Childhood Arsenal Heroes and Villains‏

All of us have our heroes and villains, and in every generation there are players who passionately divide opinion, causing us to dissect every possible flawed trait of the human DNA, especially those representing Arsenal.

The first conscious connection I had with Arsenal was the side that won the UEFA Fairs Cup, followed by the ‘Double’ a year later, which was particularly pleasing because we equalled what Spurs had done ten years previous, and I’m sure I read somewhere in statute law that under no circumstances are Spurs allowed to get one over Arsenal for as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. I could be wrong, who knows!

Back then, just as it’s always been, it’s the flair players and goal-scorers who grab the glory and headline banners, and every time I played football I was always ‘Charlie George’ who would later morph into Liam Brady.

I was devastated when Charlie George was sold to Derby, with Brady I was more disappointed that as well as opting out to chase the Italian lira, his last act with us was to miss a penalty in our losing CWC final against Valencia. And on his return from Italy he went to West Ham!

My first ‘villain’ was Alan Ball, who was bought to replace George Graham. I had no particular affinity to Graham as a player, but he was part of our success, and not many footballers get to celebrate winning the ‘Double’. ‘Bally’ ticked all the boxes, World Cup winner, tenacious never-say-die midfielder who I’m sure Bertie Mee considered an up-grade, but not someone who would ever lift you out of your seat with a thrilling, barn-storming performance.

I remember seeing a picture on the back of the Daily Mirror, in December 1971, Alan Ball with his trademark white football boots draped over  his shoulder, looking visibly upset at leaving Everton for Arsenal. Like most kids, I was very impressionable especially when it comes to my football team, and that picture said to me that his sadness at leaving Everton out-weighed his ‘happiness’ at joining Arsenal, and I didn’t take to him. Maybe he just arrived at the wrong time and couldn’t inspire us to push on for further success. It clearly wasn’t all his fault, but he ended up captaining an Arsenal side that had been a lot better before his arrival, and that was the only excuse I needed. Well, that and being a young kid.

Jeff Blockley from Coventry was another villain who cost good money, touted as a future star, scored far too many own-goals, and was sold for half what we paid to Leicester. When it finally dawned on Bertie that Blockley wasn’t working he bought Terry Mancini, as a stop-gap to allow for the integration of David O’Leary. It’s hard to think of a good signing Bertie Mee made after the ‘Double’ and relate to them as a hero. As if to prove he’d learned nothing from the Peter Marinello experience, he went back to Hibernian and bought Alex Cropley, who just like Marinello, wasn’t good enough and was sold to Aston Villa.

Brian Kidd was a surreal signing, a European Cup winner at 19, but stalled after that, so much so that Tommy Docherty sold him to us. He was our top scorer for the two seasons he was with us, but it was over-shadowed by our lowly league positions. Certainly not a villain, but he wasn’t around long enough to be given hero status either.

While I’m on the subject of ex MU players, Denis Law is a hero. I and a few of the older generation of Arsenal fans on here were priveliged enough to witness something we’ll probably never see again. MU relegated to Division 2, and it was Denis Law’s goal for Man City against his former club that sent them down. Priceless.

One ex MU player who did do well for us, and won an England cap on the back of his performances for Arsenal was Jimmy Rimmer. He made his debut at Anfield against the all-conquering Liverpool, and had a stormer. He kept everything out and was largely responsible for us coming away with the two points in a brilliant 1-0 victory. He was later sold  (by Terry Neill) to Aston Villa and went on to help them win the title and European Cup.

Terry Neill wasn’t a villain, but then he wasn’t really a hero either. His only crime was that he wasn’t really good enough. It was a strange appointment by the Board, especially as he’d been managing Spurs for two years, and had done nothing, apart from narrowly avoiding relegation in his first season there. I can only assume that it was some sort of reward for having played for us over quite a few years.

