Tag Archives: Graham

Waxing Lyrical About Wrighty

Can words do justice?

When a search for fitting superlatives leaves you exhausted, does that mean that a tribute would be a bad idea?

In terms of an Arsenal figurative Hall of Fame, any who deservedly roam this imaginary building – bedecked with marble of course – can transform a blogger into a gibbering wreck. How on earth can you surmise a player’s career when it affected so many people’s lives in a positive way?

Any attempt would be foolish – but isn’t it important to remind ourselves (even if it doesn’t do them justice) how good they really were?

Some names instantly conjure up memories. Such was their impact, a mere mention of their moniker and fans begin to wax lyrical about a specific moment or goal.

Ian Wright  is one of those players.

So good we named him thrice, Wrighty joined Arsenal after forming a destructive partnership with Mark Bright at Crystal Palace. The Eagles were not expected to pull up any trees, but their attacking might – aided by Geoff Thomas in midfield – ripped up the rulebook and made clubs take notice.

Luckily enough, Arsenal was to be Wrighty’s destination – and he started how he finished as a Gunner.

With a goal.

The occasion was pretty low-profile; a 2nd round Rumbelows Cup game against Leicester City. Wrighty wasn’t even expected to start the game, but Alan Smith’s ankle didn’t pass a fitness test. Our new striker had only signed that very week and he was instantly thrust into the eleven.

No pressure then. Well, it never showed on our star striker anyway. He grabbed the goal that gave us the initiative for the second leg and Graham cooed about his latest acquisition in the papers. The Scot mentioned Wrighty’s pace and his ability to make something from nothing. These talents were always on display in our red and white, and they made him a nightmare to defend against.

Wrighty has spoke about his energy levels as a youth and how they never really dipped as he got older. It meant that not only was he a delight to interview – as well as magnificently candid – but it required opposing defenders to maintain their concentration for the whole of the ninety minutes.

One slip, one lackadaisical jog back to hold the line?

Wrighty will get you.

His pace has been mentioned, but the reason that Wrighty was able to ensure his name amongst the pantheon of greats not only at Arsenal, but of the Premier League, was because his talents were the perfect storm.

His energy levels, his pace. They meant that defenders had to keep an eye on him constantly. But his positioning was chief among reasons why he was always in place to capitalise on a sublime pass or a fault by an opposing man.

Once he got these opportunities though, he still had to finish.

Wrighty has spoken about his inherent ability to put one in the onion bag. I distinctly remember a comment about his finishing, where he declared that the secret was to shoot when the keeper isn’t expecting it. He regularly fired a shot towards goal far earlier than convention would dictate. Most would carry nearer to the goal, but Wrighty’s belief in his talents meant he would try his luck quickly.

It’s fair to say it worked.

He was much more than a predator though. His finishing deserves its place among the best, but in his own personal highlight reel we can see that he is no one-trick pony. If variety is the spice of life, then Wrighty’s collection of goals is like Scotch Bonnet chili.

Chips? He had more than a Glaswegian street on a Saturday night. Outside of the box? So many efforts filled with venom ripped into the net from distance. Then there were the little indicators that genius was at work. The improvisations, the flicks that left a defender looking around for the ball and the player.

wright_record_0
Image credit – Arsenal FC

 

Wrighty’s career is impossible to really visualise into words. His relationship with Gooners is infatuation on both sides and if the next statue outside The Emirates was of Wrighty, arms aloft with his trademark grin, would anyone object?

Not a chance. My words might not do him justice, but his legacy will live on through us and the club.

 

Thank you Wrighty.

Martin Keown – The Rash and Much More

The famous Arsenal back 5 is renowned for being perhaps the finest exponent of defending hailing from these shores in the modern generation.

Spanning two decades, David Seaman, Nigel Winterburn, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Lee Dixon were assembled by then Arsenal boss in the late eighties, and were hewn into the offside-trap using, tough-tackling, impregnable unit we know, and Arsene Wenger then went on to prolong their careers with his modern dietary methods and free-thinking that was a breath of fresh air – and revitalised them.

They won league titles and cups, and the greatest strikers of that era cite them as the most difficult they faced in their time – and rightfully so.

Martin Keown is not mentioned in the same breath, although in terms of defensive merits, he more than held his own.

Keown is one of the club’s legends, after his two spells at the club and 332 appearances and being the last member of the ‘old guard’ to represent the club – and earning a place in the ‘Invincibles’ side in the process.

His first spell at the club only lasted two years and 22 matches, before going to Aston Villa and Everton. Keown returned to the club in 1993, and while Bould and Adams were still the first choice pairing, Keown’s instincts and backline nous were an important part of the squad.

