In 'Defining Moments', former Arsenal stars select the situations that defined their career with the Gunners.
Johnny MacLeod is the latest to recall his favourite memories of his time in Arsenal colours.
I was Hibernian through and through. My family, my upbringing, my schooling… it all revolved around Hibernian Football Club. All I ever wanted was to play for them, to have a chance and to improve. But the writing was on the wall for me. I did my two years National Service and would play for Hibs at the weekend, mainly in the reserves. Hibs’ chairman, Harry Swan, wanted to cash in on me. I recall one time being ushered into a room and Luton Town’s chairman was in there. “Why am I here?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“You’d better go and speak to your chairman,” said the man from Bedfordshire. I did. “I want the money,” he told me. But I stayed. I wanted a fair crack of the whip. And an extra pound a week so I could have parity with some of my teammates. Believe it or not, Barcelona and Roma both wanted me too. We’d played both of them in Europe and I had clearly impressed them.
Then Arsenal and Man City came in for me. It was a no-brainer. I visited both clubs on the same day, City first (they offered me more money, too), then the Arsenal. I loved the correctness of it all. Arsenal appealed to my principles. They taught you how to eat, dress and conduct yourself.
Aye, Arsenal it was. So Hibs’ chairman certainly got his money. Around £100,000 in total for myself and Joe Baker, who would also end up at Arsenal via Torino.
I am proud of the fact that I scored Arsenal’s first ever European goal. Against Staevnet, in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup back in September 1963.
There was a lot of kidding going on before the game about how I had all this European experience. I had scored for Hibs at the Nou Camp in a 4-4 draw – and yes, Barcelona were very, very good back then too. We beat them 3-2 in the second leg before going out to Roma in the next round.
They were very good too. And, as I said, they both showed an interest in signing me so I must have impressed them. “None of you have played in Europe – don’t worry, I’m here,” I joked. Well, we won 7-1 and I opened the scoring. I have said in the past it was a tap in but there was a bit more to it. I dribbled through and then struck the ball past the ‘keeper’s right hand from around 15 yards. I remember they were very physical, very tall and they had it in for me. “Are you going to protect me?” I asked the Irish referee. What he said back was unprintable. But take it from me, I was getting no help from him at all. We didn’t take them lightly even though they were part timers.
In the end, though, our fitness told as they tired quickly. I was dropped for the return at Highbury because Billy Wright felt I would get kicked a lot. We lost 3-2 – but went through 9-4 on aggregate.
Joe Mercer said Alan Skirton and I were the best winger combination in the first division. That meant a lot. Whether it’s a defining moment, as such, I don’t know. But it was a key time for me because the role of a winger was changing. Before you just stayed up front, beat full backs and created chances. And I was brought to create chances – and score a few too.
But as the 60s went on, wingers were needed to defend more, help out their full backs, work harder and get back. But nobody told me. In training nothing was said about me needing to defend from the front. But in games it seemed I was almost expected to.
As I say, it was a strange time because England were going to go on and win the World Cup without wingers. Things turned a little sour between Billy and I. It has been said before, but he had limited managerial experience and it showed. Please don’t think I am moaning, it is just how I saw it.
But I was also never sat down with any of his staff and asked to change my role. Even when Don Howe came in – a man who proved to be a fantastic coach – all he ever said was bomb forward and stay up front. It was a strange time.
OFF TO THE VILLA
I said things weren’t great between Billy Wright and I. Well, I came back for pre-season and suddenly was not training with the first team. I asked Billy why: “Because I need you to go,” he told me. Just like that. He told me he was going to construct the team differently. “You can stay but you won’t get picked,” he added. He must have had his reasons, but I thought I was doing well. One of the directors actually came to my house asking me to stay. So did some of the people from the Arsenal Supporters Club. They were terrific actually and I was always welcome there.
At the same time, my wife had gone home to Edinburgh as she was just about to have our first child. My last game for Arsenal was against Aston Villa on August 29, 1964. We won 3-1 and I scored. Looking back it was all engineered by Billy. “You can go to Villa tomorrow,” he told me afterwards. Dick Taylor was Villa’s manager at the time as Joe Mercer was ill. I went to Birmingham and despite desperately wanting to stay at Arsenal I signed for the Villa.
That was 52 years ago but I am still an Arsenal man. My four children are all Arsenal fans, my three grandchildren are too. I am a member of the ‘100 Club’. And I still get along to as many games as I can. I made so many wonderful friends – in and out of football – during my time at Highbury.
I loved every single minute. I was in hospital recently having an injection in my knee, and when the two doctors – who I believe were Chinese – discovered I was a former Arsenal player they were so excited. "Wow!" one of them said. I am so proud to say I played for the Arsenal.
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