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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.

Arsenal Legends Vs Real Madrid Legends Match

Last year, amidst the apathy that surrounded our team and their lackadaisical efforts on the pitch – FA Cup aside that is – the club did do something that was truly special.

We assembled our legends – from different generations – to take on an AC Milan Glorie side that contained some of the biggest names of seasons past. Now, we’re doing it again, as we call up our luminaries to take on the best of Real Madrid’s recent past.

Legends from the Spanish and English game, putting on a footballing spectacle at The Emirates.

It’s enough to start salivating over, and the details that are spilling out from both clubs surrounding this festival of football and fandom spread out over 90 minutes only serves as a teasing appetiser.

We first take on Real Madrid’s outfit of legends at the Santiago Bernabeu in June, with a second match due to take place at The Emirates on Saturday 8 September. The matches were announced in Madrid and Robert Pires, one of our finest, was in Spain’s capital to help herald the news.

What really makes this exciting news is last years installment of Legends goodness. We took on AC Milan Glorie, and some of our most beloved former players were on show, as well as some glittering players from Milan’s yesteryear.

It was a smorgasbord of fan-heaven, and names that are forever etched in football;s annals took to our home ground’s pitch to strut their stuff. The match didn’t disappoint, and we were privy to a Nwankwo Kanu hat-trick, but the cherry on the Arsenal cake was our last goal, scored by our very own Bobbi, ably assisted by Freddie Ljungberg – we love you, because you’ve got no hair…

So, if that unforgettable game is anything to go by, this delicious prospect of a match against Real’s finest from the past is one to keep tabs on – but who can we expect to see take to the pitch and entertain us once again?

Bobbi Pires is one name that is sure to get us Gooners interested, and there are a few other of his fellow Invincible’s expected to take part. Freddie Ljungberg, Sol Campbell, Lauren, Gilberto Silva and Ray Parlour are all set to wear the famous jersey once again.

We also had David Seaman in goal at the ripe age of 52, Emmanuel Petit in midfield as well as cameos from Super Swede Anders Limpar, some parts of the best defence our shores have ever seen with the appearance of Nigel Winterburn – who also recreated the famous Paolo Di Canio ref push with the man himself – and AC Milan had Marcel Desailly, Alesandro Costacurta and Cafu to rely on. Our players won the game 4-2, and enthralled us all in the process.

They’ll need every bit of their famous talents in order to gain a favourable result against Real’s pool of icons.

There have been a few names mentioned that will be wearing the white of Madrid. Raul Gonzalez, Xabi Alonso and Roberto Carlos are just three names that will line up against our men in red and white – and there’s better news than that.

Both games are being played to gather funds for each clubs’ respective Foundations, with the first game going to Real Madrid’s charity efforts, and the second game at our home ground will go to the Arsenal Foundation. Last years game vs AC Milan Glorie raised over £1m, so there are high hopes for this upcoming tussle.

Tickets for Platinum and Gold Members go on sale from 3 April. Silver and Junior Gunners can purchase tickets from 16 April and Red Members from 18 April.

I don’t normally disclose ticket details, but this is for a great cause, and above all else – missing out on one last chance to see our heroes take to the pitch is something that we should all really endeavour to see.

At The London Football Awards 

On television, an awards ceremony is glossy. It is a conveyor belt of celebrity and headlines. The awards themselves are designed to highlight some exceptional work by a chosen professional in their field., and when the trophies are presented, we get to hear a snippet about the winner’s story on how they got to sit at the summit.

Football awards are no different, especially now the professionals are as close to megastars as the thespians who walked the red carpet at the Oscars recently. The big names need no introduction, but the awards ceremonies are there to do exactly that. They are the glitzy fanfare for deserving individuals that have excelled in their chosen sectors. 

And for the biggest awards, we can hear that fanfare from any given place in the world.

I was kindly offered to attend the London Football Awards on the 2nd of March, at Battersea Evolution. I was to be an official member of the press and gain some soundbites from the attending football glitterati so the charity at the root of the LFA’s – the Willow Foundation – could gain some valuable testimony on the wonderful work they do.

It meant that I was to be given license to speak to some of my heroes. It was an offer I could not refuse.