Keown was one of the best examples of a specialist man-marker, earning him the nickname of ‘The Rash’ as strikers couldn’t get rid of him. In an interview with the Telegraph in the past, Keown admitted that he hated man-marking, but being so good at it meant he could never escape the task.

Because the Back 5 were a unit, Keown may not eat at the top table of Arsenal legends, but if anyone deserves to be there, it is the man who bullied Ruud Van Nistelrooy. That moment, one that the media chose to beat us with, is actually embraced within the club and our fanbase, we hold it up as an example of our fierce will to win and how our men never backed down. Keown may look back on that moment and cringe, but none of us Gooners feel that way.

Keown’s will to win, his fierce desire on the pitch was ill-at-odds with the man we see now in front of the camera, but it was this competitive spirit that drove him to become one of the best defenders we’ve seen.

GettyImages-2517323Image credit – Getty Images

Off the pitch, Keown is a well-spoken, educated man with a lexicon that is alien to most ex-pro’s. What isn’t well documented is that even in his spare time, Keown researched opponents and his own weaknesses, often with his son Niall, himself a pro footballer. The England international was never happy with his own game and pushed himself to be the best he could be, and Arsenal benefitted from his hunger.

Keown played for England for over a decade, but only amassed 43 caps. This shows the depth that England had in his position, but in his prime, Keown was among the best the country had, and he should have earned more during his career.

While our back 5 earned the right to be lauded and put on a pedestal, Keown should be remembered as fondly. He may be regarded as a legend amongst the club faithful, but Keown was one of our finest and can stand shoulder to shoulder with his peers.

Keown, in his erudite way mixed with his Arsenal experience and his unmatched desire, could have been the perfect coach to school our young Guns in what is ‘The Arsenal Way’ and what it means to play with the Cannon on your chest – not to mention how to defend stoutly.

Four FA Cup wins, three titles, a UEFA Cup Winners Cup, a League Cup was his haul of silverware in an Arsenal jersey, but perhaps his finest accolade was that he was kept by Wenger as part of the Invincibles squad, even in his latter years. He was not as fresh, as strong, or as quick as Toure and Campbell, but his positioning, his decision-making and his experience was enough to see him as part of the squad.

Martin Keown was much more than a specialist man-marker, but ask players of his generation about how tough to play against him it was. Ask Thierry Henry, Pires and Bergkamp how difficult it was training with him – that is a legacy.

Invincibles Vs Almost Invincibles

Featured in The Gooner Fanzine

Comparing things is pretty big business. It harnesses our compelling need to put different versions alongside each other and gauge each and every characteristic – despite the flaws in the method.

We can’t help but do it, but comparing things has far too many variables to reach a conclusive answer.

Especially when it comes to football – and yet we are all guilty of it.

Ronaldo and Messi compared to Maradona and Pele or any other titan of the game is one that is often bandied around, but the nuances of time and the different permutations surrounding each generation render any result reached a moot one.

We do it with different teams too – even ones that wore the same jersey.

As Gooners, we are pretty spoiled when we visit the annals of our past, as we have a multitude of teams, players and seasons when success was reached and memories were encased in a gold-tinted amber. We can hark back to these slices of time and wonder how they would have fared in today’s game – and if they would have emulated some of our more recent successes.

George Graham helped us achieve a few of our brightest moments, but will always be remembered for probably the most dramatic title win in history. The Miracle of Anfield 89 has been converted into film twice and is never far away from any self-respecting Gooner’s recollection – and for very good reason – but was that his finest team?

Probably not.

Two years later, his Arsenal side reclaimed the title ahead of rivals Liverpool, conceded just 18 goals in the process over 38 games, and scored a hatful of goals to dispel any notions that his men were mere defence merchants.

They won the title with games to spare too – and perhaps the most compelling argument to sway anyone who thought the 89 team was better? The team of 90/91 did all this even with their skipper being sent to prison, being deducted points for the infamous brawl at Old Trafford – still the only case before or since where a team has been deducted points – and having a squad that was light in terms of numbers.

They played every three days for over a third of the season, and lost just one game. One. That sole ‘L’ in the league table came at Stamford Bridge where an offside goal and a tackle that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an MMA Octagon took out our sole recognised centre-back combined to thieve points from GG’s team.

It is quite the story, and there was much more too. How did the squad keep the good ship Arsenal on a steady course despite missing such an inspirational figure in Tony Adams? How did the team cope despite being lambasted by the press for their part in the mass melee at Old Trafford? Above all, could they have gone ‘Invincible’ before Wenger’s fabulous side achieved it thirteen years after?

