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 Jon Sammels is next to recall his favourites.
FROM SUFFOLK WITH LOVE
I was very lucky to join Arsenal at the age of 15. I was an Arsenal fan, absolutely loved the club.
I’d always wanted to be a pro, like a lot of kids. Football was everything growing up where I did in Suffolk. Well, I lived in a lot of places as a child because my dad was in the RAF.
It was the summer of 1960 when I was asked to go for a trial at the Arsenal – I had been spotted by Arsenal’s Norfolk scout, Graham Gotts, while I was playing for Suffolk Schoolboys against Norfolk at Carrow Road.
"My first ever game at Highbury was in 1958 when I went to watch them play Nottingham Forest. Outside the main stand I bought a little badge with Jimmy Bloomfield on it. He was a lovely player and one I really admired as a child"
I played a trial match at London Colney and what I do remember was my Uncle Joe took me. That was a good thing because Uncle Joe always gave me confidence and just being with him, knowing he was there, made me feel good.
At that time, Arsenal were perhaps treading water a little bit but they had nearly won the league a couple of years previously before falling away near the end of the season. But people forget they came very close at the end of the ‘50s.
George Swindin, our former goalkeeper, was the manager – he was a very decent chap. Anyway, I played in that trial game and, I thought, I had played very well. I knew I had. We were all getting on the coach at the end of the game when Ron Greenwood, the Arsenal coach, called me over. “Come and join us as soon as possible,” he said to me.
He was another lovely man, by the way. Do you know what I thought? I wasn’t surprised, in fact I almost expected it. I felt as if I belonged. I joined the Club on Thursday 5 January, 1961.
The funny thing, I was still a schoolboy and brought up on RAF bases so I always called Ron “Sir”. Well, in those days you were brought up to respect your elders. One day he called me over: “You don’t have to call me ‘sir’,” he smiled. I always remember that for some reason.
I scored on my away debut and on my home debut. Things were going well for me at the club and for my country, I had played for England Youth where he had won a European tournament and then Billy Wright, the new Arsenal manager, picked me for an away game at Blackpool.
I wasn’t nervous, just excited. It was a good game for a young boy to come into. We lost 3-2 but I scored with a left foot volley from around the penalty spot and did well. The next game I played in was also 3-2 - but this time we won at Manchester United, with Law, Charlton and all those glamorous stars.
It was amazing. I then did not play for a little while before making my full home debut against Burnley in October 1964. Again, we won 3-2. And again I scored – this time it was the winner. At that time, as I said, the Club was not doing as well as it might. But the history was everywhere, and the feeling that this was a massive club that would rise again.
I was in digs with a lovely chap called Tony Burns, who was a goalkeeper and also made his debut in that Burnley game. We were good mates. What did we do after our home debuts? I honestly can’t remember – but it would have been nothing too wild!
VICTORY IN EUROPE
We should have won two League Cups in ’68 and ’69 – but we didn’t. I don’t want to dwell on them, particularly the 1969 loss to Swindon as it was such an unhappy day, but those awful memories were soon forgotten when we won the Fairs Cup in 1970, beating Anderlecht.
It was a truly momentous occasion. And it was so special because, for me, it was all for those long-suffering supporters, particularly the older ones who had stuck with the Club during some bad times. They had seen the glory many years before and had to wait a long time.
So yes, it was definitely for them. Anybody who was there will tell you what a wonderful atmosphere there was at Highbury that night. It was also a lovely to feeling to know we had played a small part in this Club’s rich history.
My first ever game at Highbury was in 1958 when I went to watch them play Nottingham Forest. Outside the main stand I bought a little badge with Jimmy Bloomfield on it. He was a lovely player and one I really admired as a child. So when he came calling to Arsenal asking to sign me it was almost fate.
He was manager at Leicester City at the time – this was the end of the 1970/71 season, by the way – and he said: “Before you sign for anyone else come and speak to me.” Why did I leave Arsenal? I just felt it was time. In 1969/70 I had scored 15 goals from midfield and had a really good season.
But in the summer of 1970 I damaged my ankle in a pre-season friendly in Denmark and missed a chunk of the season because of it. I eventually got back in the team and played in most of the FA Cup run, although I was sub for the semi at Stoke. In the final, it was either Eddie Kelly or me on the bench – this, of course, was the days of just one substitute.
Peter Storey had an injury but came back in the team and it was felt that Eddie was a similar kind of player to Peter and should be on the bench. It was awful but that was how it went. In the summer I thought about leaving although maybe I didn’t really want to, I don’t know, The Club also wanted me to stay.
But I met Jimmy and made the move and loved my time at Leicester. Well, I must have done: 45 years later I still live in Leicestershire. And as for that little Jimmy Bloomfield badge purchased off a street vendor out side the main stand at Highbury… I still have it!