In Defining Moments former Arsenal stars select the situations that defined their career with the Gunners. This is a running feature and first appeared in the matchday programme. Ex-player Kevin Richardson is next to recall his favourites.
#1 Leaving Watford
When Dave ‘Harry’ Bassett came to Watford as manager, replacing Graham Taylor who had moved to Aston Villa, he clearly didn’t rate me. I’d been used to playing good football at Everton under Howard Kendall and at Watford under Taylor.
But when he came along that all changed. Being in midfield it was like watching tennis – the ball pinging from defence to attack with us midfielders being bypassed. It was clear I might need to find a new challenge.
I lived in Leverstock Green, near St Albans, at the time so when Arsenal made their interest known, not only was it a dream move, but it was also very convenient indeed!
The training ground was only 15 minutes from home and after meeting George Graham I was happy to sign. I had not expected a massive club like Arsenal to come in for me – but life has these twists and turns, doesn’t it.
Bassett – for reasons I don’t know – didn’t want me in the team but George Graham did. He told me about his plans for Arsenal and about my role and I was delighted to sign. It was a chance I had not foreseen but was very happy to accept. What’s that saying about always expect the unexpected?
#2 Stuck in the middle
I had mainly played on the left side of midfield – out on the wing – and only occasionally came inside to play more centrally.
That all changed for me when we played Southampton at Highbury in September 1988. We drew 2-2 but the game is remembered for Paul Davis – of all people! – breaking Glenn Cockerill’s jaw.
Paul was one of the most placid, decent guys you would ever wish to meet. It was so out of character but Glenn had been on at him the whole game and Paul, somehow, just snapped.He got a lengthy ban and there was a hole in the middle. So George Graham slotted me in and my chance – in sad circumstances – came.
I took it with both hands. All I ever did, for every team I played for, was try and do my best for every minute I was on the pitch. I worked hard, covered the defence and put tackles in – and then passed the ball to the likes of the great David Rocastle or Paul Merson, wonderful creative players who could do great things with the ball.
I relished it. That was a terrific team with players who all knew their jobs, but I wasn’t sure we’d win the league that season. I thought we’d be close, but winning it was another matter. But we got a momentum going and made some games look easy, although we did have a sticky patch in early ’89, and then went on to do it.
Paul’s misfortune gave me my big break at Arsenal and I made sure I gave the manager a problem when Paul was finally available to play again.
#3 Tackling John Barnes
I made my own contribution to the title win at Anfield in 1989 when I tackled John Barnes. The ball went back to John Lukic in goal, he gave it to Lee Dixon, who fed Alan Smith, who played in Michael Thomas... I think you know the rest.
People say John Barnes should have taken it to the corner, but he was an instinctively attack-minded player, in the opposition penalty area, facing our goal.
Thankfully he did try and attack and, thankfully, I got a foot in and nicked the ball. When I look back I always remember that there was no pressure on us. Liverpool were such a good side, so dominant, and on a terrific run, that nobody thought we’d do it anyway. We had nothing to lose.
All the pressure, strangely, was on them. And they felt it too. When I ran on the pitch I sensed it pretty much immediately. As the game wore on – and the score stayed 0-0 – some of their players started getting agitated, arguing with each other. We weren’t. We were just enjoying the battle.
Then when we went 1-0 up they really got nervous. We just carried on doing what George Graham told us to do. Keep it tight at the back and the chances would come, he said. He was spot on.
Then Michael scored that goal and it was pure pandemonium. I’d played for Everton – and won a title with them in 1985 – and I knew what football fans in Liverpool are like.
It was no surprise to me that so many stayed behind to applaud us. They know a great performance and great football when they see it. They also recognised nobody had given us a chance.
It was a great journey back south. A few beers were sank on the coach – as for the party when we got home, I’ll keep those great memories to myself!
#4 Off to sunny Spain
I had joined Arsenal during a very successful, exciting period. We had won the title and the atmosphere around the club was great. That old ground at Highbury had such a lot of history and it was a true pleasure to play there every other week. I missed that old place.
"It was a wrench leaving Arsenal, but it was also the right thing to do at that time"
I hope Arsenal fans who saw me know that I always did the best for the team, the shirt and for them. I knew no other way. Theo Foley – George’s assistant – was a very important element of our success.
He had a wonderful way with him and was always laughing and smiling. He moved to Northampton as manager and that was a big loss.
There was a bit of a contract issue during negotiations with George – funnily enough! – and it wasn’t going to be resolved. So, with great sadness, it was decided that I would leave.
Real Sociedad were a club on the up at the time and John Aldridge – who I knew well – was playing for them. The money they were offering me was good and I had a young family to consider so I decided to move to Spain.
It was a wrench leaving Arsenal, but it was also the right thing to do at that time, during the summer of 1990. I loved my year in Sociedad but they got knocked out of Europe early and that put a financial strain on the club.
I stayed one season before coming back to Aston Villa and nearly winning another title in ‘93– we blew it and it was entirely the players’ fault. If we’d had won it, I’d have got titles with three different clubs. But it wasn’t to be.
On Howard Kendall
I was at Everton when I learned of Howard Kendall’s death. Strange how these things happen, but myself and another old Evertonian, Dave Watson, both work with Newcastle’s under-18s and we had a fixture there last Saturday. Somebody came and told us the news and we were both left numbed.
What a terrible loss. He gave me my chance and stuck with me even though I had a poor debut. I will always be grateful to him for believing in me. He fostered an incredible togetherness at Goodison Park. It was a really compact team and we all socialised off the pitch. It was a wonderful time to be an Everton player.
Howard was a fantastic fella. You would do anything for him – every player would tell you the same. And you’ll never hear a bad word about him.
Dave and I actually only spoke to him on the phone quite recently. He hadn’t changed at all. Howard was still the decent, friendly man he was when I worked under him at Everton 30 years ago. It was so lovely to hear his familiar voice. Sadly, we’ll never hear it again.
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