The evening after the day before has arrived and the thundersnow has not made it anywhere remotely close to ‘holic Towers. The predictive text really wanted ‘colic to appear there which is particularly apt today given that so many babies on social media are suffering with it.
If you will forgive the me, me, me nature of this post I would be obliged. I remember taking good advice from a top man about blogging. Never say stuff like “I think we should, or I would do this. Nobody gives a shit what you think!” I try to remember that every time I type a piece. Sorry for the times I forgot it because he was right.
The problem is I have done a lot of thinking this week. The older drinkers in the bar have indignantly denied me my new found seniority. I am apparently still a pup. But sixty human years equates to, well a number of dog years in which puppydom has long since been confined to memory. Sixty years of watching the Arsenal, although only 54 of which I can recall with any clarity.
I’ve become the bloke that clears any bar in seconds. When I was at primary school we played every week, even in the middle of August, in thick, clawing mud, and it was cold so the lace on the leather football would leave an imprint on your forehead, and would cause irreparable damage to your orchestras if you were unfortunate enough to be struck amidships. (Actually they may have been right about the latter point!)
I was a right-half, and the right-back was not allowed to overtake me. His job was to lie in wait for the left-winger and kick him as far over the touchline as possible. When he did I had to recover the ball quickly and throw it to our right-winger who would have to use all manner of trickery to avoid a similar fate and cross a sodden ten stone lump of leather at a similarly sodden ten stone slip of a lad who played at centre-forward and was expected to head the ball, laces and all, in a downward direction without concussing himself.
It helped that down the years the equipment, if not the grassless pitches, improved. Football boots lost the over the ankle models I was still expected to wear on the rugby pitch. The revolution in plastics gave us balls without laces that were also water-resistant. Thanks to being at a rugby-playing grammar school I had to start in mens football at the age of 15. No problem. I went to watch Arsenal, and had even learnt some pretty handy tactics to employ when my football skills weren’t enough.
Any relationship between Sunday League football and the professional game was entirely coincidental. At fifteen I found myself watching Charlie George and George Armstrong on Saturday afternoons, but relying on a basic appreciation of Peter Storey as a fledgling left-back on Sunday morning’s tasked with hoofing hungover overweight wingers, double my age, as far over the touchline as possible.
By that time the Arsenal had ended seventeen barren years by claiming our first European trophy, followed a year later with the double at White Hart Lane and Wembley. I can have some sympathy with the teens either side of the millennium who must have thought Arsenal were entering another period of world domination. Our ninth championship would take another eighteen years to materialise.
In that time Terry Neill and Don Howe threatened to make us a power again. With Liam Brady, David O’Leary, and even (spits) Frank Stapleton, we should have been. One FA Cup win, albeit an unforgettable one, was scant reward for the years of torture we endured in the mid-seventies and mid-eighties. Now I can piss off the young ‘guns by recanting tales of how more than once we almost went down. Actually the likes of Manchester United, City, Tottenham Hotspur (oh how we roared!), and Chelsea did.
For along with the likes of the Irish geniuses we had to endure the likes of Hankin, Hawley, Meade, Kosmina (the sub who had to go for a piss before coming on). The defeats were legendary. Walsall, York, Oxford, Rotherham, Wrexham. There were others. George took over, cleared out the has-beens and never-quite-weres, and promoted the kids as had Bertie Mee before him.
The kids became winners in the League Cup Final against a monumental Liverpool team. They would humble the same great side two years later in the closing seconds of the most eventful of all seasons in front of Anfield’s grieving Kop. I pretty much gave up playing then. At 32 I figured George wouldn’t be calling. So I enjoyed watching him land another title, the domestic cup Double, and on a memorable night in Copenhagen the European Cup-Winners Cup.
Say what you like about George’s downfall in the season that followed. From 87-94 we were usually in contention for something and he left as his legacy his back four. Admittedly he also left us with the worst midfield we’ve ever seen. Rioch tried his best to whip them into shape, but the Arsenal didn’t need or respond to a regimental disciplinarian.
This funny French bloke came in. Glenn Hoddle rated him so that was ok, wasn’t it? He didn’t rule the squad through fear, but rather by educating them, and buying examples to demonstrate what he was asking of them. Vieira, Petit, Gimandi, Garde. They were versatile and trained more on the technical aspects of the game, ate strange but healthy food. His imaginative ways didn’t stop with the players. Anelka arrived, and left again for the cost of a new, dedicated training complex next door to the old one.
There was a double again, then a couple of barren years before Wengerball2 was released. Cup, Double, Cup, Invincible season, Champions League Final, and off the pitch a move to a brand new dedicated stadium almost next to the old one. Again, despite what followed, Arsene deserves to be measured against the great Arsenal managers who preceded him. Chapman, Allison, Mee, and yes, Graham. Not now perhaps. That divide is still too deep.
Sixty years though of down, then up, then down, then… you get my drift, I’m sure.
What have I learned. Well at every game we can help the team by screaming things like “MAN ON”, “SHOOT”, and of course “HEAD IT DOWN FFS” at the top of our voices. Some of you have been lacking in that department lately. Maybe that was the problem of the last decade all along?