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