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  1. Happy birthday Dear Liamo/Chippy/Number 7 February 13th, 1973 is the day Liam Brady signed professional forms for Arsenal, on his birthday, after 2 years in the academy. Although a Man Utd supporter previously, he is an Arsenal legend now and always will be. He had 7 years as a first team player and a remarkable 18 years as head of youth development for the Gunners. That second career saw him bring through many players still playing for Arsenal today, and he was unusual in that David Dein appointed him in 1996 as an independent head of the Academy, not aligned to any manager so he could keep his job even if a new manager came in. Bizarrely that never happened as, although Bruce Rioch was still technically manager, he was a dead man walking as Arsene Wenger was set up to take over. Liam the boy And so two true Arsenal legends worked side by side for those 18 years, with Wenger proclaiming that the most important man at Arsenal was Liam Brady. Brady was keeping the competition high for the established players and, of course Wenger accomplishing miracles for the first team. I doubt if such an arrangement will ever happen again for such a long period. Always number 7 at Arsenal Now I know I reviewed Brady’s book not so long ago here, but I will keep this a bit different. Surprisingly, at least to me, Arsenal have only had 4 players win the PFA player of the year in Brady, the first, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, and yes, you guessed it, Robin Van Persie . As it is voted on by the players themselves it is the top accolade. Liamo is also an English Hall of Famer since 2006 and the FAI Hall of Fame since 2001. There is no other number 7 He is also immortalised in the Arsenal song We all live in a Perry Groves World in which Perry Groves gets every position except number 7 which goes to Liam Brady. I was at the Emirates a few years ago with my son when he asked me who was playing number 7. I immediately replied Liam Brady and a few old-timers beside me chuckled. He is the only player in the world nicknamed after his fondness for fish and chips and seemingly, after his sojourn in Italy, where he acquired more sophisticated tastes, he is not so keen on this appendage, only allowing close friends the privilege. And hey, I think the only 2 players to have an FA cup final named after them were Stanley Matthews and the birthday boy, Liam Brady. Liam created the Late Late Show And, just to mention that final, which was a very late win for us, and which presaged the famous away day victory against Liverpool ten years later, there was one big difference, as we were one goal up for most of that match and one more got us the win and the title. However in that 1979 final Man Utd scored 2 late goals and we were beaten, deflated, with our heads on the ground until Brady ghosted through the Utd midfield from well inside our own half, shimmying past players as if they didn’t exist, then got to the edge of their box and whipped the ball out to Graham Rix who blasted it over to Alan Sunderland and miraculously, fashioned a win from defeat because surely in extra time an elated Man Utd would have defeated a deflated Arsenal? No, it didn’t give me that enormous high of winning the league by scoring more goals than Liverpool to win the title in 1989. That was an improbability that probably will never happen again but that final sure ran it close. A Perry Groves World In his time at Arsenal we had three Republic of Ireland players who were truly world class, Frank Stapleton, David O’Leary, our man with the top appearances, and the wonderful Mr Brady, still many an Arsenal fan’s favourite player – just ask Nick Hornby. And when both Brady and Stapleton left within a short time of one another it was, for me, the lowest point of my Arsenal life. Our two focal points gone, simply because we hadn’t the ambition to keep them. Arsenal were famous for being stingy with our homegrown players and kept the good money for transferred players. That team, with Brady and Stapleton, were on the verge of challenging Liverpool, then the dominant team in world football, and we just threw it all away. A bit like selling Saka and Odegaard today, but at least today we have a big squad. In those days the same players turned out every week, barring injuries. St Valentine Brady? I had a look to see how Liam did on his birthdays for us but it seems he only played once, a game against QPR on February 13th 1979 in which he chipped in with the first goal for a 2-1 away win. Seems his birthdays were not football days but as he was born the day before Valentine’s day I wonder if they would have called him Valentine if his mother had bothered to wait one more day . Valentine Brady? I am not sure that’s a top footballer's name. And his wife might have said, you have to spend the day with me romantically rather than going around chasing a ball on your birthday. I am not sure how Terry Neill, Jack Charlton or Giovanni Trapattoni would have taken that as an explanation. St Valentine Brady does look to have red hair? Incidentally both Bacary Sagna and Phillippe Senderos have their birthdays on Valentine's Day. Would Arsene Wenger have accepted that excuse from them? Women can be terrifying, you know. He played beautiful football The only time I met Brady was in Eason’s in Dublin (a major bookshop in Dublin) where he mistook me for a shop worker and asked me a question about a book on the shelf. I readily obliged anyway. It was the days before selfies and anyway I have never asked anyone for a selfie. You can eat all the chips you want now, Liam A happy happy birthday to so many fan's favourite player, to an Irish legend, the creator of the Arsenal academy in its modern version, and a man who will always be talked about as a top legend at Arsenal. 