Terry Neill Influence | Arseblog… The Arsenal Blog

All morning.

I was saddened to learn of the death of former Arsenal player and manager Terry Neill yesterday. If you’ve read this site regularly over the years, you’ll know that in 1979 The FA Cup was a hugely important moment in the life of this young football and Arsenal fan.

There I was in my away kit – yes, full kit before such a thing was invented, but honestly I was only 8 years old – watching Arsenal v Man Utd at Wembley. Brian Talbot. 1-0. Frank Stapleton 2-0. The mighty Gunners in their glorious yellow and blue were cruising to victory but then United scored. Gordon McQueen, The Big Slugs. Well, it was about time I started to understand the concept of a consolation goal…but then Sammy McIlroy scored and with 2 minutes to go it was 2-2 instead of 2-0 with just 2 minutes to go.

I don’t think I’d ever heard or used the acronym WTF at that point in my life, but somewhere in my little brain, that’s exactly what was going on. WTF WTF WTF, with a much more polite “HOW?!” thrown in. This is not what was supposed to happen. Arsenal’s players suddenly looked limp. I looked for reassurance from my dad, who was watching with me, but before he could even try to explain, “Well, son, this is football.” It lifts you up, knocks you down and sometimes gives you the right kick when you’re on the floor trying to catch your breath,” Arsenal began.

I can’t even tell you how many times I replayed what happened next. Outside on the grass. In the hall, much to my mother’s surprise – “How many times have I told you that you play indoor football?!” – Of course the answer was “Infinity Times + 1”. I didn’t care. The goal had to be scored because it was the biggest goal in history.

I had to pretend to be Liam Brady, socks around my ankles due to the combination of fatigue and effortless cool; an outside-foot pass to Graham Rix and a first-time cross as two United defenders tried to close him down; and there, at the back post, Alan Sunderland made it 3-2 and lifted the famous old trophy with a superb volley over the head of Gary Bailey, United’s impossibly blond goalkeeper.

As a young Irish kid living in England, Arsenal won the FA Cup with six Irishmen and an Irish manager. Is it any wonder that that day was forever linked to this club? Even now, it’s hard for me to put into words what that game did to me. Like Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider, it affected the rest of my life, except I didn’t get super powers and a tight suit (which is probably a good thing these days).

I also think the next year gave me a kind of perspective that stuck with me as well. in 1979 was the second of three consecutive FA Cup finals and the only one in which we triumphed. The following year, when we played West Ham in the second division, I remember feeling confident. We were Arsenal and they were a league below us. How could we not win and make it two in a row?

The answer, of course, is that we were Arsenal and made things like a 1-0 defeat to a team that finished 7th in Division 2 – behind Luton and just ahead of Cambridge – part and parcel of our existence. It’s in our DNA. A few days later we played the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup at the Heysel stadium, against a Valencia team that featured World Cup winner Mario Kempes.

It ended 0-0. It went to penalties. I listened on the radio. Medium wave. A comforting crunch, the sound faded in and out and I heard us lose. Liam Brady missed a penalty and so did Graham Rix. FA Cup final disappointment doubled with another defeat. Brady then left for Juventus that summer. The tragedy and trauma of your favorite player (whom you didn’t even see at the time) leaving.

I don’t know, I think you learn a lot from your football experience. I had the joy of 1979, the pain of the 1980s and then a long wait for Arsenal to win something again, the League Cup in 1987 when Charlie Nicholas scored twice as we beat Liverpool 2-1. If that doesn’t make you appreciate the good moments when they come and realize that success is often fleeting and cyclical, nothing will.

Terry Neill was then the man in charge, and although after his dismissal in 1983 he couldn’t take it anymore, he made a huge impact on my football sponsorship life. He never knew it, but I wonder if there would have been such a thing as Arseblog without him? Maybe, maybe not, but I still thank him for it.

My condolences to his family and friends, may he rest in peace.

I leave you with a brand new Arsecast this morning, talking to Simon Collings from the Evening Standard about pre-season, player sales, squad gaps and much more.


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