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Found 8 results

  1. George Graham was integral to both teams Red Devils vs Red Angels I could very easily have been a Manchester United supporter if it hadn’t been for the famous Swindon Town defeat of Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup. Watching a team dominate, keep trying despite half of them recovering from flu, I felt sorry for them and wanted them to win. I became a Gooner that day. And I was on my own. Most people in Ireland were Man Utd and my older brother Joe certainly was. My dad was more of a GAA fan and brought us to many games but from that moment on Arsenal were my biggest sporting love. I was lucky for them as trophies followed in quick succession. As soon as I followed them, they became a big team again. A toothless Nobby Stiles celebrates The European Cup in 1968 Strangely enough Man Utd went into decline after their fabled win over Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final. It can only be put down to one factor in my opinion, Matt Busby, the extraordinary creator of the Manchester United legend retired shortly after the Benfica win, probably because the stress of doing everything there was very draining. He had to control everything, wages, transfers, finances, the ground, in those days managers had far more to do with far less staff. So Arsenal went up, United went down. We sent them down This was reflected on the pitch in our games with them as we drew and lost in 1969-70 but hammered them 4-0 and 3-1 in our magnificent double year 1970-71. The amazing thing was, virtually all of their superstars were still there, George Best, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and the rest but they were a mediocre team, finishing 8th both seasons. We went from 12th to 1st and I definitely believed I had handed Arsenal the lucky gene. We were back, we were Arsenal, and we were winners. Matt Busby - the genius behind Manchester United For United, relegation was the next step in 1973-74. And who started them off on that journey? You guessed it, we beat them 3-0 on their first game of the season. George Graham had switched to them but made no difference. Their huge stars had gone but they still had big names such as Willie Morgan, Sammy McIlroy, Martin Buchan and Lou Macari who helped them go down. They did manage a point off us in the return but that was the start of them being beaten by us in a significant fashion in my era. It seemed impossible for such a team to go down but they had finished 18th out of 22 the year before and then the Arsenal destroy them in their first match. It clobbered the belief out of them. The richest, most glamorous club in the world go down It was their last relegation and truly they were the biggest side I had ever seen relegated on the pitch, not by a ban like Juventus, for example. They were the richest club in the world, fans everywhere, glamour stars of which the greatest was the unbelievable Georgie Best, the best player I have ever seen, but he was unable to cope with fame. Watch the Youtubes to see things you have never seen before, he could do everything, all while getting kicked unmercifully. I believe that Matt Busby going meant the last chance for Bestie also went. He protected him. George best - the most exciting footballer I have ever seen Busby was their Herbert Chapman. He made them the greatest in England. He believed, as did Chapman, in European competition. Early connections between two greats They had 2 great managers in my era, Busby and Ferguson, and we had 2, Graham and Wenger. Later on we will get to them as they are integral to the story. But let us take a trip down memory lane first to give you an idea of the connections between 2 of the greatest clubs in England and certainly the biggest rivals in my time. Newton Heath and Woolwich Arsenal played out their rivalry in the 2nd division for many years. In 1898 we played an extraordinary 3 matches all finishing 5-1 with them winning only the middle one. In 1906 we both met in Division one for the first time and they won 1-0 with the wonderfully named Alexander Leek Brown Downie scoring the goal. They had become Manchester United and we were still Woolwich Arsenal. They have the edge They have the edge on us in wins, 100 to our 86 and 50 drawn. They have more trophies as you all know with only the FA cup being our lead. They are close though with 12 to our 13. Let’s hope a great spell is on the way for us with the Arteta young guns and we climb closer to them. Their 3 Champions league could be a target although it certainly doesn’t look possible from this viewpoint. We need to improve to catch up with them. A miraculous ten years would do nicely. Cup winners courtesy of Liam Brady I want to mention another time and a match that will always stick in my memory. Arsenal vs Man Utd in 1979, the FA cup final. It was yet another time when we proved their nemesis. We had all the Irish players with Liam Brady being the finest. He played superb, we were 2 goals up on 86 minutes and they were ready to go home crying. But Gordon McQueen lashed in a header and then Sammy McIlroy scored a peach and we were on the floor like Tyson Fury, eyes rolling back in our heads just like him, unconscious. Somehow Brady, Rix and Sunderland crawled up off the Wembley floor, decided we were Arsenal, we give nightmares to Man Utd, not the other way round, and scored a goal that gave me the highest level of delight I had up to the point as an Arsenal supporter. From strolling around the ring, giving Utd an odd clatter around the head to show our superiority, to being hit by a sucker punch that sent us down burst like a sack of spuds, to gathering all our pieces together and showing we were champions, it was the greatest single match I had experienced to that point. 10 years later I was to experience another fantastic moment against Liverpool but I have covered that before. This time we climbed the Wembley stairs as giants and Man Utd? It must have been sickening because if it had gone to extra time all the belief and momentum was with them. Brady gave us that little bit extra to make us win within that tiny crazy moment that was left of injury time. Alan Sunderland destroyed the ecstatic Man Utd fans Next week I will go up to the modern era, George Graham, Arsene Wenger, and the manager who was scheduled to come to us before George Graham, Alex Ferguson. The most unbelievable rivalry, the ups and downs, the earth shattering defeats, and the joyous wins.
