Green Gunners: the Irish heritage of Arsenal

At the final home game of the season Walter, Ian and I bumped into two fellow supporters (and regular readers of Untold) who had travelled to the game from Ireland.    After a very pleasant half hour exchanging stories (as you do) I dropped the inevitable question – “why don’t you write something for Untold?”    I’m very grateful to Ian Jenkinson for taking up the call.  Tony


Green Gunners

By Ian Jenkinson.

Arsenal have employed some men from across the Irish Sea in their time. In this article i take a look at some players who have worn the red of Arsenal and the Green of Ireland. Some are legends and some not so much! Although not all were born on Irish shores they all have a place in Irish football history.


David O’Leary was actually born in London but moved to Dublin at just three years of age. He kitted out for The Arsenal a staggering 722 times – still the all time appearance record for Arsenal and no mean feat considering the rich history of this club.

That is a record I’m sure David is extremely proud of. He made his debut for Arsenal as a 17 year old and became the youngest player to notch up 100 and 200 appearances – and that  total of 722 appearances which spanned 20 years is a figure that is unlikely to be matched in the near future.

To put O’Leary’s achievement into context, the player with the most appearances currently employed by Arsenal is Robin Van Persie on 278. Van Persie’s appearances have spanned 8 seasons so far (here’s hoping he stays for a few more seasons yet).

O’Leary, in his time at Highbury won an impressive two league titles, two FA Cups and two League Cups. He went on to have a relatively successful managerial career at Aston Villa and more so at Leeds United, taking the latter to the semi final of the Champions League.

On top of his 722 appearances for The Arsenal, O’Leary also represented his country 68 times. Interestingly, O’Leary missed out on Ireland’s first ever qualification to a major tournament (Euro 88′) because of a falling out with the newly appointed Rep. of Ireland manager – Jack Charlton. Charlton left O’Leary out of the Irish squad for a small tournament in Iceland in 1986, which was the first time in years that O’Leary had been left out. O’Leary subsequently booked a family holiday during the time scale of the tournament, but when players dropped out of the squad through injury, Charlton recalled O’Leary but he refused to cancel his family holiday and join up with the squad.

That left the relationship between David and Jack frosty. Dave was subsequently left out of the squad and missed out on Euro 88′ and THAT victory against England. He did however make an appearance in a major tournament two years later. In the World Cup of Italia 90′ (Rep. of Ireland’s first ever world cup) O’Leary played just 26 minutes of the whole tournament against Romania but he still stepped up to take the decisive penalty in the shoot out to send Ireland into the quarter finals and send the whole country into raptures! A fantastic memory for Irish football and for David O’Leary, having barely kicked a ball all tournament he still had the bottle to take the most important penalty kick in his country’s history.  Maybe he felt he had a point to prove to Charlton.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dave at a book signing in HMV on Grafton Street just before the World Cup in 1990; he and Chris Hughton did the signing. I was a mere 10 year old and I couldn’t get my head around the fact that O’Leary and Hughton could just stroll up Grafton Street (which is a very busy street in the heart of Dublin) through a sea of people and not be mobbed! O’Leary has been described by fans and ex players as the Irish Mr. Arsenal.

Next we turn to Liam Brady, and it is impossible to mention Liam Brady without mentioning THAT goal against Spurs in the 5-0 demolition at White Hart Lane in December 1978. A match that our esteemed editor was in attendance. When I spoke to Tony at the recent Norwich City match he said that one of the best things about the goal was that Brady went and celebrated in front of “The Shelf” which was a section where the very hardcore Tottenham fans were and this just sent them into even further depression! Good enough for them.

Brady only won one trophy with Arsenal – the 1979 FA Cup against Man Utd. He did go on to win back to back Seria A titles in 1981 and 1982 with Juventus. But he was highly regarded in England for his talent. He was voted the club’s player of the year three times and in 1979 became the PFA Player of the Year, at the time he was the first player from outside Britain to be given that accolade.

For me personally my biggest disappointment is that I was too young to see Brady play, even on TV. Every “older” fan i speak to when I ask about players of yesteryear will wax lyrical about Brady; it makes me quite jealous that they have seen him in the flesh! Again, at the Norwich City game when I had the pleasure of speaking to Walter, he spoke of Brady in the same manner that I speak of Henry or Bergkamp. His eyes lit up when he described his movement and flair. All I have to rely on are old clips of games etc.

Granted, the big games like the FA Cup finals you can see in full but it’s the week in week out stuff that defines players in the public’s eye. It’s not like today where you can download a game at the touch of a button or watch most of the Arsenal games on TV. Back then, if you weren’t there you didn’t get to see a lot, you had to hope Arsenal were shown on Match Of The Day on a Saturday night. When I am older I am sure I’ll be asked about the Invincibles but those young people will be able to see full games, full seasons even, on their computer. For fans of my age, footage of Brady jinking in between defenders and mesmerising crowds are to be treasured.