As I entered the arena, there were a huge number of dedicated Willow volunteers working their magic in the final preparations for the event. I was given my press pass – I was unashamedly proud when I saw my name on it – and I was directed to the press enclosure where the pro’s would walk past on their way to their tables for the night.

I spoke first to Bob Wilson – Arsenal’s Double-winning keeper and all-round gentleman – and the man who started the Willow Foundation spoke warmly about the growing stature of the awards and how their prominence is on the rise. 

Footballers past and present were coming and going and it was a lot to take in. The majority of the players time was spent ahead of us in front of the plethora of camera’s lying in their path, but I was quite content to bask in the light of these stars. I’ve always wanted to be a member of the press and this was the legitimate experience.

A man who I have spoken to on a number of occasions stopped to talk about the LFA’s, and Alan Smith was as warm and forthcoming as ever. He praised the idea of celebrating the clubs and players from the capital and the often unheralded work Willow do for those who need the aid most.

Perry Groves, Lee Dixon, David Seaman and Ian Wright. These were just a few ex-Gunners who attended the event, and David Seaman was quite gracious indeed with his time. His wife and Willow Ambassador Frankie Seaman stopped to talk and she told me that he always has time to give answers to the press, or anyone who asks him, such is his kind nature. Our former goalkeeper was with us for quite some time, and commented on everything from Arsene Wenger’s future to the rotation of Petr Cech and David Ospina. 

For the record, Safe Hands will not speak out against Wenger as he declared the Frenchman the ‘best coach I’ve ever had.’ Also, he thinks the rotation of our goalkeepers is needless. To hear this straight from the source, undiluted, was a real treat.

Gary Mabbutt, Tony Cottee, Gary Lineker, John Motson, Tom Cairney, Eni Aluko, N’Golo Kante and Antonio Conte were just a taste of the names who were at the night. There were far more, but with only an hour to grab as many comments as possible, it is inevitable that some get through the net.

These awards are a real fillip for London’s teams, especially as all aspects of the game are considered in the awards categories. 

Here are the Awards and the Winners from this special night:


Premier League Player of the Year:

N’Golo Kante


London Manager of the Year:

Antonio Conte



London Young Player of the Year;

Dele Alli



London Goalkeeper of the Year;

Hugo Lloris


EFL Player of the Year;

Tom Cairney



London Women’s Player of the Year:

Jordan Nobbs


London Community Project of the Year:

Fulham’s Feltham Young Offenders Institute Scheme.
The London Football Awards were a real success and next year will be even bigger. Let’s hope that Arsenal manage to bag a few next year! 

The Famous Arsenal Back 5 – Will We See the Likes Again?

Published in the Gooner Fanzine – pick up yours outside The Emirates on matchdays!

It is a rare occurrence when rival teams and Managers acknowledge another teams strength. When it does happen, it sticks in the memory.

Think Henry being applauded by Pompey fans after destroying them single-handedly. Or Real Madrid fans begrudgingly clapping Ronaldinho after the Brazilian had taught their side a footballing lesson.

It doesn’t happen often, but it is a sign that true, unadulterated genius has touched proceedings.

Well, the amount of other teams managers, players and hierarchy that have held their hands up and given Arsenal’s famous ‘Back5’ as an example of the finest defensive unit to grace these shores, since the iconic Liverpool teams of the ’70’s and ’80’s is long and noteworthy.

Long coveting looks across the pitch and gushing comments of approval have rained down on the men who comprised the immovable object that was Arsenal’s Back 5 for over a decade – and for good reason.

Singularly, they were the zenith of defensive solidarity, giving each and every attacker the strictest of examinations. It was as a whole though, that they excelled. Much like the greatest groups that existed, each strength that was brought to the table was a segment that when put together, made an unbreakable shield.

Like the 300 which battled fiercely in Thermopylae, the shield formation which was the demise of many Persian enemies is a succinct example of Adams, Bould, Winterburn, Dixon and Seaman. 

If one shield drops, then the whole unit is compromised. It was each mans strength which gave the other man protection. It was a united effort. 