  2. Arsenal vs Valencia Happy face, happy heart Broken, broken, broken hearts Ah, Valencia, I spent a memorable holiday there and loved it. But I can say one thing with something close to certainty, Unai Emery would probably still be manager now if the form we showed in beating Valencia in the semis of the Europa League had carried on to the Final. It didn’t and maybe it sometimes can be good to lose as I feel he didn’t fit Arsenal. He seemed a gentleman, very knowledgeable on football and his record in Spain was exemplary, as was his record in Europe. But Chelsea destroyed us, he never really recovered, and it paved the way for Arteta to take over, a manager that does fit Arsenal, even if he has his detractors. Unai Emery is part of this rivalry, though, and I will return to him in this blog. Emery's heart was taken out by Chelsea The thing is, Valencia are not a team we have played often. I will give you the bare statistics as they tell you almost nothing – 7 games, 3 wins, 3 losses and one draw. So, even stevens? Absolutely not. They have broken our hearts more than once and more than twice. And without the master from Spain, Mr Emery, maybe every tie would have gone their way. First Cut is the Deepest Let’s take the draw, the first match. We matched them, yes? Eh, no. It was the European Cupwinners Cup of 1980. It was our 70th match of the season, yes, you read that right, numerous cup replays against the great Liverpool and others meant Arsenal were tired, stretched and were beaten by West Ham in the FA cup final only 4 days before. Valencia had the exquisite Mario Kempes and the sublime Rainer Bonhof amongst others. But we had beaten the Masters Juventus on our way to the final. Liam Brady was our great and was now about to prove it on the big European stage. But their leader was the extraordinary Alfredo Di Stefano, often touted as the best player ever, as their manager. Despite his reputation, and his star names, they played it cagey, keeping a tight rein on Brady, giving away few chances. So yes, we got a draw 0-0 but they won on penalties, such a rare thing at the time that John Motson, for the BBC, kept explaining what was going to happen. Kempes missed the first and then we had Brady, very reliable from the spot. Except that night. The stars imploded. He missed. And then all the way to the 6th man and a very nervous Graham Rix needed to score. Pereira sensed his nervousness and saved quite easily. Valencia are our daddies from the start. Heart-breaking to lose 2 finals in a few days. Are you listening, Liverpool? Other teams have lost 2 trophies one after the other in heart-breaking fashion. Mario Kempes somehow missed And so the next time, Arsene Wenger had appeared. We probably had the best team in Europe yet were struggling to prove it in the Champions league. It was April 2001, the quarter finals and we had all our big stars except Bergkamp, Kanu substituting for him. They had a good team but not up to our class and so we beat them 2-1 at home after they went one up first half with Robert Ayala. Henry and it’s only Ray Parlour scored 2 in 2 minutes to give us a win. Ayala’s goal was the decider as they won the return 1-0 with a second half goal from John Carew. Again they are our daddies. We should have beaten them but somehow Wenger couldn’t do it in Europe most of the time. Heartbreak city. You have got to remember we had such a sublime side with players all clubs wanted. Liam Brady also missed Don’t go breaking my heart And so next season we got our chance for revenge. We had got through to the second group stage and played them first at home. We had Bergkamp back but we limped along to a 0-0. Then the return? John Carew scored on 34 to put them through. Eh, no, then Henry scored on 49 to put us through on away goals. Finally we will beat them? Nope, John Carew again on 57 to put them through. We learned to hate him, the big, lanky Norwegian. And so they did it again, stop sending us home crying, Valencia. Big John Carew -go away And so to our man, Emery. The poor guy suffered tremendous ad hominem attacks for us. Attacking his pronunciations, his strange English, his histrionics on the side of the pitch, in fact any personal attack that was possible. He quite rightly complained that Arteta was given far better treatment than he was despite similar results. And he was up against Valencia in the semi-finals of the Europa League in 2019, who each time before had beaten us like puppies. Owner of a lonely heart He was an expert on Valencia having managed them for several years and got them regularly into Champions league. He showed this expertise with Arsenal and a team we wouldn’t recognise today despite it only being 3 years. Cech, Kolasinic, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Koscielny, Mustafi, Aubameyang, Maitland Niles, Ozil, and Guendouzi played. But it all started out as normal – they scored after 11 minutes with Diakhaby and the curse of Valencia was still alive. Emery, despite his knowledge of the club couldn’t save us from another defeat. Except he could, Lacazette scored 2 shortly afterwards to give us a chance and then Aubameyang on 90 to give us a real chance of making the final of the trophy Emery was the master of. Not a total eclipse of my heart And so the second leg in Valencia. Surely we could finally beat them in a tie? Unbelievably they did it again on 11 minutes with Gameiro opening the scoring. I couldn’t take any more of Valencia, they always seemed to break our hearts. But this time Emery was too good for them as Aubameyang was on fire. A hat trick on 17, 69 and 88 meant it was one of his best matches. Lacazette got another on 50 so that another from Gameiro didn’t matter. We had finally got it, the win we wanted over Valencia. The bogeyman had been slain and it was Unai Emery, in his finest moment for us, who did it. To my mind, he was our most unpopular manager since Bruce Rioch but over those 2 matches he was good. Of course, Chelsea trashed us and he then tarnished that memory. Terry Neill couldn’t beat them nor Arsene Wenger, but Emery did. At least thank you for that memory. You didn’t deserve, nor does anyone, the personal attacks. 3 goals to break the Bats hearts And so, what next? I am sure we will meet them again. We have finally got on top. Let us hope that the Valencia curse has finally gone away.
