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 Kenny Sansom is next to recall his favourites.
#1 The strangest transfer in football…
It’s the summer of 1980, I’m at Crystal Palace and loving it, and my manager Terry Venables has just offered me a three-year contract.
I went home and told me dear mum Rose: “I’m going to be staying at Palace.” And I couldn’t be happier. I was a Chelsea fan growing up but they didn’t want me. Palace did and they were terrific from the off. As a south London boy it was a great place to be.
"What an amazing, supportive mum I had. I miss her. She really pushed me. If I let a winger get one – just one – cross in she’d let me know about it. And some! I turned up and immediately said “Hello Boss” to George Graham before Perry Groves reminded me he wasn’t my Boss anymore. Embarrassing. Then I nearly went into the Home dressing room – well, it had been my dressing room for eight years."
A few days later, I am called into the office and the Gaffer tells me to jump into my sponsored Datsun and drive across London to Highbury because Arsenal wanted to sign me.
That was strange. And that was just the start. I arrived at Highbury and was told to go through the West Stand entrance and walk around the pitch to the East Stand were the Club’s offices were situated because they didn’t want people to know what was happening.
Ken Friar greets me and tells me Arsenal want to sign me. Oh, and Clive Allen is going the other way. Now that was really strange because Clive had only just signed for the Arsenal from Queens Park Rangers. And he is off already after just six weeks – and no competitive games – for the Club.
I was just a kid of 19 or 20 and signed within 20 minutes. I had no agent but the money was good and I was happy. But it did all seem very strange. I met Clive a couple of days later. We were at a hotel near Tower Bridge and a newspaper gave us both dinner suits and bowler hats and made us pose in front of two Rolls Royces. It was a whirlwind few days.
But it doesn’t explain why Clive lasted only six weeks. Terry Neill, the Arsenal manager, says he realised he needed a defender instead of a striker. And when I asked Terry Venables why he sold me, he just said: “You wanted to leave.” But I didn’t. There are all kinds of rumours as to why this strange transfer took place involving Clive, but it is not for me to speculate.
I suppose the only two people who really know are the two Terrys – Neill and Venables. And they still haven’t given me a straight answer…
#2 Playing for you
This might seem odd as a ‘defining moment’ – but I have to include this. Arsenal fans used to call me ‘Kenny White Shorts’ because I never got them dirty.
And I would try and entertain them as much as I could. Sometimes I’d even do a Cruyff turn – shaping up to the boot the ball clear with an attacker bearing down on me, and then push the ball back and dummy them, before sprinting away with the ball. The fans loved it.
I was lucky. The Arsenal fans were so appreciative of me and I like to think I returned that love. My wife and kids were often left sat in the car looking bored as I signed every autograph. And I looked fans in the eye when I did it.
I see some footballers now and it seems really rude when they scribble on a piece of paper without even looking at their fans. I remember one fan even getting me to sign a baby’s bib. There were also requests to sign parts of the body I shouldn’t really see…
In fairness, even away from home the opposition fans were also very good to me. I didn’t get a lot of animosity. Spurs fans even used to ask me to sign for a ‘proper club’.
I was talkative, I loved the banter with the crowd. I’m a natural joker, I love making people smile. I was also pretty consistent – the fans knew what they were going to get from me.
I just wish I had won more than the one trophy for them when I was at the Club. The 1987 Littlewoods Cup final – when we beat Liverpool 2-1 despite Ian Rush scoring first – was a magnificent day. When Rushie scored first they never lost – that spanned something like 110 games.
But Charlie Nicholas popped up with two goals – two of the softest goals I think have ever been scored, but who cares? – and we won the cup.
It was our first trophy for eight years and meant the world. I got loads of fans letters saying such lovely things although, typically, the one I remember was a fan criticising the fact I wore a silly hat when I picked up the trophy! Anyway, that is a day I will never forget. And it was for all you wonderful fans.
#3 Back in the toon
I left Arsenal during the 1988/89 title-winning season. Jim Smith – the Newcastle manager – signed me on a good wage of £1,500 a week and a nice signing on fee.
It was a good move for me as it was clear my days at Arsenal were numbered.
My mum, God bless her, went all over the world to watch me. She even travelled to the 1986 Mexico World Cup on her own – when the airline realised she was my mum they bumped her up to Business Class.
But on this occasion she didn’t come. She was worried the Arsenal fans would boo me and she didn’t want to hear it. I should just say now she was the reason I made it as a pro. She did everything for me.
What an amazing, supportive mum I had. I miss her. She really pushed me. If I let a winger get one – just one – cross in she’d let me know about it. And some! I turned up and immediately said “Hello Boss” to George Graham before Perry Groves reminded me he wasn’t my Boss anymore.
Embarrassing. Then I nearly went into the Home dressing room – well, it had been my dressing room for eight years. I was so nervous as I ran out on to the pitch. I needn’t have been: 38,000 fans – from both sides – cheered my name and applauded me. Writing this down I still get emotional thinking about it.
And then I scored. For Newcastle. At Arsenal. Only for the referee to rule it out. Arsenal went on to win the game 1-0 – and later beat Liverpool 2-0 away to win the title. But if that goal had stood, Arsenal would not have won the league. It was the best disallowed ever – or should that be never? – scored.
In fact, if the goal had been scored now it WOULD have stood, because the rules have changed. It was disallowed because another player was offside – not me. These days he would have been deemed as not interfering with play. From a personal level, the whole day was fantastic.
But it was tinged with sadness as my mum wasn’t there to see it and she would have been so proud. We also later learned scores of Liverpool fans had died at Hillsborough that same afternoon. A truly awful end to a day I will never forget.
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