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.
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