Tag Archives: Tony Adams

The Arsenal and Me – Micheal’s Story

It’s All Lee Dixon’s Fault.

Love affairs and addictions often happen by chance. Someone or something comes into your life, possibly briefly but its impact is sudden and overwhelming. My addictive love affair with Arsenal is no different. And for that I blame . . . Lee Michael Dixon.

 I discovered Arsenal purely by chance and given the events of my first ever Arsenal match it seems almost surreal. I had been stationed in the US Navy. With my role in the Navy, I split time between London working for Commander-in-Chief US Forces Europe and Allied Forces South based out of Naples Italy. It was the late Eighties, and during that time frame I’d find my exposure to the game I played as a kid taken to new extremes.

During one of my last stays in London, I happened to be friendly with a lot of the lads from the Royal Navy (and some of the lasses as well – that’s another story). One  in particular, Rory, and I had a penchant for hanging out together and enjoying our favorite past time – drinking. One week he found out his brother was sick and wouldn’t be able to go to a football match with him. One they’d planned on going to earlier but for whatever reason they were unable to (at the time I didn’t fully understand what had happened at Hillsborough)

The match he would take me to was none other than the match at Anfield in 1989 – that magical night when “the boys of” Arsenal would put the “men” of Liverpool to the sword and capture their first league title since ‘70-’71. I would later find out that the original timing of this match was postponed from its original date in April because of the Hillsborough tragedy but much like my experience that night I was not aware of that or Arsenal.

Let me tell you, that when it was all said and done and we were journeying home, I had no idea what I had witnessed. All I knew was that it was intense, it was passionate and in my mind , it was the greatest thing I had ever witnessed.

Exposure to the European game was nonexistent growing up. You just didn’t know it. You knew of players like Pele because of the NASL here in the US, but knowing who players were in England for me never really happened,  till that night. And it was that night that I’d really be drawn to the highly effective play of one player in particular. . .

Lee Dixon. I think I was first drawn to Lee because he was the man who put that final goal in motion, and for some reason when I watched it happen, I just felt I was seeing something magical – that could’ve been Rory’s hand grasping my forearm for dear life though. That pass to Smith that eventually found its way to Michael Thomas would be the catalyst for my fascination with Arsenal.

I would leave London that following week and I wouldn’t go back again until after my discharge, but I was hooked. I had to know more and whilst finishing up my service in Napoli (watching Maradona play for them – how’s that for exposure to soccer) I began reading the weekly versions of the UK papers to keep up on Arsenal and of course Lee Dixon.

If only we had the Internet back then!

Once back home in the US information on Arsenal was harder still.  AOL was in it’s infancy and digital sharing of information was sporadic – at best. So my initial keep-up on Arsenal was through the mail from Rory and similarly to my time in Naples, through the weekly UK press (the Express could be had at certain book shops) available here in the US.  But I was a determined young man and I wanted to see them live as often as I could. And with no strings and money from an inheritance, I went as frequently as life would allow.

As I got to know Arsenal during that time, what struck me about Lee Dixon’s play was the almost unassuming way he went about his business. And for me, that is why I liked him. Where I grew up in the US, we like our sports personalities to be blue collar, hard-working, and not flashy – to me Lee Dixon was the epitome of that.  To say Lee didn’t have flash is kind of misleading – let’s say it was subdued flash. He didn’t have the silky skills we swoon over, but he had a dogged determination to win every ball he good. And because as good as he was defensively, the fact he scored 28 goals – some of a wicked variety are often overlookedObviously there is THAT goal against Chelsea. Coming in from the left side and just rifling a shot in the upper corner that any striker would’ve been envious of. Or the goal against George Graham’s Leeds. Both of those stand out as a testament his offensive skills.

Still, though, he was a defender. It’s always easy to take joy in a goal or the flash of a midfielder or striker, but to truly appreciate a player, you must watch those who ply their trade defending. Sometimes there work is non-stop, sometimes it’s non-existent.

Of course back then, defending was a way of life for Arsenal, particularly when Lee was part of that famed back four. The times I did get to see him live or  in a pub here in the US (the Dicken’s Inn in Philadelphia used to be the early spot) I just always felt watching him – he was so easily good at this. He was a fullback who was solid and determined, and while Tony Adams would wear the moniker of Mr. Arsenal (and rightly so), I always thought of Lee as Mr. Dependable.

Of course any discussion of Lee would be incomplete without acknowledging the own goal against Coventry – the best own goal ever according to some. It was something I didn’t see live but was relayed to me the phone almost immediately after the match. Looking at it now through the help of YouTube, it’s not a highlight reel moment unless you are capturing the worst possible moments of a player’s career. But as I watch it and I watch my favorite player wince and grab his head in pain, I feel it too – even now.

