From The Vaults: You Never Played For Arsenal

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An occasional feature will be a second post of the day, linking the present to the past. This morning’s main post is here.

“It’s the time of the season” as Colin Blunstone sang so wonderfully. For football supporters, the time of the season is fanciful reporting and failed deals, questionable speculation is the currency in which we deal. It is nothing new; George Graham was politely told to “spend some f*****g money” by the board (see right), which was water off a duck’s back for a man whose parsimony with the club’s funds made Arsène seem spendthrift. Mind you, some of the Scot’s transfer target make me grateful that he didn’t open the wallet freely.

All this from a club which in 1923 proposed to the Football League that an upper limit be imposed on transfer fees. Sir Henry Norris proposed that £1,650 be set at a time when the British record fee was £5,500; the theme of Arsenal low-balling fees is nothing new and indeed, not peculiar to recent boards or the manager. Like Wenger, an improvement in the club’s finances was quickly exploited with Arsenal pushing the record fee to £10,890 in signing David Jack in 1928 and ten years later, £14,500 for Bryn Jones.

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We like to think that the game was more genteel in those days, that gentlemen stalked the corridors and sat in rooms filled with cigar smoke and the aroma of brandy. It isn’t true, they were rarely caught out and even then, the press more often than not turned a blind eye to proceedings. Not that they were averse to speculation (see left), they just never reported it as frequently.

Transfer gossip isn’t a modern phenomenon, it’s been around for decades as has reportage that links Arsenal with the best players around at the time. If you thought the recent story about Lionel Messi considering a non-existent move to Arsenal, the following XI is a trip through from the 1960s to 1990 to form a half-decent team that might have played for Arsenal; fantasy transfer football if you like, in a 3 – 5 – 2 formation.


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It would have been easy to pick on the David Seaman story from 1989 for this one but fifteen years earlier, Arsenal had their sights set on a replacement for Bob Wilson. Peter Shilton was always given a hard time from the North Bank whenever he played at Highbury, following an incident in 1980 when he was arrested for drink-driving having been found in a country lane with a young lady by the name of Tina. It cost him £350 (£1,200 in today’s money) and a fifteen month ban from driving. And terrace jibes for years, even from a generation who probably weren’t even born when the indiscretion occurred.

Without argument, he was the top goalkeeper of his generation. Leicester City gave him his chance where his form was such that Gordon Banks departed for Stoke City. Shilton followed him there and into the England squad.

His misfortune was to have Ray Clemence as a rival; both were good although I always preferred Shilton as a custodian than the Liverpool ‘keeper. Both dropped clangers for their country although Shilton’s against Poland was more costly in the sense that England failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup finals. Clemence’s against Scotland was more humiliating, just for the occasion.


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Central defence was for a while a problem area. It seems hard to think that the heirs to the double-winning side were Mancini and Blockley followed by Whyte and Hill at varying points. In between times, Arsenal were well served by O’Leary and Young. Signing Gary Gillespie in 1983 (see left) would have given a more assured look about the back four at the time.

He chose Liverpool instead which was not surprising in itself. What was, is their absence from the list of suitors.

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Another ball playing centre back at that time, who also chose Liverpool over Arsenal, was Alan…just kidding. No, it was Mark Lawrenson (see right) in whom Arsenal were interested. Yes, I know, its the less talented of the punditry pair but as a player, he was one of the most highly-rated central defenders in the English game at the time. That the club came this close to signing him is as hugely frustrating as knowing the Steve Gatting and John Devine were the reasons for the deal collapsing as they could not agree terms with Brighton. Whether Gatting is being unfairly tarred is open to conjecture.

This story is from August 1981; less than a month later, Gatting was winging his way to The Seagulls. He either had a huge change of heart about the cash or else Devine has got off relatively scot-free.

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They needed a rugged centre back to compliment their ball-playing style. Or so you would have thought but no, Terry Neill and Don Howe had decided that Dutchman Johan Neeskens was ripe for playing the sweeper role. If it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for this XI. Like all good transfer speculation, this had the briefest of moments in the nation’s eyes, burning up as quickly as it had arrived. Arsenal might have been “quietly confident” on 22nd May 1979 but the feelgood factor from the FA Cup win over Manchester United was soon to disappear as three days later, Neeskens decided that NASL was the best option.


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You always want the best for Arsenal, that includes the best players as well. Lionel Messi? We might have had Maradona (see left); Terry Neill must be thinking, “we might have beaten Walsall with him around.” How history would look differently upon Neill’s reign. It’s hard to conceive it ending as acrimoniously with, as the newspaper report states, “the best player in the world“, in the Arsenal side at the time.

That said, not signing the Argentine midfielder was probably for the best. This story was from 22nd March 1982; eleven days later Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Another Argentine club would have left Arsenal out of pocket in those circumstances.

StrachanThinking about the midfield, they would be quite divisive now. Perhaps their distaste for club and country can be traced back to these false trails that linked them with the club. It’s hard to know where to start beyond having a yappy dog accompanying Maradona; step forward Scotty terrier, Gordon Strachan (right) to fulfil that role with his humorous bon motifs about yoghurt. Goodness knows what they would have made of them. According to this report, it was Strachan or Frank Arnesen; in the end, it was neither.

