Continuing our Summer series of articles in search of Arsenal’s greatest ever team, this week we continue to highlight the defenders. Don’t forget to take the opportunity to choose your personal favourite defender by voting in the poll at the end of the week.
11. Peter Simpson: 1960-1978
Peter played in 477 games over a 15 year period.
Born in Gorleston, Norfolk, he worked at Arsenal as a member of the club’s ground staff before signing as an apprentice in 1961, turning professional in 1962. Initially he played in the youth and reserve teams and made his first team debut in 1964.
He only made 22 appearances in his first three seasons but gained a regular first team spot under the management of Bertie Mee becoming an integral member of the team for the next ten seasons. He started out as an all purpose player, playing in every outfield position, but soon settled into the centre half position, usually alongside Frank McLintock.
Peter was a member of the losing teams in both the 1968 and 1969 League Cup Final’s but was a leading figure in Arsenal’s success in the early 1970s including winning the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969-70, and making a total of 57 appearances in all competitions that season. He then went on to be part of the side that won the League Championship and FA Cup Double in 1970-71. After missing the first three months of that season with a cartilage problem, he returned in time for the FA Cup run, and appeared in the final, beating Liverpool 2-1 after extra time.
Despite his long career at the top, he was never capped for England, although he was called into a few squads by Sir Alf Ramsey during 1969-70. He continued to play for the club in the trophy less years following the Double, playing more than 35 games a season for four seasons. By 1975 age was starting to get the better of him, and he only played nine times in 1975-76. Despite a recall in 1976-77, earning 25 appearances, he was dropped again the following season.
He left the club in 1978, having played 477 times for the club, and is seventh on the Arsenal all-time appearances list.
He had brief stints with the New England Tea Men of the NASL in the United States, and then returned to England to play for non-league Hendon, before retiring.
12. Pat Rice: 1964-1980
Pat played in 528 games over a 16 year period.
Born in Belfast, Pat grew up in London, working for greengrocers on Gillespie Road. He joined the Gunners as an apprentice in 1964, turning professional in 1966 and made his first-team debut in the League Cup in December 1967.
Initially a bit-part player Pat played at right back and made only 16 appearances in his first three seasons, missing out on Arsenal’s 1969–70 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup win. However, during this time he won his first cap for Northern Ireland in 1968, while still largely a reserve player for Arsenal. Peter Storey was Arsenal’s first choice right back, but after he was moved into central midfield at the start of the 1970–71, Pat took his place and was a near-ever present in the side that season, as Arsenal won the League and FA Cup Double.
He remained first-choice right back for the rest of the 1970s, playing in the 1972 FA Cup Final as well; he was an ever-present for three seasons, 1971–72, 1975–76 & 1976–77. Of the Double-winning side, he was the one who remained at the club the longest, and became club captain in 1977. As captain, he had the honour of lifting the FA Cup after Arsenal beat Manchester United in 1979, as well as playing in two losing finals in 1978 and 1980. He is one of only 3 Arsenal players to have played in five FA Cup Finals (1970–71, 1971–72, 1977–78, 1978–79, 1979–80), the other two being David Seaman and Ray Parlour. He also led Arsenal to the 1980 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Final, which Arsenal lost on penalties to Valencia.
Pat continued to play for Northern Ireland in this time, amassing 49 caps in an eleven-year career, which ended with his final international game against England on October 17, 1979, which ended in a 5–1 defeat.
He finally left Arsenal in 1980 at the age of 31, by which time he had played 528 games in total for the club. He moved to Graham Taylor’s Watford and played 137 times for the Hornets, helping the club gain promotion to the First Division in 1981–82. He scored in Watford’s first game in the top flight in 1982–83 against Everton before retiring from playing in 1984.
He rejoined Arsenal in 1984 as youth team coach, a post he held for the next 12 years, winning the FA Youth Cup twice in 1987–88 and 1993–94. In September 1996, Rice was briefly caretaker manager of the club, after the resignation of Stewart Houston, and managed the side for three winning FA Premier League matches.
With the arrival of Arsène Wenger, Pat became his assistant, and played a key role in helping the club to their success in the 1990s and 2000s, including the Doubles of 1997–98 and 2001–02, and Arsenal’s unbeaten League season of 2003–04. He holds the distinction (along with Bob Wilson) of having taken part, as player or coach, in all three of Arsenal’s Doubles.
On 5 May 2012, it was announced that he would be stepping down after an accumulative 44 years with club, since joining as an apprentice.
Arsene Wenger stated ”Pat is a true Arsenal legend and has committed almost his life to Arsenal Football Club, which shows huge loyalty and devotion to this club…I will always be indebted to him for his expert insight into Arsenal and football as a whole. On the training pitches and on match days, Pat has always been a passionate, loyal and insightful colleague, who we will all miss”.
His 528 games place him fifth on the all time list of player appearances.
Pat was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to sport.
13. Sammy Nelson: 1966-1981
Sammy played in 339 games over a 15 year period.
Sammy was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and joined Arsenal on his 17th birthday in 1966. He originally played on the left-wing and was later moved into defence as a left back. He was a regular in Arsenal’s reserve side for several seasons, before making his first-team debut October 25, 1969. He was used primarily as an understudy to Bob McNab, and it wasn’t until McNab was injured in the 1971–72 season that he became a regular, but when McNab returned from injury, Sammy stepped back down to the reserve team.
Sammy made his debut for Northern Ireland, as a sub against England on April 21, 1970 going on to win 51 international caps, including two of Northern Ireland’s matches in the 1982 FIFA World Cup.
He finally became Arsenal’s first choice when left back when McNab left Arsenal in 1975 and for the next five seasons he was a constant member of the Arsenal side, playing in all three of the Gunners’ successive FA Cup finals (1978, 1979 and 1980 – but only winning against Manchester United in 1979, he also played in the Gunners’ 1980 Cup Winners’ Cup loss on penalties to Valencia.
Sammy was known as a character, one particular moment that he is remembered for was when he dropped his shorts in celebration in front of the North Bank – the FA didn’t share his sense of humour and suspended him for two weeks.
With the arrival of England international Kenny Sansom at the club in 1980, Sammy once again found himself in the reserves. He left Arsenal in 1981 to join Brighton & Hove Albion. He spent two seasons at Brighton, although unable to save the side from relegation in 1982–83, he did reach another Cup final (his fourth) that season, with Brighton losing 4-0 to Manchester United in a replay, after a 2–2 draw in the final.
Sammy retired from football that summer, and after spending a season as a coach at Brighton, he left the game completely and went into the insurance industry.
He played 339 first-class matches for the Gunners in total, and scored 12 goals.
Written by GunnerN5 and compiled by Gooner in Exile