For today’s introduction we are going back into the mists of time, when men were men and not floppy overcooked strings of spaghetti like Busquets, Nani and Pepe.
England were World Champions and Man Utd had recently won the European Cup. For the younger reader who has grown up in the Sky era, there can be no understanding of the excitement and national pride that both events stirred. Unlike today, all English football fans wanted MU to beat a brilliant Benfica team at Wembley, the scene of our only WC triumph just 2 years before. The following year (Sept ’69) when MU came to Highbury the side had already changed following the retirement of Sir Matt Busby, with younger blood joining Bobby Charlton etc.
At that time George Best was 23 years old, he had already played 300 games for MU and was the most famous footballer in the World. Moore, Charlton and Stiles may have been the faces of England’s WC victory but George was The Man. At a time when football was confined to newspaper back pages, Best was front page headline news, top 10 songs were written about him, kids aped his clothes, copied his hair style, he was a friend of the Beatles, always had a super-model on his arm etc etc. But above all, he was a complete footballer, he was coming to Highbury and so was I.
A 60,000 crowd in the same Highbury that was limited to under 40k a few years later. The North Bank was packed and swaying. An old man reminiscing is interminably dull so I will cut this short· Mclintock heads out a high ball to the edge of the area, Best leaps off the ground and sends a scissor kick volley flying past Bob Wilson. At first, there was stunned silence around Highbury followed by huge applause, we had witnessed a genius displaying his genius – what can be better on a football pitch? We drew 2-2 and I recall Stroller Graham scoring one for us.
George Best is the best player I have ever seen play live and I have seen Maradona, Cruyff, Van Basten, Gullit, TH, DB (4 Dutchmen TA ) etc etc No-one could lift a crowd in the way he did, and he was a brilliant bloke to boot.
A young Best at what looks like Highbury (West Stand?)
Manchester United have always been a glamour club and their arrival at the Emirates guarantees tension and excitement, this fixture remains a highlight of any season. Sadly, Ferguson’s MU are a pale shadow of the entertaining sides of their past; the cheating, spitting, vituperative Rooney being the emblem of their play. Yes, they thrashed a reserve AFC earlier in the season (a total freak result ), and today we could have problems due to our injury nightmare but the belief remains that a full strength Arsenal would beat this MU team with some ease.
However, we do NOT have a full strength team and are unlikely to see one for some time. Have we enough to win today? Certainly, if the players give their all and work as a team. There are fears about how our “FB’s” will cope with MU’s strength on the flanks; the midfielders must concentrate and assist them.
It would be brave to start with Oxlade-Chamberlain – his last outing at OT was hardly a success!
Famous Gooner: Today is all about courage, the ability to step forward when all you want to do is go home and play with the wife. One Gooner who has lived a life requiring a level of courage few of us can imagine is Michael Watson.
Having beaten Nigel Benn, Watson fought and lost to Chris Eubank for the WBO Middleweight title (1991, what great times for fans of British boxing), receiving a life-threatening injury which resulted in 6 brain operations and 40 days in a coma. To go from being at the top of his profession with a healthy, immensely strong body to being totally immobile must have been devastating. There followed a year in hospital during which time he couldn’t move, hear or speak, Watson spent the next 6 years in a wheelchair. But Michael didn’t give up, he fought is disabilities and in 2003 even managed to complete the London Marathon (over the course of 6 days), being welcomed over the finish line by Eubanks and his neurosurgeon.
Not long out of hospital (1992) Michael was invited onto the hallowed grass at his beloved Highbury and at half-time was pushed in his wheel-chair to all sides of the ground – it was a highly emotional moment both for him and the fans who rose to greet him. I was there that day and am not ashamed to say shed a tear for an incredibly brave man and a true Gooner. In 2004, Watson was awarded an MBE for his charity work for Brain and Spinal Research.
Watson, wearing the Red & White he always wore in the Ring
Watson doesn’t find excuses when the odds are stacked against him. Can today’s Arsenal team win? Ask Michael.
Written by Big Raddy