This amazing and inspirational side are one of the finest that Arsenal have ever had, but they get a paltry amount of limelight compared to the 03/04, 89 and even the 97/98 sides.

Never mind about were they as good as the hero’s of 89 – we should be asking whether they stand shoulder to shoulder with the Invincibles – arguably our greatest ever eleven.

You see? We can’t help but compare.

My book, Almost Invincible, does this extensively, and uses library newspaper records and the accounts of David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Bob Wilson, David Hillier and Alan Smith to illustrate how they did what they did. It also features expert opinion from Guardian journalist Amy Lawrence.

Undecided? Let my book show you how good the side of 90/91 truly were, the side that was ‘Almost Invincible.’

Just go to the ‘My Books’ section above, or go to my Twitter bio, my handle is @JokAFC.

Almost Invincible – My Book, My Words

Previously seen on The Arsenal Review.

This is the story of how my Arsenal book – Almost Invincible – began.
The explosion of social media has had a large impact on everyone – and every facet of life. Everything has a completely different landscape now, from the way we communicate, to the daily trip to the shops, and our 9-5’s.

There are other ways that social media has left its mark too. It has given everyone a voice – for good or bad – and we can see that there are a multitude of writers who can charm or bewilder us, inform us or infuriate us. The keyboard is thy weapon.

I started blogging about five years ago. I was pigeonholed in a well-paid but mundane job that required no lateral – or any thinking – whatsoever. I was completely autonomous, lacking any real requirement to stretch my grey matter. It was pretty hellish to be honest, and I was trapped.

I needed an outlet. I couldn’t leave as my bills needed paying and I couldn’t find alternative employment with matching numbers. So, I started to blog. There was only one thing I found I could wax lyrical about, and it was The Arsenal.

A friend of mine on Twitter asked me to write for his website and I agreed, and slowly but surely, my follower count grew as I aimed to write everything BUT transfer clickbait. I wanted to show that a decent story and research works wonders.

I branched out and created my own site, where I put out regular content, and thankfully, demand grew for my words. I started to write sporadically for other sites and about football in general, rather than on a singular club.

I started to freelance, writing about everything from charity events to pipe-laying and civil engineering. I had the outlet, the catharsis, that my job demanded. Unfortunately, every day at work was a sure reminder that the dream I had when I was at school was still a fair distance away.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, in any capacity. The problem is with full-time work in this sector, is it doesn’t exactly pay well, so with a mortgage and child, this was just a pipe-dream.

Plus, I’m not well known for my patience, so writing a book seemed daunting. How could I dedicate myself for nine months to a year on one project?

This was different though. I wanted this more than anything, to see my words, my name on a book – for people to actually want to read it? It was my target.

So, I started my research. The first part was figuring out the subject. It was always going to be about Arsenal – it is the only subject I know anything about – but there are many Gunners books out there. What could I write about that hasn’t been covered before?

Well, the 1990/91 season jumped out at me. When people think Arsenal, they think of the Doubles in 98 and 02, they think of the Miracle of Anfield in 89, they think of Herbert Chapman’s innovations.

The title win in 91 seemed to fade into the background, and the more I found out, the more I wondered why this campaign wasn’t lauded as much as perhaps our greatest triumph – The Invincibles.

My Arsenal Book - Almost Invincible

I got to work and fleshed out a framework of the book, what the chapters would consist of, and I reached out to some of my friends on Twitter that were well versed, and they filled in some blanks – especially for the pre-season of 1990.

Then, I purchased the entire set of programme’s for that season, which was a pretty penny. The info proved to be invaluable though. I also became a member of the British Library, and paid a few visits to its extensive store of newspaper excerpts. The media even back then weren’t exactly hot on our club…

What was missing though, was a point of view from those who were actually involved in this great year. I again used social media and some useful contacts, and I managed to interview David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, David Hillier, Bob Wilson and Alan Smith. The Guardian and The Observer journalist Amy Lawrence also gave up her time to offer her knowledge.

It has really made the book extra special, and there isn’t a facet of this season that isn’t covered by every angle. It also means that if you read it, you’ll be left in no doubt why this team is perhaps one of our finest.

Now the book has been printed, and seeing it in the flesh has made my dream come true. It may not sell well, it might not be well received, but I’ve overcome my own lack of conviction, and achieved a dream. Not many can say that.

I’m so proud of the finished article, and I must thank Dave at Legends Publishing. I sent him the first three chapters and he liked what he read, and thanks to him I can call myself an author.

There will be launches of my book – titled ‘Almost Invincible’ – at locations around The Emirates, plus you can purchase it at – https://www.legendspublishing.net/product/almost-invincible-arsenal-the-class-of-1991/

I really hope you like what you read. Please let me know what you think via Twitter, my handle is @JokAFC.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Almost Invincible, The Book of Arsenal’s 1990/91 Title

I’ve written a book, and it’s been over a year in the making.

