Feature

Paul Mariner

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.

Paul Mariner is next to recall his favourite memories. 

SUFFOLK PUNCH

I was at Ipswich Town and we’d had some great success, but it was all breaking apart – I eventually had a bust up over a new work with him at club level. I was licking my lips at the thought of playing with the likes of Tony Woodcock and Charlie Nicholas. Looking back there was a hell of a lot of creativity at the club. Stewart Robson was exceptional in midfield. Paul Davis too. You had England’s two full backs – Kenny Sansom and Viv Anderson – attacking down the flanks. So yeah, I was absolutely desperate to come to Arsenal. I have no idea if any other clubs came in for me – I never asked – and to be honest I wasn’t bothered. contract, which is why I left.

Our manager, Bobby Robson, had moved on to the England job. Alan Brazil and John Wark had left. Others were potentially going to follow. I wanted to stay as it was a great place and asked for a new contract with some new terms. But they said no. I actually don’t know how it came around, but before I knew it Arsenal had come in for me. I had worked with Don Howe with the England squad and I desperately wanted to work with him at club level. I was licking my lips at the thought of playing with the likes of Tony Woodcock and Charlie Nicholas.

Looking back there was a hell of a lot of creativity at the club. Stewart Robson was exceptional in midfield. Paul Davis too. You had England’s two full backs – Kenny Sansom and Viv Anderson – attacking down the flanks. So yeah, I was absolutely desperate to come to Arsenal. I have no idea if any other clubs came in for me – I never asked – and to be honest I wasn’t bothered. 

my first nld

How could I ever forget it?

It was April 1984, a packed Highbury – and oh, how I absolutely loved playing at that old stadium – and a very hot day too. It was one of the great north London derbies and, fortunately for me, it ended in a 3-2 win for the Gunners.

It was memorable for so many reasons. We were 2-0 up, then Spurs pulled it back to 2-1. We scored again, then they did. Steve Archibald, I think, got both their goals. It was a really great game of attacking football.

You had myself and Woody up front with Charlie behind is. It was a terrific 4-3-1-2 formation and it worked well for us. I had played in East Anglian derbies and even England v Scotland games, which were close, but if truth be told they don’t compare to the North London derby. The passion and noise was fantastic. Of course, the moment everyone remembers was Charlie Nicholas’s incredible individual goal when he danced through the Spurs defence and deftly finished. In front of the North Bank too.

The thing I want to stress, and I’ve watched the game on video since, is the quality of the football. It was incredible. There was real skill on show out there and – don’t forget – the quality of the pitch at the end of a long Highbury season was nowhere near as good as the one you see today at the Emirates.

The pace of that game was something else. I had only been at the club for a few months but I knew as a player very quickly what this fixture meant to the fans. I was also in a great run when I was scoring pretty much in every other game until the end of the season. It was a really terrific time to be an Arsenal player.

Spurs, of course, had a very decent side and there was one or two barbs thrown as us, particularly when the likes of Paul Miller and Graham Roberts were playing.

Did we socialise much with the Spurs players? Not that I can remember. 

MY ACHILLES HEEL(S)

I had problems with my Achilles tendon going back to my Ipswich days. Even before the 1982 World Cup I had an operation on one. ?I knew as a player very quickly what this fixture meant Playing for england v spain in the 1982 World Cup finals ?Then when I went to Arsenal I had issues with the other one.

For me, this is a defining moment or theme for me at the club because, and there is no two ways about it, it restricted me at times. It was so frustrating for me because – and I really believe this – we had the makings of a superb team with a great supply line of chances. It was pure bad luck on my part. Ironically – with today’s visitors in mind – my problems really got worse at White Hart Lane. I was chasing down a ball with Chris Hughton and as he sprinted he stepped on the back of my foot and the back of my heel just ripped open. It blew up. It was a dreadful injury and, I suppose, was the beginning of the end for me at the club.

I was in my 30s and some superb younger players were coming through – but my Achilles was letting me down. I was out for a long, long time with that injury and it really knocks you. 

PLAYING CENTRE HALF

It’s funny how many people remember I had a stint at the back. It was against Aston Villa when we had a mini injury crisis and Don Howe asked me to do it. It was an odd one, because I had never played as a defender before, not even as a kid or in non-League.

I wasn’t 100 per cent sure about it to start with, but I didn’t have much time to think about it. “Just keep it simple,” were Don’s words to me after he informed me of my new role. So I did. And I really enjoyed it. In fact, when I left Arsenal I played centre half for Portsmouth a few times after Alan Ball asked me to do so. 

OFF TO POMPEY

George Graham came in the summer of 1986 and the club started moving in a different direction. I’d had a wonderful two years at the club, really fantastic. But you have good times and bad times and it was clear my time was up. I was 33, I think, and the young players that were breaking through were exceptional: Tony Adams, Davis Rocastle, etc.

It is the same with Wayne Rooney now. He’s in his 30s and things change. By this age you have a lot of miles on the clock. I’d had my injuries too and was sensible about it all. I knew I had to leave and as disappointing as it was – and believe me, it is disappointing leaving a club like Arsenal – I bore no malice. It was just the right time. Alan Ball, as I’ve just mentioned, was at Portsmouth. He was also an Arsenal legend.

He wanted me to head down to Pompey. I did and it was fantastic. Very different, but great. We won promotion from Division Two and my spell at Fratton Park was hugely enjoyable. As for the Arsenal. Well, I will never forget my time there. It was brilliant from start to finish.

See Full List

Fixtures & Results

Premier League
Ticket Info