One life, one game, one team, one invincibles

One life, one game, one team, one Invincibles (So far)

Friday, 29 November 2013

Rooting for Pat Rice

Like most Gooners I was deeply saddened to hear that Pat is battling with the big C. Nothing much I can do to help in that respect but I can pay tribute to a truly great Arsenal man. So today I'm repeating an article I wrote that first appeared in Issue 211 of The Gooner fanzine. Hope you like it.
10 of 32 Pat Rice

Originally penned at time when Pat was still working with Arsene Wenger

To some Pat Rice is simply that bloke who sits next to Wenger, but Pat is also numbered amongst that very rare breed of players who has lifted a major trophy as captain of his team. His team of course being the Arsenal.

As a kid Pat lived nearer Highbury Stadium than any player before or since, in Gillespie Road to be precise, where he once also worked in a green grocers. Although born in Belfast and thus subsequently gaining 49 caps for Northern Ireland Pat's parents had moved to London while he was very young.

Pat only ever wanted to be a footballer but as a player he was never a gifted natural. So he simply worked his rocks off to earn his place as an apprentice in 1964.  Rice signed as a professional in 1966 and matured into a solid, dependable and quite excellent right back. Relentless training and the will to succeed always played a larger part in his career than pure talent, but his drive, work ethic and will to win have been of paramount importance to the Club ever since his debut as an 18-year-old. He was 21 when he finally established a regular first team birth. This at the same time Mee and Howe moved Peter Storey, our then right back, into midfield. Pat took over the fullback slot and stayed there for a decade. That fabulous season in which he established himself just so happened to be our 1970-71 Double winning season, a season in which Pat Rice played a staggering 63 of our 64 competitive matches. He went on to total 528 games for the Club, bagging just 13 goals.

Rice is one of just three Arsenal players to have played in five FA Cup Finals, his first being on May 8th 1971 when he won his second major winners medal that week. Apart from Sammy Nelson, his fellow Northern Ireland full back, Pat was the only long-term survivor from our first double team and having been made captain in 1977 it was Pat who got to lift the trophy when we next won the Cup by beating United in 1979. By which time Rice was one of a core of Irish players at the Club that included himself, Nelson, Brady, O'Leary, Stapleton and Devine.

Rice finally left Arsenal in 1980 at the age of 31 and went on to play some137 games for Watford under Graham Taylor. Returning to Arsenal as a coach on retiring as a player Pat has thus far amassed an incredible 42 years at the Club as player, youth team coach, caretaker manager and assistant manger. Apart from his four years at Watford this accounts for his entire footballing career. Probably uniquely Pat managed to win all three of the league games played whilst he was in charge at Arsenal. He also has the distinction, alongside Bob Wilson, of having taken part, as player or coach, in all three of Arsenal's Doubles.

When Pat Rice was voted 17th in the Gunners' Greatest Players poll in 2008 and his reaction was one of shock. "I could run off 30-odd players who were better players than me," he proclaimed. Maybe so, but players don't only get remembered for their silky skills at Arsenal. Honesty, dedication, the will to win and pure hard graft also count for a great deal.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

From Momentum to Momentous

Our season started with a dickhead of a ref, namely Anthony Taylor, gifting our first game of the season to a mediocre Villa side, not that we looked anything special at the time either. In some respects Taylor may have done us a favour because since then we’ve learned how to stay in a game even when things are not going our way and even when it feels like all the soccer gods are against us.

The Arsenal are on a roll right now and a succession of wins against minor Clubs, such as Tottenham, has gradually moved us on from being merely carrying some forward momentum towards the cusp of mounting a serious title challenge. Now talking of title challenges in November might be considered premature or even just plain dumb. And I’d agree, but let’s face it there are times when you just know the team are onto something that’s a shade beyond just good football and a few decent results. You can’t quite explain it but you know it’s there because there’s just something slightly different about the team on the pitch and it actually doesn’t even matter which eleven players are on the pitch to get the result. The absence of Walcott, Wilshere, Podolski, Chamberlain, Sanogo, Flamini and the long lost Diaby mattered not a jot. Last season it would have done.
Trust me. I’ve been there and got a multiplicity of the t-shirts to prove it. This season the squad are onto something. It might be a cliché or even a Clichy but matches are won by teams and not individuals. This season we have a team no matter who is on the pitch. Last season we learned how to do without Van Persie and Wilshere. We learned to play collective football again. We learned to defend as a team again and we learned how to ignore the know-all pricks that are collectively referred to as pundits. This season we’ve taken it a stage further and learned how to win when the opposition are just as good as us and when we don’t have the players we thought we needed to win games. Dortmund capitalised on our over eagerness to win at our gaff and we capitalised on their near misses in Germany. In both matches we ‘lost’ the first half and yet that didn’t stop us playing our football and it didn’t cause us to fall to pieces. Just the opposite in fact. There were times when we were being pummelled by Dortmund but the collective mentality of never say die did just that, it kept us alive and in the game. The players almost seemed to know that given half a chance one of them, and it didn’t matter who, would sneak a goal. Far more importantly they believed it. It might be a brilliant goal it might be a scrappy goal but all it would take would be one goal and we could see it out for a great result at a point where your average Gooner would have settled for a draw. I certainly would have.

As it happens it was a battling goal. Rosicky hit a pass that went astray but a tired defender miss hit a clearance and Mozart got it back and made good use of it. It reached Özil took his time with the cross because he’s cleaver enough to make the time and space to make a cross count. The ball to Giroud wasn’t perfect but Olivier made it so by straining his jump backwards in order to nudge it forwards into the killer zone. Rambo killed it by anticipating well, timing his run well and being brave rather than brilliant. It was a goal with rough edges that said more about last night’s Arsenal than any of the 180 degree turn platitudes from know-it-all pundits such as Redknapp. After that we had the confidence to see off the shell-shocked Dortmund.

We have progressed via serious momentum into a runaway train mode and it is now steaming up to run away with us like an Avalanche Express. I’ve no idea if we’ll become unstoppable but I ‘m looking forward to a seriously hairy ride.
We’re currently top of two major leagues and as any know-all git will happily tell you we have yet to play anyone above us in either of them. Quite. For my money there are there are about nine or ten teams left who can win the Champions League. Four English, three Spanish, two German and one Italian. I don’t make us favourites by any means but the fact is we are in there with a serious shout. Likewise in the Premiership I see it as a three horse race with three teams capable of edging ahead of Manure, the Totts and Pool.

Am I getting carried away? Tell you what – I don’t care if I am or not. I’m watching great football, fabulous players and a real team again. And their my team. We may not win a thing but we’re certainly going in the right direction again and it will be season to really enjoy the challenge and the football.
Incidentally it was the third game in back in 1970 against Machester United at home, where we spanked them 4-0 that I knew the 1970-71 season could well be a long awaited classic. This season it was our 10th game in during the first half against Napoli that I knew this season had a similar feel as the momentum ramping its way up. We're now on a serious roll.
I’m feeling really good about things right now. How about you?
Brian Dawes @Gooner48

Friday, 4 October 2013

Still purring after the Napoli game

It’s gone, done and dusted now but I’m still purring after that Napoli game. To put this latest win into some sort of context Napoli were 2nd in Serie ‘A’ with a won 5, drawn 1 record which included an away win at A C Milano. They still are 2nd in Serie ‘A’ of course, it’s just that they’ve now received a serious footballing lesson before their 7th Serie ‘A’ game.