On an international level Brady won 72 caps, scoring 9 goals. One of them being a winner against Brazil in 1987, a goal that Brady hails to be his favourite in a green jersey. Unfortunately Brady never got to play in a major international tournament as the Republic missed out on qualification during Brady’s golden years.

When Ireland did finally qualify for Euro 88′ Brady missed out due to suspension and injury. And to make things worse, during qualification for Italia 90′ Brady retired from international football, Ireland then went on and qualified for their first ever World Cup finals. Brady then tried to come out of retirement but Jack Charlton wouldn’t pick him in the final squad because he said it would be unfair on those who played during the qualification games.

So unfortunately he was never seen on a worldwide stage, it was the world’s loss because as all you Gooners of a certain vintage know just what a world class talent Chippy was.  Brady was a fans favourite for both Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland, and 40 odd years after his playing days he is still spoken about feverishly and I get the feeling he’ll still be spoken about in the same manner during the next 40 years.

The two lads mentioned above were given legendary status when they were both included on the Emirates Stadium mural that surrounds the stadium. When you think of the number of players ever to have played for The Arsenal, only 32 players could be put on the mural and yet right there with pride of place are our two boys, magic.

But for every David O’Leary or Liam Brady, there is an Eddie McGoldrick! Just as Ireland had given Arsenal heroes and stars we counter balanced that by giving them steady Eddie. He was actually born in Arsenal’s back yard in Islington but represented the Republic of Ireland. Eddie played 57 times in an Arsenal shirt scoring once (I don’t ever remember there being an “I was there when McGoldrick scored” t-shirt!) in a record 7-0 European away win against Standard Liege.

He was signed from Crystal Palace after they were relegated in 1993, he reignited a partnership with Ian Wright when he became a Gooner. To be fair to McGoldrick he wasn’t the worst player ever to play for the Gunners, I just don’t think he lit up the pitch like other players did.  After Eddie suffered with a back injury George Graham decided to pick Ray Parlour and the Romford Pele took over from Eddie. Eddie did make an appearance as a substitute in the European Cup Winners Cup final win over Parma in 1994.

Internationally, Eddie played 15 times for the boys in green, he never netted for them, he was a member of the 1994 squad that qualified for the World Cup but unfortunately he never got to play. Eddie, later in his career became player/manager of Tony’s local side Corby Town!

My last Irish player to write about has to be Niall Quinn. I loved Niall Quinn despite him not having the most glorious Arsenal career. He signed as a tall gangly 17 year old in 1983 and scored on his début against Liverpool in 1985.

His first full season under George Graham saw him make 35 league appearances scoring 8 goals. He picked up a League Cup winners medal that year also. Overall he made 67 appearances for Arsenal scoring 14 goals. My best memory of Quinn is not of him scoring a goal or even playing a match. I always smile from ear to ear when I watch Quinn’s reaction to the final whistle at Anfield 89′. When the whistle sounds you can see Quinn, decked out in a suit, jumping up and down in a wild embrace with a hairy headed Steve Bould, an even hairier headed Paul Merson and Gary Lewin.

All the while, right behind them was George Graham trying to calm them down as he had asked the players before the game that if they did manage to win the league that night to show some respect to Liverpool Football Club in what were very traumatic times after the Hillsborough disaster some months before.

That was just one act of class that Arsenal showed that night. I also clearly remember the Arsenal players before kickoff sprinting in all directions of the pitch to give flowers to Liverpool supporters in the crowd. But Quinn and co’s reaction at that final whistle can be understood considering the enormity of what had just happened.

Quinn’s reaction was despite the fact that he wasn’t entitled to a league winner’s medal because he had only played three games that season. I was a 9 year old watching the events unfold at Anfield 89’. All that week my football manager in Dublin, who was a massive Man Utd fan, kept reminding me that we had no hope, Liverpool hadn’t been beaten at home by two goals in a squillion years etc. My last memory of that night is running down my road in my pyjama’s shouting like an absolute lunatic after Michael Thomas’s unbelievable winner. My neighbours must have thought my house was on fire! The hairs stand on the back of my neck even now, some 23 years later when I think of that game.

Niall left Arsenal to join Man City, there he scored 66 goals in 204 appearances and famously scored and saved a penalty in the same match, relegating poor Derby County in doing so! A similar strike rate at Sunderland saw him net 61 times in 203 games. Quinn eventually became the chairman of Sunderland after heading a consortium of buyers for the club. He can now be seen doing some punditry on Sky Sports.

