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.
Viv Anderson is next to recall his favourite memories.
Tony Woodcock had gone. Kenny Burns, Peter Shilton ... all except me. That said, I don’t think anyone had expressed an interest to buy me, or maybe Brian Clough just hadn’t told me. So in the summer of 1984 when Don Howe came in for me at the Arsenal I was thrilled. I’d just got married and never left Nottingham, so it seemed like a good time. I had no real ties to Nottingham, except my parents, so was happy to try a new place. And London really appealed to me. I always found it tough togo to London and play teams like Arsenal. I wanted to be a part of it.
And as for Arsenal, my perception of them had always been that they were a massive football club. I had worked with Don in the England setup and – like so many others – had the utmost respect for him.
Anyway, he didn’t have to sell the club to me. I loved everything, especially that bust of Herbert Chapman when you walked through the main entrance. It impressed me. This was a big club. I remembered the ’71 double winners and there was always talk of trying to emulate them. That continued when I joined the club. I knew a lot of the players too: Woodcock obviously, Graham Rix, Kenny Sansom... all of whom I had played with for England. Very good players too.
I’d also come to the end of my contract at Forest so it was a natural time to leave. I did have a word with Cloughie. “The grass isn’t always greener,” he told me, amongst other things. But my mind was made up.
I know it has been said before, but when you looked at the Arsenal team in the mid-80s, that starting XI we had was as good as anyother club’s.
But we played like individuals.
Even 30 years on I cannot give you a definitive reason as to why that was. Don Howe was no shrinking violet, believe me. His coaching was excellent. The talent within was something else. But something was missing. So, in May 1986, in stepped George Graham – and everything changed. It was his way or the highway. Some of the older guard left. Paul Mariner, Woody and a few others. George clearly felt they were coming to the end of their careers.
On the other hand, the likes of David Rocastle, Tony Adams and Martin Keown were coming through. And many more. George had a very specific way he wanted to play. We had real ructions in training about some of it – I remember once he told us to usher opponents inside but I was quick and could defend and was more than happy for someone to try and take me on down the line. But George knew best. And to be fair we went on a long unbeaten run of something like 18 games in that first season – only losing to Manchester United after they kicked us all over the pitch – which proved he was right.
You cannot argue with results. We had been top of the league and were hard to break down. As a defensive unit he had us playing eight attackers against four defenders. It was hard work but improved us, no doubt about it. He was right.
Spurs had Glenn Hoddle and Ossie Ardilles. We had Ian Allinson and a young Niall Quinn. But we turned Spurs over in that memorable semi final – I scored in one of the games – to get to Wembley.
Those younger lads who were coming through really shone that season, and in those semis. We never, ever gave up. We deserved to get to Wembley for the first time since 1980. Goodness me we celebrated after winning at White Hart Lane. Liverpool were the dominant team of the era and we knew it would be hard in the final – but we always believed.
Also, you should remember that the League Cup back in 1987 was a bigger deal than it is now. It really mattered to every single club. It was huge. They scored first through Ian Rush and that was supposedly that. But we levelled through Charlie Nicholas – I crossed the ball for him – and then Charlie scored with a ricochet in the second half to win the cup. Deflection, ricochet, call it what you will.
But everybody remembers the result and that is what matters. That result started an upward spiral of success for Arsenal that lasted for years. I had won European Cups, League Cups and the title, but this was very special for me. At Forest I was the kid coming through. At Arsenal I was the old man helping the new kids at Highbury.
Speaking of which, Paul Merson was one of them and one abiding memory I have is of Merse walking around the dressing room filming the post-match celebrations. He was everywhere. I think it might actually have been his job for the day, I still have a copy of the tape somewhere at home. I’ll have to dig it out.
When I was 16 I went to train with United for a year. Across the pitches there were the likes of Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law. But after a year I was told they didn’t want me and I went back to Nottingham, making my debut for Forest at the age of 17.
So it turned out well for me. But I always wanted to play for United. After the Littlewoods Cup final I got a call from Bryan Robson, who I had roomed with for England. “The new manager Alex Ferguson wants you,” he told me. Evidently, he was impressed with the way I handled myself – and stuck up for my team mates – when we lost our unbeaten run at Old Trafford that season.
I remember David Rocastle got sent off after being provoked by Norman Whiteside and I went up to Big Norm and said: “Do you like getting young kids sent off, Norman?” He reared up to me so I stood up to him and said: “Go on. Hit me. Hit me.” He didn’t, which was probably for the best. But, anyway, Fergie liked what he saw. I met Fergie in Nottingham and I decided to go north.
I went back and said to my wife: “We’re going to Manchester!” She wasn’t too happy as we had just bought a house. But I wanted to do it. I had three super years at Arsenal, ended it with a winner’s medal, but I had unfinished business at Old Trafford.
But I really need to say this. There was no other club in world football I would have left Arsenal for. That is the truth. It was a personal thing going back to my teens. Otherwise, I’d have stayed at Highbury, no question.
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