WTTGT Writer: Simon Bourne (Site Editor) – Follow Me
England, World Cup ‘66 – the words just go together like Romeo and Juliette. Whilst Charlton, Moore and Hurst were at the forefront of Alf Ramsey’s team, Arsenal had a soon-to-be legend in their reserve team, making his way through the Gunners’ ranks.
Since that faithful day at Wembley when Bobby Moore lifted the illustrious trophy, football has changed an awful lot. Arsenal hero, Bob Wilson (OBE) has closely monitored the game’s progression over his 70 years, from player to coach, television presenter to pundit, and he caught up with WTTGT.
Bob said: “Football is a lot more technical in the modern day. It’s obviously faster and more scientific, but some of it is still the same. I remember speaking to Frank McClintock and we were saying that some of the scientific things in today’s game, we were doing 40 years ago.
“We were hard back then. We’d kick each other on purpose and it was rough. It was brutal. I still know many of the Tottenham lads who I used to play against and we have a good laugh about it now. Today, there is a lot more cheating in the game. The players dive, shirt pull and fake injury. It’s not nice but neither was what we were doing 40 years ago. Somewhere in between would be perfect.
“The stadiums are magnificent now. We’d take a trip to somewhere like Derby and the Baseball Ground, and it was like playing on a mud pit. We had a football that was just a football, and it didn’t do all this silly moving around.
“The likes of Best, Moore, Finney and Matthews could definitely play in today’s game. If you’ve got the talent, then given the science and the coaching of today, then they would have still been up there with the world’s best players.”
The Scotland international doesn’t buy into all of the science though, and he used Jack Wilshere’s recent U21 exclusion as an example saying: “I heard last week Jack talking about some GPS system that tells him that he is fatigued. I played 64 games in 70-71 when we won the double, and 75% of them were on boggy pitches. You get tired but your adrenaline and love of the game sees you through.”
Bob Wilson and Arsenal winning the 1971 FA Cup Final
Wilson worries for the “real fans” within the game given the vast increase in the cost of watching football. He said: “It’s not the corporate fans that I worry for. They will be fine, but it’s the man at the top of the stand, and the man at the bottom of it. I find it amazing how they do it, finding up to £150 every game to watch their team.
“You look at the likes of QPR increasing their ticket prices by 40% and it just becomes impossible for some fans to keep watching. Even Arsenal’s 6% increase will see fans not returning next season and that’s what I worry about.”
Wilson gave 28 years of his life to Arsenal without being paid a penny; why? He did it because of the love for the game and because of his love for Arsenal Football Club. As the years went by, he saw many fantastic goalkeepers follow him in filling the number one shirt, but he most fondly remembers two names in particular.
“Pat Jennings was the most natural goalkeeper I had the pleasure of working with. When he joined Arsenal, aged 31, I spent 10 years working with him and I taught him nothing. Jennings does credit me with keeping his desire going to keep playing, which he did until his 41st birthday, so I did have some impact on him.
“But the best goalkeeper I’ve seen is David Seaman. He won 9 major trophies at Arsenal and he was just phenomenal. With over 1000 appearances in the game, he is a real great. What I found amazing was that he could be talking to a ball boy or a man in the crowd only 10 seconds before kick-off, just having a laugh and giggling, but as soon as that whistle went he was ‘in the zone’ as they say. David was amazing.”
With Almunia, Fabianski and Szczęsny all being talked about in relation to the number one shirt at the Emirates, Wilson believes the latter is possibly the answer to Arsenal’s goalkeeping for the next decade.
“He’s brilliant,” said Wilson, “he is built like Edwin van der Sar, he plays like him and he can be as good as him. Arsenal need to just keep playing him and let him grow into the position. He could well be Arsenal’s goalkeeper for the next 10 years.”
After his playing days ended in 1974, he took up a media career working for the BBC. Wilson became the face of Match of the Day and Grandstand. Given his years in and around the game, Wilson oversaw many great tournaments but he remembers one in particular very fondly.
“I got my shot fronting all football for ITV and working the most memorable tournament for me was the 1998 World Cup in France. It was amazing. We achieved record viewing figures in the England v Argentina game, the Owen goal, with 26.5m people tuning in. Of course they weren’t there to see me, but I was part of it and it’s very special to me.”
Since leaving ITV, Wilson has dedicated large parts of his life, along with his wife Mags, to charity. The Willow Foundation was founded in 1999 in memory of their daughter Anna who tragically died in 1998 following a battle with a rare form of cancer.
“The charity was set up in her memory” said Bob. “When we found out about Anna’s illness, Anna wanted to have ‘Anna’s day’ where we would do things as a family like going to the match or some retail shopping. Before her death she said to Mags and I that we need to ‘use what you’ve learnt, and don’t let it destroy you,’ and this inspired us.”
To date, The Willow Foundation has helped touch the lives of around 34’000 people and provided 1,500 special days for ill 16-40 year olds. With a remit of raising £3m per year to aid the cause, Bob and two friends recently set off on an extraordinary journey, cycling to every Premiership ground before finishing at Hamden Park.
Wilson said: “It was all my idea. I wanted to do something. It was all about doing something to celebrate my greatest year, 1970-71, with my latest year [turning 70-71] while raising money along the way.
“We got overwhelming support. Rochford’s built my bike for me, while Maddison’s supplied my lycra. Cycle Scheme helped out and we had masseurs along the way. We raised a total of £302,000 which is simply fantastic. Along with this we were also donated £48,000 in gifts of kindness such as my bike, meaning all donations could go direct to the charity.
“We loved it. It was a great achievement, but I wouldn’t rush to do it again.”
Bob Wilson was awarded his OBE in 2007 in relation to his charity work. But aside from his work off the field, Arsenal fans remember the great goalkeeper that played a major part in the double win of 1971, while every other football fan remembers Wilson as the smiley, enthusiastic and footballing face of broadcasting.
Bob Wilson OBE: A legend on so many levels.