On an international level Niall did exceptionally well, playing 92 times and scoring 21 goals, that was the Irish goal scoring record for some time. He appeared once in Euro 88′ against England and made a few appearances in both the 1990 and 2002 world cups, scoring the equaliser against the Netherlands in 1990.

Quinn unfortunately missed out on the 1994 World Cup due to injury. Niall is well regarded in Ireland and is a great ambassador for Irish football, he is considered to be a well spoken gentleman and has a big place in our hearts. I am very proud that the Mighty Quinn started his career at Arsenal.

To finish, i’d just like to highlight Niall’s huge heart. Two incidents spring to mind. The first one was after a match away to Cardiff City while he was the Sunderland chairman. A flight due to carry Sunderland supporters back to Newcastle was cancelled by a pilot who deemed the merry Sunderland fans to be a safety risk. Quinn organised 18 taxis to bring the stranded fans home. The bill came to a whopping £8,000. Apparently Quinn paid for the whole lot himself.

The second was in 2002 when Niall donated all the proceeds from his testimonial to charity, an act for which he received an honorary MBE. Every player involved in the match received a thank you letter from a sick child instead of an appearance fee. I’d like to think he learnt that piece of class while at Arsenal.

Of course there are so many more “Green Gooners” that i haven’t mentioned, Stapleton, Rice, Jennings etc. Maybe they are for another article but these four above came to mind when I started writing this for one reason or another. Maybe other readers of Untold who hail from other countries can write a few words on their countrymen who have played for The Arsenal? I for one am very proud that there is such a strong link between my country and my beloved Arsenal.




16 Replies to “Green Gunners: the Irish heritage of Arsenal”

  1. Thank you Mr.Jenkinson,

    Really touching and poignant piece on the Irish link with Arsenal. I’m a proud supporter here
    in the U.S. and I’m also proud that Arsenal conducts itself as a classy club. Cheers and 1nil to the Arsenal!


  2. have you looked at

    which makes plain at the Scottish DNA that runs through The Arsenal:

    It was in fact a group of Scotsmen who were really behind the founding of what is now Arsenal Football Club.

    In October 1886 a group of 15 men ‘mainly Scotsmen’ working at The Arsenal, the famous munitions factory located in Woolwich, got together in a pub and decided to form a football team. They were led by David Danskin (born in Burntisland, Fife) who was the first Chairman and team Captain. The works team was initially called ‘Dial Square’ after the factory yard they worked at, followed soon after by ‘Royal Arsenal’ and eventually Woolwich Arsenal Football Club.

    Scots have played a continuing part in the history of Arsenal over the years:

    The first professional footballer to sign for Arsenal was a Scot – Gavin Crawford.

    The first player to score a goal in the ‘new’ Highbury stadium in 1913 was a Scot – Andy Devine.

    The first goal scored for Arsenal in Europe was by one of two by Scotsman Johnny MacLeod and another Scotsman Joe Baker [who admitedly played as an International for England!] scored Arsenals first European hatrick in the same game.

    The last player to play on amateur forms was a Scot – That was Bob Wilson.



  3. David Oleary was a real classy defender, he was as good as Rio Ferdinand at his best, and was wanted by many big clubs around Europe, his loyalty to Arsenal was amazing.

    Brady still my all time favourite, to you young guys just google him, a true football genius, i will never forget some of the goals he scored at Highbury and the way he simply ran past defenders with the ball glued to his feet. it is nice knowing he is still at our club, and still bringing through talent.

    Who is missing

    Sammy Nelson of course

    Part of our Gaelic back five of Jennings, Rice, Oleary, Young, Nelson.

    In my opinion Pat Jennings is still the greatest goalkeeper i have ever seen, and I do mean ever, Banks, Southall, Seaman, Schmeichel, Buffon, Casillas. Jennings was the Best! And we nicked him from up the road because they felt Barry Daines was an outstanding prospect!

    PS. John Devine!

  4. I do remember a rumour about Eddie McGoldrick being picked by Charlton for the Irish World Cup’94 squad that came out years later. Apparently he was there just to keep morals high as he was a fun character… very believable when you think about it.

  5. Good read, appreciate the need to condense the content but there was also Frank Stapleton and John Devine. My fathers uncle and aunt lived in Conewood St and were landlord/landlady for a lot of the Irish boys before they hit the big time e.g. Chippy, Stapleton, Quinn etc..
    I used to love going on match days and sat nights and meeting them as a kid.

  6. On behalf of the old and crumbling followers of our great Club, I’m compelled to add to the Irish Connection the name of Dr Kevin O’Flanagan, an amateur (capped often for Ireland at rugby union) who played for Arsenal as a winger in 1945/6. His boundless enthusiasm made him one of the favourites at Highbury. He declined to sign as a professional for fear of losing his rugby status.
    I only saw him play once when, in an attempt to get to the ball, he careered over the line near the corner flag in full flight, finishing 3 or 4 rows back into the crowd. Ever so gently, they passed him back over their heads on to the field of play.
    As I say, only the oldtimers will remember him and do so with great affection.