A better, braver and more dynamic appointment would have been that of Bobby Robson from Ipswich, who I feel at a club of Arsenal’s stature would have seriously challenged Liverpool’s dominance. Although Neill did buy Pat Jennings (a bargain at £45,000)….and Willie Young!

‘SuperMac’ Malcolm Macdonald was a big terrace hero, and represented a marquee signing, a proper old-fashioned number 9, deadly pace over 100 yards, and a natural goal-scorer too. A great signing whose career was tragically cut-short through injury, which meant we only had his services for two seasons. But at least he was better than Brian Kidd!

Alan Hudson was a huge disappointment but he was originally a Chelsea product that we brought back to London from Stoke, and his heart just didn’t belong. After 36 games, no goals and no desire he was off-loaded to America.

Conversely, Alan Sunderland a midfielder bought from Wolves, converted to a striker by Neill, will forever be remembered as a hero, just for his dramatic last-minute winner against MU in the 1979 FA Cup final, and without ever being considered as a major world-class star, he served the club well, and for £240,000 was relatively good value.

A special mention too for Paul Vaessen,who scored the only goal in Arsenal’s 1-0 win against Juventus in the CWC Semi-final, which created a bit of history as we became the first English club to win away at Juve.

Growing up supporting Arsenal was hard during the turbulence of the 1970’s, especially as all the other kids around me ‘supported’ Liverpool, MU and Leeds. I remember vividly the 1972 Centenary FA Cup final against Leeds. We were under-strength because Bob Wilson was injured so reserve ‘keeper Geoff Barnett had to play in goal. Back then, Leeds were almost as hated as MU, so losing to them was too much for this particular kid to digest. Watching Allan Clarke’s diving header was like a dagger had been plunged into my heart (made even more annoying by Charlie George hitting the bar late on!!!), and it was by far the worst pain I had suffered up to that point of my young life.

At the final whistle I ran from the house, and just carried on running until I couldn’t run anymore, and I cried for what seemed like ages. There was no-one to share the pain with, or anyone who was going to make me feel better, so all the emotion poured out. Speaking strictly from a lads perspective, (and a young kid too), everybody is allowed one cry, two is pushing it, three and you need psychiatric help!

If like me, you grew up supporting Arsenal, you will have many childhood memories of your own heroes and villains. Many thanks for taking the time to share some of mine.

Written by Herb

42 Responses to Childhood Arsenal Heroes and Villains‏

  1. LB says:

    Happy days.

  2. Gunner-Mac says:

    Brilliant post.

  3. Taffman says:

    Cracking trip down memory lane. Sunderland was my first hero as I’ve supported the Gunners since that epic Cuo win in ’79

  4. kelsey says:

    What a lovely piece of nostalgia. All of these players are etched in my memory. Made a shit day into one that made me smile, thanks Herb

  5. Norfolk Gooner says:

    Smashing piece of writing Herb, brought back many memories.

    My boyhood heroes were an unforgettable trio, Don Roper, Doug Lishman and Jimmy Logie.

  6. Danny says:

    Everybody’s going on about how RVP can go to Man U but:
    We sold Frank Stapleton to Man U when he was 25.
    We sold George Graham to Man U when he was 27.
    We sold Ian Ure to Man U when he was 29.
    I never understood why these 3 players left us back then just like I don’t understand Robin’s desire to do that now.

    Great article Herb, but I actually liked Alan Ball even though the 75-76 season was very depressing what with flirting with relegation.

  7. rhyle says:

    Great read, Herb. As a kid I revered anything Arsenal – there were no villains! I suppose it was from the age of about 8, 1984 that you start to realise that some players just…don’t have it…probably influenced by those around me in the pub before the game and in the crowd during the game. All of whom I assumed were experts, of course.