In the Champions League they’d already beaten Borussia Dortmund which currently looks pretty good on any Club’s CV. So surely Raffa and his boys were not exactly expecting to suffer such a total spanking during the opening fifteen minutes at The Grove. Then again neither was I expecting such scintillating football given that Wenger was playing an almost unheard of pair of holding midfield players and we were looking for all intents and purposes like we had a line-up set to finish the first half at nil-nil. Were we Chelski in disguise perhaps? Well obviously not, none of the crowd dozed off and what appeared to be a defensive line-up proved to be anything but.  
Before the game began Arsenal had shown some very fine form against a bunch of fairly classless Premiership teams plus that mob from the wrong end of Seven Sisters. However we had yet to show what we had to offer against a really decent outfit and Napoli were for me the first real acid test. If we could scrape a win from this one I felt our momentum would continue to build and we’d gain yet more confidence in what is after all had been an injury depleted squad of late. Instead of which we chewed Napoli up and spat them out and really looked to be serious contenders despite still being light the odd decent back-up centre forward so.

The Italians were restricted, in the main, to long range pot shots and we absolutely tore them a new one. So much so that all the rent-a-gob-two-bob TV pundits were reduced to turning a complete 180 with regard to their opinions on what they’d all been proclaiming to be a team in crisis only a few weeks back.
Just quite how Özil was already interchanging positions with other players in a squad he’d only met just a few days previously was all rather surreal. Probably only under Wenger could such interchanging even be considered at this stage of any player’s  introduction to his new Club. Then again quite probably only under a manager such as Wenger would such a class act even consider moving to a Club that wasn’t dripping in new money.  

It’s always seemed fairly obvious to me that the long-term plan was for a multi-functional and interchangeable midfield to emerge at Arsenal. But that will now be the norm I suspect. And with the new Ramsey currently emerging as the best British midfield player around anything is possible. Clearly our latest German was player of the match against Napoli, but not by a massive margin in my opinion, Ramsey ran him very close and Giroud was mega. Dennis only knows what it’ll be like if when we get both Özil and Cazorla playing together. Cazorla is probably the most two-footed Arsenal player I’ve ever seen bulge the old onion bag for The Arsenal, while Özil can play keepie-upsie with a piece of partially used chewing gum and nutmeg linesman for fun. His passing is clearly as good as Cesc, Dennis or Bobby. His left foot is as good as Liam’s and his vision is the sort of thing our next new centre forward can only currently dream about.
So we only won 2-0 against Napoli. But the fact is we made them chase the game throughout whilst controlling it almost totally, only very rarely on the back foot. They passed quite a lot but mainly backwards and sideways because we denied them the space. When we passed backwards or sideways it was because we had a two-goal lead and were effectively saying ‘If you want the f*cking thing come and get it you pussies’.

Not since the days of Bergkamp and Henry have I got depressed about having to actually wait to see the next Arsenal game. I’m currently depressed because right here and now we’re better than good, way better than good and I want the next game to be immediately after the last one.
Momentum is the key. Trust me it really is. It can be argued that we’ve still not played anyone worthwhile, that Napoli were over-rated, that Marseille are not all that and that the result of any game against the Spuds can go any-which-way. Which of course they can. But do I give a toss? No way Pedro. We have momentum. We have a real team that clearly enjoys playing together and all of whom are quite happy to work their rocks off in the cause. In fact if they don’t work their rocks off they probably won’t even make the team right now. We have a work ethic. We have a good mix of experience and youngsters plus those yet to peak such as Ramsey, Wilshere, Szczczczesny, Gibbs, Walcott and Özil, yes Özil. His best is yet to come.

Madrid you stupid tossers, what have you done?
We currently have serious competition for places in all bar two positions, and we need a steady keeper in any case. We have a manager that world class players want to play for and learn from. We have Germans. We have an Assistant Manager who has been there and got the t-shirts, lots of t-shirts. We have a home crowd who in my experience bear little or no relation to the vociferous and sometimes mindless minority on the internet. We have ignition. We have lift-off and in my humble opinion we don’t have a problem Houston.

Try not to laugh, but way, way back in December 1970 I already knew that it would be a truly momentous season, I knew from what I was witnessing and enjoying on the pitch. I knew that my team, the one I’d always supported forever but only seen win one trophy was once again the real McCoy at last or the real McLintock as we called him. Now I know it’s only early October in 2013 but this current batch really are the real deal believe me, and if you can’t enjoy what you’re seeing right now and don’t share the faith, then are you really, really sure you’re an Arsenal fan? There’s more competition from rich Clubs these days for sure and we may not win the double as we did back in ’71, but what’s not to enjoy? This current team, whatever their format or line-up really are 'the dog's proverbials’.
Believe me. Good times are coming. Trust me. I may be a boring old git but I’ve been there, seen it and got way more Arsenal t-shirts than Uncle Bouldie.

Enjoy this. Right here and now. Because if you can’t, or don’t I’ve really not got the faintest idea why you claim to support The Arsenal or even bother watching them.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Adventures of Baron Bendtner - Mel Melis @melmelis

I read Nicklas Bendtner is our longest serving player. You might not believe it (I didn’t) but he bloody well is. If Amy Lawrence says it’s true, then it must be true.
Strangely he’s only 25 but it feels like he’s been around forever, he had an astonishing partnership in the youth team with Arturo Lupoli, but since then, including several stop-start loan moves, he has flattered to deceive. Why?
In 2010 after stacking his Aston Martin on the A1(M), he declared that he would become one of the greatest strikers the world. Perhaps he got a bump on the head, to add to the one when the odious Adebayor nutted him, perhaps he’s just been unlucky?
Despite his undoubted talent and self confidence, where his psychological profile results broke the methodology and made Pat Rice’s cherubic face red with laughter he hasn’t quite managed to fulfil the talent he has, latent as it is. I have no beef with Bendtner, in fact, when he’s on form and playing in the right position, i.e. as a centre forward, he can provide reasonable cover. He’s no Giroud in terms of playing with his back to goal or in terms of intelligent running, but he’s strong, his link play is good, has a great shot and attacks the ball when there’s a chance to do so. His international return is pretty impressive too with 22 in 55 games, many of those goals in big games. So what’s the problem? Why isn’t he “the greatest striker that ever lived”? - It’s just he’s had so many distractions in his life.... here are just a few of them...
Social Avenger
Bendtner played a key role in unearthing the cynical commercialism of UEFA when he was fined a staggering €100,000 for wearing his lucky green Paddy Power sponsored boxer shorts which he unveiled with a deft drop of the shorts after scoring for Denmark.
This was significantly more than fines for crowd trouble and racism dished out by UEFA. Was Bendtner a cynical toy of Paddy Power? Happy to take their money? Of course not, he wanted to unearth the stink inside UEFA and FIFA, the cartel of power hungry individuals running the world game.
Don’t believe me? Well, he’s been training for the pants moment for some years, as this incident proves, in Boujis of all places. Nicklas Bendtner, social avenger and investigate journalist.
King Bendtner
It almost happened. When Arsenal visited Buckingham Palace in 2007, the Bendtner plot was uncovered prior to the visit. The teenage Bendtner was shackled in the Tower of London following torture (by Jens Lehmann) after he admitted to looking for an opportunity to usurp the Duke of Edinburgh and marry her majesty himself. Since then he has learnt his lesson and dated a minor Danish Royal to get some practice in on matters of state. There is plenty of time to be a monarch once his playing career is over. They have since split, but Lady Caroline has had his baby, which means House Bendtner is on the heraldic ladder. Tsar, Emperor, King... one day *gleeful Blackadder wringing of hands*
As an aside, this youtube video of the Buckingham Palace visit shows that even when he’s trying to be sombre and deadly serious Eboue is even funnier than when he’s larking around. See intellectual expression at 1.45 and his staggeringly unnerving bow when he almost kissed the queens hand at 3.27. She was on verge of ordering his execution.

