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 Graham Rix is next to recall his favourites.
#1 Gordon Clark
The man I owe so much to is Gordon Clark, the club’s chief scout back in the 1970s.There were a lot of question marks over me at the time, particularly my physical attributes – or, rather, lack of them.
I was only 8st 10lbs I think and there were a few people who were not sure about me. I’m a Doncaster boy and would come down to London a lot on my school holidays. Gordon – who was from up my way – would always say to me there is a strip of steel inside every Yorkshireman. I always remember that.
It all started with an old headmaster called Bill James who used to scout all the games in and around Doncaster where I was from – but he was very fussy so you knew if he fancied the look of someone they’d be decent.
And, fortunately for me, he spotted me. One day he knocked at my door and told me he wanted me to go down to London. Well, that was a big step, believe me. It is not like these days, for a start we didn’t even have a telephone in the house for me to call home.
"As a footnote though – and this was really lovely – I received around 600 letters from fans after the game"
There had been a lot of interest in me. By the age of 15 I had a lot of clubs after me including both Manchester clubs, both Sheffield clubs, Leeds United, Hull City... even Tottenham Hotspur.
When I first moved down I was in digs in Cockfosters near Southgate – I actually stayed ‘round that way for my entire Arsenal career.
I am sometimes asked why did I go to Arsenal? It is a simple answer: everyone was so friendly, so professional, and the coaching was way ahead of anywhere else. It was a relatively easy decision, to be honest. And Gordon played a significant part.
#2 Dream Debut
In those days, you would train on the Friday and then all crowd around to see the various team sheets pinned up on the wall. One Friday, the name ‘Graham Rix’ appeared on the team sheet for the first team. I think Liam Brady was suspended and I got my chance.
We were playing Leicester City at home and what I do remember was running around for the first few minutes but getting nowhere near the ball. It was all nervous energy. Then Richie Powling laid the ball off into my path and I hit a right-foot shot that flew into the Leicester City net.
And it was in front of the North Bank. It was a dream moment. It was my first ever touch as an Arsenal first- team player and I had scored. Maybe I should have stopped playing there and then!
#3 The five minute final
The 1979 FA Cup final, when we beat Manchester United 3-2, is one of the most famous finals ever. I have watched the game many times and actually it is far from a classic performance.
We were quite methodical, hard to beat, and after taking a two-goal lead in the first half we thought it was game over, especially as we didn’t concede many goals and certainly not 2-0 leads.
So when Manchester United scored twice in the last five minutes to make it to 2-2 we were all devastated. If it had gone to extra-time I’m pretty sure we would’ve lost. But from the kick off after United had pegged us back to 2-2, Liam made a surging run into the United half and pushed the ball wide to me as I overlapped.
In training Don Howe always told us that the closer we got to the byline the further we should cross the ball – always aim for the back stick.
We actually used to do loads and loads of crossing in training and on this occasion it paid off. I just did what Don asked us to do – making sure I crossed the ball as deep as I could to the back post and hope an Arsenal player would be there.
Thankfully, Alan Sunderland was and he got a boot to my cross to make it 3-2. It won us the trophy.
#4 A gentle reminder
There was a woman at Arsenal called Sheila Horne – she was the manager’s secretary. On one occasion, before I had made it into the first team, I came out of the manager’s office unhappy because Terry Neill had told me I was not ready for the first team yet.
“Be patient, your time will come and you will get your chance,” Sheila said to me reassuringly. Five or six years later I came out of the office again with a face like thunder after I had been negotiating a new contract.
I told Sheila I was not happy and she said to me: “What happened to that young lad who just wanted to play football?”
Well, it knocked me for six. Sheila, as always, was absolutely spot on. I forgot about my contract problems and signed on again with the club. I did have chances to leave the club but in those days players didn’t have much power.
In fact, around 1982 Glenn Hoddle, who is a good friend of mine, tried to get me to make the move across north London and join him at Tottenham. It didn’t get far to be fair.
I never really wanted to leave Arsenal anyway. Because I loved everything about Arsenal Football Club. I loved Pat the electrician, Fred the groundsman. All the people in the office, the players, the coaches, everybody.
Maybe I would have been better off financially if I had left, but I loved Arsenal too much to ever seriously think about it. Sheila was right and it was thanks to her that, on that one rare occasion when I even thought about leaving, I saw the light – not too soon after I was even made club captain.
#5 Penalty heartache
Was this a defining moment? I don’t know. But I want to include it. When I missed the deciding penalty in the 1980 Cup Winners’ Cup final against Valencia it was a big moment. I didn’t mean to miss it did I, but as much as people remember me crossing the ball for Alan Sunderland to score the winner in the 1979 FA Cup final, I would say just as many remember me missing THAT penalty.
What they also should remember though, is that Liam Brady and Mario Kempes also both missed penalties in that shootout. And they were two of the five best players in the world at the time, so I was in pretty distinguished company.
The irony was that I had played very well that night. It was one of my better games for the club. I was full of energy and beating people for fun. But it ended badly. As a footnote though – and this was really lovely – I received around 600 letters from fans after the game.
They came not only from Arsenal supporters, but also from West Ham, Manchester United, and many other clubs’ fans. And you know, I replied to each and every one of them as I was so touched.
Sheila, who I’ve already mentioned, helped me with all 600 letters. Another reason for me to be grateful to her.
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