Continuing our Summer series of articles in search of Arsenal’s greatest ever team, this week we continue to highlight the midfielders. Don’t forget to take the opportunity to choose your personal favourite midfielder by voting in the poll at the end of the week
7. George Eastham: 1960-1966
George played in 223 games over a six year period.
Born in Blackpool, Lancashire, he was part of a football family — his father George Eastham, Sr., was an England international who played for Bolton Wanderers and Blackpool, while his uncle Harry Eastham played for Liverpool and Accrington Stanley.
George junior first played for Northern Irish club Ards, where his father was player-manager, and the two played together on the pitch. A skilful midfielder/inside forward, he was signed by Newcastle United in 1956, and made his debut in October 1956. He spent four seasons with the Magpies and during his time there he won caps for the Football League and the England U23 side. He played 125 games for Newcastle, scoring 34 goals.
However, during his time at Newcastle United he fell out with the club over the house they had supplied him to live in and their attempts to stop him playing for the England U23 team.
With his contract due to expire in 1959, he refused to sign a new one and requested a transfer. However, Newcastle refused to let him go. At the time, clubs operated a system known as retain-and-transfer, which meant that teams could keep a player’s registration (thus preventing them from moving) while refusing to pay them if they had requested a transfer. Unable to leave, George went on strike at the end of the 1959–60 season, eventually taking the club to the High Court in 1963. As a result, although he did not gain personally, he succeeded in reforming the British transfer market. The “retain” element of retain-and-transfer was greatly reduced, providing fairer terms for players looking to re-sign for their clubs, and setting up a transfer tribunal for disputes.
After winning his case he signed for Arsenal and made his debut in 10 December 1960, scoring twice. Throughout his six seasons at Arsenal, he was a regular for the side; though not a prolific goal scorer, George was one of the most talented players in an average Arsenal team. Under manager’s George Swindin and Billy Wright, Arsenal never finished higher than 7th during his time there. His time at Arsenal was often turbulent; as well as the court case against Newcastle United, he fell out with Arsenal after asking for a pay rise following the maximum wage’s abolishment in 1961. In both 1963–64 and 1964–65 he scored ten goals, the most per season during his Arsenal career, which included two in a 4–4 draw in a memorable North London derby match against Tottenham Hotspur at Highbury in 1963.
It was at Arsenal that his international career flourished; he joined the England squad for the 1962 FIFA World Cup as an uncapped player; his England debut finally came in 1963, against Brazil. In the 1966 World Cup final only the 11 players on the pitch at the end of the 4–2 win over West Germany received medals. Following a Football Association led campaign to persuade FIFA to award medals to all the winners’ squad members, George was presented with his medal by Gordon Brown at a ceremony at 10 Downing Street on 10 June 2009.
In February 1971, at the age of 34, George took a break from playing in order to develop his coaching ability, with the view of going into management. He embarked on a trip to South Africa, playing on loan with Cape Town City before having a spell as player-manager of Hellenic, who had previously been managed by his father.[ He returned to Stoke in October 1971, to continue his playing career. He made 194 league appearances for Stoke City in total, scoring four goals.
George retired from playing in 1974, having been awarded the OBE for services to football the previous year.
He quit professional football completely, and emigrated to South Africa in 1978. where he set up his own sportswear business as well as being a football coach for local black children. He is also chairman of the South African Arsenal Supporters’ Club.
8. Jon Sammels: 1961-1971.
Jon appeared in 270 matched over a 10 year period.
Born in Ipswich, Suffolk, Jon joined Arsenal, the club he supported as a boy, in 1961, he was a regular in the reserves and a successful youth international winning seven caps for England.
He scored on his first-team debut for the Gunners on 27 April 1963, against Blackpool. However, he only played sparingly, twice in 1963-64 and not at all in 1964-65 and he did not secure a place in the side until the departure of Geoff Strong, and later George Eastham.
Not many footballers can say they’ve scored twice in a win over Brazil but Jon can, some of the world’s finest players descended on Highbury in November 1965 (although Pele and his fellow Santos internationals did not make the trip) but Jon stole the show with a goal in either half. And he was only 20 at the time.
Noted for his accurate passing and strong shooting, he broke through in 1965-66 and was an ever-present during the 1966-67 season. As well as being a regular for Arsenal, Jon played for the England U23 side nine times. He played in both of Arsenal’s League Cup final defeats in 1968 and 1969, before finally claiming a medal in the 1970 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup; he scored Arsenal’s winning goal in their 4-3 victory on aggregate over RSC Anderlecht, after Arsenal had trailed 3-1 after the first leg.
However, he lost his first team place in the 1970-71 season, thanks to an ankle injury and the emergence of George Graham; although he played enough games to win a First Division winner’s medal, but did not take part in the Gunners’ FA Cup Final win over Liverpool that completed their Double-winning season.
