All aboard the time machine. I’ve set the dial back to 1973 for this week’s Highbury Hero. To the time when an Irish wizard with a left foot like a wand burst onto the scene and became one of the finest players ever to pull on an Arsenal shirt. Worshipped by the Arsenal fans, including me. Voted Player of the year three times by the Arsenal supporters. The one and only Liam Brady.
Chippie as he was nicknamed due to his love for fish and chips, was blessed with incredible skill and technique. I don’t think there had been a more gifted footballer at Arsenal, since probably the 1930’s. Liam was a genius on a football pitch. He had everything in his game. He had brilliant close control, a superb and accurate range of passing. Whether it required a delicate chip, a killer through ball, a probing 40 yard cross field pass, Brady could do all that with ease and more. Liam had a way of gliding past players and evading their desperate attempts to stop him. Many a time I recall seeing him being closed down by a couple of opposition players and thinking he’s in trouble here. Only for Liam to produce a bit of Brady magic and come away with the ball, leaving a couple of bemused players in his wake.
He also had a great shot on him. Often viciously swerving the ball, which was a nightmare for goalkeepers. Liam was a great crosser of the ball with pinpoint accuracy. Chippie also possessed great vision and awareness. He had a habit of coming up with the totally unexpected, not always taking the obvious option, which usually wrong footed opponents. Liam, although only slender in build, had great strength to hold players off and he got stuck in as well. Liam also knew how to take care of himself, against opponents that tried to kick him out the game.
A friend of mine who was a very good player, used to train with Arsenal around the time Brady first came to Arsenal. He told me “You couldn’t get the ball off Brady, the ball seemed to be glued to his left foot”. Such was his mastery over a football.
Born in Dublin. Liam came from a footballing family. His Great Uncle was an Irish international, as was Liam’s brother Pat, who played for Millwall and Queens Park Rangers. Another brother Frank won the FAI Cup with Shamrock Rovers. But there’s no doubt that Liam was by far the best of the Brady Bunch.
Brady joined Arsenal aged 15 and I was on the North Bank when Liam made his debut, coming in as a sub for the hapless Jeff Blockley, against Birmingham City on the 6th October 1973. You could see immediately that he was a special player. But he was used sparingly that season. Although in the last game of the season Chippie came on for Alan Ball and scored his first ever goal for Arsenal in a 1-1 draw, against Queens Park Rangers, at Highbury.
The following season 1974-75 Liam became a regular in the side. Forming a formidable midfield combination with Alan Ball. Bally was a good teacher and Brady was a fast learner. I remember one newspaper headline that read “The Sorcerer and his Apprentice”. But Chippie was becoming more and more influential and after Bally moved on to Southampton in 1976, Brady became the sorcerer and Graham Rix became the apprentice.A nice compilation of Liam
By 1977-78 Arsenal were becoming a very good cup side. We reached the FA Cup Final beating Orient 3-0 in the Semi-Final, at Stamford Bridge and faced Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town in the final.
Leading up to the final Liam had an ankle injury that he couldn’t shake off. I can understand why the club would want him to play, as he was so crucial to the side and you could hardly blame Liam either for not wanting to miss his first FA Cup Final. But Chippie didn’t last the game out. It was plain to see he wasn’t fit and in hindsight Rixy should have played instead. We lost the game 1-0. We weren’t at the races and Ipswich were clearly the better side on the day. Liam himself later said he would never again fool himself or the team over an injury. In future, if he wasn’t fit he wouldn’t play.
The summer ahead of the 1978-79 season I was on holiday in Benidorm, with my brother and 10 of our mates, having the time of our lives, when I clocked the newspaper headline that Spurs had signed the Argentinian World Cup winners Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, ahead of Spurs return to the top flight.
One particular mate of mine, who was a Spurs fan was going on and on about what Ardiles and Hoddle were going to do to Brady and Rixy. How they were going to be outclassed and overrun in midfield blah blah blah. You know the usual sort of stuff those deluded Spurs fans come out with.
Well we had to wait till the 23rd of December 1978, at White Hart Lane for the eagerly awaited first meeting. We absolutely wiped the floor with them 5-0. An Alan Sunderland hat-trick, a Stapleton header, from a superb Brady cross and the highlight of the game, a brilliant swerving shot from Liam driven into the top corner of the net.
The Spurs fans before the game were singing to the tune of Rod Stewart’s Sailing “We are Tottenham super Tottenham from the Lane”. After the final whistle the Arsenal fans rammed that chant back down their throats singing “We won 5-0 we won 5-0 we won 5-0 at the Lane. It was easy, it was easy, it was easy at the Lane”. As for my mate. I slaughtered him for weeks. I ruined his Christmas and his New Year. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me at all, if he had to have counselling, I gave him that much stick!Arsenal hammer Spurs 5-0
In the merry month of May, The Arsenal were back at Wembley again for the 1979 FA Cup Final against Manchester United. In what became known as “The Five Minute Final”. Liam gave a masterclass, destroying Manchester United making the first two goals for Talbot and Stapleton. But then United struck back scoring two goals and it looked like going to extra time. The United players and fans had their tails up. The Arsenal players looked drained and us fans were devastated. I didn’t fancy our chances in extra time.
