Tony Adams is revered at Arsenal – and rightly so.
The man so intertwined with the club he was given the moniker, Mr Arsenal, is synonymous with Arsenal and is a symbol of the values which are written into the fabric of the club.
He famously stated that he will sign whatever contract is put in front of him, without looking, such was the strength of his affections for the club.
But it was the captains armband that really elevated him among the elite at the club and perhaps, the entirety of the UK as well. When the players who played under his stewardship are interviewed, they still refer to him as the skipper, the leader. He was born to wear the armband and lead by example.
He is the greatest example of a captain at Arsenal – and he could be viewed as among the greatest in English football – or at least in the conversation.
Arsenal were lucky enough to have another captain wear the armband with distinction though. Someone who was front of the queue for leadership, mettle and an inspiration-inducing aura.
The Scot was the man who led Arsenal to their first Double in 1971. He was the player the entire squad looked to when the chips were down. He barked orders, he yelled encouragement but pivotally – he never gave up and never let his men give up either.
Even when it seemed that destiny would take his dream away.
McLintock was born in 1939 in Scotland, but it wasn’t until his move to Arsenal in 1964 and a positional change that really transformed Frank. Before that, he was an industrious, bustling midfielder. Full of energy and relentless, he could be depended on to always be there as an option, to hunt down the opposition until they relinquished possession and make the right choice with the ball. However, he wasn’t a midfielder and his jaunts on the pitch very nearly cost him dearly. It seemed McLintock wasn’t a great fit for what Don Howe and Bertie Mee were looking to create – but a dose of bad luck for the club would soon bear fruit.
A defensive injury crisis meant that Don Howe reluctantly selected McLintock to play in the heart of defence. The player wasn’t keen either, but McLintock’s reading of the game and his already affirmed leadership were perfectly weighted for a central defensive spot. He shone and looked at home in the role – one which he wouldn’t give up.
And from there, some wondrous, unforgettable moments. Moments that would never have transpired if it weren’t for McLintock’s fighting spirit, Don Howe’s vision and a little spot of injury woe.
That season, Arsenal lifted the Fairs Cup, beating Johan Cruyff’s all-conquering Ajax team along the way. It was – and remains – Arsenal’s biggest European trophy.
The next season however, was the pinnacle for Arsenal. The club’s greatest season – and redemption for McLintock.
The Scot dreamed of winning the FA Cup but with three losers medals already to his name, it seemed as if fate didn’t want him to walk up those famous Wembley steps.
And when we trailed to Steve Heighway’s goal late on in the Final, it looked to all concerned that McLintock would become the first player to lose all four finals he had appeared in.
But our defender lifted himself, and his team, to new heights, where we fought back thanks to goals from Eddie Kelly and that iconic goal from Arsenal boy Charlie George.
He finally got his hands on the old Cup. It was a double victory of course after Arsenal had won the league at White Hart Lane. And McLintock had guided his men there. Through all the obstacles, McLintock was there as a port in a storm. Reliable, relatable and unflinching.
And it is those seasons, his strength when it looked like his Arsenal career was over in its first few years, his mental character when losing those finals and still coming back. And leading his team to victory in the face of insurmountable odds and against teams of the ilk of Ajax and Liverpool – why McLintock deserves to be mentioned in the same conversations as Tony Adams when it comes to captains.
Because when we select our greatest ever Arsenal XI, there are most definitely two candidates to wear the armband.
I concur with your every word, an Arsenal great beyond doubt, probably worthy of a statue at the Emirates.
Another defensive icon I’ve had the great honour of watching was Joe Mercer who went on to excel as a manager also.
Yep, Mercer is another I’ve researched and he would warrant a statue. Lucky to have so many to have played for us.