In 'Defining Moments', former Arsenal stars select the situations that defined their career with the Gunners.
(WORLD) RECORD BREAKER
I signed for Arsenal in 1963. The fee was a cool £62,500. Doesn’t sound a lot, does it? But in those days it was. In fact when I moved from Dundee, that was a world record for a defender.
The money in football these days is obscene. Good luck to the boys who earn it. Here’s a wee story for you: a few years back I read that John Terry was taking home £250,000 a week. My earnings – over 16 years – amounted to just three days pay for Terry. And I played for Arsenal and Manchester United. If I was playing now I’d be living in a castle and driving at least six Ferrari Testarossas!
Anyway, the move down south was an inevitability. I’d been playing well for Dundee and there was a lot of interest. Despite being a young lad from Ayr, there was something about Arsenal that had always made me want to play for them. Growing up I was blown away by stories of the great Arsenal sides of the 1930s and 40s. In addition, the great Billy Wright was manager and it was a huge thrill for a man of his standing to want to sign me. The fee was huge but I didn’t really feel the pressure of it. I didn’t set the fee. That was between Dundee and Arsenal!
THE PENNY DROPS
It was a massive deal for me to come down south. I was excited and thought we could challenge for trophies. But very quickly I realised that was not going to be the case. It was literally within weeks of joining the club that I knew we were nowhere near good enough. Oh, it was disappointing when that realisation kicked in. Where to start? Billy was a lovely man. Very nice. Too nice for management.
We had great attacking players. Joe Baker scored lots of goals. He was quick over 15 yards – but not a striker who could cover longer distances – while George Eastham had the touch of a magician. But the team balance was all wrong. There was virtually no midfield. The front players failed to track back and defend, and we were left exposed time after time. We’d score three... but would concede five. Geordie Armstrong came into the team and showed them how they should play. He had endless energy and was always defending from the front.
We’d lose another game and would have our regular Monday morning post-mortem. The younger players would be blamed and that was out of order. Some of the senior players were allowed to say what they wanted, and Billy wasn’t strong enough to argue with them. Nor was his trainer Les Shannon. As I’ve said – and others will say it too – Billy was just not strong enough for management.
This episode defined my whole time at Arsenal. We were playing Aston Villa in my second season and Tony Hateley slid into me.
“Ow, that doesn’t feel right,” I said to myself, feeling my right knee. I knew something was wrong and came off. But it took the club six weeks to determine it was my cartilage. They operated and in six weeks I was back on the pitch. The club desperately needed me and I was rushed back far too soon.
I was never the same after. My knee would blow up like a balloon and for the last seven years of my career was I regularly taking Butazolidin after games. It was like a super-painkiller and anti-inflammatory. They used to give it to horses, for goodness sake. Now they don’t even do that. This stuff was seriously strong.
I was popping these pills all the time, then years later an eminent doctor called Alan Bass, who worked with the England team, told me he used my arthritic knee as a case study to his students on why you shouldn’t take these pills!
Bertie Mee came in and the dynamic changed. There was a buzz. We were on the right path and the team was just that – a team.
We lost two League Cup finals in the late 1960s and should have won them both. We murdered Leeds in 1968 and should have won – but didn’t. The following year our chance had come against Third Division Swindon Town.
The pitch at Wembley was a disgrace. The Horse Of The Year Show a few weeks before had turned that magnificent surface into a quagmire with no drainage.
But we still dominated Swindon. Their goalkeeper, Peter Downsborough, had the game of his life. They scored, we equalised through Bobby Gould, they took the lead with a scrappy goal after the ball got stuck in the mud, and then they scored another on the break.
Frank McLintock was apopletic afterwards. “How did that just happen? Are we ever going to win anything?” he yelled. We were on the right track, but those two dark days at Wembley – particularly the second – were hard to take.
(WORLD) RECORD BREAKER - AGAIN
I wasn’t expecting to leave Highbury – and I really didn’t want to.
I was planning to finish my contract there in a team that was going places. But Bertie knew my knee wasn’t up to it. He was a medical man, let’s not forget, after years as a physio. So I really wasn’t expecting Manchester United – European champions the year before – to come in for me. And for £88,000, another world record fee for a defender. I had a dodgy knee and was 30.
Arsenal, understandably, were keen to sell, and in many ways it was a career- enhancing move for me, on the surface at least. The medical at Manchester United was nothing short of a farce. They just asked me to bend my leg and that was it. I never thought I would pass any medical so I signed my contract very quickly!
Unfortunately United was not a good place to be. They got relegated a few years later and I could see what was coming. Too many of their great players were too old and not up to it.
It was sad to leave the Arsenal but that’s football. I appreciate my time at that great football club. As a member of the 100 Club I came down recently and saw some of the old lads – Pat Rice, Bob Wilson and so on – and plan on getting down to London for more games in the future as the team are a joy to watch.
It’s a bit different from going to watch my local team – Kilmarnock...