Below - Bendtner as King
Scandinavian Detective with Personal Demons
For this photo Bendtner inexplicably wore a very sensible woolly grey cardigan, perfect for those long winter evenings of perpetual dark when you are staking out the forest shack of a murderer whilst being haunted with regrets of the past. He looks every inch the plain clothes detective trying to blend in (unsuccessfully). Essentially he is a very shit Wallander (I know Wallander is Swedish).
The only thing worse than Bendtner’s cardigan is Snoop’s tee shirt? Snoop is about to jab his fingers into Bendtner’s eyes, then run away.

Northern Playwright
Bendtner has some new glasses. Look.

By wearing these glasses he is imbued with the supernatural power of Alan Bennett and writes witty and semi tragic plays of Yorkshire graft in the post war era. Instead of writing successful plays he could have been improving his football, but at least he’s been critically acclaimed.
The Way of Bushido
The observant among you will have noticed the little top knot bouncing jauntily up and down on the top of Bendtner’s head. Fashion? No, far from it.

Bendtner-sensei is skilled in the way of Bushido, after watching two episodes of the James Clavell adaptation of Shogun starring Richard Chamberlain (no relation to the Ox) he decided he wanted to improve himself, his mind, his body. He writes Haiku’s and elegant poetry, but he can also cleave you in twain with an elegant spin turn of his Katana. Here, in this poem, he rages against his misfortune, having proved himself Van Persie’s (wasp chew man of dishonour) equal, he is sidelined in favour of “Distressed Seagull” aka Chamakh.

Poem, by Nicklas Bendtner.
While they smothered your ankle with horse placenta,
What became of the warrior Nicklas Bendtner?
I scored the goals while you were broken,
But my tenure cut short, a mere token,
Discarded like the cherry blossom,
And I had to watch, white knuckled,
The distressed seagull,
floundering in an oil slick,
When the wasp chew man of dishonour,
Was mended, he re-Appeared, was revered,
Only to take his grey temples,
To the northern devils. Curse you Persie. You’re a penis.
“He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!” – Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Oh, but he might be. There are tantalising glimpses... For example...
Poor Frimpong, I’ve cast him in the role of Harvey Keitel’s Judas in this, but sadly we couldn’t get tuppence for Bendtner to sell him to the Romans or any other team, never mind 30 pieces of silver.
So, without disrespecting my religious friends... differences between Bendtner and Jesus? Jesus was only crucified once. We’ve crucified Bendtner hundreds of times, he just shrugs it off.

Bendtner as Sailor.

No reason for this bad photoshop other than he reminded me of popeye, a little bit. I didn’t bother trying to draw anchors on his arms. Too fiddly.


So, it appears I’m lacing Bendtner and yes I am. But that doesn’t mean I’m not fond of him. In fact whenever he plays I root for him. I think most of us do. He seems to have adopted a humility, to work hard, to do his best for the team, he survived the cull of fringe players because his arrogance in pre-season marooned him, stupidly thinking he could cherry pick any one of six clubs. Rather than just leave him to fester once we realised we couldn't get another striker as we'd run out of time, Wenger thought of the kid with potential, he can help us. If we get a good few months out of him as cover, without distractions, then I’ll be happy. I don’t think his long term future is at Arsenal, but while he’s here, he can do a job. Good luck Nik, we’re top of the league, this could be your greatest adventure yet!
YouTube - Videos from this email

Created, written, researched, edited and everything else by Mel Melis @melmelis

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Special Agent #ITK

I love Twitter, I find you can follow the people you want and you can soon learn if they have a similar interest and if you trust their writing, even just 140 characters of it. Most of the people I follow are based around The Arsenal; couple of players, mainly Mikel and Bac, purely for the pics of their respective wives, but mostly ordinary fans like me.

This close season though has become quite fascinating for one particular phenomenon. The tweeter who is #ITK. For those unfamiliar, ITK is In The Know, although I loved one guy who tweeted he was always #ITK at parties!

Now, we have all seen the growth of the internet and how if your first site visit is the Arsenal NewsNow page you will be bombarded with links to various sites all proclaiming that AFC have reached an agreement with Barcelona to sign Messi etc. Now, I don’t click on their bullshit anymore, having learnt some time ago that they were just “Click Whores” who only wanted hits on their site because it generated revenue for them. But I can see the reasoning in their method; they are making money and to be honest, they are not harming anyone, so if there are still lots of gullible fans out there clicking away, prepared to read their nonsense then so be it.
But this is what intrigues me about Twitter and the #ITK situation. What’s in it for someone who isn’t genuinely providing accurate information? So let’s have a look at the possibilities. Firstly, you have the genuine fan, someone who may have an ‘in’ at the club, so they may get snippets of info from their source that can be released into the general fan base. Their source may be acting without the club’s consent, so they will have to judge how much they can leak, without getting caught in a compromising situation that will risk their future. Alternatively, the club may realise what they can gain from spinning some stories out to the masses at certain times so it could be that the info is leaked with their consent and to their timeline (‘scuse the Twitter pun!) Question here is whether the tweeter knows which of the above is their supply line situation.

In both of the above, it always brings me to one big question. If you are genuinely told some info, that you know will be huge news to AFC fans, but by releasing it you could endanger a deal the club is working on;  the selling club may ask for more money or AFC could get gazumped and lose out altogether, then why would you release it? I don’t think you would if you really are a fan, but it would be really hard for me to not tell a few select mates if I knew Fab4 was at Colney on the treadmill.
Now the problem is that this also provides an out for any #ITK to use. It starts to remind me of mediums and psychics, who start to ask vague questions that will bring someone out of the audience for them to work with. You can hint at prospective signings by keeping an eye on reliable media outlets and journos known to be AFC friendly and those accounts on Twitter who you are generally considered to be reliable and not fantasists and then just adapting your words. When someone eventually signs you can reveal that this was what you were hinting at all along, but obviously you did not want to risk harming the deal by being too specific. #Clever.

Then there are those who are maybe just on a bit of a trip to Ego Central. Most of the top Arsenal #ITK accounts have thousands of followers and I would imagine a lot of that following is based on their reputation for providing reasonably solid (well as much as it can be on Twitter) info on player movements and commercial deals etc.  So if they are just bullshitters, why? What is there to be gained? There’s no pay per read of your tweets, so is it something to do with having large numbers of followers, some kind of kudos in that. As the old Twitter saying goes, “Hitler had millions, Jesus had 12!”

Then I guess there will be those who are just out to cause a bit of bother, stir things up and cause some friction. Strangely enough, I think these are the easiest ones to understand as we’ve all seen how ‘trolling’ works and have probably poked the tiger through the bars of the cage ourselves from time to time. Let’s be honest, with how things have developed amongst Arsenal fans over the past 3 or 4 years and the divides we have seen created, it is a fertile ground for those who could prey on our desire for top signings or proof that Arsene really is a parsimonious old fool who is ruining our club.
Rooney - fat little f*cker or new Arsenal star?