He submitted a transfer request, and he was duly sold to Leicester City for £100,000, Jon was a regular in the Leicester side for the next seven seasons, playing 265 matches for the Foxes, scoring 25 goals. Under Jimmy Bloomfield, Leicester were a talented and exciting side, but the only trophy they won was the 1971 Charity Shield, and they never finished above seventh in the League. He left Leicester on a free transfer in 1978, and played for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the NASL for a single season.
After that, he retired from the game and returned to the UK.
9. George Graham: 1966-1972.
George appeared in 308 games over a 6 year period.
Born in Bargeddie, Glasgow, Scotland, the youngest of seven children, George grew up in poverty in Bargeddie, near Coatbridge. He showed considerable promise as a footballer, and clubs like Newcastle United, Chelsea and Aston Villa showed an interest in his talent.
He signed for Aston Villa in 1961, on his 17th birthday and spent three seasons at the Birmingham club, making only eight appearances. Chelsea signed him in 1964 for £5000. George scored 35 goals in 72 league games for the club and won a League Cup medal in 1965, but he fell out with the Chelsea’s manager, Tommy Docherty. At the same time, Arsenal were looking for a replacement for Joe Baker, and paid £75,000 plus Tommy Baldwin in 1966 to bring George to Highbury. He made his debut on 1 October 1966 at home to Leicester City and soon became a regular in the Arsenal side. He was Arsenal’s top scorer in both 1966–67 and 1967–68, having started out as a centre forward for the club, but later moved to inside forward.
He was a runner-up in both the 1968 and 1969 League Cup finals, before finally winning a medal in the 1969–70, Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. He followed it up with being an integral part of Arsenal’s Double-winning side of 1970–71, and even had a claim to scoring Arsenal’s equaliser in the FA Cup Final against Liverpool, although Eddie Kelly is officially credited with the goal.
Winning the “Double” brought the attention of Scotland and he was selected for the national side for the first time against Portugal in 1971. He would go on to win twelve caps over the next two years for Scotland, scoring three goals, his final one coming against Brazil, by this time he was no longer an Arsenal player. The arrival of Alan Ball made his position at Arsenal less assured so he moved to Manchester United in December 1972 for £120,000. He spent two years at United, and was relegated to Division Two, before seeing out his career in England at Portsmouth and Crystal Palace. He played the summer of 1978 in America for the California Surf.
After retiring from playing, he became a coach at Crystal Palace and then later Queens Park Rangers. With the dismissal of Don Howe as Arsenal manager in March 1986, the Arsenal directors were interested in appointing Alex Ferguson, as their new manager with Graham as his assistant. However, Ferguson decided to wait until after the World Cup that summer before making a decision on his future, and so the Arsenal directors appointed Graham as their new manager on 14 May 1986.
In total, he played 308 matches for Arsenal, scoring 77 goals.
10. Frank McLintock: 1964-1973.
Frank appeared in 403 games over a 9 year period.
Frank was born in Glasgow and brought up in the Gorbals, he started his career in the Scottish Juniors with Shawfield, before moving to Leicester City in 1957 as a wing half, making his debut for them in 1959. He spent seven years at Filbert Street and he reached, but lost, two FA Cup finals (1961 and 1963) and a winning League Cup final (1964) During this time he also made his debut for Scotland, against Norway on 4 June 1963.
In October 1964, he was signed by Arsenal for a club record £80,000 and went straight into the first team. He spent the next nine seasons with the Gunners, moving from midfield to centre half. He was a first-choice player throughout, and became the club’s captain in 1967, and would go on to skipper the club during their period of success under Bertie Mee. He reached two League Cup finals (losing both, in 1968 and 1969), and became so disheartened that he handed in a transfer request in 1969, but manager Bertie Mee persuaded him to stay, and he went on to win three major trophies in the space of two years. In 1969-70, Frank led Arsenal to an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final win beating Anderlecht 4–3 on aggregate. The following year, 1970-71 , he lifted the club’s first League and FA Cup Double.
He went on to play for Queens Park Rangers and spent four seasons with them making a total of 127 League appearances before finally retiring from the game in the 1977 close season. In all, he played over 700 times for his three clubs combined.
After retiring from playing, he joined his old club Leicester City as manager in 1977. However, he endured a difficult time in charge, and City went through a spell where they had one win in 26 matches. He was later manager of Brentford between 1984 and 1987, and then a coach at Millwall, helping the club gain promotion to the old Division One.
In 1971 he won the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award. In 1972 he was made an MBE and in 2009 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.
In total, he had played 403 matches for Arsenal, scoring 32 goals.
Written by GunnerN5 and compiled by Gooner in Exile