tragedies, but without the courage, the resilience and the inner strength of the black players, and, I believe, the overall fairness and goodness of the majority of sports fans, the joy and triumphs they brought to so many teams would never have happened. And gave us our best days Michael Thomas threw our hearts up in the air in 1989 when we beat Liverpool at Anfield, Ian Wright’s goal in the 1993 FA Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday, the magical Henry goals, the rarer Viera goals, and so many others contributed to great nights for us Arsenal fans. And all the top teams can say the same. Those idiots who, even to this day think it is ok to chant racist abuse, are wrong. You are not Arsenal if you do it. It is not ok to be racist. Kids are entitled to appear on a football pitch, with their family there, and everyone has the best day of their lives. And if I can get back to Arsenal and 1982, it was not ok to be ok and going nowhere. Would 1983 be any better? I certainly didn’t think so.