You can pre-order ‘Almost Invincible’ here and if you do, you get your name in the book and a signed copy.

Now that’s been mentioned, why should you buy it?

It looks at Arsenal’s epic title-winning team of 1990/91, and the horde of problems that beset George Graham and his squad. Despite all the obstacles in their path, they still went through the season with just ONE defeat, and the book looks at how they deserve far more plaudits than they currently get.

It features from the squad Alan Smith, David Seaman, Lee Dixon, David Hillier and Nigel Winterburn, as well as Sir Bob Wilson and journalist Amy Lawrence. It looks at every aspect of the season, from pre-season, transfers and every league and cup match.

The infamous brawl at Old Trafford that saw us docked points – still the only occasion before or since that this has occurred – our Captain Tony Adams being sent to jail and how the squad coped and the sole loss that never should have happened are all under the spotlight.

I started writing this book as I feel our club has a history like no other, and this title-winning campaign is amongst the finest things our beloved club has achieved in its illustrious past.

I’ve always had a fascination with words and it’s been a legitimate aim of mine for years to author a book, so if you notice me getting a little giddy at times on social media, then you now know why.

Plus, the book is designed to raise awareness of possibly the greatest unit it has ever assembled. Hence my frenzied tweeting.

We should be shouting about it, but it has faded into the background in amongst the perceived brighter lights, and this shouldn’t be the case. That is what my book is here to address.

We had the top scorer in the league. We had assembled the finest backline these shores have ever had the pleasure to see. Our team was complete, and the scary statistical similarities to the Invincibles of 2004 only embolden the fact that they achieved this with a far smaller squad – and a more testing fixture schedule.

With more games in less days, a far more competitive league with more contenders and Liverpool still the giant it was from the 80’s, Graham’s team worked miracles.

Don’t believe me? It’s all in the book, which you can pre-order here.

This team broke the monopoly of Liverpool and left the domestic game open. The Premier League era was dawning and Arsenal’s title-winning team of 90/91 were the ones who sent the old regime toppling.

The Miracle of Anfield 89, The Invincibles, The Double-Winning teams of 1971, 1998 and 2002 and the FA Cup winning team of 1979 are all fan favourites, but this particular campaign really does rank amongst the finest.

I hope that you’ll come to appreciate the lustre of this team. If you were a fan back then and were lucky enough to enjoy the season as it unfolded, or if you were like me and love the club so much that you want to know as much as you can – especially the good bits – then my book will fit the bill.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but you can pre-order my book here.

Thank you all for your support.

The Miracle of Anfield – 89 The Film

It’s only a game.

That is the oft-used expression by people who are not fans of the beautiful game. They emphasise the last word of the sentence as if to compare football to a mere bout of dominoes. 

They cannot understand what makes us so enamoured with the game, and it is difficult to verbalise, but 89 The Film does a wonderful job of encapsulating it on film.

I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the premiere. As an unabashed fanboy, this was manna from heaven for me, and being in the vicinity of my heroes is heady stuff indeed.

I met Jack Wilshere for a quick selfie and it was no surprise he was there. He’s a Gooner and 89 is special to us all. Moments like this are special to all fans. They keep the dreams alive in the dark days.

After getting my photos to splatter all over social media, there was a short Q&A with the likes of the gaffer himself, George Graham, Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, the mind behind the film Amy Lawrence and the man who scored that goal – Mickey Thomas.
Then, the film started and it wasn’t just an in-depth look at the season. It was so much more. 

The combo of youth and experience, the tactics of Graham, the amazing results, the tragedy of Hilsborough and much more, it didn’t miss a single drop.

I won’t spoil it, but there was a scene when the timely soundtrack and images smashed together to create something that was so beautiful, it makes nostalgia look like a home-filmed sports day. Slow motion adds to the moment and the goosebumps and wide smile that were symptoms of this perfect clash of image and sound took a while to wear off. 

Amy Lawrence has taken the miracle of Anfield and encased it in cinematography Amber, saving it for future generations. This needs to happen. 

It is easy to forget how the odds were stacked against Arsenal for that match. It is easy to forget we hadn’t won the title for 18 years prior. This film really makes you feel it all. It makes you remember why you’re a fan.

So do watch it. When you click on the TV and the current crop of players are frustrating you, this film will allow you to remember that hope may kill you, but it also makes anything possible. 

It is much more than just a game.

89 is available in OurScreen cinemas from 11th November & on DVD & Digital Download from 20th November.