At the centre, the Captain. Born to be a leader, adored the club and led from the front. Every battalion needs a shining example to ready the troops before battle, and Adams stood on the parapet each and every time, sword raised, his battlecry inspiring his men. 

He wasn’t half bad on the pitch either. His reading of the game was modelled on England hero Bobby Moore, and he excelled. His aerial ability was unrivalled at both ends of the pitch, and he was his managers perfect middle man, making sure the plan was perfectly pitched.

Alongside him was Steve Bould. The forever follically-challenged Bould was the perfect foil for Adams, and each complimented the other. When both were playing, the foundation that the rest of the team could fall back on must have been a welcome presence.

On the right, Lee Dixon had an incredible engine, and whilst his frame was never imposing, his desire and tackling ability more than made up for his lack of height. His crossing was always a valuable outlet, and he never left his post, unlike some modern fullbacks today.

Nigel Winterburn was on the left, and he provided the same outlet that Dixon did on the opposite side. He also played on the edge, sometimes boiling over when he felt injustice.

Then the gentle giant David Seaman was the man between the sticks. A huge man with a gargantuan wingspan, he commanded his area with no room for error. Whilst the midfield could feel relieved to have the stout defence behind them, the very same defenders could rest assured that ‘SafeHands’ was standing true if any enemy broke through.

These paragraphs aren’t meant to do justice to these players. Their legacy goes beyond words. The reason their tenure at the club stretched for so long is that the essential factor of any defence – reliability – existed every year. Their excellence at what they did ensured that every season, the club would at least have a solid footing to fall back on. 

The perfect example was in Copenhagen in 1994, when Arsenal won the European Cup Winners Cup after beating Parma 1-0. The Italians had the cream of attacking talent and were widely expected to roll over the Gunners, but Tomas Brolin, Gianfranco Zola and Faustino Asprilla grew more and more frustrated as the famous back 5 repelled each and every attempt they mustered. It was the perfect battle between attack and defence, and Arsenal’s backline won handsomely.

Arsene Wenger’s glittering start at the club would have been markedly different if he didn’t have this cadre of soldiers to fuse to his cosmopolitan flair. The mix in styles worked perfectly, and Wengers handling of the players training and fitness allowed these men to play on for more years than they ought to have with their previous regimen.

We have had defenders who have performed admirably for us since. Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Bacary Sagna and a few others provided top grade service to the shirt during their playing careers, but they never came close to recreating what the famous Back5 had.

The fact they are famous across footballing circles is because they were exactly what other managers wanted at their club – and still do.

Some factors in the sport are meant to be held up and admired through rose-tinted specs, and used as a prime example of what to aim for. Used as the ultimate achievement, but most will fail to attain such a standard. 

Will we ever witness such an amalgamation of titans again? A barrier so formidable that even the sharpest of attacks were blunted as they attempted to force their way through? 

As aforementioned, we have had elements of the equation before, but never as a whole. Could we now though, have all the parts to build the machine we require?

Petr Cech is still one of the finest exponents of goalkeeping in the Premiership. Hector Bellerin is already one of the best in his position, and at such a young age he will only get better. Koscielny had already forged a reputation as one of our greatest defenders, he just needed a partner. In Mustafi it appears he may have found one. On the left, Nacho Monreal has given us, and continues to, reliable service in defence and attack.

It is far too early to give a prognosis on the replication of such an immortal band of men, but the signs are good.

All they need now is a decade or more playing together, a truckload of trophies, and form that never dips below a certain level. 

Shouldn’t be too hard. 

David Seaman – The Safest Of Hands.

The old adage goes, ‘You have to be mad to be a goalkeeper.’ This stereotype is a perfect fit for the majority of the men between the sticks, as they fling head and body into situations and places that would normally warrant full-body protection gear. 

Not only is it physical danger that makes up a large part of their vocation. Long periods of solitude during games, with only vitriolic masses as company, goalkeepers spend a huge amount of time attempting to stay alert, battling their own wits as the play unfolds away from them.

David Seaman does not fit this well-worn molding. Standing tall at 1.93 metres, the giant keeper was the anti-thesis of the usual mental framework of a man wearing Number One on his back.

Perhaps his greatest strength was his zen-like temperament. No matter the battle that was ensuing in front of him, or even if it was directed at him, the deep-voiced Yorkshireman simply got on with his game. 