My last memory of Lee playing is probably the time I think I knew, as probably did others, that his playing career was in the wane. It was during the 2000-2001 FA Cup Final in Cardiff. I have to admit to crying afterwards (I’m actually cold and heartless really) and coming to terms with Lee’s mortality. Watching Michael Owen, speed by him for the eventual winner was too painful. But it was painful I think, because we don’t ever want to see our heroes stop being who we know they truly are.

I have this propensity for freezing people in time. I still envision my 35 year old younger brother as 9 year old. For me Lee will always be that man who lofted the ball so sweetly to Alan Smith, and with the start of play for that legendary goal, sent me on a journey I haven’t ever come back from.

We are blessed now that Lee has taken his talents to punditry. He is as good there as he was on the pitch. His ability to dissect a game is a testament, to me at least, to his ability to read a game as player. He is insightful, thoughtful and objective.

As I started YouAreMyArsenal and we started to get some recognition, I was asked if I wanted to participate on a Q&A video with the IAMPLAYR application on Facebook. I was curious. Then they told me who was going to be answering our questions, Lee Dixon. Curiosity be damned. It was Lee.

It’s all a little fanboy I know. But I show Lee to my sons and even some of my players (I am a coach now) videos of THAT back four and I tell them – that’s how you defend. And then I show them Lee scoring – and I say good defenders get to score too.

If I was offered the chance to meet Lee Dixon, I would simply say to him – Lee, thank you. You have given me a love affair with a club no one can take away and I am forever grateful.

Michael

Michael is the administrator/blogger for youaremyarsenal.com. You can join his Facebook group here

If you would like to tell your Arsenal story, click here

10 Reasons why we will beat Norwich + starting XI

1.. Szczesny was in line for some much deserved praise yesterday by Wenger and rightly so as he has never played so well for so many games running. Is this due to him finally having a back four he can trust?

2.. I was well pleased to see Gibbs get a call up for the England squad, it is no more than he deserves. Yes he has Cashley and Baines in front of him at that level but it does give him even more of an incentive to have a good season if he knows he is in the mind of the England boss. PLEASE STAY FIT!

3.. Captain Vermaelen made a bit of noise this week about not playing enough games and it was easy for the jorno’s to write stories saying he wants to leave. Would be very unlike us to have a captain leave eh..

4.. Mertesacker and Koscielny are the reason our captain will keep bench warming, the centreback partnership is the most important partnership on the pitch. Campbell and Toure, Adams and Keown, Adams and Bould, Adams and anyone. If they keep this up they will be spoke about in the same terms.

5.. Sagna is also having a great start to the season, defending strongly and getting up the pitch. He’s had some horrific injuries over the last few years and now has young Jenkinson a England Under 21 player snapping at his heels but I do feel if he keeps this up we will be daft not to hand him a new 2 year deal.

6.. The one downside for The Arsenal players in the last international break was Jack Wilshere, it seems he is falling out of favor with Woy. I’m not that surprised either as he is being eclipsed by the form of Ramsey who scored a great goal for Wales. Wenger’s daft idea of playing Jack wide left for a few games hasn’t helped but if Jack fancy’s smoking outside a few nightclubs in Brazil this summer he better start fighting for a regular place at ours first.

7.. Ozil picked up a knock on his knee playing for Germany but seems certain to start, he should rip Norwich apart today.

8.. I used to have a soft spot for Norwich as a kid, the first football team I played (badly) for used to play in a Yellow and Green Norwich kit. But I now find it very hard to even tolerate them due to their manager, Chris Hughton. Hated him as a player, a number two, a manager and I wish him nothing but relegation and the sack.

9.. Norwich have played 7 Prem games; winning 2, drawing 1, losing 4, scoring only 5 and conceding 9. If we get an early goal it could be a cricket score.

10.. Wenger knows this is another game we should pick up all 3 points on if we are going to mount a challenge this season, we have had an easy run of games so far in the Prem the real test will come next month.

Predicted starting XI – Chesney, Sagna, Per, Kos, Gibbs, Flamini, Arteta, Rosicky, Ramsey, Ozil, Giroud

COME ON THE ARSENAL !!

