By Tony Attwood
There are ex-players and ex-players, and when you meet one for the first time it can be quite a shock. They come from different backgrounds, have different approaches to life… that of course is to be expected. But so often one finds that the man is different from the player.
And that was very much my thought last night on meeting Brian Talbot in the flesh for the first time. I remember him as a no-nonsense player, endlessly urging the team to more action, and delivering that himself. “Workhorse”, “Stamina”, “Courage” – these are the words that people use to describe him as a player – and quite right to in my opinion.
Meeting him last night and listening to him talk about his life in football at the Arsenal Independent Supporters Society AGM was a genuine pleasure and a total revelation. Yes the drive, passion and determination all were there, but so was a deep thinking highly knowledgeable man – a professor of the game indeed.
For what came across to me was not just his lucidity as a speaker but his phenomenal knowledge of football today and his amazing recollections of everything that has happened in his footballing life.
He describes himself now as man who has had 50 years in football, an OAP and a granddad, but he also has the power, drive, knowledge and enthusiasm of a man half his age. And what was so great for the audience last night was that he spoke with as much clarity and insight when recounting his early days as an apprentice, picking up the litter, cleaning the toilets, removing the mud deposited by boots in the changing room, as he did about becoming the first player in 100 years to score for different clubs in two consecutive cup finals.
And Brian Talbot didn’t give us any sycophantic talk; he was quite clear that when his Ipswich side beat Arsenal in the cup final Ipswich were the better team, better prepared and more tactically astute than Arsenal on the day. It was not that complicated, he suggested. Just stop the supply of the ball to Brady; do that and there is only ever going to be one winner.
Brian of course is now with Fulham, and he was as open talking about Fulham today as he was about his own time as a player. But his admiration for Arsenal always shone through, as did the fact that before he came to the club he had always wanted to play in the red and white. And of course the fact that playing in the team alongside Liam Brady (who will be talking to us at an AISA meeting next month – a nice arrangement) was the highlight of his career.
He also was very open and clear about the WHU final and the way that Arsenal were outdone tactically. It was all as if these games were played yesterday through the enthusiasm and clarity of his discourse.
But for me it was his description of what happened later in his life, through to his work today for Fulham that really fascinated. He said of his time as manager at West Brom, “the crowd were shouting Talbot out, and I agreed with them.” How many ex-managers have we heard speak with such honesty and openness? Not many that I can recall. It was such a refreshing point of view. No excuses – and straight and clear view of what happened.
It was then that he took over Rushden and Diamonds, who, during their short existence, were the nearest league club to where I live, and the club I watched and supported when Arsenal were playing away. Brian took them from the Conference to the Division III title – in a superb ground but with a tiny support. That club is tragically no longer with us – that was nothing to do with Brian Talbot – and the stadium has now been pulled down, but he gave those of us who like to support our local football team something to cheer about and support for seven glorious years.
And so to Fulham whom he joined in 2011 as a scout. Brian was first promoted up to chief scout and then assistant director of football operations in February 2017 – a move he described as going from part time to 27 hours a day. And that was what made the final part of his talk so fascinating for he gave us an open and honest assessment of his team, and the inside view on what it is like to be working with a side that on a bad run and in danger of relegation. At one stage he said the job involved “trying to think of everyone” and that came across so clearly.
It also made the fact that he took the time to come and talk to us so appreciated. As he pointed out, he’d been to three matches in Germany last weekend – that shows the intensity of his work. His job is to recommend players to the owner, but he has no involvement in making the final decision.
So he talked openly and honestly about Fulham’s plight and the need to get things right in January – as well as dealing at length with Calum Chambers situation at Fulham and questions of what his best position is, and whether he will make it. And indeed, as Brian pointed out, after the substitutions were made at the weekend game, Arsenal were parading a £100m forward line. Fulham had spent £100m on five players and were still trying to fit them into the team.
At the end Brian talked about the highs and lows of his life. His first team debut, playing for England, getting a hattrick against Manchester City (he still has the ball), were the obvious highs. His last game, getting the sack at WBA, leaving Arsenal, they were the lows.
“You have highs and lows in life,” he said in conclusion. “The trick is to keep a balance in everything.”
And that was what came across to me. Here was a man who had kept a balance and thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of his life.
It was one of the very best sessions with an ex-player I have ever been to and a great joy to me to see and listen to a man who I not only cheered as a player, but who I totally supported when he managed my local side. Yes he made millions of Arsenal supporters worldwide happy, but he also did so much for one little outpost of football when he came to Northamptonshire.
Thank you Brian. Thank you for every game, for your enthusiasm, your time with Arsenal, and your time with my local club. And thank you so much for last night and being perhaps the most open and honest speaker in football I have ever had the chance to listen to.
Brian Talbot was talking to members of Arsenal Independent Supporters Association (AISA) and the AISA Arsenal History Society. You can join AISA here.
The Arsenal History Society is a part of AISA, and publishes the daily Arsenal Anniversary Files and detailed investigations into Arsenal’s past. You can follow the Arsenal History Society here.
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