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. Former Gunner Charlie George is next to recall his favourite memories.
BILLY’S LAST SIGNING
George Male was so important as he spotted me playing locally. That’s how it started for me at Arsenal.
He was a lovely man and a real great of that famous 1930s Arsenal team, as well as the England team too. He ended up spending over half his life at the club in one way and another. As I say, George saw me – I was playing for Islington Schoolboys - and I still remember him coming over to me and inviting me to come and train down here. I was a local boy, obviously an Arsenal fan, so it was all great for me. In actual fact, I signed at the same time as Sammy Nelson and I think I was the last player – well, along with Sammy – to sign for the manager Billy Wright before he left the club. That was in 1966. Billy, of course, was a legend too – a truly great football player but clearly management wasn’t really for him. He was also a very nice man, just like George.Anyway, I signed for The Arsenal and was very happy about it. Well, it was that or being a rocket scientist, wasn’t it!
Everybody who was there will say the same thing: but when we won the Fairs Cup that was a really special night.
I’d grown up as an Arsenal fan when Spurs were dominating and winning the Double back in ’61. They were better than us, it was that simple. They had a better side.The reality was we were in Spurs’ shadow, but I don’t really think we thought too much about it, we just kind of accepted it I suppose. So when I signed it had been a long time – well, too long to be honest – since we had won the title back in 1953. I’d watched as we lost successive League Cup finals in ’68 and ’69 – that was particularly hard on Frank McLintock as he had never won a final. But it all turned out great when we played Anderlecht in 1970.Ray Kennedy replaced me and scored late on in the first leg after Anderlecht had gone 3-0 up to give us hope for the second leg. That was such an important goal.Going into that second leg at Highbury there was big pressure on us, but I recall the lads being confident enough, without being too confident, if that makes sense.The atmosphere was something else; there was just over 50,000 inside Highbury – we had had bigger crowds in the past – but it was very special in there that night.It is all a bit of blur all these years on. I do seem to recall we had a do in the stadium after the game, as opposed to going on to somewhere. It was just a pleasure and privilege to be a part of it – and finally end that wait for a cup.
FULFILLING A SCHOOLBOY DREAM – AND THAT CELEBRATION
It was the greatest thing in the world.
I’m an Islington boy, playing in the cup final for my club, Arsenal. And I score the winner. It doesn’t get any better than that. And it happened to me. ME!As I previously mentioned, I had seen us lose those two League Cup finals at Wembley so maybe it was our time. It was a hot day, it was 1-1 and we were into extra time.One thing I knew was that I could strike the ball very well from any distance. I should also point out that these were different balls to the ones they use today. Heavier. Well, the ball came to me and I push it in front of me and just let fly. It was one of those that the moment the ball left my boot I just knew it was going in. I had hit it hard and true. It flew past Ray Clemence and hit the back of the net and I just lay there – it became a famous, iconic, celebration. The truth is I had done it before. It was in a previous round of the same competition that same season and we were playing Manchester City away. I scored a couple in that one and I remember after smashing home a free kick from distance I celebrated exactly the same. I think Frank [McLintock] had mentioned something to me about Manchester City’s coach Malcolm Allison telling him he thought I was rubbish. So I lay down, stretched my arms out and stared over at him in the dugout. I played really well that night and wanted to show Malcolm how good I was.After the game – which we’d won 2-1, incidentally – I went to tell Malcolm what I thought. Anyway, it turns out Frank had been winding me up. Well, it worked didn’t it. So yeah, I repeated that celebration at Wembley in May. People still ask me all about that goal 45 years later – all the time. You’d think it was the only goal I have ever scored. But I tell you this much, I will never tire of people coming up to me and wanting to talk to me about it.
TIME TO GO…
It was no real secret that I didn’t particularly get on with my manager, Bertie Mee. I thought he was pompous if I’m honest. Anyway, the basic view was that it would be best if I left the Arsenal. That’s life I suppose.
Arsenal was my club, my local club, but the situation had come to a head and I couldn’t play under that manager. It is true that Spurs came in for me. Would I have gone to play for them? I don’t know, probably not. Their manager was Terry Neill – my old Arsenal teammate who would eventually come back to manage Arsenal – but he mucked me about anyway and it never got too far.Then Dave Mackay – the former Spurs defender who I had huge respect for – contacted me and said he wanted to take me to Derby County. As soon as I knew he was interested I wanted to play for him.I signed for him within 20 minutes and didn’t regret a single minute of my time at the Baseball Ground. It was a terrific move and a really good team to play in. I even scored a hat trick against Real Madrid (although two of the goals were penalties) but we still ended up losing the tie!?!We could have won the ‘double’ up there but I dislocated my shoulder and fractured my elbow. But it worked out well overall. I needed to leave Highbury at that time – I’m just happy that 20 odd years ago I came back to work for the club I love and am still working here today.
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