In 'Defining Moments', former Arsenal stars select the situations that defined their career with the Gunners.
Pat Rice is next to recall his favourite memories.
When I was a lad, I had a trial with the Islington district team but was rejected. Rightly so. I was nowhere near good enough.
In those days scouts would ask the coaches at each local school who the best players were and then they’d take them off for trials. I attended Gifford Street School in Caledonian Road and the competition – and standard – was very high.
There were kids far better than me: faster, technically better, stronger. So I practised and practised. They trained on Mondays and Thursdays and said that if I really wanted to, I could still come along anyway.
It was 5pm to 7pm, I’d turn up at 4.15pm and run a few circuits of the track, do some training with the ball before everyone else got there – even just kicking the ball against a wall to improve my technique. I improved and got myself fitter.
I appreciated the fact the coaches had been up front with me. They had told me the truth and I needed to hear it. I used it as motivation. All the time I would dream of running out in a red and white shirt at Highbury.
At the time I also worked in a grocer’s in Gillespie Road. In fact, when I did sign for the club they printed a picture of me serving customers. But I worked so hard I finally got my chance to leave the shop.
George Male was a lovely, polite, man. Anyone who met him will tell you the same. He was an Arsenal legend who had played in Herbert Chapman’s 1930s team. You could always speak to him – his door was always open. He was also overseeing a lot of the kids at the club in the 1960s.
I’d been training with some of the Arsenal lads when I was offered amateur forms. In those days if a first-team player was injured someone would step up from the reserves. The club also had a side in the Metropolitan League and a place needed filling. I had worked hard enough to get my opportunity. It was a big vindication.
I had played a few games with the likes of youth team skipper Micky Foot and a certain Sammy Nelson, who I’d end up rooming with for 10 years for both club and country. There were kids better than me but I really wanted it badly.
We won the FA Youth Cup for the first time in 1966, beating Sunderland in the final, and it was a big deal, especially after losing to Everton in the previous year’s final. And we had a reputation, as a club, for giving the kids a chance. Then it all moved on quickly. I signed pro forms and made my debut against Burnley in 1967.
I played a few games between 1968 and 1970, but the 1970/71 double year was my first full season as a first-team player. I played right back at Everton on the opening day as Peter Storey moved into midfield to mark Alan Ball. I was sub the following Tuesday at West Ham as Peter returned to right back and Peter Marinello came into the starting line-up. By the third game I returned to the first XI, with Peter moving back into the middle, and played every game from then on.
Winning at White Hart Lane in the final league game on May 3, 1971, really stands out.
We used to meet at Southgate station to pick up the coach to take us to the ground. On that day we met at 3pm, which seemed strange as it was only a 20-minute drive to Tottenham and the game was an evening kick-off. We got there at 7pm. I have never seen anything like it.
Cars were parked anywhere and everywhere. There were incredible crowds. We saw our wives and girlfriends battling to get to the stadium, so we picked them up. I don’t know how so many Arsenal fans got tickets, but it was like a home game. It could have been Highbury.
We knew a 0-0 draw or any win would win us the title, otherwise Leeds would pip us on goal difference. So we knew a clean sheet would be enough and as a right back my first thought was not about attacking, but about keeping the ball out of our net. We had leaders all over the place in that team and everyone knew it was a big opportunity. Ray Kennedy scored a late winner and it was pandemonium. It was just an unforgettable, incredible night.
It was the 1976/77 season when our captain Alan Ball had left the club but nobody knew who would be given the armband. I had no thoughts of taking it.
We were all in the dressing room getting ready to get on the pitch when Terry Neill just said, “Pat, you take them out.” It was a complete shock to me. Honestly.
I had played with some great men at Arsenal. I can still hear Frank McLintock shouting to me, “Take him down the line, Pat,” when a winger came up against me. Playing at the back in my position, I could see everything in front of me. I wasn’t vocal to start with, but I became vocal and a big voice on the pitch.
Players like to be told. I learned that as a player and as captain. I also learned if you are the captain you are essentially an extension of your manager. That’s why the likes of Tony Adams and John Terry were such a success as captains.
To be given the Arsenal armband by Terry and Don Howe – the best coach I ever worked with – was a real honour.
“Next season I want you to remember how we feel right now.” That’s what I told the lads in the dressing room after we lost 1-0 to Ipswich in the 1978 FA Cup Final.
We were devastated. Liam Brady, Malcolm Macdonald and myself were not fit enough but we all played. It was a terrible afternoon. A year later, we were in complete command: 2-0 up against Manchester United and cruising to victory in the FA Cup final. But – and we hear this all the time – one goal can change the whole complexion of a game. United scored one and quickly got another… from nowhere.
I was watching Man City v Spurs earlier this month: City were 2-0 up and could have had four. But Spurs scored and everything changed. Spurs drew 2-2 when they should have been buried.
But at Wembley in 79 we had some really good players on the pitch. Liam Brady was one. He found Graham Rix – a man who had a wand for a left foot – on the left, and he crossed to Alan Sunderland, who could score for fun. And he did, to win it 3-2 at the death.
We had beaten a very good Manchester United side, although, as I say, we were a very good side too. To be the Arsenal skipper, lifting the trophy that afternoon, meant everything.
I am the only Arsenal manager in history with a 100 per cent winning record in the league. OK, so it was only three games, but I’ll take that!
In truth, I was only filling in until Arsène Wenger arrived. I had never heard of him, but he became the best Arsenal manager ever simply for what he has done for the club. He built Hale End, the training ground, the new stadium – and we have been in the Champions League for years and years.
Back in 1996 I was told he was coming. I went to pick him up from Heathrow a couple of times when he came over from Japan. I was very happy to be kept on by him and to work under him until 2011.
It was a real eye-opener. Everything was different. And I really love the fact you can speak to him about anything. He has been amazing for this club and I had some terrific times with him. I am very, very humbled andhappy to have worked with him at this magnificent football club.
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