HIGHBURY CLASSICS – VOLUME 1 ARSENAL v NORWICH – NOVEMBER 1989

Not since 1934-35 have Arsenal successfully defended the league title and the 1989-90 effort didn’t come close to changing that stat. By May we had fallen well short to the eventual winners Liverpool; a club who nobody at the time would have possibly imagined would go at least 24 years without repeating that success.
Worst of all about 1989-90 was that we would end up in 4th, one place behind a Tottenham side who had improved since the signing of Gary Lineker (though it’s worth noting that we still finished nine places above Manchester United).
Despite not being a vintage season, there were still some good times such as Tony Adams’s volley into the corner of the net that beat Tottenham 1-0 at Highbury. There was also the 2-1 victory against Glasgow Rangers at Ibrox in the Battle of Britain ‘friendly’ (we of course could not play in the European Cup because of the five year ban on English clubs).

If one match stood out as the most dramatic of the season then it was ‘Fireworks Day’ against Norwich City in November 1989. Proceedings started off on polite and civil terms as David O’Leary came on to the pitch and was applauded by both sets of players. He was making his 622nd appearance for the club which was, and still is, a record breaker.
At the tail end of the previous season Arsenal had put five in against Norwich without reply on route to being crowned champions. It was one of many severe beatings handed out over the years which contradicted the myth that Arsenal played negative football. This time in the November to Remember, City would not go down so easy and by halftime they were 2-0 up.Malcom Allen had scored a close range header from a corner and then Phillips doubled the lead with a great free kick from 25 yards. Before the free kick had been taken, tensions and tempers had flared up that would come to a boiling point by the end of the game. Malcom Allen who had won the free kick, was dragged along the ground and then roughly picked up by an angrier than normal O’Leary, who accused him of going down easy (Allen did indeed go down easy – O’Leary easily hacked his legs and sent him flying).

The game changed in the second half when Niall Quinn scored from close range after a Kevin Richardson free kick was saved by Brian Gunn. Then we were awarded a penalty when future Gunner Andy Linighan handled inside the box. Surprisingly, Lee Dixon stepped up to take the kick. This was a first and most unexpected – Lee Dixon our first choice penalty taker – since when?
In a decisive and confident fashion Dixon put the ball straight down the middle and we were level. Disaster – Norwich went 3-2 ahead. Lukic saved a long range header from Linighan only for Tim Sherwood to put the rebound into the top of the net.
A loss would have overshadowed a day of celebration for an Arsenal legend. O’Leary was a class act in defence and was talented enough to have moved on and represented more successful European sides during the early to mid 1980s when Arsenal were mediocre. He had shown us loyalty and stayed because he loved the club, and on his record appearance O’Leary scored a rare goal to make it 3-3. A cross was put in the box by Winterburn and the Irishman headed past Brian Gunn in front of the North Bank.
That was the icing on the cake – the man of the day O’ Leary had saved us from defeat and we would go home happy. More icing – in the dying seconds, Michael Thomas was brought down in the box by Butterworth and another penalty was given by referee George Tyson. Dixon stepped up again to take the kick. I can’t speak for the rest of the crowd, but I remember not being at all confident that our right back would score two penalties in one game. Dixon shot and missed – but in a day of rebounded goals he managed to stud the ball past Gunn and it slowly crossed the line. We went ballistic as did the players – both sets of players as it turned out. A fight broke out in the goal net: as Alan Smith followed the ball passed the line he was jumped on by three yellow shirts. Smith being the one player in the red and white who couldn’t and never did want a row was set upon. But he was in a team that wouldn’t allow such liberties to go unopposed. Rocky Rocastle once said of the squad “We didn’t start fights but we finished them.” Within seconds, players from both sides were involved in a confrontation that would go on to dominate the back pages for the next week.

Not one punch was thrown, just a bit of pushing and shoving along with one kick from a Norwich player. And despite having not been the side to start the ‘brawl’ the media hacks laid into Arsenal and we were labelled the villains. In 1989 Saint and Greasvie were TV’s most prominent pundits and were a bit more pragmatic over what had happened. Coming from a rougher era, they noted that the incident was no worse than “scuffles in the January sales” but they did criticize the referee for handing out two controversial penalties which they blamed for starting the row.
In general, there was mass hysteria and the back pages carried headlines such as ‘Fireworks’ and ‘disgrace’. It’s important to remember that earlier in 1989; the media’s hatred for Arsenal resulted in one prominent Tabloid’s back page carrying the image of Tony Adams with donkey ears in what was a needless insult. Back then, rival fans and the tabloid media despised Arsenal far more than now. But that was all good fun as it bought a sense of togetherness among the fans and the players. We didn’t care about what they thought, but we would be made to pay the price. The result of such press fury would go on to cost us two points the following season. And that’s another story….

Matthew Bazell

Matthew Bazell is the author of Theatre of Silence: The Lost Soul of Football

TOS