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 Peter Marinello is next to recall his favourites.
#1 Reluctant gunner
I never wanted to come to Arsenal. I can’t deny it. I was playing for Hibernian in my hometown of Edinburgh and really enjoying my football – it hadn’t crossed my mind to leave.
I suppose I really shot to prominence when I scored twice against Rangers. Spurs, Man United and Arsenal were all interested in me – but I wasn’t in them.
Then I was pulled aside and told Hibs needed the money so I had to make a decision as to where I was going – I subsequently learned, they were flogging me for £100,000 and replacing me with Arthur Duncan for half the price from Motherwell.
He did well and stayed at Easter Road for 15 years, so it worked out well for Hibs. I remember going down to Highbury and it was the winter, a pretty cold day –there was no undersoil heating on but some of the trainees were playing a practice game behind the Clock End and Don Howe asked me to stick some trainers on and play. I played 30 minutes and Don turned around and said: “he’ll do for me.”
Can you imagine that these days, being asked to play just like that? Anyway, it turned out that Arsenal had been tracking me for 18 months or so, their chief scout Gordon Clark had come up to Edinburgh to watch me and he really was the one who persuaded me to become a Gunner.
He was a great man who discovered some fantastic Arsenal players – it would be fair to say if it wasn’t for him I’d never have moved to Highbury.The transfer eventually went through and, despite my initial reluctance, I came to London.
#2 The new Best
So I signed for Arsenal – the club’s first ever six-figure signing (the fee was £100,000). And the hype was something else, really ridiculous.
I didn’t help myself on my debut – I went past two or three Manchester defenders at Old Trafford to give Arsenal the lead in front of the Stretford End. All those ‘New George Best’ headlines were incredible.
The pressure really cranked up when I scored that goal. It was the first few days of the 1970s and I was the future, apparently. Bobby Charlton had been saying nice things about me before the game too. Manchester United may have gone on to score twice to win 2-1, but it was all about me.
And it didn’t help. I was just a kid, still a teenager and still a few weeks away from my 20th birthday. The comparisons with Best – especially after scoring in his own backyard – became more frequent.The long hair too. The comparisons were endless. So as great as it was to score on my debut in such a big game, in hindsight...
#3 Missed oportunity
I was in and out of the team. When I signed for Arsenal I was under 10 stone. Don Howe put me on a punishing regime, lots of weight training and getting me to have raw eggs and vitamins and all sorts every morning. No time off from the gym – Don was unrelenting, even in the summer months.
They wanted me to be like George Armstrong but, as anyone who played with him will tell you, he had outstanding stamina and never stopped going up and down the wing.
Bertie flirted with playing with two wingers and that was the case when we played Ajax in the European Cup in 1971/72 – he thought we could damage them down both flanks.
They were the holders with a great team and won 1-0. Everyone remembers it for George Graham’s own goal but they don’t remember the fact we played really well, could – and really should – have won it.
And I missed a great chance. It was a big moment in my Arsenal career. I got the ball from the full back and raced through on goal but my shot was saved by their ‘keeper Heinz Stuy. I really wish I’d scored that goal because I am convinced we would have won that match if I had.
Ajax went on to win the trophy again, but we really could have won it that season, I really believe it. Whenever I see Charlie George he always says, ‘We’d have been European champions if that had gone in!’
#4 Pompey Chimes
Juventus wanted me and they offered something like £200,000. That was in June 1972. It would have been a pretty amazing move – especially for a boy with Italian ancestry as my grandparents were from there. There was a ban on foreign players coming into Italy but they said it was going to be lifted.
I even signed a pre-contract agreement with Juventus. But Bertie (Mee) told me he wanted me to stay – I think he even came to see me on the tarmac as I was getting on a plane to fly to Italy. He offered me a new six-year contract to tie me down.
Anyway, they didn’t lift the ban so I couldn’t go to Turin. It was dead in the water. The thing is, once Don Howe had moved to West Brom, Steve Burtenshaw came in as Bertie’s assistant and my opportunities became more frequent. In many ways things were looking up for me.
In the end, though, I had asked to leave a couple of times and eventually Portsmouth came in for me although I had to wait until the summer of 1973 to move, something to do with tax I think.
Pompey really wanted me: they offered me a lot of money, bought me a new house – so I went down to Fratton Park. I felt wanted. Do I regret it? Of course I do.
I don’t know what I was thinking. I really wish I’d stayed at Highbury as it could have worked out for me, especially with players like Liam Brady, Graham Rix and Frank Stapleton coming through. I went to Portsmouth and it didn’t work out. So yeah, I regret the decision. Can’t believe I did it, to be honest.
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