It must be said that a lot of these accounts come in for some dogs abuse due to their ‘inside knowledge’, so it’s not without its perils. It really does seem that a certain section of our fans are some of the most impatient people I have ever come across. There was a tranche of fans who gave it until at least noon on July 1st before they claimed that Arsene, Ivan and Stan are not interested in spending any of the ‘warchest’ and we have been lied to yet again, which was obviously proof that the #ITK’s are all liars or worse still, tools of the state! Surely it is easy for us to just make our own mind up, after all we are supposed to be responsible adults. You don’t like what you read, you simply unfollow, it’s really as easy as that.
Higuain - will he sign for Arsenal or your fantasy team?
I would just like to finish by saying that I am as hungry for positive news on our club as anyone else. I yearn for us to sign Higuain, Rooney, Fellaini, Cesar and Williams and that desire leads me to being somewhat more gullible than I should be; it’s the hope that kills you! I follow probably a dozen Gooner accounts that mainly fall into the categories above, i.e. they provide snippets of information to the masses, with varying degrees of openness about their reliability. I don’t hang on their every word, but I do find it interesting to see what they hint at and I am keeping a very close eye on what transpires this Summer in comparison to what each of them is suggesting is in the pipeline. Come the close of the window I think I will be making my mind up about who is #ITK and who is #FOS.
Mark King

Monday, 20 May 2013

STRESS: Arsenal induced stress, de-stressing this summer and stressed out Totts.

Stressful game football isn't it? Especially so if you're a hard-core fan which I suspect most of you are. And anyone who still thinks 4th place or qualifying for the Champions League is not important or doesn't really matter too much should consider their own personal stress levels on Sunday 19th May. If you were really not stressed about qualifying for the qualifiers in the Champions League or finishing above the Tiny Totts then let's face it you're not a serious fan are you? Even our most negative Arsenal fans found it seriously difficult to handle, and so they should or they wouldn't be fans. But if anyone out there wasn't able to enjoy the outcome then I just feel really very sorry for you. All things are relative and being up against the Tiny Totts for 4th on the final day simply upped the anti.

Enjoying the outcome photo of the day
 Sunday 19th May - great wind-up pic by Jodie
I believe that the worst of our new stadium induced financial tribulations are now finally over and I believe this summer will see us kick on with about three major signings. But I doubt that these will include a mega name such as a Ronaldo, Bale or Rooney (a granny-shagging blob I don't want in any case). Just who would buy Rooney is big, big problem for United altogether should they really want to ditch him, and if they don't he'll be a major problem for Moyes - good. But I digress.
Before that even starts however we must firstly out all the dead wood - this would appear to be in hand with Arshavin and Chamakh but will be a difficult and protracted process with regards to the likes of Bendtner, Squillachi, Djourou, Park, Denilson and other long forgotten on loan players. Is Coquelin worthy of a squad place? Is Fabianski? Is Frimpong? Is Gervinho? All questions to be answered this summer. And what about Diaby you ask - yet another imponderable. Ruthlessness and expedience will be much in demand this June, July and August in moving players on, sometimes against their will, and will be far harder to expedite than moving any in. That said we still won't have CL football till we qualify which may mean yet more late arrivals making them more difficult to get up to full fitness and to making them fully integrated.
Difficult to know the real answer when you consider how many Arsenal fans initially got their answers wrong regarding their thoughts on the long written off Rosicky, the vastly under-rated Arteta, the clearly not-good enough Koscielny and Metesacker (their opinions not mind). The Ox was initially touted as just another too young youngster purchased when experience was required. Well he’s looking good to me as are the others mentioned above. Our squad is coming together, seems unlikely to be losing any quality other than perhaps Sagna and we have positive chances of added quality.
Stress has been the order of our season and its been another tough one, but I sense an increasing mood of optimism in the Gooner Nation and mounting despair at the wrong end of Seven Sisters Road. Should we show some compassion and spare a thought for all the overly distressed Totts smashing their heads against brick walls on Sunday?
Perhaps a more relaxed summer is on the cards than recent past seasons, at least in the red half of North London – I certainly hope so.
My only note of caution in the current North London is red euphoria is that we have only qualified for the qualifiers which doesn't as yet guarantee us a place in the Champions League. Will a pre-season tour on the other side of the world help our preparations? Certainly not. But such cautions are absolutely minimal in comparison to Thursday football and a summer of discontent, such as they will be suffering

Brian Dawes

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Arsenal.con and fans

Arsenal.con have a promotion on their website at the moment which implies that becoming a fan somehow requires that you become a paid up Member. What abject rollocks. I've been a fan for about 56 years now and it has never required me becoming a paid up member of anything.
Being a Football fan is the one few things you can do from any part of the world for whatever reason at zero cost and become part of a greater family of like minded people across the globe. As it happens I became a fan because as a kid I was brought up less than two miles from the ground and because my Granddad was a Gooner long before that word was even coined. Some do it for family heritage reasons, others do it because they are introduced by friends, others just start to support their local team. It becomes a life long love affair between a man or woman and his or her Club. But it matters not why you are an Arsenal fan or from where you support our Club.
Real fans don't need to be paid up members and none of this lot were
I get the marketing concept due to the perceived need for massive international funding but it bugs me You don't have to purchase branded goods, attend games, pay for live televised matches or study daily updates from various media resources to be a fan. These are all optional extras and let's face it most of us suckers own replica shirts, or pin-badges, have a hoard of programmes, books, dvd's, t-shirts and all the rest. But you don't have to be a hard-core mental supporter and travel to every away game or go to every home game to consider yourself a fan. Although that said many of us do at some time in their lives if it is physically and financially possible to do so.
Being a fan is a state of mind and not a Red, Silver, Gold, Platinum or Diamond Level card holder.
So how do you know if you're a fan or not? Well if you're at all stressed about tonight's match and will be either at the match, following the match or looking for the result in near panic mode as soon as you're able you are part of our Great Gooner Nation. This even applies to all those Gooners who irritate you on the internet no matter how much crap they spout on websites, Arsenal groups or social media.
If you can't be at the game in person tonight for whatever reason I'll be there encouraging the team and going horse on your behalf. It's what fans do.
Brian Dawes @gooner48

Monday, 13 May 2013

Cybury Gooners

At the zenith of the last Millennium, scrolls were found that told the tale of a brave band of men, men who fought to preserve the honour of The Arsenal. In the year of our Lord 1995, from the humble beginnings of the Arsenal e-mail list, sprung a brave group of men who wanted to battle the hordes from other tribes; tribes whose inhabitants were still struggling with fire and wheels!

In November of 95, a battle was agreed between the tribe of Arsenal and the local neanderthals of Middlesex hotscum, and neutral ground was set as the arena. On that sunny day, superior tactics and calibre of soldier triumphed and the hordes from Middlesex were repelled, scurrying over the hills in retreat to their hovels to find some bins to dip.
From this first triumph, there came many more challenges, especially from the frozen wastelands of the North, as word spread of a tribe from Londinium, who were renowned for their skills in haute couture, wit and rapscallion cocksmanship. Pathfinders were sent forth, to evaluate enemy weaknesses and tactical acumen, before the invasion was launched.
Several attacks were repelled by the Northern hordes who held advantage of the terrain and knowledge of its secrets, but these were temporary victories, a mere flicker of light in the darkness. In 1999, The Arsenal launched a full on attack, assembling its finest collection of warriors, all skilled in the areas of combat required to defeat any enemy it came across.
At the end of 2 days of fighting, they stood alone on the plains of Leicestershire, unvanquished, victorious, as one!

The scrolls read of heroes called Melis and Richmond, Cohen and Lowry, names that even now the children of The Arsenal tribe are told of at night before they sleep, tales of bravery and comradeship!

They fought on, winning battles throughout the land, for several years, until at last they found that other tribes learnt from their skills and expertise and took advantage of their lack of refuelling points, until they were forced back.
They all returned to their families, tired and scarred, assuming false identities in order to protect those they loved. Taking up new professions as Blacksmiths or farmers, trying to forget their violent pasts, pretending the rage had died inside.
But there lingered a spark.

