November is the New Black & Heads Up: My Story by Alan Smith Review

The ‘Appy ‘Ammers pitch up at the Emirates this weekend with the media focuses on Jack Wilshere’s return to Arsenal sure to ratchet up. That’s if he hasn’t suffered a twang, pang, or Kerrang before then. In the meantime, the medical assessment of our own walking wounded arrived and fair play to the medical team, we’re not talking “six to eight weeks” now, it’s months!

Yes, the treatment room black hole swallowed all those who dared to enter and who knows when they will return. Well, November is the month, according to the update. It’s like Christmas coming early and then having your dad pull a prank on you. Why? Because the players are only “aiming to return to training”; not playing.

“Look Unai, shiny new players, running; are you excited? Ha! Well, you can’t use them in case you break them. Wait until Christmas!”

Not that he will want to play them all. There’s an element of the Almunia’s about Carl Jenkinson. You remember how he disappeared with one injury after the other when we told him to ‘do one’? Nobody’s quite sure about how he got injured but he is. Either that or Ivan’s pulling a flanker to cover up for the failure to get him off the books.

Laurent Koscielny is also back in training in November, which gives Emery headaches ahead of his return to fitness. How long can Shkodran Mustafi stay in the first team requires more than a paracetamol the size of a horse tranquiliser tablet as an answer.

Still, the former German is in my good books today. Ever since I saw the headline about everyone being happy at Arsenal – a quote attributed to Mustafi – I’ve been on something of a Buzzcocks binge and this body is certainly happy nowadays.

Oh, What A Night. Late November…OK, Maybe October.

Anyway,  back to Koscielny. His injury is the type which typically cost a player a “yard of pace” in the old days. That’s the sage wisdom passed down through the generations; whether it’s true or not is another matter. At 32, that combined with age is going to make a player rely more on positional sense. It’s a tough ask when you’ve got to cover Sokratis lack of pace or a Mustafi brain fart.

That’s not to say Koscielny has no place in the Arsenal line-up. I’m almost preparing myself for his return not being the panacea for our ills. A solid investment in experienced but quick centre-backs is the only solution which works unless we’re going to throw Mavropanos or Holding in at the deep end.

Which we could do in the next eight games. These are matches from which we expect a good set of results, but they can also a time to get things right defensively; winning and learning on the job aren’t mutually exclusive.

Talking of young players, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is “aiming to return to training in November” after his unfortunate broken fibula suffered against Manchester City. The other left-back knacked is Sead Kolasinac and he is “to return to training in…October.” Just by a way of a change.

All of which brings us round to the next part of today’s post:

Heads Up: My Story by Alan Smith

Alan Smith. If I described him to a younger fan, it would be…imagine Olivier Giroud scoring 20+ league goals a season to win the Golden Boot. Twice. And League Championship winner’s medals.

For fans of a certain age, Smudger holds a special place in our affections. Not just for Anfield; the film ’89’ immortalised the moment of his glanced header, as well as his ‘assist’ for Michael Thomas to score that goal. But he wasn’t just about that night.

Smith endured a rocky start at Highbury, not scoring for the first three or four games. Then Portsmouth rolled into town full of optimism as they returned to the First Division after a thirty-year absence. He ensured the chimes went quiet with three goals in a 6 – 0 win. Which for those of us who caught the Portsmouth train home, was a massive relief.

It’s hard to explain why but his goals for the club stick in my mind, more than other strikers. At Plough Lane in the bright sunshine of the opening day of the 1988/89 season; 5 – 1 it ended. Four against Austria Memphis in the ‘bruised banana’ at Highbury; a brace at Derby the week after Liverpool hit seven – two identical goals; a hat-trick against United as we celebrated the almost-invincible title; at the City Ground, the only goal in Brian Clough’s last time he managed a Forest team against Arsenal at home; a brace at Selhurst Park in the League Cup semi-final; Parma.

Parma. Smith describes it in the book:

“But then a goal came out of nothing in the twentieth minute. Showing for Lee Dixon’s throw-in, the regular drill, I laid the ball back before spinning into space. Lee then tried to find Merse with a swinging left leg, but his attempt fell short and found Lorenzo Minotti instead.

“At this point, any hint of danger should have disappeared. As Parma’s captain, Minotti was a topclass defender, fast and versatile, not one known for making silly mistakes. For some reason, however, he made the wrong choice that night by going for a risky overhead kick that – would you believe it? – headed straight my way.

