Club loyalty is scarce on the ground these days.
A player showing how strong the ties that bind him to the club that he plays for, by snubbing lucrative offers. By rolling their sleeves up when the going gets tough. Being the one to rally teammates rather than point the finger or simply think they are better.
Or, the ultimate in rarities – the one club man. A player who spends their entire career at a club and is proud to do so.
There’s been a few in recent times. Mark Noble at West Ham springs to mind. Steven Gerrard is a good example – although he was days away from joining Chelsea at one point.
At Arsenal, we have been lucky enough to see the embodiment of loyalty at the club. David O’Leary, Paul Davis. Geordie Armstrong, Ray Parlour, the famous back five which included Mr Arsenal himself. Those that beam with pride when talking about wearing the cannon on their chest.
And the aforementioned back five accrued so many appearances between 1988 and 1998 that seeing the likes of an established and resolute backline occurring again, without being fractured, separated and strewn to other clubs? Very low indeed.
What a wonderful example to show our talented youths. Walking through the halls of London Colney, you see images of these Arsenal icons everywhere. They are held up as bastions of the club, but also reminders on the values that separate our club from everyone else.
Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Steve Bould, Tony Adams and David Seaman. When football writers talk of great defensive units, they invariably bring up the great Milan side of the early 90’s that included Franco Baresi and an effervescent Paolo Maldini. They will never fail to mention Arsenal’s iron-willed defence either. The line that could not be broken. The offside trap to catch even the wiliest of strikers.
That five had it all. Winterburn and Dixon were deceptively quick off the mark and even back then, when formations were more structured, they still offered a regular outlet for teammates and could whizz a cross in for the likes of Smudge, Campbell or Wrighty.
Adams and Bould didn’t have to be quick, although they were no slouches. They were masters of positioning themselves so they were in the right place to crash the opposing teams party. They were unparalleled at marshalling a box preparing to defend a set-piece and also in getting that vital flick on to deny a goal.
And David Seaman? We all know how consistent the big Yorkshire keeper was. And that quiet, unflappable nature, coupled with the knowledge that he had it covered if all else failed? That helps a defence concentrate on their own jobs.
It also helps that, to a man, they were drilled mercilessly by George Graham on the training pitch. The infamous offside trap? A result of months and months of training exercises involving a rope tied to each member of the defence, to highlight how even a couple of sidesteps can pull an entire backline out of position and leave gaps to exploit. This ended up fostering a sort of shared consciousness between them on the pitch. They could sense where the other was and they knew that if they stepped up, the others would be doing the same.
But the real stamp of approval, was the fact that they cared so deeply about the club.
Without success, would they have stayed at the club? A hypothetical question that is difficult to answer. But during their careers they showed nothing but unswerving loyalty to Arsenal so it is easy ti imagine that they would still have been Gunners for a decade even without so much silverware.
Their longevity has left an indelible mark on not just Arsenal, but English football. And they are the perfect example to younger kids who have an agent that is pushing for a move elsewhere. Stay at the club. Foster a relationship. Find a home with the club. When you retire, it will be these memories that you treasure.
A move may promise plenty, but stay at the club that you came through the ranks in. Let the fans love you that little bit more every time you play. And what you’ll be left with is memories for you and for every fan of that generation, to be passed down.
Your name could be synonymous with Arsenal.
Just look at Arsenal’s back 5. They performed wonders, but they also stayed at the club for more than a decade.