A tiny ember.

In each one of them.

Until the years had passed and each had forgotten past lives and glories. Or so they thought.

Then one day, a message came to them. Delivered by various means. From where it came, they were not sure, but the sender knew each and every one of them, knew what would add fuel to the fire, what would turn a spark into a flame, a flame in to a fire and a fire to an inferno!

So they trained, each of them in isolation, remembering past lives, skills thought long forgotten, feelings thought buried for eternity. How soon they remembered the old ways, the ease with which an opponent could be beaten, the pride taken at wielding their weapon of choice, besting any man sent to test their mettle.

They gathered. It was time they were told. Time to remind the world of their glory. Their time.

A few weeks from now, on a ragged patch of earth called Leeds, the Northern hordes will face obliteration!

Just there the barbarians will huddle, sheer terror gripping tight their hearts with icy fingers... knowing full well what merciless horrors they suffered at the swords and spears of 11 men. Yet they will now stare across the pitch at twenty Gooners, commanding two gazillion social media Arsenal fans!

The enemy may outnumber us a paltry two to one, good odds for any Gooner. But on that day we rescue a world from Fergusonism and tyranny and usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine.

Give thanks men, to the legend of Cybury and the brave 11! TO VICTORY!

If you have been raised to fight for the cause of The Arsenal and possess the required battle skills and can march to the wastelands of Leeds for Sat and Sun 15th/16th June and have reached your 35th birthday without losing any important limbs, then join our band of brothers in a quest for glory.

If you are yet to reach 35 years, then we are assembling an army of younger warriors to train for an assault in 2014 on a secondary but larger target and will receive any interested applicants now, for advance planning based on this year's reconnaissance of the enemy and their younger armies!

For further tales from the Bard of Cybury or just to seek enlightenment on how to fight for The Arsenal, send your missive to

Join us and taste the glory of victory and wine drunk in remembrance of friends and team mates once more!

Keepers of the faith, never forget. We are The Arsenal.

Mark King

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Manchester United South East Asia Supporters Club

By Mel Melis

As I write, Manchester United are powering to their twentieth league title, led by our once fragile enigma of a centre forward. These humbling moments remind me of why football, even for a fully grown human, can make the heart sink or the joy burst within us.
Tonight is a bad night for Gooners.
I will take my seat on Sunday, I wont hide. If we give them the guard of honour I’ll watch our squad closely, see if they feel the shame I feel. Will they embrace their erstwhile captain, will they wish him the best? Or will they stand stoic, save their platitudes for the end of the game. Who will dare take his shirt?
The new season begins on Sunday. There’s a lot broken in this squad, we don’t seem to have many bad losers anymore. Ferguson doesn’t see us as a threat so patronises us with faint praise. I want him to hate us again. This is the way it should be. But sad to say, we are not at their level yet. Let’s be clear, this is a pretty poor Manchester United team, but their manager sets them apart. You might loathe him, but he can get the best out of an average clogger (look at how lame the John O’Shea’s are when they leave) and he isn’t afraid to chop a superstar’s legs away and sell him. He always maintains a high standard.
And we’ll have to hear it from those cockney reds, who’ve been to Old Trafford less times than you, who don’t really know what it’s like. But this sense of superiority wont be a solace. We can only hope that next season we really will get rid of all the dead wood, the disgraceful high earners like Squillaci, who even refused to go on loan to Brighton because, I assume, he didn’t want to abandon his chic cafe culture in Hampstead. Or will they all go out on loan again and come back like dog farts infesting the curtains (N.b – I don’t own a dog, so I’m not sure if this is a realistic metaphor). Good riddance to them and their comfy chairs and silken drapes. Go. Leave us. Gel your hair and bleach your bum’ole somewhere else.
But this is a subject for another blog post (Arsenal squad problems, not bum’ole bleaching). Tonight - and I promise it gets fun later, bear with me and my Ingemar Bergman existentialism for a few paragraphs - is about the Shame, the Sadness and the Success.
In recent memory, two other defeats sit heavy in my gut. Losing the David Rocastle FA cup final against Liverpool in 2001. There was a lump in many a throat as Ryan Rocastle led out the Arsenal squad. But football is cruel. The Henchoz handball, the Michael Owen winner after we’d absolutely battered them. That night was so tragic nearly a dozen of us barricaded ourselves in a hotel room with a crate of beer and played Who Wants to Be A (Fucking) Millionaire on a laptop as the bar was full of dancing scousers. It feels embarrassing even writing that. But we did it. Oh the shame!
And more recently, the champions league final. We were in the first few rows, the rain pelted us the whole game. For an Arsenal fan, and it’s all relative of course, other teams have never been to any cup final – it was a lesson in humility. Almunia played like a terrified newly born calf, his big dead mackerel eyes, dull and staring, his Ronald McDonald hands throwing shapes in front of his face and his sullen jowls floundering as he tried to communicate to his defence. Oh and Eto’o was offside. But what can you do. This is football.
What makes Sunday sadder is no matter the result, it’s out of our hands. There is nothing we can do. Even if we win, it’s only to further our own ambition to finish in a Champions League place. We cannot change who the champions are. So this feels raw and horrible.
Which brings us on to the fun bit. Not many teams can count these good times on enemy turf.
- We won the league at Anfield.
- We won the league at White Hart Lane twice, which is as many times as Spurs have won the league in their whole history (A fact which can be rolled around the palate and savoured like a good Rioja).
Classic Goal
- We have won the league at Old Trafford. I was there. We had to sit with the home fans, with tickets marked “Manchester United South East Asia Supporters Club”, but we were there… six of us. Me, Des, Danny, Kev, Mark and Sean. We were the double agents, the South East Asia Supporters Club. We still are.
When we got back to the hotel bar that night, we watched the highlights on the telly and recreated the scene where Wiltord celebrated his goal. Mark King (@mzk90) was the leaping Kanu and I was Wiltord. Wiltord on the telly watches on. It’s one of my favourite photos. It was taken on a piece of crap disposable camera as well so the photographer (I think it was Danny) deserves praise for capturing the moment.
Kanu and Wiltord re-visited
That night we were the gloaters, the piss takers, we were the Kings. It will happen again. So chin up Gooners.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Show me the money!

Apologies to Mark for the exceedingly late publication of this article which somehow slipped through the net.
Bizarrely, due to circumstances beyond my control, I ended up listening to last night’s match on the radio (Bayern v Arsenal), whilst getting the opinions of those Twitter Gooners I trust, as opposed to just the meanderings of Alan Green and Lawro! It was quite surreal and took me back to being a 15 year old, jumping up and down on my bed as I realised that yes, Paul Vaessen had just scored to help Arsenal become the only English team to have ever beaten Juve in their own backyard.
So I am only basing my comments on the commentary and the 140 character updates provided by my social media ‘buddies’. However, in as much as the pre match comments were doom and gloom and in the main wrote off our chances completely, I would like to temper the post match back slapping and putting down of the AWOB nation with the following:

Pertaining to, or characteristic of a hero or heroine.

An act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success:  The campaign was a failure.
Much like a turd can be shiny if you polish it enough, it is still a turd with an adjective thrown in front of it! Descriptions like ‘Heroic Failure’ are generally used by 2 sets of people; those who have done the failing and those sympathetic to them. How did you feel about Jose last week and his “The best team lost” comments? Patronising was my opinion, but as attributed to various names including Churchill, history is written by the victors!

