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 Malcolm Macdonald is next to recall his favourites.
#1 A Gin and Tonic with the ‘old man’
In the summer of 1975 Newcastle manager Joe Harvey let me go on loan to a club in Johannesburg to keep my fitness ticking over.
One afternoon before training, John Gibson, who was the chief football writer on the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, phoned me up. He told me Newcastle had sacked Joe and replaced him with another manager. “Is it Bobby Robson?” I asked. “No.”
It wasn’t Brian Clough either. Nor was it the other man tipped to take over, Jackie Charlton. “It’s Gordon Lee,” he told me. “Who is Gordon Lee?” I replied. Well, the next day’s paper were full of it: “‘Who is Gordon Lee?’ asks SuperMac.”
Oh dear. I got back to Newcastle and a couple of days before training started I went to see the new faces at the club. I realised from the word go there was trouble afoot.The new manager didn’t like me and he didn’t hide it – I knew I would have to go at some stage. I phoned an old friend, Harry Haslam. He told me Arsenal were interested but nothing happened.
"I remember walking out through the East Stand entrance one last time, looking left and right down Avenell Road, and crying"
The following summer Bertie Mee left the club. “Don’t worry Malcolm, they still want you,” said Harry. He was right. Terry Neill was the new manager at Arsenal and I was happy. We’d played against each other and spoken a lot – strikers talk a lot to centre halves who are marking them, especially when the ball’s down the other end.
I flew down to Luton and Arsenal put me up in the West Park Lodge Hotel in south Hertfordshire. But then it went quiet. I was there for a week and Tottenham even approached me but I told them Arsenal were my first choice. Anderlecht had also made me an attractive offer.
The following Friday Terry arrived full of apologies. “Let’s drive to the chairman’s house,” he said. So we did. Lady Hill- Wood greeted us when we arrived at this magnificent house on the Surrey/Hampshire border.
She opened the doors onto this beautiful veranda and the lawn was the size of Lord’s cricket pitch. Arsenal’s lovely chairman, Denis, was sat at a table in the middle. “What will you do if you don’t come to Arsenal?” he asked me. “Anderlecht are interested – I could probably go to Belgium,” I replied.
“Thank you for your clarity.” He then beckoned his butler, who walked down to us holding a telephone on a 200-yard flex. It spanned the entire lawn. There and then he called Lord Westwood, chairman of Newcastle, and exchanged pleasantries.
They spoke and he made an offer of exactly a third of a million – the famous £333,333 fee – which was accepted. It turned out Newcastle had twice accepted fees – and then twice rejected them.
Thus the hold up. “If you are happy then you can now go and get your contract organised and you’ll be an Arsenal player,” said Mr Hill-Wood.
And with that, the butler reappeared with the three largest tumblers filled with gin and tonic I have ever seen in my life – and we toasted my future at the Arsenal.
#2 Arsenal 5-3 Newcastle United
It was early December 1976 – my first season at Arsenal. And it was absolutely freezing cold. All the pitches were rock solid except ours at Highbury, because of our undersoil heating.
We were playing my old club Newcastle – and Gordon Lee – and I was relishing it. I’m sure we were the only Division One game to play that day, so the Match Of The Day cameras were there.
Gordon had said some things in the newspapers about me in the run- up to the game, like he was right to sell me. Well, talk about an incentive. I never showed any weakness. The harder they kicked me, the broader my smile.
When we got into the dressing room Alan Ball, our captain, pinned the newspapers all round the walls. Bally was very good at making someone a focal point and on that occasion it was me. “Read that,” he said, pointing at the headlines. “Gordon has done our team talk for us!”
It was a very big day for me. Before the game, Bally asked me if Newcastle had any weaknesses. I said they were vulnerable from free kicks taken from the left-hand side to the far post. Alan Kennedy had a habit of running under the cross and I said if you put the ball there I will score. And I did.
I scored again, as did Frank Stapleton, before Newcastle got a couple of goals back later. I had the final say with a late header to make it 5-3 – my third of the game. It was a brilliant feeling. Later in the season I scored in a 2-0 win back at St James’ Park – another very satisfying afternoon.
#3 The End
The beginning of the end of my football career came in a League Cup game at Rotherham United early in the 1978/79 season. It was just after the restart and I wasn’t even anywhere near the ball when I caught my studs in the turf and felt my knee go.
Fred Street, Arsenal’s physio, treated me as best he could, but I knew what it was immediately. I played on and saw the rest of the game through, but I knew all the signs. It was my cartilage on the outside of my knee.
After the game my knee blew up like a balloon. Nigel Harris was the club surgeon and one of the best in the country – it was his word that made insurance companies pay out.
He sent me to Harley Street to a specialist whose name was Bram Stoker (I’m not making this up, believe me). They had this state-of-the-art machine that took about 50 Polaroid- style photos of my knee. But there was nothing. “I can’t see anything,” said Bram.
I was perplexed. I couldn’t straighten my knee at all by this stage. The medical view was there was nothing wrong with the knee and I should be fit again – I even think they thought it was all in my head.
Anyway, he started going through the photos again and saw a little white blemish. Just a dot. So he injected dye into my knee and screwed a surgical ‘bicycle pump’ into my knee – and pumped it up to pull the joint apart so he could get a good view.
I remember afterwards walking down Baker Street and air escaping from my knee. Mr Harris operated on me and discovered an attachment left in my joint from a previous operation when I was at Newcastle back in 1973. It turns out a small piece of the attachment – which held the cartilage on to the bone – had not been removed.
Instead, it grew into 14 inches of gristle zig-zagging its way through my knee! I got myself fit again and scored in the last game of the 78/79 season – the week after we beat Manchester United in the FA Cup Final – in a 1-1 draw at Chelsea.
But my knee wasn’t right. I went to a Swedish club on loan through the summer, but it was no good. I played 80 minutes one week, then 75, then I could only manage 70, then 60... my knee couldn’t cope.
I retired before the start of the 1979/80 season – I remember walking out through the East Stand entrance one last time, looking left and right down Avenell Road, and crying. It was a horrible moment – I was only 29 but I was no longer a professional footballer.
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