27 years, man and boy, dedicated to making Arsenal the best team in the land and almost succeeding. And maybe Wenger was right, the most important man at Arsenal during Wenger’s own glory years. And Liam Brady the man Happy 13th February, Liam Brady, the man who played the most beautiful football for Ireland and Arsenal. Update to the Table of Doom Table of Doom Fixtures Current Max Liverpool Man City (h) Spurs (h) Villa (a) 54 96 Man City Liverpool (a) Arsenal (h) Villa (h) Spurs (h) 52 97 Arsenal Man City (a) Villa (h) Spurs (a) 52 94 Spurs Villa (h) Man City(a) Arsenal (h) Liverpool (a) 47 89 Villa Spurs (a) Man City (a) Arsenal (a) Liverpool (a) 46 88 And so one change from last week – Villa lost and go bottom. If my target of 86 points to win the title is correct then they are close to dropping out. They have an away game against Fulham next and that does not look easy. The others would be expected to win, Liverpool and Arsenal away to Brentford and Burnley and Tottenham and Man City at home to Wolves and Chelsea.
  2. Born to be a footballer. Liam Brady and I have some parallels. We are both from Dublin, we come from large families, and being almost 2 years older than me, we grew up in that same milieu of Irish nationalistic Catholic forces controlling a poor country on the edge of Europe. He differs in that his brothers are all older and several were professional footballers before him. His uncles and outside family also played sport at the highest level in Gaelic games so it inspired the title of his book Born to be a footballer. Johnny Murphy, David O'Leary, Frank Stapleton and Liam Brady as young Irish kids at Arsenal He bumped up against the same Catholic forces early in his career as, when picked to captain Ireland against Wales at under 15, his school, run by the Christian Brothers, refused to let him go to represent a foreign game. He was expelled and forced to find another school exactly when studying for an important state exam. This was par for the course in the 60’s and 70’s, and in every area of society, the Catholic church held sway. Not so chippy about his nickname Around the same time he was chosen by Arsenal, despite, typically of an Irish kid at the time, being a Man Utd fan. He recalls an early occurrence during this time when the chief scout at Arsenal, his parents and himself were taken out to a fancy restaurant in London. His mother looked at the menu and said “he only eats chips”. And his immortal nickname was born, from fried potatoes and not an ability to chip the goalkeeper. The name never went away, although, reading the book, I am not sure he particularly likes it. This is how to win an FA Cup He broke into the first team at 18, under the mentorship of the legendary Alan Ball, and it wasn’t too long before everyone realized we had something special. If you do nothing else, look at a Youtube highlights clip to get an appreciation of what he could do on the pitch. The art of dribbling around multiple players has gone from modern football as has the degree of ball artistry that we could see on a regular basis. There was an excitement when Brady got the ball, a cheer from the fans, and an expectation of something different. Watch him ghost through several players near the end of the famous Brady cup final of 1979 against Manchester United, as Arsenal were on their knees when Man U rattled in two goals late on to almost destroy us. He took the ball well in our own half, with nothing on and players with heads bowed, and cut through Man U, bringing the ball close to the edge of the box, whipping it out to Graham Rix on the wing, who fired it in to Alan Sunderland, and one of our most famous late goals was created out of Brady’s magic. Juventus wanted him and the Arsenal board were greedy We all loved him but knew Arsenal were stingy with money, particularly with home grown players. When he bravely moved to Juventus in the early 80’s, there was little personal anger towards him. We hadn’t done anywhere near enough to keep what was probably the best player in the league. And so he went to Italy for huge money and a team brimming with many world superstars, Tardelli, Rossi, Zoff, Gentile, Scirea and Cabrini were integral parts of Italy’s 1982’s World Cup winners and Juventus had the legendary Giovanni Trapattoni as manager. It must have seemed an extreme ask of a kid from Dublin but Liam became one of the fans favourites and is still loved there