There are positives to be taken from the game certainly; the defence performed well with Corporal Jenkinson and Gibbs particularly to the fore with their ability to get up and down. Kos showed what I believe, which is that he is a better natural defender than our current skipper and Fabianksi at least showed that there is an option to Chesney! The main thing is that a clean sheet in Bayern is something even the Invincibles could not manage, so there should be definite benefits in terms of our confidence levels as we now start our 10 Cup Final games run. The biggest positive to me is the fact that it made the trip far more palatable for the travelling Gooners who had invested their hard earned cash in the journey long before our tame surrender at THOF. Once more they did us proud and having been to Munich for the football I am sure that it meant they had an even better night  in the Augustiner Beer Keller!

That said, let’s not forget that this is the same manager and a lot of the same players who contrived to lose this tie in the first leg at home. A manager who has seen a virtually full strength team lose to a side in the 4th division, and at home to a struggling Championship team, now despatched from the cup by Millwall!

Which brings me to the real question. Does some Middle East consortium from the UAE or Qatar really want to buy AFC and if so, what do the fans think? Well, the opinions on the veracity of the story vary from pie in the sky to having been discussed for some time. Peter HW says Arsenal have heard nothing. Well 3 things Pete, You wouldn’t tell us if you had as we are just an inconvenient but necessary evil don’t forget (well how could you after thanking us so nicely for our interest in the affairs of the club). Second, what on earth would it have to do with you anyway as you are a token ‘old Etonian’ figurehead and lastly, I’m not sure you really know what day it is unless you are reading it from the top of the Daily Star, your favourite mouthpiece to the fans.

For arguments sake I am going to assume there is genuine interest. Reasons being that AFC is the biggest sleeping giant in Europe; Huge brand, massive global fanbase, history and tradition, playing in the most watched league in the world, respected manager, excellent training facilities and even better stadium. Lastly, we are based in one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting cities. Basically, we are the hot girl in your last year at school, when at the prom (school disco in my day) everyone wanted to chat up; in essence, we are Megan Fox in Transformers!

So, no surprise that we are one of the major attractions for anyone looking to become a player in world football and that is certainly what seems to be the case with the Qataris or the Saudis. Throw in rumours of Usmanov, owner of the world’s largest steel company and the amount of building work going on in the area and you can see how allegiances can be formed.

The rumoured bid was a great share price for Stan to be offered. I think the shares are approx. 16k at present, so 20k is a great offer, meaning he could walk away with almost half a billion dollar profit on what he has paid for his shares. Why does Stan want to keep us in his portfolio? What is he gaining at the moment? There is no glory, only pain. Yes he can sit in his ivory tower and not care about what the fans say, but he will find that English football fans will be a little different to disgruntled US sports fans. I’m no expert, but I am not aware that any of his US teams are exactly tearing it up with bulging trophy cabinets, so while he may be an ideal proponent of ‘self sustainability’ which the AFC board and AW love, has everyone forgotten that we are a football club and first and foremost should be the results on the pitch. Whilst we were all aware that the stadium move would mean austerity measures and AW has done a great job in keeping us in the top pack of clubs during that period, we are now supposed to have entered the land of milk and honey promised to us by the board, which could only be achieved by the move!

So there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this situation. “We don’t want to sell our soul to the highest bidder” some fans shout, “We don’t want to be like Chelsea or Citeh” etc etc etc. Well hold on a minute, we sold our soul to the highest bidder in the 80’s, when PHW sold his shares for what was then a huge profit to David Dein, Hill-Wood thinking that Double D was mad to be investing in football. Dein then sold some of his shares to Danny Fiszman. The proposed saviour of our club every time his name gets mentioned then got Koenke involved, who rapidly distanced himself from Dein as soon as he realised that if he wanted to stay friendly with Fiszman it was the necessary thing to do. Dein then sells out to Usmanov and the last play was Danny Fiszman selling to Stan.

A lot of what our club stands for in terms of tradition comes from the 1930’s, when we were the most successful club in the country and strangely enough were nicknamed ‘The Bank of England’ club, due to the fact we had a few bob and spent it on players and infrastructure. So in effect this has been going on for years, anyone with enough money has been buying our shares. All out of some altruistic ideal of what is good for AFC? Hardly. Every seller made a huge profit on what they had originally paid. Altruism would be to give the shares to a fan’s group, but there’s no money in that is there? There is always a big deal made out of the fact that they don’t get dividends. Well excuse me, but I think that I could do without some annual interest being paid if I was assured of an extremely healthy return at the end of my investment and Stan refused to say that this was not an option he would look to use in the future. Yet our board has our best interests at heart according to many. That must explain the season ticket price rises and the inflexibility around payments, the pricing for food and beverages inside the stadium, the sale of our best players and worst of all, their continued inactivity when it comes to getting the manager to do what needs to be done in terms of recruitment. The last few seasons of inactivity from all concerned has to be a worry. I might not buy into the whole 8 years without a trophy line peddled by the media and the more fundamentalist arm of the AWOB, but I do not buy the argument about waiting 17 years between 53 and 70 for a trophy being any kind of argument to keep sitting on our hands either!

One thing that puzzles me, why do people use Chelsea as an example of how this will be the end of the world as we know it? They were a two bob club before Roman arrived and despite the trophies it pretty much still is. This is mainly due to 3 things. Jose did a brilliant job there, but unfortunately his demeanour made the club pretty unpopular and he engendered a spirit which has stayed long after he was dismissed. Roman and his trigger happy recruiting and firing of managers is just ridiculous, plus his alleged interference in the playing side of things. Lastly, the fact that they appear to have tried to recruit the same % of unsavoury human beings on the playing side as they have within their fanbase. I realise that all clubs, ourselves included have their fair share of morons, racists and thugs, but I do feel that Chelsea do rather abuse the quota and seem to be depriving an entire country of its share of idiots per village. The likes of Terry and Cole have really summed up their personal standards, add to it the transfer fees and wages paid, the recruitment and disposal of mercenary footballers and you can see a blueprint for how not to buy a football club and run it respectfully.

But then there is Citeh. Never really had a problem with them to be honest, or their fans who must have suffered more than most over the last 20 years of United dominance. So they have loads of money, which they spend on huge transfer fees and wages, often just as unnecessarily as Chelsea; Scott Sinclair anyone! But apart from sacking Hughes (not something to be criticised really) they have stuck with Mancini and he has delivered an FA Cup in his first year and the league, if only just, in his 2nd. Two disastrous ECL campaigns aside, both in terrible groups which we would not have escaped from, he is not doing a terrible job and apart from a couple of unfortunate incidents brought on by substandard executives, they seem fairly organised and unChelsea like.

So here is the scenario. Usmanov, in league with the Middle East buys Stan out, after he decides that it is more trouble than it is worth to stick with a non US sport he knows little about in terms of the cultural gap between the MSL and EPL. Usmanov is installed as the Chairman/owner and he starts to make some changes. First, he explains to AW that he still has faith in his ability and is going to make huge funds available to him for transfers and wages. However, it is made clear that AW must be shopping at Harrods from now on and not Lidl, as the club and its fans demand and are owed the quality of player that befits our intentions. Time will be given, but results will be expected. The board members are in the main dispensed with and replaced with younger (not difficult) business savvy executives with a UK sports background. Respected ex Arsenal professionals are brought in to deal with various aspects of the club, the likes of Bergkamp and Overmars from Ajax, Paddy from Citeh and others can all play a part in the off field activities.

For the fans, there is movement on ST prices and how they are paid, with some of Black Scarf and other fan’s group suggestions coming in to play. Measures are taken to enhance the match day experience in terms of pricing and atmosphere. Home kits are red & white and away kits are yellow!