Was it his level of concentration that allowed him to brush off any extraneous niggles that would waylay a regular goalkeeper? Or was it merely his upbringing and his personality that meant he cared little for drama? Either way, it allowed Seaman to fully exert his towering influence into being the sure footing that his defence needed.

The big man from Leeds that would go on to be known as ‘Safe Hands’ started his career with his hometown club, Leeds United, but he didn’t feature in the Managers plans, so a £4k move to Peterborough United gave his career the escape route it needed.

Two full seasons in the then 4th Division were enough to see him catapult up to the 2nd, with a move to Birmingham City. Again, two full seasons was all it took for David to earn another transfer up the leagues – this time to QPR.

This gave him the spotlight his dazzling talent deserved, and he soon piqued the interest of England boss Bobby Robson. It wasn’t only Robson and England that were sniffing round the Yorkshireman either.

Arsenal had an inside man at QPR, and he was ideally placed to run the rule over Seaman. His goalkeeping coach at Loftus Road was none other than 1971 Double winning keeper Bob Wilson, and Arsenal’s gentleman had a very high opinion of David.

Before the season of 1990/91 began, Arsenal and George Graham moved to bring him to Highbury. The current Gunners keeper was the popular John Lukic, but Graham badly wanted who he thought would be the future England Number One for years to come. He wasn’t wrong. 

His first season at Arsenal underlined his talent in the most emphatic way. 23 clean sheets and just 18 goals conceded embossed and emboldened Graham’s comments before purchasing Seaman – “I still think John Lukic is one of the top three goalkeepers in the country. I just think David Seaman is the best.”

Thirteen seasons of excellence was David Seaman’s legacy at the club. A hatful of trophies were symptomatic of his professionalism and he must surely rank as one of the finest exponents of goalkeeping the Premier League has ever seen.

It is criminal to round up Seaman’s Arsenal career in just a few paragraphs, but to truly do the big man justice, you would be reading this article from sun up to sundown. The man with the famous ponytail and best moustache since Magnum P.I gave our club the most assured presence in the box, and this in turn was a massive factor for why our club could boast the finest defence the League has ever seen. For how good can a defence be without a great goalkeeper behind them?

The majority of non-Gooners will always recall Seaman being lobbed by Ronaldinho, and allied with Nayim’s lob for Zaragoza, means that Seaman will unfairly have his critics. A goalkeeper has the hardest job on the pitch though – in what other position can you play well for 89 minutes but a simple mistake will more often than not result in disaster?

Seaman was the silent sentry that stood guard for well over a decade, and his consistently epic displays spread out over such a long tenure spells out a goalkeeping career that deserves to stand tall alongside the greatest that the world has had to offer. Dino Zoff, Lev Yashin, Gianluigi Buffon, Andoni Zubizaretta, and Peter Schmeichel are regarded as the examples that all young keepers must aspire to. 

David Seaman deserves to be included in that glittering group of goalies. 

Safe Hands was a more than warranted moniker for him. 

John Lukic – The Overlooked Legend

Published in the Gooner Fanzine. Pick up yours outside the Emirates every matchday!

With a club that has the proud stature and backstory peppered with luminaries and glorious occasions – it can be forgiven for the majority to disregard certain former players and consign certain matches to the part of the brain that is covered by a shroud which makes recollection difficult.
Much has been written and spoke of regarding our goalkeepers of late, with the esteemed Petr Cech finally seeing sense and ridding himself of the shackles from West London. Comparisons inevitably are drawn up against our former glove incumbents – and what a glowing list we can boast of. David Seaman, Jens Lehmann, Pat Jennings, the wonderful Bob Wilson, Jack Kelsey just to name a few. These names dovetail with success and are synonymous with the club we all adore.

As moments go, there are few that can match May 26th 1989 at Anfield. Forever entwined in our lore, with a quite excellent book and film to highlight just how momentous the match and season really was, there can be no doubt that all who were involved throughout that domestic campaign and especially during those fraught ninety minutes in Merseyside should have their names permanently etched into our tapestry.

Continue reading John Lukic – The Overlooked Legend