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.

My discussion today features a man who was at the heart of perhaps the greatest defensive back four the game has ever seen. He's big, he's strong, he's STEVE BOULD who is now back with us as a Youth Team coach.

Steve, what was the first organised team you ever played for?

I can't remember the name but I know we got beat 10-1, I'm not joking! In Staffordshire there is a league called 'The Lads & Dads'; the lads play and the dads run the teams. Most of the kids in Stoke play in it.

What was the first position you played?

I played in the centre of midfield for most of my career until I came into professional football. Funnily enough I have school photos which show me as one of the smaller boys and it wasn't until the age of 14 that I shot up.

It was with Stoke City that you made your mark. What were your first impressions of the professional game?

I loved the fact that it was training every day but all of a sudden you are playing for a living so it was not just a bit of fun any more, although I still loved it. But it struck me that everybody took it so seriously and it could be a bit scary at times because you were actually playing not only for yours but also for somebody else's living and if you messed up it could cost them money.

It was brought home to me particularly when I went to Torquay on loan (where Bruce Rioch was player-manager) that playing League football was completely different. You weren't just playing for your wage, the lads at Torquay needed that win bonus - it made all the difference to all of those lads on a Saturday. It really taught me how serious football was.

Who was the first manager you played League football under?

Richie Barker gave me my debut for Stoke City. I was 13th man for the very first game of the 1981/82 season and we played Arsenal away. In those days there was only one sub so I was just there for experience but funnily enough as we walked out into the middle of Highbury before the game Richie walked up to me and said: "Son you better get used to this." Little did I know then that I would play for 11 years at Arsenal.

We actually won 1-0 that day. Lee Chapman scored and then joined Arsenal just after that. But I made my debut the following month at Middlesbrough where we lost 3-2. I didn't play again for another 18 months and ended up playing at right-back against West Ham and scored an own-goal which Jimmy Greaves nominated as the own-goal of the year! So I had a shocking start and got booed for about two years, I'm not kidding you. I used to sit in the toilet at Stoke and as they announced the team you would hear the response. 'Peter Fox' would get a big cheer and 'number two, Steve Bould' would be greeted with boos. In fact some of my family stopped coming to watch.

When did you first hear of Arsenal's interest in you?

It was perhaps six months before I came. They were looking at Lee Dixon at the time and the word had gone around that Arsenal was watching us. Brian Talbot had told Arsenal there were two decent players at Stoke that they might like to look at.

When it came to it I had two choices, Arsenal or Everton who were then on fire under Howard Kendall. On the face of it you would have thought I should have gone there. It was local to me and more money of course because George (Graham) never paid money out! But Alan Hudson advised me there was only one place to go and that's the Arsenal and I think I made the right decision in the end.

Was your first real triumph winning the 'double?'

The year we beat Liverpool to the title was the first year I won anything in the professional game and that was in my first year here. I thought Gordon Bennett! It's quite easy this game isn't it! It's not bad being at a big club!

Steve, you of course played a significant part in Arsenal's famous back four. When did you first realise that it was something extra-special?

When I signed George had told me I was more of a long-term replacement for David O'Leary and in the pre-season of 1988/89 it was all a bit mixed. As it goes David got injured and I played in the first game at Wimbledon and actually messed up on the first goal. We were 1-0 down in under 10 minutes. I was supposed to pick John Fashanu up at the far post and he pulled off me and scored with a header. There were about 18,000 Arsenal fans in the ground and they must have thought 'who have we signed here?'

However, we won 5-1 and that year progressed but it was probably in 1991 that was the big year for us as a back four conceding just 18 goals. But working under George, who really made us all players in respect of defenders I would say, made me realise straight away that I had chosen the right club for my position.

Can you remember the first time you met Ian Wright?

No, I played against him a number of times when he was at Crystal Palace but you can never forget him that's for sure. I can certainly remember his first Cup Final. In the end we had to tell him to sit down as from the hotel to Wembley he absolutely wore himself out. In fact I think he was knackered for the game. He never sat down, he was just full of nerves, although he would never admit to such, and he just wouldn't shut up. But he was some player.

Now that you are a coach Steve what is the first rule of defending?

The first rule is they don't score, full stop. And don't get done over the top if you can. I think that is the starting point.

What were your first thoughts on leaving Arsenal for Sunderland?

I was 36 at the time and had a year left on my contract and although Arsène asked me to stay I was playing fewer games and although it would have been easy to sit about I really wanted to be playing regularly. I knew Peter Reid was interested and it was a good decision to move. The only unfortunate thing was I got injured. However, I had a really great time and met some great people at another fabulous club.

Finally Steve, what are your first impressions of this season?

It has been a bit stop-start. I must say that these international games at this time of the year are just ludicrous. It doesn't feel like the start of a season yet at all. But now that we have moved into our new home once we get settled in, the Club will go onwards and upwards. We have got some good young kids coming through who will be challenging for first-team shirts and I think the quality is getting better.


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9 Sep 2006