The team is finally able to challenge once more for the top trophies and has a squad equipped to do this on all fronts and wins its first silverware in 9 seasons, finally removing the monkey from its back. Yes the club is being financed by big money from Uzbekistan and the Middle East, but as we dance and sing in The Bailey on Holloway Road, does anyone really care? Is there a pocket of Gooners somewhere sitting in a quiet corner of a pub bemoaning the fact that we didn’t do it through self sustainability and longing for the days of Gervinho and Santos! The tradition of the club has remained, we still do our bit for the community, we still wave the flag for equality and fair play and best of all, Arsene Wenger is allowed to prove that given a level playing field with the rest of the ‘financially doped’ clubs he is still able to compete.

Then, in Berlin 2015, he finally adds the European Champions League to his CV as Jack Wilshere lifts the trophy after goals from Falcao and Isco see off the challenge of Messi’s Barcelona. AW takes this opportunity to retire as Manager, moving on to the board. The opening day of the 2015/16 season sees another statue unveiled outside the stadium as Arsene Wenger rightly takes his place alongside the existing 4 AFC icons.
Now I appreciate that there is quite a bit of fantasy about that scenario, but in all honesty a lot of the foundations for it to actually happen are already in place, so it may not be a complete stretch to picture.

So does selling out in terms of shares really have to equate with selling out in terms of your soul?

I say show me the money!

Mark King

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

NextGen at Arsenal

Many Gooners got to enjoy the Arsenal v CSKA under 19’s NextGen game played out at our Stadium on Monday night or watched it, as I did, on Arsenal Live. So I’m guessing many will now be speculating as to which of the players they enjoyed seeing perform will maybe make it through to our first team and how many will come through to achieve it as professional footballers.

Who will make the big time?

It’s a fun game to play but one where speculation can be little more than a guess at this stage given who is already in our current first team squad, which out on loan players will return and which current under 21 players are going to claim first team berths. The above listed groups are those which our current batch of NextGen kids must aspire to outdo in the footballing stakes. No easy task.
Also much depends on what you mean by 'come through'. These young men all want to be professional footballers but if they have any sense of realism they’ll know that the odds of actually doing that as an Arsenal first team squad player are still very much stacked against them. So if we mean ‘come through’ to Arsenal's first team as a regular first team player then the odds against any youth player achieving  that are considerable. Quite possibly with odds that are maybe more than a 1 in 20 chance for even our best aspiring 'young professionals'.  
When you think about it just to get an occasional game in Arsenal's first team as a squad player means you have to be International standard at the very least, but players such as Jack are obviously very much more than that. But then Jack was a notable exception to the run of the mill youth player. Did we see any such players play against CSKA? Or where they all flattering to deceive?
It is my perception that Arsenal's youth set up has always been about an attempt at producing well rounded kids who can cope with the outside world and make a career at football if they are very lucky. In that respect the Club do an incredibly good job given that there are dozens and dozens of professional players out there who've come through Arsenal's youth system. Very many ex-Arsenal kids make a very decent living from the game despite being considered crap in the eyes of some Arsenal fans because they failed to make our first team. Such kids are not crap; they simply do not have that extra something that it takes to be an International /Premiership player at a very top club. Getting players through to our first team squad is just one goal of the youth setup, but it’s not quite the be all and end all of our youth system. What's happened in recent years appears to be the overall raising of technical standards which helps players such as the Jacks of this world to thrive within that environment and become classier players much quicker.
Being a technical brilliant player used to be enough, being a technically brilliant player now is only part of making it big time. These days pretty well every youth player we have is technically first class. The difference between them and those who make the first team are a number of factors which I'd suggest includes dedication, ambition, dedication, hard work, dedication, sensible life style, dedication, concentration, family support, good friends, decent attitude to life, physicality, speed of thought, strength, natural ability, personality, conditioning, stamina, luck with injuries, more luck with who bars your progress to first team football and dedication. Just being a fast or technically gifted player is no longer enough and hasn't been for some time now - just ask tossers such as Pennant, Bothroyd, Bentley et al.
Our current under 19’s are certainly all in with a real crack at first team football. They all probably feel they've already made the big time. They would however all be wrong because all they've done up to now is put themselves on the starting grid and how they react to the challenge of the next 3/4 years will determine if they sink, swim or survive in the big time.
So who do you think has what it takes: Yennaris, Gnarby, Hajrovic, Angha? Well let’s face it your guess is as good as mine because I only know how good I rate them as exciting technical players but I’ve no idea about all the other stuff which will determine how far they go in the beautiful game, either with Arsenal or any other Club.


Friday, 1 March 2013

The cult of the goalkeeper

“He vies with the matador and the flying ace as an object of thrilled adulation. His sweater, his peaked cap, his kneeguards, the gloves protruding from the hip pocket of his shorts, set him apart from the rest of the team. He is the lone eagle, the man of mystery, the last defender. Photographers, reverently bending one knee, snap him in the act of making a spectacular dive across the goal mouth to deflect with his fingertips a low, lightning-like shot, and the stadium roars in approval as he remains for a moment or two lying full length where he fell, his goal still intact.”
Vladimir Nabakov
Goalie’s are odd, different…. unique, eccentric. From the agitated shouter, to the calming and soothing presence of a safe pair of hands, they are an enigma.
Yes, we’ve all played in goal, when we take our turn at school or when we play five a side, but someone who 'chooses' to play in goal, well, they are different. Aloof, imperious, cool headed (or equally.. mental), adopting odd mannerisms and hobbies, uncaring what their teammates think of their precious collection of 18th century scrimshaw or their obsession with topiary.

Most of all though, a good goalkeeper needs to be brave.  When the crowd and teammates see that, their limitations are often overlooked, it inspires you to be brave too, to protect, close ranks and drive on. Someone whose willing to stick their face in the flying feet of a clogging centre forward earns respect.
A  goalkeeper breeds confidence. He has the power to make average defenders brilliant and brilliant defenders average. From an Arsenal perspective, we’ve had some serious contenders amongst our regular custodians (N.b - amazing cameos like Alex Manninger’s, will not be covered).