  3. Our best of our crop The home grown team Martinez VS Jennings Rice Adams O’Leary Cole Dixon Toure Campbell Sansom Saka Fabregas Storey Brady Ljungberg Cazorla Vieira Pires Radford Smith Rowe Bergkamp Henry This week I turn my attention to our best home grown players. The rules being, like last week, that they have to be brought through from the younger age squads and also in my fan timeframe from 1969 onwards. Again it is incredibly hard but I have made my choices and this week, as promised, I will go head to head against the bought team I chose last week. Martinez was the only choice in goal It is hard to find a keeper from my period 1969 to today. We don’t bring them through homegrown. Graham Stack never made it and he was my second choice. Wilson, Rimmer, Jennings, Lukic, Seaman, Lehmann and the rest were bought. So step forward Emilio Martinez, a true Arsenal man who dedicated a great part of his career to us. He only had one great season but what a season. He never let us down. And he won’t let down this team. But on the head to head from last time I have to put him behind Pat Jennings. So one-nil to the buys. Defence was far harder to choose Pat Rice against Lee Dixon? Well, this is difficult. Rice was such a great servant for us and Northern Ireland, but Dixon probably had that touch of class above him so I am going to go 2-0 to the buys as they race into a big lead. Pat Rice -one of our greatest servants Ashley Cole vs Kenny Sansom and Cole has to be the choice. 107 England caps. Lots of trophies and surely an England all time great. He shades Kenny Sansom in a tight race as Sansom was superb. 2-1 to the buys. Cole: Not so popular because of his (bad)choices Martin Keown couldn’t get into this team as a centreback despite being a giant of a player but our 2 longest serving players, Tony Adams and David O’Leary did. And I am going to give it to evens with Sol Campbell and Tony Adams leaving Kolo Toure and O'Leary out. So now it is 3-2 to the buys. No, I am not going to tell you who these legends are Midfield even harder Saka vs Ljungberg, oh no, how can I make this choice? I am going to give it to Saka for one reason. He is our best player at the moment, causing danger all the time whilst getting kicked unmercifully. Ljungberg was never our best player because, well, we had extraordinary players like Bergkamp, Henry and Viera in his time. So now it is 3-3. I couldn't leave these two out Fabregas vs Cazorla? Gus, why did you start this? This is impossible. Looking at great players we have bought vs players we have brought through and they are all brilliant. But I think I will go Fabregas, he was a genius, he stepped into the boots of Vieira, despite being a different sort of player and we didn’t really feel the difference. And now the homegrowns have made a comeback, 4-3. We did bring through some great players, didn’t we? The genius Spaniard that was Fabregas But now Peter Storey vs Patrick Vieira and I am so tempted to go for Storey. He was truly tough, but he made himself available all the time and was incredibly under rated. Alf Ramsay didn’t pick him for England for a long time regarding him as a clogger. When he finally did towards the end of his career, he said he had made a mistake and should have been playing him all along. He was like Roy Keane, he drove the team on and was always available for the ball. We could do with such a player now. But still, Patrick Vieira is Patrick Vieira. I have to give it to him. Now it is 4-4 and it is looking tight going down to the wire. Probably the most underrated player we ever had - Peter Storey Robert Pires vs Liam Brady? I hope you now realise how difficult this is. Two legends, guys we will love forever. But I am going to give it to Brady for the same reason I gave it to Saka. He was our best player in the team winning 1st division player of the year. And so now the homegrowns have got in front late in the game – 5-4. Brady- our best player of his time Attack was also a hard choice I put Smith Rowe in that Bergkamp role as I feel that is where he can be killer for us. Scoring goals, creating assists, making a danger all the time around the box. He could turn out to be a world superstar. But John Radford, despite being a super forward, and always being a threat, was no Henry. Frank Stapleton and Ray Kennedy were my next choices. At least the front two are easy. Bergkamp and Henry. I need say no more. And so the buys wing it at the end 6-5. I would love to see this team playing against the other in real life assuming all players are at their best. I suspect the buys might just shade it again but you never know. John Radford - a seriously under rated striker Some of the decisions were so hard. But I had to choose 11 for both sides. For the home grown team in defence there were Sammy Nelson, Terry Neill, Martin Keown and others who didn’t make it. In midfield there was a huge choice, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Graham Rix, Jack Wilshire, Charlie George and lots of others were considered. In attack we aren’t so strong, though. Ray Kennedy, Kevin Campbell, Niall Quinn and Frank Stapleton spring to mind but none are like the legends up front of Bergkamp and Henry, one of the strongest partnerships ever at any club. Nketiah and Balogun, or Biereth could make it and displace the two I chose but I can’t see them being better than Henry/Bergkamp. Let's cheer for our own So there you have it. I have chosen my best bought team and compared it to the home grown. My conclusion? That the bought team is a little better than the home grown. That buying well is the key to a great side, but bringing on your own gives far more satisfaction and fun for the fans. The Arsenal chant of “He’s one of our own” reverberates throughout the decades. And for sure they will play football the Arsenal way. And hey, let’s raise a goalkeeper or two.