“There was only one thing for it. Taking the ball on my chest, I had to act fast. With opponents quickly converging, I dared not wait until the bouncing ball dropped to a perfect height, so took it early, jumping to catch it cleanly with my left instep.

“For a second, Bucci’s desperate dive masked my view of the outcome. But when the keeper crashed to the ground I could see the ball had rebounded off the inside of the right-hand post and was happily rolling along in the back of the net.”

Smudger goes onto describe the release of emotions, of the release from the dark days which threatened to engulf his career, that the goal triggered. He says, “In short, it meant a great deal.”

Which is typical of the man; understated on the pitch with just one booking to his name, I think. Was it for time-wasting? Something relatively trivial, I’m sure.

Smudger tells an interesting tale which lays bare football at the time and Arsenal Football Club. And is well worth the read. Anybody who reads his columns across the footballing media will know he is an erudite man whose tale from the bottom to the top of the game is a path rarely followed.

You can buy Heads Up: My Story by Alan Smith here or take your chance to win one of the five signed copies provided by the publishers below!

Win A Signed Copy of Heads Up: My Story by Alan Smith

Alan Smith’s Arsenal career featured 115 goals, but against whom did he score his final goal in a competitive match:

a) Hartlepool

b) Everton

c) Manchester City

Send your answer to competitions@aclfarsenal.co.uk with Alan Smith in the subject line, along with your name and address for your chance to win.

’til Tomorrow.

17 thoughts on “November is the New Black & Heads Up: My Story by Alan Smith Review

  1. Good post.

    How Jenks got a new deal is beyond me and was even then but I bet part if him regets turning down the Palace move.

    Kos coming back, will be interesting because at times last season he was dreadful and still has that mistake in him but he is still a really good defender. Problem is, he solely seems to rely on his pace and quickness which doesn’t bode well when your 32 coming off an Achilles, you have a bad back and your learning a new system. Think we really missed buying Söyüncü who ended up at Leicester.

  2. Smudger is an Arsenal legend without any shadow of a doubt. 2 golden boots that helped win 2 Titles , the first goal at Anfield in ’89 and the winner against Parma in 94 are the irrefutable proof.

    It’s a shame that the relationship between him and the club deteriorated after Smith’s views of the Handbags at Old Trafford however. He still describes what he said as his honest view of what took place but it crucially ignores how the ManU players worked the referees to influence getting decisions to go their way. Phil Neville recently admitted as much. Horseface got Vieira sent off and it was never a penalty that Horseface missed which sparked Keown’s reaction.

    After Diaby was assaulted by Dan Smith, Smudger who was commentating for Sky, said that Smith had every right to challenge for the ball, almost by way of mitigation.

    I can’t remember in which game numerous Arsenal legends walked around the pitch at the end and Smith got a few boos.

  3. C

    How Jenks got a deal in the first place….?

    Its depressing to think about how much money was flushed away on mediocre players by Mad Dictator. $tan is a businessman yet he allowed this madness to persist for years.

    I am not optimistic about Kos as it is such a bad injury. I would be surprised if he came back to the same level.

  4. Sign of the times AIC, that Smudger got a few boos. People won’t even watch the series on Manchester City or Juventus because of their managers or personalities. Madness. Everything is dictated by the perception of players in the media, even if they are telling the truth. If it doesn’t chime with Pravda, then the ex-players are ‘traitors’ and ‘not legends’.

  5. Alex Ice Cream,

    Tend to agree about Jenks, never rated him but understood people’s affection for him.

    Its not just that but the fact that Kos’ his stylr is based on his pace and quickness that I’m not sure about him at all.

  6. Yogi

    I was quite annoyed at Smith’s lack of support, especially over Diaby. I got the impression that he was trying too hard to appear impartial; like a referee having an “I’m not a homer” match and giving everything to the away team. I wouldn’t have booed him and it does not take away his crucial contribution to the club but I thought that his views were misguided.

  7. I remember watching that game (cup winners cup final) at home with my mum and sister and screaming the house down when Smith scored. I also remember that tackle just before from Steve Bould on who was it Asprilia?

    Good times.

    I was reading an interesting stat about net spend since 2014. Man City are top on about £490m and Utd are about £70m behind them. It didn’t include this summers transfer so when you factor that in they can’t be more than £30m between them. Whilst I don’t think Pep is the genius that some of the media make out he is, it leaves no excuses for The Moaning One!