    My first villain that I remember clearly was the legendary Gus Caesar. Even before the 1988 Littlewoods Cup Final you knew when his name was on the team sheet you were in for a torrid time. He’ll never be forgiven for ruining my Wembley stairs moment…we had tickets for the final right on the stairs…we were sitting behind Frank Bruno (“how do you beat Frank Bruno? Witherspoon”. My brother told that joke many times that day…MANY times…) and should have cheered the boys up to collect the trophy…Caesars fault. ‘Course, I could never say it as I went to school with his cousin…

    Chris “Own Goal” Whyte was a name that’d strike fear into our house, too…don’t remember him playing for the Arsenal much but I hear he was actually a decent player – and I saw him prove that to a degree at Leeds when he won the title.

    I recall being unimpressed with John Hollins leaving…and names like David Cork and Colin Hill rarely got me excited about a match!

  8. abunaheemah says:

    Nice one dude!

  9. Danny says:

    I think it must’ve been very hard for Alan Ball joining the double winning squad especially as it was in the middle of the season, and the fact that he was a very famous player who probably wasn’t liked by members of the team when he was at Everton. His transfer fee was also an English record which probably didn’t add to his defence in the dressing room.
    ….but I loved his goal celebrations!

  10. Martin says:

    Hankin and Hawley are two of the signings that I remember wtth horror.

  11. Great post Herb
    I started supporting AFC on FAcup final day 79, i loved playing GK and my hero was Big Pat, i remember being gutted that Shilton was Englands No.1 and i couldn’t understand why Jennings (who was obviously superior) wasn’t. It took me a while to undertand the concept of international football!
    Loved Big Pat, so did my mum! haha

  12. Added a link to Twitter Herb
    so hopefully you’ll get some extra reads.

  13. RockyLives says:

    Brilliant article Herb.

    My first hero was Charlie G, then I believed the Marinello hype for a while; I adored Supermac – such a shame about his injury; then (as someone with parents from Dublin) I loved the Dublin trio of O’Leary, Brady and Stapleton (although it was Brady I tried to emulate in the park, running along pushing the ball with the outside of my boot).

    The heroes of the Graham and Wenger years are too many to mention, except to say that I don’t ever expect to love a player again as much as I have loved Dennis Bergkamp.

    As for villains… well, I have never been a big one for villains. If they were wearing red and white I always supported them, even the useless ones. Even Glenn Helder!

    With the likes of Caesar and Whyte, I just felt sorry for them. It wasn’t their fault that the manager couldn’t see what the rest of us could see…

  14. chas says:

    Nice post, Herb.

    That squad photo took me back to being a kid. I’m sure it was one we had on the wall. Georgie Graham’s ‘tache made me laugh. ( you can zoom in on the photo by clicking on it). Charlie George either looks really peed off or he’s trying to look hard.

    Alan Ball was my first football hero because of 1966. As you say, the flair players always stand out. Brady, Supermac, Charlie Nic were all particular favourites. There’s been some weird favourites, too, like Willie Young.

    Here’s Vaessen’s goal….

  15. Herb'sArmy says:

    Hi everyone, and thanks for all your complimentary comments.
    It’s nothing more than a ‘filler’ as we all countdown to a new season.
    The magic of following football as a child loses a lot of its gloss as we progress into adults, because we become cynical, and often over-critical. I remember a time when the ownership of Arsenal or the money we had/didn’t have weren’t part of my consciousness. Since 1992 it has become as much a part of football talk as the players and what happens on the pitch.
    I’m really pleased with our transfer ins this summer, according to Graham Hunter (TalkSPORT), Santi Cazorla is some player, and is capable of playing anywhere across the midfield. A quality signing that offers us all a lot of optimism. It will undoubtedly help The Ox, who will get better and better. We quite possibly have the strongest line-up of midfield players in the PL, especially when Jack Wilshere is back, free of injury.
    A big season ahead maybe for Kieran Gibbs, we’ve all seen the potential, it would be good news for us all if he can cement his place. Exciting times ahead for The Arsenal.
    Kelsey – good to hear from you, hope you and yours are well.
    Tommy – Thanks for taking the time.
    Rocky – I hope you’re enjoying your holiday, it’s always a pleasure to read your creative literature.
    Norfolk – I know there are quite a few on here who go even further back than me. GunnerN5 goes all the way back to the 1940’s.
    Finally thanks to Rasp and Peaches for making it all possible, and thanks for adding the pictures.