  4. DON’t go breaking my heart Why oh why, Don, did you do it? Without that famous league cup final, I doubt if I would have become an Arsenal fan. I started out up for Swindon as did nearly everyone. But Arsenal kept trying to win on a muddy pitch and somehow a dogged Swindon side got a goal by Roger Smart against the run of play. It was all Arsenal but no goals until Bobby Gould scored on 86. I now cheered for Arsenal and was sure, being a top team against a 3rd division one, that now they would win. Arsenal had flu problems though, and the massive effort to get themselves back in the game seemed to take its toll in extra time. The most famous Swindon player ever, Don Rogers, who forms part of their name, scored 2 and Arsenal were beaten. The fact that I was gutted told me something. This was my team. I was born to be a Gooner. But despite wrecking my dreams, I retained a soft spot for Swindon. And I was always going to choose them for this series. Because they made me Arsenal. From now on I would cry when we lose and add an az when we win.* Their greatest day ever They gave us a harder time than the Spuds You might suspect that Arsenal are going to easily come out on top in this rivalry. You would be wrong. Yes we have far more trophies but not on the head to head. They win by virtue of going home with the League Cup and we got no trophy in our nine matches against them. 3 wins each and 3 draws. There is something likable about Swindon, though. They sport the Arsenal colours, Don Rogers, their iconic winger, has a stand named after him, always nice to see a player being recognised in this way. I could be wrong but I am not sure many clubs have stands named after players. The rest of the County Ground seen from the Don Rogers stand Now, I am guessing you would think that every metric I look for Arsenal would come out on top. And you would be wrong. Let’s talk about most league appearances by a player. We have David O’Leary on 558, they have John Trollope 1960 to 1980 with 770 and a total of 889 easily beating O’Leary on 772. More ways they are ahead Arsenal were always the innovators in English football? Eh, hello, Swindon beat us by 6 months in having floodlights in the 1950’s. They were founded in 1879, well ahead of us in 1886. And their first game against us was in 1911 in the FA Cup. They lay down a marker for what is to come with a 1-0. One nil to the Swindon would have been ringing out if it was the modern day. First blood to Swindon. Even Herbert Chapman found them hard The next came in the FA Cup again in 1929 in the 5th . Now this was the era of Herbert Chapman, with all the star names – Eddie Hapgood, Bob John, David Jack, Joe Hulme and others. We were the mighty Arsenal and they were in the 3rd division. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy? No are Arsenal and we make life hard for ourselves. 0-0 in the first game and then a little revenge in the 1-0 we got in the second with the fabulously named James Brain allowing the fans to sung our song if only they had known about it at the time. It took us 3 games to get a goal against them so they are ahead in that, too. All the rest came in my era. I remember them all. The first match was also my first blog and you can read about it here. Like I said at the start, they beat us so the first 2 trophies they played us they beat us. Swindon, you are breaking my heart. So did Bertie Mee and especially Terry Neill And so we got a chance to get revenge for ’69 in 1972, FA Cup 3rd round. On a muddy, muddy pitch, Geordie Armstrong of the double winning side, and Alan Ball, who wasn’t, got the 2 goals needed for us to progress. It was Alan Ball’s first goal for us and at least it was a bit more than a tap in like Geordie’s. So now we had 2 Fa Cup wins to their one. But they still had that trophy up on us so I put them ahead. Even the great Liam Brady couldn't stop them The next time was the League cup in 1979. We had a top side with all the Irish players. They were in the 3rd division. We were at Highbury. 1-1 and it went to replay and a classic cup game. Steve Walford scored an own goal and then gave them a deflection for their second. 2-0 to the Swindon at halftime. We had no Liam Brady for the first game and he came back for the second. Probably the best player in the league at the time, he would surely put manners on these upstarts? Eh, sort of, he played out of his skin, still referred to as the best display ever seen at Swindon’s County Ground, scored 2 goals and assisted Brian Talbot for the other but they scored one in the second half to take it to extra time. And Andy Rowlands got a late winner to mean that for the League Cup, Swindon are our daddies. A very small revenge in the Premiership You might be amazed but Swindon once got into the Premier League. In 1993-94, we played them twice. Now, they fell like a stone back down into the championship and we played our part in that a couple of days after Christmas at the County Ground. 4-0 to the Arsenal with Ian Wright and Kevin Campbell with a rare hat-trick. They conceded 100 goals, still the record. They got a little bit of revenge at Highbury in April with a 1-1 but for the Premier league, we can claim the win in the head to head. Or maybe this was their greatest day ever? But as you can see, I have to give them the lead overall. They beat us at Wembley, their most significant trophy. And they and QPR are the only 3rd division teams to win it. The FA Cup was never won by a 3rd division team. Swindon – better than us? So there you have it. A tiny team, with tiny attendances, trying to play in the mud at other tiny teams all their life, are laughing at us in the League Cup. We are a bit better than them in the FA Cup and they managed a draw against us in the Premier league, when we were packed full of top players and playing at Highbury. Be afraid, Gooners, be very afraid, if the name Swindon Town pops out of the spinning balls in any of the cups. They like beating us. Cry + az = crazy *
