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August 2021

Things I think about in my bath

Things I think About in my Bath


Having nothing much of anything to do until my next courses start in the spring, like many an aficionado of the beautiful game I was somewhat horrified by the recent silly comments from the Daily Mail on the new Dennis Bergkamp statue (although I do think the next one should be of Cliff Bastin).

So stirred from my torpor I thought I would put down while my memory still works personal opinions of a couple of players who changed the face of Arsenal Football club and then a couple who had the talent but for different reasons did not make that pinnacle.

No matter how much you pay for a player or watch them come up through the youth teams you have no idea of the impact they will make or even if they have any impact at all. Vieira was certainly an impact player as was Brady in a different way; as was Cantona at Manchester Unt. But the two who really stand out in my Arsenal skewed mind were Bergkamp and Frank McLintock.

In September 1965 I made a trip with my wife to be to visit her family in the Newcastle area. As part of this missionary expedition I went to see Sunderland at Roker Park with some of her family and saw about a third of the game because of thick fog.

On the way back south on the old A1 I noted that Arsenal, even then a strange addiction, was playing a Saturday match in Leicester (my first and last time to drive into this city). In what I thought was a very rational move but in retrospect was highly irrational we diverted to Leicester and following the crowds arrived at Filbert Street and even parked in the street.

The game itself in September 1964 was remarkable for two reasons. 1) Arsenal won 3-2 which at this time of biblical lean years was not expected and I have no idea who scored for Arsenal. 2) Both Leicester goals were scored by Frank M, who was a human dynamo and gave one of the greatest displays I have ever seen from a midfielder. A few weeks later Arsenal shelled out 80,000 pounds for his services.

Life after this was not all plain sailing and one of my real low pieces in life was being at Peterborough to see a McLintock driven team go out of the FA Cup. But, what struck you even then was here was a player who really gave his all and had the talent and drive on which you could build a team. I am still not sure we have that kind of player now in the present team. The culmination of all this was of course 1971 when Frank was footballer of the years and Arsenal won everything except the boat-race. On top of this talent you have no doubt where his loyalties lie as even on Sky TV he tends to say ‘we’ scored rather than Arsenal scored. Unlike Mr. Durham’s plastic gooner from Leicester. It was always a mystery to me why Arsenal let him go to QPR when he had plenty of gas left in the tank.

My second player was obviously the great Dennis. Only an idiot would not recognize what a great player he was and one that Lord Wenger could see he could build his team around the unique talents and work habits. I mean here is a guy voted by Pele as one of the 100 greatest living FIFA players and the first foreign player to go into the English Football Hall of Fame. He had the first touch of a George Best and the vision of a Hawk coupled with that bit of steel that meant opposition defenders could never force him out of a game. Incredible how one of our very worse managers, Bruce Rioch, who was in open warfare with the board signed our first great foreign player.

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One of the highlights of my total Arsenal watching career was to be behind the goal and directly in line when he hit that great first goal in 1995 against Southampton. The goal itself was great enough but even better was the look on his face of relief and satisfaction when it hit the back of the net. We all knew then that this was a special player.

Now to carry on with this personal blast two players who should have been greats for the red and white but for different reasons were not.

My first and perhaps not an obvious choice is Mel Charles. Mel the brother of the great John Charles cost a British record of 42,000 pounds  (John was off to Juventus  for 65,000 a figure no British club could match.) An interesting point is that  Mel was also chased by Spurs who when they lost out went for a little known injury jinxed Scot called Dave Mackay who of course drove them to their double in 1961. But I digress as everybody thought Arsenal had hit the jackpot for a man who was built like a brick outhouse and had the touch of an angel.

Because of the transfer regulations then in effect Mel could not play for Arsenal first team until the next year so he made his debut for the reserves at West Ham. The Hammers were actually my local club and after school me and a mate went to see the game, funny how in those days I could go to football with my paper round money and when I eventually gave up my season ticket I almost needed a second mortgage on my house.

Unbelievably we could hardly get into the ground due to the masses descending on east London to view the new colossus, Arsenal won 2-0 with Mel scoring both goals and looking like the greatest thing since sliced bread. Unfortunately it just did not turn out like that, this superbly gifted player had some good games in the next three years but sports medicine in those days particularly in knee surgery was not good enough to keep that huge frame moving. Just to show you how different things were then as on retirement Mel had a number of interesting jobs such as scrap metal dealer and potato merchant to keep body and soul together.

Just an example of the difference in knee surgery can be seen with the Arsenal great Denis Compton who had his football career ended by knee problems and his cricket career impeded by having a knee cap removed. If you want to know how great he was read about the 1947 Football and Cricket seasons.

My second example of things not turning out as it should was that of Arsenal fanatic Jon Sammels, an incredibly gifted mid fielder who today would have graced the current midfield. (Jack Wilshere with a shot).  An Arsenal youngster who arrived in the first team in 1965 and did get a winners medal for the league in 1971. He eventually went to Leicester where he played for seven seasons under ex Arsenal forward Jimmy Bloomfield.

