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 Perry Groves is next to recall his favourites.
GEORGE IN HIS BIG CHAIR
I signed from Colchester United in September 1986. I had to go and see George Graham in his office at Highbury. I’ll never forget it. He was sat in this massive chair and I was plonked on this little Wizard of Oz-style chair. In fact, scrub that, it was more a stool than a chair.
This set the tone. “I’ve been watching you for a while,” he said. “Since I was manager at Millwall, in fact. I was going to buy you then but I could not afford you.” This was nice to hear. Then we got down to the money. “We’ll pay you £350 a week,” he told me. With the emphasis on told. “We’ll also pay you a £5,000 signing on fee.”
Well, I was happy. I was picking up £150 a week at Colchester so as far as I was concerned I was a rich man, a millionaire.
“You’ll also get an extra £150 per game appearance money. But you can forget that as you are nowhere near ready. You’re far too raw.”
OK.“In addition to that, you’ll get £350 per game win bonus. But you can clearly forget about that too.”
So that was me told. I’d played a couple of hundred lower league games for Colchester but I had never played Combination – that was the old reserve football. I played a couple and that brings me on to defining moments number two, which came along in a matter of weeks…
A LITTLE WHITE LIE
I played for the reserves against Oxford on a Tuesday night – this was within weeks of signing, remember – and then on the Wednesday the assistant manager Theo Foley calls me in on a day off.
Why? What is this? Some kind of punishment? I was angry and wanted to speak to the Boss. I had to do a session with the youth team back four where I had to keep closing them down. It was tough – and I was not happy about apparently being singled out.“I’m going to see the Boss,” I told Theo. “I really wouldn’t do that if I was you,” he replied.
"It changed so much for me and the club. It was our first since the FA Cup in 1979 and was a truly magical day"
Graham Rix and Kenny Sansom on the left were pure class. However, Rix did his Achilles and the next thing I know George asks me: “Have you ever played on the left wing?”
“Yes,” I replied instantly, having played 200 odd games for Colchester on the right. None, just to reiterate, were on the left.
I had lied. I made my debut at home as a sub and then my full debut came at Forest. On the left. I remember it well because as I was walking down the tunnel Kenny turns back and his last words to me were: “Grovesy. Don’t forget, if in doubt … panic.” Thanks Kenny.
I had been playing for Colchester in Division Four a month or so before. I’d been watching Kenny play against Argentina – and Diego Maradona – in the World Cup that summer.And now I was playing with him for Arsenal. And I’d told a porkie…
We went on a terrific run with me in the team! We went something like 17 games unbeaten, we were top of the league, We were flying. I’d been signed – as I said – as a right winger. But David Rocastle was in that position and it was just an honour to even be on the same training pitch as him.
He was powerful, technical… what a player. But I was faster than him. So I worked on my pace. Well, there was no sense trying to take his strengths on.
At this time I had also told another white lie and claimed I could play centre forward. Again, I had never played there. Well, maybe the odd game. But a centre forward I was not. Neither was I a left winger. But it was all happening for me, so who cared? The team’s form dropped off but we had got to Wembley to play Liverpool in the 1987 Littlewoods Cup final.
Because of my, ahem, ‘flexibility’ this made me a useful addition to the squad. If I wasn’t starting I was at least becoming a sub – especially at home. In those days you were only allowed one sub but for the final there were two.
Michael Thomas was one and I just edged out my old mate from Colchester Ian Allinson. I felt so sorry for him for about 30 seconds… and I still remind him about it to this day.
It was 1-1 in the second half, it was a really hot day and I was brought on to add some speed to the attack (down the left). Kenny hoofed a hopeful ball down the line, I turned it into a decent pass, skipped past Gary Gillespie and crossed for Charlie Nicholas to score the winner.
It changed so much for me and the club. It was our first since the FA Cup in 1979 and was a truly magical day.
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