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 David O'Leary is next to recall his favourites.
This was a truly special moment for me. As a young lad back in Dublin I watched the Cup Final every year and dreamed of playing in it – and winning it. The previous season we were favourites to beat Ipswich but lost 1-0. It was a horrible day for us all.
"There is a very poignant picture of me that we have at home, of me on my own at Highbury with the trophy reflecting on a wonderful career with Arsenal."
Against United we were 2-0 up at half time and, for all intents and purposes, cruising. But we sat back in the second half. Perhaps we should have gone for a third to kill United off. But we didn’t. We just sat there and stopped playing and nearly paid the price. United got one and then another. It was 2-2 and we were rocking.
I thought it was going to extra time. But then we went and won it ‘again’. Graham Rix put a long cross in and Alan Sunderland touched it home to make it 3-2. I didn’t feel elated when the ball hit the back of the net. Just pure relief.
The final whistle went shortly after. From then on the day was just unbelievable. Going up those famous steps – and coming back down them with the trophy. It was so special. And seeing those wonderful fans celebrating too, especially after what they had gone through 12 months earlier in the same stadium. It was such a contrast and I couldn’t have been happier for them.
I had opportunities to leave Arsenal, but the truth was I never ever wanted to leave. I always wanted to stay and win trophies with the club I loved – The Arsenal. When it was time for contract negotiations I used to go and see Ken Friar with a pen in my hand, ready to sign straight away.
I always hoped we would have a team that could win the title. In fact, I was talking to Pat Rice the other day and we were chatting about how I had grown up at Arsenal hearing about how we won the league at White Hart Lane in 1971. I wanted to do it myself – and Anfield was a special place to do it. It had been a long wait – 18 years, in fact – but we knew we could do it.
We played with three centre halves, which was anything but negative despite what some people maybe thought at the time. We had two great attacking fullbacks and this freed them up to play further up the pitch. You needed the right players for that system and we had them.
I remember George Graham took off Steve Bould with about 20 minutes to go, I think. I still need to ask him why he did that. Well, we won and that was what mattered. Micky Thomas’ late goal and the scenes that followed will stay with me forever. It was a special night at a special place. My dream to win the title with the club I love had come true.
It is incredible to think I have played so many games for Arsenal. 722 is a lot of games and it is a tremendous honour knowing nobody played more games for the Club than me. In fact, it was pointed out to me that the figure is nearer 900 when you think of all the friendlies and other games that I also played in.
I beat Geordie Armstrong’s record of 621 back in November 1989 when we played Norwich at home. It ended 4-3 and I scored. Now that is something to think about because I only scored something like 13 goals or whatever it was in my entire career. So I averaged less than one a season – I was at the Sunderland v Arsenal game the other week with some of the Arsenal Board and they were reminding me of my goalscoring prowess!
But I scored in that game and I think Norwich’s goalkeeper Bryan Gunn is still recovering from the shock!! It was a very special day for myself and my family, not least because I had beaten the record of a truly great player in Geordie Armstrong…
A FINAL HURRAH
I came to the Club in 1973 and – believe it or not – I always said I wanted to play for 20 years. I was a fit guy and felt I could kick on well into my mid 30s and beyond. So 20 years after moving over from Dublin, here I was playing in the 1993 FA Cup Final. It had happened.
We won the replay late on with an Andy Linighan goal and 14 years after my first cup success I was walking up the steps again to pick up another winner’s medal. It was the perfect way to end my time at the Club. But it was also a mixture of joy and sadness. Joy because we had won the cup, sadness because I knew the moment I left the pitch and went into the dressing room it would be the last time I ever wore that famous red and white jersey.
So it was a sad walk around the Wembley pitch for me. We had a party in St Albans afterwards and, being the most sensible one left standing, I decided to take the trophy home with me for safe keeping. A lovely memory is of my children flying into the bedroom in the morning only to be greeted by the sight of me lying there with the FA Cup bedside my bed.
I did call Ken Friar to tell him the trophy was safe and then rushed it back to Highbury quickly. In fact, there is a very poignant picture of me that we have at home, of me on my own at Highbury with the trophy reflecting on a wonderful career with Arsenal. Again, it encapsulated both the joy and the sadness of that final appearance…
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