today despite being ousted after 2 years by the arrival of Michel Platini, then probably the best midfielder in the world. Brady and Juventus - a love story Brady was incandescent with rage when told the news and said he would never play for them again. But on the last match of the season, there was a penalty given, and Brady, being the penalty taker, was urged by his teammates to take it. He stepped up and scored to win them the title in his last significant kick for them. But you can still trace the bitterness in this book as he recounts the story. He loved Juventus, the fans, his teammates, playing on the biggest stage in world football at the time. He and his wife learned Italian, loved the country, the food, and their fabulous villa by the lake. And it was all snatched away. But he spent many more years in Italy and is an iconic figure there. Italy took football very seriously One aspect that struck me on reading the book was how different the footballing culture was in Italy. England were dominating European football at the time but Italy had already embraced changes which Arsene Wenger brought with him a long time later, a good diet, little alcohol, top training facilities, etc. English football dominated despite the fast food, hard drinking and basic training culture prevalent at the time. Brady reunited with Trappatoni at Ireland All aspects of Liam’s life are covered here, from the early days with Arsenal and Ireland, to Italy and back to West Ham, where he seems to have had a very positive experience, on to his managerial days. First at Celtic, where a combination of many factors conspired against success, and then Brighton for 3 years. The Brighton years are a fascinating read of mismanagement at boardroom level as the club was laid low by greed. Brady did well considering all, but often had to dig into his own pocket to keep things going. He, however, kept in touch with all developments and played a role in getting the club back on its feet. He still lives there and is immensely pleased at how good management turned the club around to being probably the biggest success story, given their resources, in the Premier league. Anecdotal Bulgaria and other great stories Oh and by the way, there are several mentions of Bulgaria throughout the book as Ireland had them on the international stage, well worth reading. And also a good tribute to Paul Dickov, who Brady had at Brighton. He was full of praise for him. Brady always supported Arsene Wenger All the way through, there are references to funny and illuminating passages in his life. Pavarotti, silk pyjamas, Trappatoni’s 2 fingered whistle and his insistence that players must know their jobs and work very hard, his love of music, his “friendship” with Bono, the mentorship of Johnny Giles, his bizarre relationship with Jack Charlton, his media work and his struggles with Ireland’s most controversial football pundit, Eamon Dunphy, the early days with Arsenal, the amazing Irish connection, the amount of good friends he has in football, some surprising to me, and the list goes on and on. But don’t miss out on the funny story with Bruce Rioch. He spanned all our modern history The critical element to Liam Brady and this book, for football fans, is that he straddled all the important history, from Bertie Mee’s double to Terry Neill’s FA cup finals, both with the legendary Don Howe to guide them. Then the 90’s and the emergence of Arsene Wenger, with whom he built up a very strong partnership with Wenger famously saying that Liam was the most important person at the club. David Dein made an inspired decision to match Liam Brady with Arsene Wenger David Dein, the man who made the modern Arsenal, appointed Brady as Academy director in the mid 90’s, and insisted that Brady’s job was not to be connected to the manager’s, he could not be fired. He wanted someone who understood the continental values and culture that Wenger famously brought with him to change English football. The Academy kids could have continuity and safety because Brady was always a decent man and insisted on giving bad news to players and their families in person. All the Hale End stars bouncing bright for Arsenal now were first nurtured by Brady. Here he has produced a top class football book. It will stay as a classic of the genre forever, I feel. As a writer, a storyteller, an insight into 3 different worlds of football, the international, the pre-Premier League days of English football, and the all encompassing milieu and harsh cauldron of Italian football as it pushed along the modern game. Liam has shown a great talent as a chronicler of football and I hope he produces another tome for us to enjoy. But for us fans, it was the beautiful football he could produce, we were enthralled by the way he played, the grace, the movement, the balance, the goals, we couldn’t get enough of our wonderman. Johnny Giles said he was the most beautiful footballer Ireland ever produced, and I am going to say also for Arsenal. He was bello, stupendo, and in modo magnifico and definitely Nato per fare il calciatore.
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