  7. Liam Brady was my first real hero as a kid and still a top bloke today. I remember going to watch a London Five-a-side tournament at Wembley Arena around 1978ish (not sure of the exact date) and Arsenal won it and Brady won Player of the Night (or whatever it was called!). After the tournament I waited behind with my friend and his dad to see if any of the players would come out and mingle with the fans. A little later on we saw Liam in the car park, he was still holding a bottle of champagne and was more than a little merry but we managed to get him to autograph out programmes. A great memory.
    Unfortunately my memories of David O’Leary and Nial Quinn have been soured since they left Arsenal due to their constant attacks on the club. O’Leary when he was at Leeds (although he has tried to make amends since) and Quinn every time he appears on Sky Sports never has a good word to say about us. In fact, I would go so far to say that you can sense his hatred for Arsenal in everything he says.

  8. As far as I’m aware, the first Irishman to play for Arsenal was Hugh Cassidy in 1897. For nearly 50 years he held the record for oldest Arsenal debutant – and probably holds the Football League record for oldest debutant.

  9. I had the pleasure of meeting Eddie McGoldrick a few years back, he indeed is a verly likeable man who was very honest and down to earth.

    He started his football career at Corby Town and admitted to me that he was not their best player, yet was fortunate that every time scouts from Kettering Town were there he had a good game, from Kettering he moved to Northampton and again said that his best games came when he was being watched. It is possible he was just being very modest but i really felt that he genuinely meant what he said.

    From Northampton Town i beleive he went to Palace, he was never a real hit at Arsenal but the goal against Standard Liege was something else.

    I had forgotten that he played against Parma even though i did have the pleasure of being there so thanks for that Ian.

    My father always said that we bought McGoldrick from Palace at a time when they needed cash as a thank you to them for us taking Ian Wright for £2.5m. Not sure how true that is but stranger things have happened!

    Eddie was indeed a really nice man and good to meet.

    With regards to Niall Quinn, i believe he was the first ever substitute to be substituted, as i recall he came on for Charlie Nichols very early on in a home game, he was then subbed in the second half. Although subs have been subbed many times since i believe Quinn was the first ever player for that to happen too.

    Thanks for the great article.

  10. Great article Ian.
    And yes you saw it right when I hear or talk about Brady I always have those images in my head of Brady with the ball at his left feet, looking to the right, seeing with eyes on the back of his head the left back making a run on the left hand side, and suddenly passing the ball in the feet of the left back with a measured chip who’s cross was headed on to the post if I remember right.
    I swear he couldn’t have seen him coming or did he….

    So the twinkling in my eyes is that memory and it brings me so much pleasure to be able to say I have seen him play in the flesh.

    It was nice meeting you two in the Emirates and a very warm article. It was a great read.

  11. Peter Burnhill – I am sorry to say that the research of the Arsenal History Society has reduced the impact of Scottish men just a little in relation to the early days of the club.

    But of course there are still quite a few of them there.

    The new Woolwich Arsenal book (see the home page for more details) contains reviews of almost 100 players from the early days, plus the key administrators of the early club, and I am sure you’ll enjoy it.

    You could even be a sponsor of the book if you want (there’s no charge – you just have to order a copy of the book now, and your name will appear within it).

  12. Thanks for that article Ian,

    Especially meaningful for me (and those of my age) as when I used to go see Arsenal play it was during a time when we had (if I remember rightly) up to seven Irish players in the squad.

    And this was at a time (mid-70’s) when Anglo-Irish relations were otherwise … erm … strained. Escaping all that was yet another reason this is such a fine club – I am sure that the presence of so many great characters at our club built some bridges.

    I will echo what others have said about seeing Liam Brady play – he was superb! It was surely sad when his partnership with Frank Stapleton was broken (which is probably why ManU bought him) as they had tremendous understanding.

    I might try and dig up some old match programmes from that time and re-post with a team list to make my point.

    Anyway, thank again Ian and UA.

  13. Tony

    The percentage of Scots involved at the inception of the club in 1886 was 15%, all the others were English.

    Anyway that is a side issue when the Untold article is a very good one about Irish influence at Arsenal.

    Especially liked the Niall Quinn section.

  14. Thanks guys for all your comments, they mean a lot and thank you Tony for publishing the article. It could have been triple the size if i had spoken about all the Irish players but i didn’t want the article to be too long!

    Thank you guys for posting the videos too.

    And who knows, maybe Ireland could meet England in the final of Euro 2012??!! Now that would be something 🙂

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