    What really surprised me was Chelsea were sixth with a Net spend of £119m. Again excluded this summer but winning 2 title during the last 4 seasons maybe Abramovich is the real genius.

    Arsenal are third in net spend btw! Even after factoring in Liverpool’s £100m+ spent this summer.

  8. For once I was in the Clock End for a game against Everton and I’ll never forget the the lob that somehow beat Southall.

    It could have been a fluke but I like to think Smudger meant it.

  9. Alex Ice Cream,

    Agree with you on Kos. I’d actually discounted him in my mind, as I think he’ll not be the player he was. I’m also not convinced that he’ll ever actually be fit enough to play again.

    When he did get a game last season he reeked of someone who’d just come off the medic’s table and had been fixed up with a good bout of parcel tape and a bit of blue tac.

    I’m already at the stage where I’ll be comfortable with Mustafi getting benched and one of Mavropanos or Holding partnering Sokratis. At least they’ve pace to cover him up and it’ll feel like we’re strying something, rather than try to beat a drum with a burst skin over and over and wondering why there’s no rhythm

  10. C

    Yes the pace dependency makes the Kos situation worse but like Damon says I am not sure if he will even be fit enough to play for any length of time, maybe not at all.

  11. I was at the Parma game in 94 in Copenhagen. Smith’s goal was one of the few shots we got on target I hazily remember. They played us off the park, but we came away with the Cup. Sound familiar?

    Smith winds me up rotten with his ‘I’m not biased’ commentary. It seems he goes too far the other way for me. Anyway he was a great footballer and gave us some great days out.

    Alex Ice Cream:
    Smudger is an Arsenal legend without any shadow of a doubt. 2 golden boots that helped win 2 Titles , the first goal at Anfield in ’89 and the winner against Parma in 94 are the irrefutable proof.

    It’s a shame that the relationship between him and the club deteriorated after Smith’s views of the Handbags at Old Trafford however. He still describes what he said as his honest view of what took place but it crucially ignores how the ManU players worked the referees to influence getting decisions to go their way. Phil Neville recently admitted as much.Horseface got Vieira sent off and it was never a penalty that Horseface missed which sparked Keown’s reaction.

    After Diaby was assaulted by Dan Smith, Smudger who was commentating for Sky, said that Smith had every right to challenge for the ball, almost by way of mitigation.

    I can’t remember in which game numerous Arsenal legends walked around the pitch at the end and Smith got a few boos.

  12. Why would you watch that drivel when MasterChef’s on the other side?

    YW:

    People won’t even watch the series on Manchester City or Juventus because of their managers or personalities. Madness.

  13. Like Damon and AIC, I discounted Kos in my thinking about the upcoming season and I wish the club had properly replaced him this summer instead of expecting his return to help us. He was starting to decline in effectiveness before the injury and I don’t expect him to return and be a top defender for us. If he can help, wonderful but we shouldn’t be counting on him. But when you have a club and ownership that aren’t prepared to do what is needed to give the team a fighting chance and target top 4 as a final goal, it gambles that Kos will come back and we won’t need another CB this season.

  14. Alex Ice Cream,

    I’m rightt there with the both of you. I really was hoping that we bought Söyüncü but when we didn’t, I’m wanting to see Mavrapanos but, like with some of the other players and partnerships, I want to see if Mustafi and Sokaritis play better against West Ham.

    More importantly though, I want to see Leno back there because I think his ability to be quick off the line and play that sweeper keeper role could dramatically help Sokaritis and Mustafi in playing that high line.

  15. Hello all thanks for the discussion and post. Interest to take me back in the past a bit, born in 1990 and didnt discover the arsenal until one of my irish buddies made me watch a couple games in the 2000s, prime Henry era. The stories of well drilled defense, strikers with that ‘killer instinct’, the ability to step up on the biggest stage all make me wish I was a part of those arsenal days.

    My two cents, not sure Kos is the answer and we shouldnt be counting on him for much. Agree that now seems like the time to try out one of the younger CBs. I thought Holding showed up decently well in some games last year, Mavro looked energetic but also a bit too aggressive, like good ol Tommy Vermaelen. Would like to see at least one of those guys out there.

  16. Here’s to Adidas bringing back the bruised banana next year! A double delight would be playing Austria Wien, as they are known now,in the europa league, or dare I say, the champions league.. Would be a great tribute to smudge

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