  5. A Spursy story Throw in the towel, Spuds White Hart Losers Historically, of course, we are far better then the poor old Spuds. Our trophy cabinet is far bigger and much more recent. They look back into the distance for their glory days, we don’t. We cannot deny, however that in recent years their league form has been better than us. Young Spuds, then, might feel they have bragging rights, they got to a recent Champions League Final to equal us in times we have got to that final. In fairness, we got much closer to winning it than them. And competed in it far more times. But what is it like to be a Spurs supporter? I have some friends who have this affliction and they seem very normal on the outside. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is their obsession with Arsenal because it is hard to make a strong case. On almost every metric, they are inferior. That must be galling. They have 2 ancient top flight titles (1951/1961) bestowed on them at White Hart Lane. Hey, we have two far more recent, in 1971 and 2004. We went there to win the title and they couldn’t stop us. Oh, the embarrassment! Red and White yobbos celebrating like crazy on their pitch. Liam Brady - one of our true greats I have my Spurs binoculars Anyway, I am going to try and look at things from a Spurs point of view and see what metrics are good for them. For trophies, they have 4 league cups to our 2 and 2 Uefa cups to our one (we might just turn that first one closer this season, I am always hopeful). As they are the minor cups, they is no joy for them in this area, we are way ahead in league, FA Cup and Charity Shields. They were the first English winners of a European trophy, The Cup-winners Cup in 1963, but few of their supporters can remember that. Ours, in Copenhagen in 1994, is etched in the memories of huge numbers of our fans. In terms of overall wins, we have 84 to their 66, we have beaten them 6-0 as against their 5-0. Even at White Hart Lane, we have 28 wins to their 36 as opposed to our 41 to their 19 at our home. We have 21 undefeated matches against them, miles ahead of their 5, and they have 4 wins in a row compared to our 6. It is all gloomy for the poor Spuds, the Spursies of all Spursies. Bergkamp - wow what a talent We had far better players But the purpose of this blog is to give you my take on things, not a history lesson. In truth, Tottenham didn’t impact that much on me when I started supporting Arsenal, we had a short spell of being great, we won the double to equal their top 1961 team and we were challengers for a time after the double until it all fell apart, and then Terry Neill came along to give us superb FA Cup runs. We had lots of Irish players and probably the best player in the league in Liam Brady. Since then, Bergkamp and Henry have also been the best players in England. I suppose the flawed Gascoigne might have been in the 90’s and maybe Gary Lineker was a contender for that distinction but he was so much of a poacher that I feel few would have regarded him as the best footballer. Ardiles and Glenn Hoddle were lovely players as well. Honestly, though, in my time, and particularly since Wenger and Graham, we are far ahead in quality of players. Gascoigne: Good but flawed - like his team We shared few but Pat Jennings was the most egregious steal of all. Terry Neill came from Tottenham and soon after took Pat from them. Both Northern Ireland, both deemed as gentlemen of the game, they are well regarded by both sides, particularly Pat, who went on to have the best period in his career with Arsenal and Northern Ireland from that time. Henry -our greatest? And even now? As I have said at the start, the only metric the Spuds have to talk about is recent years in the league and Champions league. We qualified, in total, 21 times for Champions league/ European cup and they 6. Since they first qualified in 2010/11 they managed 5 times, we got 8. We qualified twice for the old European Cup to their one in, you guessed it, 1961. And we could have had one more in 1989 except for the Heysel Stadium disaster. The League in recent times? Yes, they have an advantage, they have finished above us the past six seasons but we were in front for so long before that it is hard to count. I am hopeful this year will reverse the trend. Even Chelsea are now better Anyway, I could try here to search for a way to show, from a Spuds point of view, how their team is better, but each direction that I go in sends me down a blind alley. We are better, simple as that. If they won the double for the next 12 years they would be better than us, but that’s never going to happen. The most likely scenario is that for as long as any Spurs fan is alive today, even new born kids, brainwashed from the cradle, they will never catch up with us. If we had our ten great years as I talked about in a previous blog here we would have an argument to being the best team in England. That is a dream denied the Spuds, as they would need an unprecedented long great spell to get that position. The problem they have now is that Chelsea have appeared and even historically have a strong claim to be the better team in London than them and are certainly currently the best team overall on recent form. Even blinkered Arsenal fans have to recognize that. They could even overtake Arsenal as the 3rd best team in England if they have a really strong spell. Abramovich has shown he has the winning touch time and again. Win or be fired is his motto. Should be on the crest, in fact. As for managers, the visionary and revolutionary Chapman, the supreme creator and undefeated Wenger, and the tactical and coaching genius that was George Graham. I can’t remember any Spurs managers, sorry. My magic solution So what can Spurs do? If West Ham get ten great years they could also overtake them. It is all looking dark for the boys in white. But luckily for all you Spuds out there, I have a solution. It is a magic one. Do a Wimbledon and go somewhere else. I would suggest Cambridge. Not so far away, just over 50 miles. A historic city and they will surely never be able to overtake you as the best team there. Do one, Mr Levy You see, Mr Levy, you were never really good enough to be our big rivals, we beat you everywhere I look, even when it matters in your own home. We have Chelsea to worry about now and they are really good. Unfortunately, you are not. Go to Cambridge, we have bigger fish to fry. Where can we finish update: Well, I got the score right 2-1 against Man City, although unfortunately the wrong way around. We played very well, but we cannot afford such silly moves by Xhaka and Gabriel. They did wrong things and I hope Arteta hauls them up over it. We are not going to win matches against top teams with ten men, particularly when they have 12. That level of performance gives us hope. Long may it continue, Champions league is still a live dream.