  16. MickyDidIt89 says:

    Brilliant idea Herb, thanks.
    Not really one for Villains, but later in life I learnt to appreciate what an utter prick Ball is, so moving on to Heroes, wow, big list, but I’d like to nominate a couple of unsung ones. Stevie Williams and Vladimir Petrovic. I like the smoothe operator sorts who stroll about the middle, finding space that doesn’t exist, and playing the sublime pass. The former, a born and bred Gunner, the latter, well, only 22 games but I liked the lazy toad.

  17. MickyDidIt89 says:

    Right, that’s it, U-Turn big styley, and it concerns villains. I really do loathe any player who chooses to leave The Arsenal.

  18. Herb'sArmy says:

    Thanks Chas, Charlie George looks a bit pissed-off, and George Graham’s ‘tache makes him look like John Cleese with a parting.
    Hello Micky, we had some quality players in the ’80’s, the two you mention, Paul Mariner, Kenny Sansom, Tony Woodcock, Charlie Nicholas, Paul Davis, David Rocastle, Tony Adams, the list is endless. It was the birth of Graham’s famous ‘back five’ that would go on to celebrate League titles under Arsene Wenger.
    If there’s one truism of Arsenal, it is that they provide infinitely more highs than lows, and we’ve definitely been elevated to a position a lot of us haven’t experienced before. We’ve gone from being a big English club in the English First Division to a major world-wide brand recognised across the globe. It’s a huge leap, but one we are slowly coming to terms with, and something we shall all benefit from in the coming days.

  19. Danny says:

    I found the same picture of the team as above but with the Fairs cup between Mee’s legs, wonder why the above picture omitted it.

  20. RockyLives says:

    Following on from Micky’s “unsung” heroes, I liked three of the French players that AW brought in early doors: Petit (obviously), but also Garde and Grimandi. Garde was a really tidy player and Grimandi was exactly the sort of versatile CB/FB/DM that every great squad needs.

  21. …….. and Petit was just a God-like creature swooooooooon 😆

  22. Gooner In Exile says:

    Herb an interesting look back at some of the names that have come and gone.

    One thing that always remains is us the fans.

    Being the same age as Rhyle it is unsurprising we share two of the same villains (Caesar and Whyte)….if it wasn’t for the last minute winner Linighan would probably be in that list too….along with Quinn and Campbell (Kevin). Quinn because I’ll never forget watching 5ft 4 Paul Parker out jump him for 90 minutes. And Kevin because he couldn’t stop his already sizeable arse growing bigger and getting in the way of a promising talent.

    Heroes are easy The Famous Five, John Lukic, Thomas, Rocky and Davis, Wright and of course cult legend and North Bank favourite Perry Groves.

    I know better came after but they were my childhood heroes so in that respect will remain unsurpassed.

  23. MickyDidIt89 says:

    Let me guess, it was the ponytail and the dress sense. Right?

  24. chas says:

    Here ya go, peaches.
    He’s gorgeous.

  25. chas says:

    Ooops, wordpress didn’t like the … in the url.

  26. chas says:

    I might get it right in a bit.

  27. I stood next to him before I’d even seen him play and was hooked – was he any good 😉

  28. Well he definitely didn’t look like that when I met him 😀

  29. chas says:

    Warning bad language.

