Colin Benson selects one of the players from this season's Arsenal A-Z feature (pages 44-45) to talk 'firsts' in our opening season at Emirates.

It is always special when a local lad makes the grade and although JIMMY CARTER'S Highbury career was somewhat limited, it was a difficult era for wingers to excel. He made the grade with Millwall winning a Second Division championship medal in 1988 and entered the big time with Liverpool before satisfying a life-time ambition to play for the Gunners and he still has Arsenal in his blood.

Jimmy what was your first pair of football boots?

My dad bought them for me, they were called 'scorpion football boots', and my dad took me up to a sports shop at Chapel Market, at the Angel. The toe-caps were really rock-hard.

When did you first start playing the game?

When I was nine or 10 years old I went to Newington Green Primary School and one day when I went along to watch the 'B' team play on the cinder pitches at Finsbury Park they were short and asked me to join in.

I enjoyed it and started practicing and practicing and a year later I was captain of the 'A' team so it progressed quite quickly. Then I was asked to go along for trials with the Islington Schoolboys and fortunately for me was picked to represent the district.

Was Arsenal the first team you supported?

Absolutely, absolutely, I could walk to Highbury from where I lived in Albion Road and we could hear the crowd from our flat. I used to go with my brother and stand in the schoolboys' enclosure, just to the left of the North Bank.

I can't recall the first game I saw there but Malcolm Macdonald, Liam Brady, Graham Rix, Sammy Nelson and Trevor Ross were the players who stuck in my mind. It was just an incredible atmosphere and sometimes, if we couldn't afford the 50p, we would just walk around the ground on match day and soak up the atmosphere from the crowd inside.

I thought Malcolm Macdonald was absolutely awesome. So much power and pace and he never seemed to score with a tap-in it was always a roof of the net job. He wasn't that big but was very stocky and I remember his top used to cling to him.

Who was the first professional manager you played under?

John Docherty, a funny little character but with so much passion, was in charge of Millwall when I made my League debut against Oldham at the Den. He plucked me out of QPR's reserves, I think he paid about £15,000 for me, and obviously saw something in me.

You got a good grounding at Millwall and I was made very aware of my responsibilities as a player. My job was to get to the bye-line as much as possible and provide the ammunition for Teddy Sheringham and Tony Cascarino. And I think if you can play at Millwall, with the fans that they have there, you can more or less take on anything after that. Millwall was a special place at that time and we had a very good team and the fans, for passion and support, were absolutely fantastic.

Who was the first full-back Jimmy, who really wound you up?

I always had quite a lot of success against some of the noted hard men like Julian Dicks and Stuart Pearce - I had good days against them. The one I struggled against was Wimbledon's Terry Phelan who was as quick as anything - he could catch pigeons that guy. He was always at you like a ferret and I didn't enjoy playing against him.

What was your first reaction when you knew Arsenal wanted you?

There was a lot of speculation throughout my first spell at Millwall that George Graham was interested in me. It never quite materialised and I eventually signed for Liverpool. Unfortunately for me Kenny Dalglish resigned about four weeks later and Souness came in and sort of wheeled everyone out.

I was actually injured at the time and Frank McLintock, who was my agent, said to me once you're fit George Graham is going to buy you. So I knew for the two or three months while my leg was in plaster that I was going to be joining Arsenal. It was very exciting for me to realise my dream. To sign for Liverpool was great but to sign for Arsenal was amazing and I remember on the day in Ken Friar's office after signing the contract he gave me my copy in an A4 brown envelope. Frank McLintock asked if he could take me back home, as we both lived in Hertfordshire, but I said no it's fine; and I walked back to my Dad's house, who had no idea I was signing for Arsenal, and asked what I was doing down here. I put the contract on the table and said I have just signed for Arsenal. He couldn't believe it. It was a special day.

Jimmy, you made your first appearance for Arsenal as a sub at Nottingham Forest when you replaced Anders Limpar. Did you learn much from him?

Yes Anders was a really great player and a very nice guy. He was a different type of player to me and great to watch. I had more pace than Anders but he was very, very tricky and his confidence on the ball was amazing. It was just a shame I couldn't take some of that confidence onto the pitch myself in my Highbury career.

It astounds me to hear you say you lacked confidence Jimmy?

My problem I think was that I thrived on confidence and when I wasn't confident it showed. Looking back on my career I have a few regrets. At Millwall I was renowned for being very direct and very positive and I played a certain way. I think when I came to Arsenal I tried to sort of please everyone.

George Graham had a work ethic in the side and he wanted us not only to produce going forward but also to have our defensive duties very much intact as well. I tried to be what George Graham wanted me to be and my game changed and it really wasn't me as a player. I should have gone out and been myself and if it didn't happen then I could have always looked back and said that I failed doing what I was best at. And that is one of my regrets; I tried to please everyone and in the end pleased no one. Apart from the odd occasion, like the time I scored two goals and should have had a hat-trick in a 4-3 win at home to Southampton (March 20, 1993), was one of the few times the Arsenal fans saw what I was capable of.

Looking back I was very relaxed going into that game because Ray Parlour was down to play but an hour before the game pulled out with a bad stomach and George said I was in. So I went out relaxed and did my own thing. If I had it all over again I would do it very differently and do my thing which prompted the likes of Kenny Dalglish and George Graham to buy me in the first place.


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20 Sep 2006