  6. A Midsummers Nights Dream Last time we had just come out of the 70’s. We had beaten Liverpool and Juventus in semi’s. We gave Valencia a tough game in the Cup Winners Cup final. We played 70 matches and somehow came close to winning the league, losing a few at the end because of all the hard replays against Liverpool. We were ready to come out of the blocks. I was dreaming of a red and white year for 1980-81. We signed Kenny Sansom from Palace, who was a superb full back and all round footballer. He was one of the best England full backs ever and would go on to be an Arsenal legend. Sadly his is also at the end a tragic story but one day I will write about that. But his transfer was surreal. We had just bought Clive Allen and he went to Palace in a swap without ever playing. Rumours were flying that the Allen transfer was a setup. And we had kept Liam Brady. He was training with the team. Except there came a nightmare. A Shakespearean twist. Kenny Sansom, a great buy from Palace The Merchant of Turin Gianni Agnelli II had other ideas. The immensely powerful Fiat owner who also owned Juventus decided Brady was his man. It was an easy sell. Arsenal were being stingy and Brady was on a low wage even compared to some others in the squad. He was PFA player of the year and Arsenal player of the year for the past 3 seasons. It was crazy but Terry Neill (managers decided wages in those days) figured that Brady would never leave because he was pure Arsenal. He was on £300 per week and that suddenly jumped to £3,000. They gave him £250,000 just to sign on! Nobody on this planet would turn down that class of money. Agnelli made Brady an offer he couldn't refuse The annoying thing was that almost certainly if Neill had made him Arsenal’s top earner which he deserved as the best player, he may well have stayed. Arsenal, to this day, have kept this reputation of not wishing to spend money, a constant moan of the fans (letting go staff on low wages during Coronavirus being an egregious example), and this was just stupid. Brady was 24, recognized as one of the star players throughout Europe and should have had one of the top salaries in England. Instead he was a long way short of even being the highest paid at Highbury. I was very disappointed with Arsenal and a bit fed up. We can’t be a big club without the ambition to keep our top players. It Was Not As We Liked It I was looking enviously at Forest, who were willing to splash the cash for the best. The Spuds had brought in World Cup winners in Villa and Ardiles, Ipswich had brought in Thijssen and Muhren and others and were playing great football. Liverpool or Man U never worried about buying the top players. We sold our best. As I have said, in those days the manager had great power and our duo of Neill and Don Howe were letting us down. Bringing in Sansom was great as Rice and Nelson were coming to their end and John Devine had finally nailed down a place as full back. Our miserly attitude was the problem. Sansom, while a superb player, was a fullback and was no substitute for Brady, who ran our midfield. That was the low point for me, not Brady going. I don’t really remember much anger at him. He would have had to be crazy not to go. What we didn't want to see- Brady for Juventus I feel that this decision ultimately led to Neill losing the support of the Arsenal fans and the dark days that I could feel coming. We were just short of being great and we should have kept Clive Allen and Brady alongside Sansom. We were Arsenal. Where was our ambition? Our courage? Gone missing when we needed it. The Tempest The first match of the season showed this, beaten by West Brom and then a draw against Southampton reflected our lack of bottle. Ipswich, Forest and even Aston Villa, showed you could challenge Liverpool, but not us, it seemed. Beating them over 4 hard matches the previous season seemed not to matter to the Highbury elite. We could, and should have been challenging. I was fed up. For the first time, I started looking at other teams and saying, why is that not us? This, for me, was the low point since I started following Arsenal. Okay, we beat Coventry and had our next match against the Spuds, who had flown out of the traps and looking like they could even win the league. We beat them 2-0 and Pat Jennings played superb as did our whole team. But the Tottenham hooligans had caused dreadful scenes before the match and it left a sour taste in the mouth. Fan violence is disgraceful and has no place in football for me. I don’t go to matches to be afraid but that was standard in those days and still today, there is a huge security presence at football matches. Have a laugh with the opposing fans but why hate them? They are you, they love football, only that they support a different team. Arsenal have one of the better reputations in London for this but it is more being the best of a bad bunch and we also have our nasty boys, willing to hospitalize opposing fans. Sickening. Was a Winter’s Tale coming? So, what happened in our matches? We came 3rd to Aston Villa and Ipswich so we did well, I suppose but we won nothing. Spurs sent us home crying 1-0 in the League Cup 4th round and Everton gave us tears in our eyes in the 3rd round of the FA Cup 2-0. Spurs got their revenge also at White Hart Lane in the league 2-0. Spurs won the FA Cup, beating Manchester City in a replay 3-2 in a great final, with Villa and Ardiles playing superb. It is hard to claim supremacy in London that season because they won that and knocked us out of the League Cup. They finished 10th but with a trophy. And we had lost 3 and drawn one of our last six. For the first time, I wasn’t hopeful for the next season. We had our chance to make a statement and we didn’t. That moment, at the start, when we lost both Brady and Clive Allen, signalled to me that we just weren’t serious about being a great team. The people at the top didn’t want us to be Arsenal.