  30. Gooner In Exile says:


  31. neamman says:

    Great post.
    My villians..well there were no Arsenal players I didnt like but a few disappointed me. David Jenkins and George Johnston in the 60s, Colin Addison never fulfilled his potential with us. I was never a big fan of Bobby Gould but he was a workhorse who ran his socks off for the team. I also didnt take to Jeff Blockley and ..I was never a big fan of George Eastham.
    Heroes.. ?
    My first, and still the biggest for me, was John Radford.. I liked Terry Neill as he has Arsenal on his sleeve even if he wasnt the best player. Peter Simpson was originally someone I was disappointed in but he grew to be a great hero. What a hugely underrated player he was. Peter Storey was also a favourite.
    These players betray my age and in recent others said above … no one can match Bergkamp in my heart. I also had a soft spot for Edu as he was really nice when he met my kids.
    I MUST also thank Alberto Mendes..he only played a few times in the early Wenger years but he was a good friend of my friend and through him I got some player shirts and tickets to the player lounge, so I still have one of his player shirts that I wear.

  32. Gooner In Exile says:

    I wonder if our childhood heroes will ever be surpassed, for those born in the 90’s it is because to find a better attacking four as we had then will be nigh on impossible. But for those of us who go back a bit further is it just because we pretended to be them? (this may apply to the blokes only). They were our first loves.

  33. 26may1989 says:

    Love the post – Herb’s a few years ahead of me but only a few, so seeing name-checks for the likes of Supermac and Chippy is great.

    I know I’m meant to limit myself to childhood heroes, but I can’t resist.

    Heroes: Jennings, Brady, MacDonald, O’Leary (the player, not the manager), Willie Young, Sunderland, Davis, Sansom, Anderson, Petrovic, Talbot, Rix, Stewart Robson (but not the pundit), Whyte (I liked him, including when he played up front), Nicholas, Ian Allinson, Perry Groves, Merson, Alan Smith, Wright, Limpar, Parlour, Kevin Campbell, Rocastle, Thomas, Bould, Adams, Dixon, Winterburn, Keown, Vieira, Overmars, Petit, Henry, Bergkamp, Pires, Kanu, Ljungberg, Cole (yes, even him!), Seaman, Luzhny, Lauren, Silvinho, Lehmann, Wiltord, Gilberto, Sol Campbell, Fabregas, van Persie (still….), Walcott, Arteta, the Ox, Song, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Szczesny, Sagna, Rosicky, Wilshere, Arsene Wenger and George Graham 1986 to 1991.

    Villains: with apologies to neamman, Edu (for manipulating a Bosman exit after the club had spent years supporting him through forged passport scandal and long term injury before seeing a single good season from him), Anelka, George Graham for the post 1991 period, Nasri, Gallas and Adebayor.

  34. neamman says:

    Yes.. when I take an “imaginery” shot and score.. Radford always springs into my mind. I would have loved to see the 30s team.. the way we dominated the decade means we must have had some great players.

  35. neamman says:

    Yeah I didnt like Edu’s exit.. but he did give his all when on the pitch, even when he knew he was leaving. Didnt they let him take a penalty when we beat Everton 7-0 knowing it may be his last time to score for us? That being said.. he was just so nice in person I had to list him.

  36. neamman says: coulkd I forget TA!!! What a captain.. not so fond of him post Arsenal though. I also liked the Romford Pele as he reminded me of my brother in law.

  37. 26may1989 says:

    Loved Ray Parlour – was very pleased to have been at Anfield for his debut – he conceded a penalty but still looked like he’d have a great Arsenal career. And so he did. Complete hero!

  38. LB says:

    “Yes.. when I take an “imaginery” shot and score..Radford always springs into my mind” (neamman)

    I thought it was only me who did this but I realise from this comment that every football supporter must imagine themselves as one of their football idols or another.

    I, like Rocky, always imagined I was Liam Brady, I am left footed and played midfield.

  39. evonne says:

    I was Robert Pires with his Alice band, always running, always smiling

  40. Rasp says:

    Morning all,

    ……. New post …….

  41. Norfolk Gooner says:

    George Eastham! Now there’s a name to conjure with. I remember him taking a penalty, he trotted about four paces, on seemingly “spaghetti legs”, and side footed the ball past the ‘keeper who had dived the wrong way in any case. Magic!!

  42. william beekman says:

    macdonald, brady, ,stapleton, berkamp, petrovic, jennings
    great stuff

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