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 Jimmy Rimmer is next to recall his favourites.
#1 TURNING DOWN POSH – AND KEEPING A CLEAN SHEET
Back in 1974, there was a lot of talk about Peter Shilton coming to Arsenal to replace Bob Wilson. There wasn’t much talk about Jimmy Rimmer coming to Arsenal to replace Bob Wilson.
I was at Manchester United at the time as understudy to Alex Stepney, had been for a long time, and had not in my wildest dreams expected Arsenal – ‘double’ winners just a couple of seasons back – to come in for me.
"The thing I can say is that I played for the biggest club in the north – Manchester United – then the biggest club in the south – The Arsenal – and the biggest club in the Midlands in Aston Villa"
I’d been on loan at Swansea and a couple of other clubs had shown an interest – one was Forest, if I remember rightly, and the other was fourth division Peterborough United.The decision was surely an easy one. But Tommy Docherty, my manager at United, wanted me to go to Peterborough because former United captain Noel Cantwell was manager and they were on their way to the title.
Noel even promised me he would let me go to Arsenal at the end of the season, as long as I could play the final few games to get Posh over the line. But I had no desire to play fourth division football. I knew I was better than that, to be honest.
It was Arsenal for me – even though I know Sir Matt Busby wanted me to stay at Old Trafford, although he was no longer manager and clearly didn’t want to interfere with Docherty’s decision. Back at Highbury, when asked about possibly signing Shilton, Bertie Mee said: “No. We’re having Jimmy Rimmer.”
I couldn’t believe what was happening. I had signed for ‘The’ Arsenal. I was supposed to make my debut against Coventry but was injured, so instead it was Liverpool – who were fighting Leeds United for the title – at Anfield.
They were flying so it is fair to say I was pretty much thrown in at the deep end. But we managed to sneak a 1-0 win and I kept a clean sheet, which was not an easy thing to do in front of the Kop in those days. It was a great start.
#2 REPLACING A LEGEND – AND WINNING OVER THE FANS
Stepping into the boots – or rather putting on the gloves – of a legend like Bob Wilson was a daunting thing to do. He was a magnificent goalkeeper who everyone loved – and still do. But he retired in 1974 and I took my chance. To be honest, I loved playing for The Arsenal from day one. I just relished games and played really well.
I was being called ‘out of this world’ and ‘unbelievable’ by fans and pundits which was fantastic. We were not doing very well in the league but week-in, week-out, I was very consistent and the Arsenal fans seemed to take to me, which meant so much. I knew I was doing well. I learned so much at Arsenal.
At Manchester United there was the likes of George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law and they were a talented, happy bunch. But at Arsenal I really learned how to work damned hard.
here were some terrific professionals at the Club at that time, lads like Bob McNab who never stopped grafting. I got to know the players and they got to know me. Bob Wilson was a great shot stopper – well, shouldn’t every ‘keeper be - and loved to dive at people’s feet, whereas one of my strengths was coming for crosses and dominating in the air.
I really enjoyed it and thrived on the responsibility. I won the Player Of The Year award at the end of my first full season – 1974/75 - and it meant the absolute world to me. I thought Brian Kidd was going to win it as he scored a lot of goals in his short time at Highbury, although he was pretty homesick – a Manchester boy – and soon returned north.
I was not a regular at Manchester United, but I had come down south to another massive club, taken over a club legend, and won that award. It was just brilliant and it is a memory that will remain with me forever.
#3 PAT ARRIVES – THE BEGINNING OF THE END
At one point I was offered a new five-year contract. I remember it well because Terry Neill actually came around to my house to discuss it and my wife – who was heavily pregnant at the time – made us both a cup of coffee and as she walked in she caught her sleeve on the door handle, tripped, and soaked Terry’s shirt in coffee.
You tend to remember things like that. Then Pat Jennings came to the Club from Spurs and it was all change. “I’m coming to Arsenal,” Pat told me over the phone. I did not see it coming. I’d played out of my skin for three years and did not want to be second choice.
Pat Jennings was Pat Jennings. I had missed something like two games in three seasons and felt I deserved to still be No1. But Pat came in and, let’s be honest, did a great job too. It killed me when I realised I had to leave The Arsenal because I was so happy there. We had some great youngsters coming through and the makings of a very good team.
Bobby Robson at Ipswich Town called me up but I didn’t go to Suffolk – instead I went to Aston Villa and I had an amazing time. I went on to win the league title and the European Cup for the second time (I had been on the bench when Manchester United won it in 1968), which was, again, beyond all my expectations.
The thing I can say is that I played for the biggest club in the north – Manchester United – then the biggest club in the south – The Arsenal – and the biggest club in the Midlands in Aston Villa.
Later I went back to Swansea – where I had been on loan many years before – on a permanent deal and so I can say I played for the biggest club in Wales too. I still live in the area and love it. I get to Emirates when I can though.