  7. Our youngest ever manager Terry Neill at just 34 took over as manager in 1976, our youngest ever. And I can’t see that record ever changing as Arsenal is such a big business now. He played 275 times for us in the 60’s and scored 10 goals as a centrehalf. He was our youngest ever captain at 20 so he had a good Arsenal pedigree. He was a Northern Ireland international and captain playing 59 times. He was one of the youngest ever managers in the game when he took over as player manager at Hull in 1970 at only 28. He was a good player, a born leader and I always liked him. I was very happy when he took over. There was something reassuring about his face. Bertie Mee had ran his race, I couldn’t see any prospect of him turning things around, and nor could the board. Although maybe he really did resign. Turned to black and white Terry Neill, then, was Arsenal. He knew what it was like to wear the red and white. But he turned to 2 players more used to black and white for his first important signings, Pat Jennings of Spurs, and Malcolm MacDonald (SuperMac)of Newcastle. Jennings took over from Jimmy Rimmer and MacDonald from John Radford. MacDonald was a great player to have, a goalscorer, flamboyant, and everyone knew who he was. He only managed 14 appearances for England but still he was regarded as one of the best in the game. Jennings was famous for the size of his hands and his perfection of using his whole body to save shots. Peter Schmeichel, years later, was the next great such keeper. His hands were big The unmatched Irish trio Liam Brady was an Irish international who would go on to become a world great, and to this day Gooners talk about him with awe. He had a skillset unmatched. Watch the youtubes, you young Gooners, to see the magic. He couldn’t tackle or defend, but his left foot mesmerized defenders, and his ability to see the game as a great player, meant having Brady in the side always gave you a chance, even when the game is slipping away. Such as the time against Manchester United in the 1979 FA cup final when they came back from 2-0 down to draw level to 2-2. Everything was going wrong. United were all over us, and we looked shellshocked. If United didn’t score another they would surely annihilate us in extra time. We were gone. Except Brady said no, we are Arsenal, we will win. Despite there only being one minute to go, he got the ball, went on a mazy run, right up to the edge of the box, slipped the ball to Graham Rix, who lashed it across to Alan Sunderland who popped in a simple goal to destroy the Mancs and send them home crying to Salford. It was the Liam Brady final when he proved we were Arsenal. Again, young Gooners, watch the youtube, you will get a feel of his majesty on the ball. Frank Stapleton was another Irish youngster who came through the ranks. He was a top class forward, always causing trouble to defenders as he was good in the air and with his feet. He was strong and classy. For 3 years he was our top scorer and himself and SuperMac terrorized defences everywhere. He scored 108 goals in 300 matches. Very good going for a team who were not at the top of the league. He was a certain starter for the Republic of Ireland and that was the big difference between this team and the teams I had been used to up to now. It was packed with first choice internationals at a time when the international game was the most important. Arsenal were gathering fans like crazy in Ireland and I was definitely not alone as I had been as a kid. Why no statue of David O'Leary outside the Emirates? David O’Leary was another and I do not understand why there is no statue to him outside the Emirates. 772 first team appearances! 20 years a player! Now a club ambassador and there is strong talk of him joining the board as a football expert like Bobby Charlton at Man U. He was a real player, he forged partnerships with so many centrebacks it is hard to credit. He was cultured, played beautiful football for a defender and claimed many a scalp of top players, most notably the sublime Mario Kempes was shackled in the Cupwinners cup final of 1980 and couldn’t get near scoring, ending 0-0. It went to penalties and we were beaten 5-4. I hate to say who missed our first penalty to give the advantage to Valencia but it was Liam Brady, our penalty taker. But then Kempes, their penalty taker, missed as well so the two greats let their team down. But O’Leary certainly didn’t and as far as I know he never took a penalty for Arsenal. I think the only time he ever did was for Ireland, against Romania in the 1990 World Cup in Italy. It went to a shootout to take us to the quarterfinals, and when Packie Bonner saved from Daniel Timofte, O’Leary stepped up to fire it home and started the most crazy celebrations in Ireland ever. Everyone from that era always remembers that day. O’Leary of Arsenal showed Ireland they were Arsenal. We could win. But there is plenty more to talk about from the late 70’s. We have 3 FA cups in a row for next time.
