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 Steve Williams is next to recall his favourites.
My parents used to watch Arsenal from the North Bank, I had family around the Holloway Road – as a young lad, I can remember my granddad drying out his hankie on the fire in his frontroom! Arsenal was everything to me, despite being born in Hammersmith and being brought up in and around Romford.
I didn’t have to leave Southampton for Arsenal but I did because it was my club. Still is. Always will be. But after a few days I realised there was problems here. I didn’t get in the team much even though I knew I was good and should be in that midfield.
I am no shrinking violet and call a spade a spade. But the more I argued the more I was told I was wrong. And I didn’t play because of it. I had played in a successful Southampton side and as soon as I arrived at Highbury I realised why we were so successful down at The Dell.
It was because we played as a team. But this Arsenal side I came into didn’t. It was a team of individuals. We had ball players like Kenny Sansom and myself, and we didn’t want to boot the ball forward. I didn’t think Brian Talbot and Stewart Robson were the answer in the middle.
I felt I was. And I still believe that to be the case. People didn’t think I liked Don Howe, but I did. We were just different people. That said, he was a terrific coach, no question. The club tried to sell me to QPR but I wasn’t leaving, no way. Arsenal’s my club, remember.
I went through hell for quite a time. We played York in the FA Cup in ’85 and they beat us 1-0. I played and late in the game I tripped Keith Houchen – who scored for Coventry in the final against Spurs two years later - in the box and he went and score the winner from the spot.
It was a defining moment because it summed it all up for me. I am a midfielder marking the opposition’s centre forward in my own box. Well, I had to. And I’d do it again – although I’d wish the outcome was better, of course. But where were the centre halves?
Where was the organisation, the shape? It also summed up my early months at the club I loved. The point I am making is that moment at York was a microcosm of the problem. I was the ‘culprit’ but I still don’t think I was. The club was disjointed. The team all over the place.
I was so happy when George arrived. Again, some think we didn’t get on but that was not the case at all. From the first moment I saw him come in to the Club I knew things were going to improve for both Arsenal and myself.
He was brilliant. It all changed then, seemingly in an instant. Some of the older players knew their time was up. The apprentices started working that bit harder. It was really noticeable. I don’t recall being fined at all.
"Win, lose or draw, I knew we were going to run through bricks walls that day to try and win that trophy. The team was incredibly motivated and disciplined. Personally, I wanted my club – the club I had supported since I was a little boy - to be brilliant"
I was always on time, I worked hard, I loved the Club, I wanted to win every game. There was proper discipline everywhere. Organisation too. Look, I will never not say what I feel. If I want to say something, I’ll say it.
But there was no problems with what George was doing for the Club. Shortly after George first came in – a matter of weeks, actually – I remember saying to my wife Angie: “I really like what is happening – I’m going to be back in the side soon.” I had played in the reserves and won something like 11 games on the trot.
And you know why that was? Because the reserves were better than most of the first team. I was playing with all these motivated kids like Tony Adams, Niall Quinn, David Rocastle – what a player he was – Martin Hayes.
In fact, George brought Hayes into the team and he scored 24 goals in 1986/87. It was hardly rocket science, was it. These lads were fantastic. Tony Woodcock left, so did Paul Mariner. I mean, I like Paul a lot, but he was 33 at the time. It was time for new players, younger hungrier lads. And George knew that.
When we beat Liverpool 2-1 to win the Littlewoods Cup I was, to put it simply, living the dream. I was playing for the club that I loved. I’d won a trophy with them and was in a team going places.
I remember that evening, the smiles on the faces of people like David Miles and Ken Friar, real Arsenal men who love the club and are still there now. It was a superb night. David Dein stood up to say a few words at the dinner and he started crying because he loved the club so much.
It told me all I needed to know. These were people who loved the club, who were ambitious. It also told me why I loved the club so much. I’d have a cup of tea with the office girls. “It’s only Willow, he can come in,” they’d say. It was that type of club.
Friendly and warm. In fact, I remember the girl in the ticket office telling me she didn’t have enough tickets for all my family, who had come up form Hampshire, Essex and all over. She was joking, thankfully.
Win, lose or draw, I knew we were going to run through bricks walls that day to try and win that trophy. The team was incredibly motivated and disciplined. Personally, I wanted my club – the club I had supported since I was a little boy - to be brilliant.
I also knew that Charlie Nicholas could make an impact if he got the right support and service, because he was a very good footballer. He scored two that day. Liverpool were a very good team but I didn’t really care for them.
I was just more bothered about us playing well and playing the way I knew we could. For George it vindicated so much of what he had done. Bringing in those talented kids. Bringing in discipline, desire, hard work. What happened that afternoon was a game-changer for the club
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