Looking at keepers within living memory, let’s start with the great Jack Kelsey.
This was from an era where Jack would lean against his post watching play in the other half, smoking a tab. He replaced George Swindin the pre-war veteran of arguably Arsenal’s greatest period of league dominance, Kelsey won a league medal in 53, sharing duties with the older man. Kelsey dominated, commanding his area, a big man, who took serious poundings in defending the net. Brian Dawes wrote a fantastic article about him when reviewing his autobiography, ghost written by the perennially brilliant Brian Glanville, the old school football journalist from another era. (as found here) Glanville still holds a link to the times when top footballers somehow seemed more accessible and fragile, their careers earning them modest sums, where an injury would ruin not just your football career but potentially your life, professional sportsmen, like today, not being equipped to master the rat race of civilian life. Kelsey suffered that serious injury, against Brazil, playing for Wales, but Arsenal look after their own and Kelsey was retained as a commercial manager, people remember him in the dimly lit club shop, smoking a cigarette (as always), keeping an eye on the small amount of merchandise that Arsenal offered at the time.
2nd January, 1954. Jack Kelsey stares into the Smog. This game vs Aston Villa was abandoned after 23 minutes, Arsenal were 3-0 up at the time!
After a few seasons of solid and dependable play by Jim Furnell*, who, like Kelsey was unlucky to play in a team which struggled, despite many gifted forward players, came this middle class academic lad, Robert (Bob) Primrose Wilson, who was studying to be a teacher. I’m sure he raised a few eyebrows when he turned up at the training ground, Frank McLintock provides an insight in his autobiography.
“Bob was so untypical of footballers, with the slightly refined language he used, and the way he dressed, in a camel duffel coat and his Loughborough College scarf. It must have been a bit of a disadvantage to him that he didn’t conform to the footballer stereotype, wasn’t much of a boozer and was from a conspicuously middle class background. But he never looked down on the rest of us and we just saw him as a one-off. Later, of course – and especially when we discovered that his second name was Primrose – he had to endure the ribbing that everyone gets at football clubs… I would have expected his academic endeavour to teach him caution. Far from it, as a goalkeeper he was recklessly brave and often put his head where others would fear to put their feet.”
It took him a few seasons to become the regular number one, but the fans and the players had faith. People talk of his head first bravery, diving forwards to snatch the ball from oncoming attacks. This led him to being broken, battered and bruised on many occasions, but he inspired confidence.
Bob Wilson having been knocked out against Spurs in 1969.
From the concerned look on Bobby Gould’s face, it was probably him that accidently did it.(As Bill Shankly unkindly remarked of Gould – “he couldn’t trap a bag of cement!”
When selected for Scotland by Tommy Doherty, the English born and well spoken Bob Wilson had his club captain Frank McClintock as his minder, he wasn’t having his mate treated with suspicion, and skipper and goalkeeper brought us both the Fairs Cup (our first trophy since the 50s) and the Double in the following season. Wilson is a legend, who is still proud of his involvement with the club. “It was the feeling that you were wearing this big gun on your chest. And my goodness, everywhere you went, you felt proud wearing it” – Bob Wilson.
After Wilson, a brief interlude with Jimmy Rimmer, it’s arguable that his goalkeeping and Brian Kidd’s goals kept Arsenal in the top division in those barren years in the mid-70s, saved by two Mancs! And after Rimmer, Pat Jennings, who joined Arsenal, along with Willie Young, signed from Tottenham by former Spurs boss and Arsenal player Terry Neill. Terry is probably underrated for what he did, he managed to pick up and revitalise a waning team using the tactical knowledge of Don Howe to build a capable squad, which challenged for honours. One of Neill’s difficult decisions was to ship out a number of game but ageing players who he himself was a teammate of in the 60s. It couldn’t have been easy for him. The immaculately haired Jennings seemed a calming presence, gentle voiced but commanding. No way a bawler or shouter. He did a fantastic job for several seasons and is perhaps the only player respected by both sets of North London fans. He won a cup winners medal with Arsenal in 79, but missed out in both the Cup Winners Cup final against Di Stefano’s Valencia and the FA cup final against West Ham in 1980. The former match was particularly sad for me, as a 9 year old. Arsenal had reached a European final, and I was utterly deflated when the winning penalty was struck home. I had so much faith in Jennings, so I was so despondent when we ultimately failed. I didn’t cry though, not like football fans today. Adults and children alike. Pah!
Pat and Pat, with the FA Cup (photo credit -
Then John Lukic, lanky, almost cross eyed, with that ridiculous fringe, he didn’t look like an athlete! He was a no fuss goalie, unspectacular (who would a goalkeeper need to make TV saves if his positional sense is spot on), but cerebral and self critical in his concentration and analysis. Sometimes he’d be furious with his own decision making and you could see him burn and fume inwardly, trying to put things right. He formed part of that mean George Graham team which won us the league so spectacularly in 89.

After Lukic, safe hands himself, David Seaman.

What a save! (photo credit –
Another goalkeeper of quiet dominance, positionally immaculate, always in the right place, instilling confidence in a team which conceded only 18 goals and only lost the once in the league triumph of 1991. A lot of that was down to the defensive drills Graham forced the team to repeat and repeat and repeat. He later added the FA Cup in 93 as well as the league cup in the same year. Under Arsene Wenger, Seaman won two doubles and another FA Cup. He was a mainstay of the famous back five, a gift from George Graham to Wenger. The only thing I could criticise him for was his ponytail which was ridiculous. Seaman joined an illustrious list of goalkeepers. So who could replace this legend? With allegedly only £2 million to spend, Arsene Wenger took a punt on an outspoken German keeper with a chequered history of outbursts and fallings out.
Jens Lehmann. The Arsenal fans loved him. It’s weird the media and the pundits picked on his eccentricities and his mistakes, it was his personality and his determination as well as his constant will to improve which set him apart. A keeper as part of a team who went unbeaten a whole league season is not someone to be laughed at or ridiculed. And as Jens Lehmann himself said, he’s never set out to hurt an opponent, so rightly he felt aggrieved when snide players set out to injure him. He was an honest (and angry) man! When we won the league at White Hart Lane (for the second time) he didn’t want to celebrate, he was so upset at having given away an equalising penalty against that horrible little yappy dog Robbie Keane after he’d stamped all over his feet. But his teammates, coaxed “The German” (as Pires affectionately called him) out of the dressing room to dance and cheer with the crowd.

He was a monster, dominated the area, demanded the best of his team. He was one of the main reasons that Arsenal’s defence - patched together when injuries tore the team apart - kept a clean sheet at the Bernabeu in 2006. Who’d have thought a defence of rookies Eboue – Senderos – Toure – Flamini could keep out one of the best attacking forces in the world?  Zidane and all… Thierry Henry scored the important goal. Arsenal went through. When we got to that fateful champions league final, I remember an interview with Eboue, he was asked “is there anything you fear?”. His answer – a brilliant soundbite - (I paraphrase as I can’t find the original article) “Nothing, apart from God and Jens Lehmann”.
“If I have a lot of adrenaline in my body, that is helpful because I feel less pain”- Jens Lehmann (this quote makes me laugh, I can imagine him saying it quietly, peacefully, but with those crazy eyes tearing you to pieces)
Jens Lehmann and his very good friend Manuel Almunia

One of Wenger’s most perplexing decisions was to freeze out Lehmann in favour of Manuel Almunia. I liked Almunia as a human being, he seemed equipped for the lonely role of the goalkeeper. Brave, a family man, loving stuff like books on the second world war, but he wasn’t up to scratch, whether it was Arsene’s stubbornness to persist with him, a question of finances, or something else, remains a mystery. A nice guy, but not good enough. Unsurprisingly our team dipped, but Almunia was only a contributing factor, not the cause of this barren spell. “When I see Almunia’s performances, I get angry and have to make a fist in my pocket” – Jens Lehmann.
And now, the unpronounceable, confident and supremely gifted Wojciech Szczęsny has taken the gloves. He’s got all the attributes, physicality, the right mental attitude and athleticism. He’d had some unfair stick recently, in goalkeeping terms he’s still a kid, but I see him being a top level goalkeeper for at least another 15 years. Hopefully with Arsenal. His performances at times have been incredible, that save vs Pedro when we played Barcelona for instance, he kept us in the game when they swarmed all over us. But people focus on mistakes, only the mistakes. It may be that Chezzer needs an older goalie to work with, someone to share duties for a couple of seasons, someone who is willing to share tips and give generously. At the moment, he is horribly exposed at times, but this says more about our fragile confidence as a whole. But he will come good. I have faith. We’re in safe hands.
“I’m number 1!”

Many thanks to the mighty Mel Melis @melmelis for the above article

* Great article Mel but sorry to have to break this to you "After a few seasons of solid and dependable play by Jim Furnell" is a long way from the way it was - at least to the eyes of this North Bank regular. 'Fatty' or 'Fingers' Furnell as he was hailed from the North Bank wasn't fit to lace Willow's boots. It can only have been the fact that in his early days at Arsenal Willow was such a twitchy nervous wreck that saw Furnell stay ahead in the pecking order for so long.