  8. When everything brightened up You have to understand, it was different to today. We just didn’t have the constant access to everything we have nowadays. We watched highlights on the BBC and ITV on Saturday night and on Sunday afternoon. Probably no more than 15 minutes per match, mostly goals, goal chances and controversies. For a real live match we went to watch our local team playing on a Saturday or Sunday. The pitch was beside my house and Newbrook Celtic were the team. They played in Celtic colours and were indicative of the support Celtic had throughout Ireland at the time, and indeed still. Although there was some pretty good players, they were a long way off the standard on TV. ‘Shoot’ provided the magic To get insider type stuff, we had to buy magazines. Me and my brother loved ‘Shoot’, which was the best at the time, and we travelled down to the local village to buy it every week. We had money from caddying in the local golf course as pocket money was unheard of in that time. ‘Shoot’ was captivating, we had colour photos of our heroes and because Arsenal started winning trophies, they featured in it. We were a top team, sort of. Because the double was a miracle, and we had a half decent year for the next two, hid the fact that we were on a slide. A dangerous slide into oblivion, or at least the 2nd division. The team broke up, the old squad giving way to the new, Ray Kennedy, Frank McLintock, Charlie George and others moving on, Bob Wilson and others retiring. We finished 2nd to the wonderful emerging Liverpool side, who would go on to dominate football in the late 70’s and 80’s, in 1972/73. A little bright spark. Then 10th in 1973/74. Then a scarifying drop to 16th in 1974/75. Then the cliff edge appeared in 1975/76, 17th! The miracle year was a blip, like when your heart rate jumps through the roof because of a fright, and tumbles down again when you realise it was just somebody playing a prank. Lucky it was no prank that caused the blip. It was real, though unlikely. We did do it, although looking back now it is hard to know how. We like being underdogs and battling for what we get. We never get it easy. But the bond was forged and in many ways I have better memories of those dark days. The Irish avalanche came And why? Because the Irish started emerging. You could have 5 or 6 Irish players playing. In the latter half of the 70’s, Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton, David O’Leary, John Devine, and surprisingly, Terry Mancini, who only learned late in his career that he could play for Ireland, joined Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson from Northern Ireland. Terry Neill, our stalwart Irish centrehalf from the 60’s, became our manager in 1976. Life started to improve and he jumped us up to 8th. My fear of relegation abated. And he stole Pat Jennings of Northern Ireland off the Spuds in 1977 to increase the Irish connection. We were the Irish team and we were the Arsenal. The thing is that, to me at least, the team, the glory team, were a bit drab, Simpson, McNab, McLintock, Storey, Radford, Kelly and others, weren’t very exciting. Charlie George was though, for sure. You could always guarantee a spectacular goal or headbutting Kevin Keegan. Or even fighting with Bertie Mee. Terry Neill brought excitement to our life after the dark years. The emergence of the exciting conjurers You see the new team that emerged had magicians, Liam Brady, who even now if you ask an Arsenal fan who is playing number seven, will always reply Liam Brady. It is an in-joke amongst Arsenal fans. He could do things with the ball that we couldn’t believe. We brought in SuperMac Malcolm Macdonald. He scored goals for fun and always with flamboyance. Alan Hudson appeared to bring his silky skills to the midfield. Brian Kidd, who had won the European cup with Manchester United came into our attack. Alan Ball, the World cup winner still ran our midfield. I hope you can see what it was like. Now, we had exciting players and an exciting team although we were scarcely midtable. Liam Brady Always our number seven SuperMac Malcolm Macdonald kept scoring goals The Voyage to the promised arena Crucially, I started going to watch English Football by this time. Myself and my brother travelled by ferry to Liverpool and went to Old Trafford several times a year. We were young kids, my memory says I was not even 16 when we went first and my brother Joe was seventeen. It was a huge adventure. Although I had been to many matches in Ireland, nothing prepared me for what it was like at Old Trafford. And what seems like an astonishing undertaking to buy ferry tickets, match tickets, get the train to Manchester from Liverpool, and then find our way to Salford to watch the football. I should point out that we had both left school and were working full time. We didn’t feel like the kids we were. We had no ID. cards of any description. Just got on the ferry, and somehow figured out how to get the rest of the way. For the younger readers, there was no Google maps, no internet, in fact no mechanical way to find out where we were going. We relied on our reading ability and asking nice people. Lots of nice people in Liverpool and Manchester. And for me, staying quiet about my Arsenal support. I would always have to go in the home end. I learned how to jump inside. Next week, I will describe those first trips. And getting to see live on their own stage the heroes I had seen only on TV.
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