My earliest memories of watching Arsenal included an all action winger, diminutive in stature, but who could ride the roughest challenges, and who never stopped running. George Armstrong had a work ethic beyond most. Full-backs loved having his constant support, strikers thrived on his accurate delivery into the box.
There were matches when he seemed to be playing on both flanks, and indeed he was. I remember ‘holicdad opining on the Clock End one afternoon that Armstrong was amazing, but wouldn’t last ten years playing like that. When the little man moved to Leicester after sixteen years at Highbury the old man was fulsome in his appreciation. George’s boundless energy perhaps masked his incredible talent. At any other time he would have been a shoe-in for the national side, but Alf Ramsey didn’t play wingers. The best player never to play for England? Very probably.
‘Wee Geordie’, or plain ‘Geordie’, got his nickname having been born on 9th August 1944 in Hebburn, County Durham. His Arsenal career spanned four managers, although it was his contribution to Bertie Mee’s European Fairs Cup and double winning campaigns that stand out. In those seasons his crossing provided the ammunition for Ray Kennedy, John Radford, George Graham, and Charlie George to feast on the opposition. Shy and retiring, he seemed genuinely embarrassed to acknowledge those on the North Bank as they greeted him with “Geordie, Geordie Armstrong, Geordie Armstrong on the wi-ing”.
Tottenham must have been sick of the sight of him as we landed the double in 1970/71. In the home fixture he grabbed a brace in a 2-0 win. Never prolific as a finisher his 500 appearances for the club nonetheless produced a decent return of 68 goals. His value was in his accurate crossing, such as the one that Ray Kennedy converted in the dying minutes of the League season at the Lane as the club’s first championship in eighteen years was secured.
Many considered that side was broken up too early but George, along with his contemporaries Peter Storey and Peter Simpson remained loyal until their best days had passed. The end for George came in 1977, amid rumours of a fall out with manager and former team mate Terry Neill that started when Geordie failed to make a Christmas appearance at White Hart Lane.
In 1990 George returned to the club he had taken to his heart as reserve team coach under George Graham. He would survive in that role until the Arsene Wenger years. In October 2000, not surprisingly on the training ground at London Colney, Geordie collapsed with a brain haemorrhage, and the following morning he passed away, far too early at the age of 56. At the Training Centre today the club recognise his contribution to Arsenal with a pitch named after him and a suitable monument to the fact, one I have had the pleasure of seeing.
The quality of the player was recognised by his peers. Bobby Charlton once said of Geordie, “He has gone from strength to strength, working hard and taking weight off defenders’ shoulders by his willingness to help out.” In his Guardian obituary Brian Glanville quoted; “One who knew him well at Arsenal observed that ‘football flowed out of him’. He was humorous, modest, unfailingly genial.”
Everybody at the club, on the pitch, terraces, and in the stands loved wee Geordie. How he is missed. Truly he was worthy of the tag, legend.
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