These were very different days in playing the game all over Europe where one almost had to have the constitution of Jack the Ripper to play midfield. All teams had defenders such as Chopper Harris, Bremner etc. (We had Peter Storey) whose aim in life appeared to be to put the opposing forward in a casualty ward and at the same time the forwards leg in row Z.

It really was a different game and referees never called the type of career ending tackles that they yellow and red card today. Tackles from the rear were what the Americans call a neighbourhood play, that is if you were in the vicinity of the ball it was ok. It was what we all watched and what we all loved and unfortunately Jon Sammels got a reputation for pulling out of tackles and also having a strange proclivity for wanted to end the game with the same number of limbs with which he started.

The crowd at Highbury (including me) used to really get on his case and obviously ruined his confidence; it was mass Roman Coliseum abuse at times, totally unfair on such a clean stylish player. He was eventually replaced by George Graham but I always think that in today’s game he would have thrived and in fact have been a star. So, not only have you got to be gifted you have to be born in the right era.

Well that’s my four and I am sure people of my age more or less will have their own. That’s what supporting a team through thick and thin is all about.

Oh and last week for some reason some misinformed person said I was a troll. If I know what it meant I may well have been upset.


12 comments to Things I think about in my bath

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Well written piece.

  • WalterBroeckx

    I think your skin will be a wrinkled skin after that 😉

    On topic: a really great article full of things that for me is completely new. But I think I am a bit younger than the writer of this 😉

    Loved it!

  • Pete

    Top stuff. Although a fan since 71, I was only able to go on my own from ’77 – and quickly went to the vast majority of home games. Sat in the unreserved seats in the West Lower, would get there an hour before kick off at least! Cost 50p… When I got a bit older used to go with my mates in the old North Bank. Plenty of fun and games in those days!

    Anyway, I digress. The most influential player I have seen at Arsenal in my time is Vieira. He could absolutely dominate games even playing mediocrely (by his standards).

  • John

    I have fond memories of the whole 71 double team, including “fringe” players (only about 14 played in the entire season) such as Jon Sammels, who, with Peter Simpson and Charlie George missed much of the first half of the season through injury. John Roberts was an effective replacement in defence and Sammy Nelson a useful cover at left back and once as a centre forward. For me the star was George Graham, for the “Stroller” style, and the handful of spectacular goals he scored. Eddie Kelly, Pat Rice and Ray Kennedy were the new generation, in their first season s established players.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Very nice article ,thanks . The only player that I considered my favourite player was Charlie George .Good with both feet ,a great header of the ball and had pace and the dribbling skills .Very few opponents ‘troubled ‘him and he took ‘care’ of himself very well .
    The highlight of mine is of course that goal in 1971 –

    In later years ,Brady ,Berkamp , Henry and Peres took my breath away with their skills ,as did most others who played for us .

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Charlie George an Arsenal hero – A good read.

  • Mike Collins

    I did think about Charlie George when I was composing this but fine player though he was I did not think he was in the top rank. However, I still do not understand why he parted ways with Arsenal as he certainly had the ability to be at the very top. A few years ago while still at Highbury I had a nice tour of the museum with Charlie in attendance,


  • OMGArsenal

    Why would anyone call you a troll MC? Great article and makes me jealous of lads like you who saw Football at Arsenal in both the good and bad old days!!!


    Just going to mention one player who looked like an old man had a sweet left foot like Liam Brady GEORGE EASTHAM . I am sure i saw him play a 1 2 off a corner post

  • andy bishop

    In the early 60’s I played for Newington Green Boys club and we were drawn against Mildmay in the Sunday cup at Regents Park. I played up front and we scored first but lost 22-1. Charlie George played up front and scored 12 goals. The centre half marking me was Micky Droy before he grew. Their best player was Jimmy Knottidge who never made it as a pro. Our golai got so fed up I went in goal only to be kicked in the head by Charlie George searching for his 13th. Happy days

  • Mike Collins

    OMG. don’t be too jealous about me seeing all this stuff as it just means I am old.

    I forgot all about George Eastham and his contract busing. Very good player alongside Joe Baker but a bit lightweight.

    Love that story of the young Charlie and you. A bit like when I found out I was not going to make County Cricket when I played against Keith Boyce of the West Indies who was qualifying for Essex. All I hear was the ball hitting the wicket keepers gloves. But to be kicked by Prince Charlie what a trophy

  • andy bishop

    I remember Keith Boyce in his first qualifying year playing for a club side in Essex. I was on the other pitch watching a good young batsman who faced three balls. The first he left the second smashed into his hand and the third took his middle stump out of the ground. When he returned to the pavilion he showed us two broken fingers on his right hand.