Wenger In/Wenger Out? – It is getting stale.
We need something new to remember that football is not just about the next three points or next team selection so let me lighten the mood and recall some Arsenal moments over the years. How about this Joe Mercer reminisce? – A lovely encounter with a City fan when he was manager at Maine Road. However before that, the moment that made me a Gunner. It was April 1954 – a grey day at Highbury. We beat Liverpool 3-0, perhaps that was their year of their relegation. The ball is loose. Two of our defenders clash in an attempt to clear. One is Joe Wade, a lovely stalwart who eventually went to Cardiff City. He collided with skipper Joe Mercer. There was a loud crack. Joe’s leg was broken. On came the St John’s Ambulance men and the dreaded stretcher.
Grey clouds overhead matched by heavy hearts on the terraces and in the stands. He was 36 and he had broken his leg. The general was done. He was stretchered off and as he went he raised his right hand and waved goodbye. Grown men in tears, even now I choke. He was Arsenal. He was the Gunners spirit. It was he who famously said on 3 May 1952 after the 10 man defeat by Newcastle at Wembley “I thought the biggest honour in football was to captain England. I was wrong. It was to captain Arsenal today”. That wave made me a Gunner and many others too. Joe Wade was inconsolable.
Now to the fun of Mercer because he was fun – with a smile and a chuckle. He was manager of City and was walking the streets of Manchester when he was spied by an eager City fan. The team were struggling. The fan approaches the great man
“Mr Mercer, do you mind if we have a few words?”
“Not a problem – what is it son?” (knowing it was going to be a series of moans)
“I hope you don’t mind me suggesting that Oakes moves forward. Coleman comes into midfield, Bell is pushed up and Franny Lee plays in midfield.”
The lad is feeling good. He has given the manager the key to the way forward. Problems all solved.
Mercer says – “Tell me son what do you do for a living”
The fan responds “I sell cloth in the markets”
“Funny, says Mercer, I know nothing about cloth” and walks off.
Mercer was reckoned to be over the hill when Tom Whittaker signed him from Everton. He led us to the title in 1948, the Cup in 1950 and the League again in 1953. A great signing, a great leader and but for his associations with Moral Re-Armament, a fine man.
Mention of 1950 and the Cup final reminds me of Alex Forbes who died last year. Liverpool’s great player was the outside left Billy Liddell. Forbes marked him – literally. He roughed him out of the game and Reg Lewis scored two for us to win the FA Cup. It was Denis Compton’s last game for AFC. A few years later – in 1954 I saw my first sending off when Forbes and Bobby Brennan clashed and were given marching orders. It never happened – sending’s off that is. It was another grey day and we suffered a humiliating defeat. It was the beginning of the barren years which ended when Jon Sammels scored the third goal against Anderlecht forty six years ago. Memories are so important.
Now about Arsene…