But Liam summoned up one final penetrating run, he then passed the ball with the outside of his left foot, perfectly into the path of Graham Rix, he hit a beautiful high deep cross to Alan Sunderland, who buried it in the back of the net. Sundy was ecstatic, as were all us Arsenal fans. Liam fittingly received the PFA player of the year award for 1979 as well.Brady masterclass against Manchester United
The next season 1979-80 was one of our most disappointing ever. We played a marathon 70 games. By the time Arsenal reached their third FA Cup Final on the spin, there was hardly anything left in the tank. We lost 1-0 to a rare Trevor Brooking header. I’m convinced if we hadn’t been so jaded, we’d have beaten them. I think pure fatigue was the only reason they beat us that day.
It got worse as the team gave it their all against Valencia in the Cup Winners Cup Final four days later. Extra time came and went with still no score. So it went to penalties. Mario Kempes missed the first one, with Pat Jennings saving it. Then Liam, our go to man for penalties also had his penalty saved. The next player to miss was Graham Rix. The players sunk to their knees as they fully realised the agony of losing a second final in less than a week and ending up with nothing.The agonising penalty shoot out against Valencia
We still had two away league matches to play due to the fixture backlog and we needed to win them to qualify for Europe. Two days later we travelled up to Molineux, rallied ourselves dug deep and won 2-1. Three days after that we went to Middlesbrough for Liam Brady’s final Arsenal appearance. The players were out on their feet, they were exhausted and we got hammered 5-0. The team had given everything that season, but the sheer volume of games caught up with them. It was a very sad way for Chippie to finish with The Arsenal.
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Liam joined Juventus in the summer of 1980 for a paltry £600,000. The fee was set by a European Tribunal. It was the maximum amount permitted and was an absolutely scandalous fee for a player like Liam Brady, who was arguably at the time the best midfield player in Europe.
He spent two seasons at Juventus, winning two Serie A titles. Liam scored the penalty that clinched the title in his second season there. But Liam had to make way and leave as Juventus signed Michel Platini to take his place in the side.
He moved on to Sampdoria and linked up with Trevor Francis. After two seasons there Chippie signed for Inter Milan for two seasons. Before a final season in Italy playing for Ascoli. Not many foreign players managed to play for seven seasons in Italy back then, as it was the hardest league in Europe and attracted many of the World’s top players.
Liam finished his distinguished playing career, coming back to London to sign for West Ham United in 1987. He had three years with them before hanging up his boots. Typically Liam scored a cracking goal for West Ham in his final ever game as a professional on the 5th May 1990 against Wolverhampton Wanderers. He was mobbed by the West Ham fans as they ran onto the pitch to celebrate with him.Liam is mobbed by West Ham fans
Chippie also had a great international career, spanning 16 years from 1974 to 1990 with the Republic of Ireland. Johnny Giles was his mentor at international level, just as Bally was at club level, Brady won 72 caps and scored 9 goals for Ireland. One of which was the winner against Brazil. Pele said that Liam Brady plays like a Brazilian. There can be no finer tribute than that.
Brady did however play one final game in the red and white of The Arsenal. He returned to play in Pat Jennings Testimonial, at Highbury, against the old enemy Spurs, on the 8th May 1985. He gave us one final bit of the old Brady magic, when our former midfield maestro scored a stunning goal.
I and many others were bitterly disappointed when Liam left us for Italy. I was more upset about Liam leaving Arsenal than any other player before or since. We had seven seasons of him. But it should have been many more. I felt the Arsenal Board let the fans down by allowing first Brady, then Frank Stapleton to leave. We had three great young Irish players we could build the team around.
We had David O’Leary a brilliant centre back. Frank Stapleton a wonderful centre forward and the jewel in the crown Liam Brady. It was criminal to allow two of the three to leave. The club should have acted far earlier and moved heaven and earth to tie them down to new long term contracts, instead they dithered, letting their contracts run down and didn’t offer particularly great deals to entice them to stay. If Arsenal had offered to make them the best paid players in the country i’m sure both of them would have stayed. As it turned out they offered them too little too late.
I recall Liam saying in an interview once that Arsenal didn’t do enough to convince him to stay. He also said that the club took the players that had come through the youth system for granted.
With players like Kenny Sansom, Tony Woodcock and Viv Anderson added to the team we would have been challenging for all the major trophies for years and probably ended Liverpool’s dominance far earlier than we did.
Before I finish there is one other little story to tell you. About four or five years ago I was in my cab with some of my family after attending an Arsenal game. As I pulled out of the school where I park on match days. I noticed Liam walking along. I immediately started singing his song “One Liam Brady, there’s only one Liam Brady”. He raised his arm in the air in acknowledgement, just as he used to do for the adoring hoards of Arsenal fans, who sung his name back in the seventies in the North Bank and Clock End. There is only one Liam Brady and there’ll never be another.
Once again thanks for reading. There will be another Highbury Hero next week.