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 John Lukic is next to recall his favourites.
#1 A friendly in Bremen
The criteria are defining moments at Arsenal. But let me just have one before I came to Highbury in 1983.
It was the summer of 1979, I was 19 and at Leeds. It was all a bit of a nightmare.bThe two Davids – Harvey and Stewart – were both in front of me for the No1 jersey. And both were Scotland internationals. My contract was also up for renewal.
The manager Jimmy Adamson called to his office. “We’re renewing it,” he told me. That was good news.
Then we went to West Germany on a pre-season and despite never having played a first team game I was thrown in against Werder Bremen. It was a particularly big game as they had just signed the England defender Dave Watson.
It all just happened. And I had a blinder. I mean an absolutely outstanding game. I had these flimsy old cotton gloves on while the German keeper, obviously, had the best brand new latex ones.But everything that could have gone right for me did.
I rode my luck, but I pulled off some great saves and just felt fantastic afterwards. I could do no wrong. The reason I include this is because if I had not renewed my contract, and then played so well on that one particularly occasion in Bremen, I honestly don’t know what would have happened to my career.
A great career at Arsenal certainly would have doubtful. It was a definite tipping point and a defining moment that I simply had to include.
It’s a period that pulled Arsenal out of the doldrums - and ended with a real defining moment for the club. We start in 1987 when we won the Littlewoods Cup, which acted as a springboard for all the success that was to follow under George Graham.
Ian Rush scored, but for the first time ever he opened the scoring and Liverpool still lost. We won it 2-1 and George had delivered in his first season.
"Here’s another fact: I am one of a very select group of players to have played in four different decades. Stanley Matthews did too. So I’m in rather good company…"
The second season we were back to play Luton but poor Gus Caesar stumbled over the only divot at Wembley – I still feel for the guy all these years later – and Danny Wilson went on to equalise to make it 2-2. We lost 3-2 but should have won. We’d been 2-1 up when Nigel Winterburn decided to take the first penalty of his career to make it 3-1. In a Wembley final!
But his pen was saved and it all ended so badly. That was a day to forget. But the club was still progressing and we went on to win the title at Anfield on the last day of the following season.
So much has been written about that night, but there is a footnote I want to share with you. On that Friday evening at Anfield I invented the new Wenger-style expansive Arsenal seven years before Wenger arrived – and I’m still peeved I am not given the credit for it.
I had 18,000 Scousers in the Kop behind me yelling and screaming. I had players shouting to “boot it!”. But, instead, I gently threw the ball out to the fullback, Lee Dixon, to start another measured attack and the rest is history. I am a pioneer. Well, that’s my version of events anyway…
#3 A morning call from George
I’ll set the scene: it is 8am on Transfer Deadline Day, 1990. I’m at home and the phone rings. It’s George Graham – my Boss – on the other end of the line.
Now it is fair to say, George and I never really got on. This is no great revelation. From the moment he walked through the door in 1986, we just weren’t ever going to be best mates.
That said, we did have a very professional relationship. Pragmatic, if you like. I had great respect for him on a professional level. But I’d have been delusional if I ever thought our relationship was anything other than that.
“I’ve signed David Seaman,” said George. This was also hardly a revelation too. It had been well known for several months that he had been looking at other ‘keepers and David was one of them.
I had also refused to sign a new contract because, frankly, I did not think it was fair. I had been a title winner only a year before and had just enjoyed another good season.
But it is a game based on opinion. And mine differed from George’s.
I took it on the chin, because why worry about a situation that you clearly cannot change? Don’t get me wrong, I never wanted to leave Arsenal.
But this was the reality. I had a wife and two children to think about and I certainly wanted to carry on playing for a few years. Fortunately Leeds United came back in for me and I headed north again.
Arsenal won the title the season after I left – and I won it with Leeds the year after. Here’s a fact: I am the only post-war goalkeeper to win the title with two different clubs.
#4 The moment I knew…
It was an epiphany. I had been back at Arsenal since 1996 and was thrown into a Champions League match at Lazio four years later. I was nearly 40 years old and, at the time, the oldest player to appear in the competition.
Being out on the pitch at Rome’s Olympic Stadium really was an eye opener. It made up my mind to get out. We were 1-0 down – a deflection, by the way – and it was quicker, technically better, the pitch was smoother – the game was moving on and I made the decision out on that pitch to hang my gloves up.
Lazio’s team was something else: Nedved, Nesta, Simeone, Inzaghi, Mihaljovic… and ours wasn’t bad either. As I said, an epiphany. I was only playing because David Seaman had a back spasm on the flight over.
A private jet and David gets a back spasm!? Stuart Taylor was understudy as Alex Manninger was injured, but Arsène Wenger clearly felt he needed more experience.
Putting an inexperienced lad into a game like that could – if things went badly – have a long-term effect. So in I went and I am pleased I did. I played well.
We equalised through Robert Pires and got a draw, and I had a run of four games in total.
I also kept clean sheets in three of them. So my final playing record was very good. And I was more than happy to call it a day – after what I had seen in Rome.
Here’s another fact: I am one of a very select group of players to have played in four different decades. Stanley Matthews did too. So I’m in rather good company…
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.