KeaneStill to my mind, he is more preferable than Roy Keane (left). I do recall feeling disappointed when the Irishman chose United when he left Nottingham Forest, even if Arsenal’s interest in him was doomed from the start. There is something symmetrical about the shirt number 16 being kept vacant for Keane’s eyes but training would certainly have been interesting with him and Vieira in tandem. That’s if he hadn’t fallen out with George Graham in the meantime. He strikes me as being a little too independent of thought for the Scot’s liking.

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We need to reinvigorate the midfield at this point. A little culture if you like and if Sol Campbell’s trip across north London induced apoplexy at the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road then had Glenn Hoddle (right) moved to Arsenal.

Think about that for just one moment.

Glenn Hoddle of Arsenal.

How quickly he would the words to the terrace chants have changed from queen to king. And the animosity and hate of the north London derby would have intensified almost beyond comprehension.

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The final midfielder became a figure of hate around the club as a manager. He was hated by the country for a long time. Don Revie, what more do you need to be told about his rise to shame and fortune. Dirty Leeds. Dossiers, envelopes, niggling fouls; these are just the tip of the iceberg and I wonder if the whole truth will ever come out about Leeds United at that time. It is surprising that more credit isn’t given to their achievements at the time, for the consistency shown in coming close to achieving the domestic dominance Manchester United achieved in the first decade of the Premier League’s existence. That it hasn’t happened indicates the loathing that fermented at the time and has yet to subside.


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Kevin Keegan’s departure for Hamburg gave Kenny Dalglish the chance to shine for Liverpool, to be a crucial part of their ascendency to the peak of the English game. How different might the future have been if Bertie Mee’s parting gift to the club was to sign the then 24-year old striker from Celtic. Parting gift? Perhaps Mee would have stayed on; Dalglish would surely have lifted the spirits in the camp at the time. Even so, you can’t escape the feeling that being successful with a struggling Arsenal side at the time would have just hastened his departure to a club where silverware was a regular feature. Like, hmmm, Liverpool for example.

John Charles

If the link to Dalglish was tenuous, then Arsenal signing John Charles at least had something tangible into which it could hook. When brother Mel joined Arsenal from Swansea Town in 1959, it meant that both Charles were the subject of record transfer fees. Mel cost the club £42,750, a record fee for a player transferred between two British clubs whilst the £65,000 paid by Juventus for John made him the most expensive British player at the time.

In 1961, he wanted to return home so that his children could have an English education. He did return briefly, a season in Leeds was enough before he returned to Italy, this time to Roma. The Arsenal link never materialised but would the club have had to wait the best part of another decade for silverware? Who knows.

9 thoughts on “From The Vaults: You Never Played For Arsenal

  1. Enjoyable read although the reference to Mancini and Blockley gave me unwelcome flashbacks! One of my endearing memories as a lad on the terraces was someone shouting out that the only difference between Coco and mancini was that the former knew he was clown……it still makes me chuckle.

  2. Hoddle at Arsenal? I shudder to think what the world would have been like if the stars had aligned that way…

    that said, he still scored one of the best goals I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing at a live game. For swindon against sunderland – I was 10 or 11 and right in line with him as he hit it…corker

    He pings it in at about 0.40

  3. The Shilton drink-driving story reinds of those lines from “Billericay Dickie”:
    Had a love affair with Nina
    In the back of my Cortina
    A seasoned-up hyena
    Could not have been more obscener
    etc etc

  4. Always preferred Shilts to Clemence too , YW.

    RC was always seen as squaky clean yet rumour has it that his move to the Spuds was because of his own alleged trouble with young ladies…..& not a desire to move from an all conquering force to a non conquering farce.

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  6. I remember the Shilton incident. He had the misfortune to play his next game at Highbury. To the tune of Bread of Heaven, the crowd taunted: “Peter Shilton, Peter Shilton, does your missus know you’re here?” – The headline for the match report in the Guardian/Observer was “Shilton gets the bird”.

  7. What’s Happenin? ……

    We are freaking signing players left and right….By Arsene Wenger’s standards, he didn’t just have a hole in his pocket…..He fucking lost his pants all together.

    This is by far the most exciting summer, signing-wise.
    Alexis, Depuchy, Ospina, and Chambers.

    I can understand people’s weariness about Chambers, but let’s not forget that Arsene can turn him into something else other than a fullback.

    Ospina, seems like a reliable backup….But who knows, he might surprise us all.

    Depuchy knows and we know, he is a stop gap player. Hopefully he can make the most of it and give it his all.

    The most exciting for me is Alexis, with the speed we play our game and his ability to run at defenders with the ball will be very tricky.

    Very happy with the club at this point, I think we are improving on the quality and quantity. Who knows, Wenger may still have some loose change in his socks?

  8. I was at that game, Dave, I remember it as ‘Does your wife know where you are?’

    Great fun.

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