The latest Highbury Hero takes us back in the time machine to 1979. When Arsenal signed a player who’d been a part of the Ipswich Town side that broke our hearts at Wembley just eight months previously. It’s The Arsenal’s equivalent of the Duracell bunny that went on forever. It’s Brian “Noddy” Talbot.
Noddy operated in the midfield engine room. A good passer with a sound technique. He’d get stuck in, was brave and scored his share of goals. An excellent box-to-box player arriving in the opposition penalty area to get on the end of crosses.
Brian was the perfect fit in an Arsenal midfield that contained the flamboyant artistry of Liam Brady and Graham Rix. Brian along with David Price were the grafters and ball winners that allowed the other two to express their skills.
Noddy also took a decent free kick but his greatest attribute was his unlimited stamina. He would toil endlessly the whole game, he was relentless from the first whistle to the last, covering every blade of grass. He had an unusually slow heartbeat which allowed him to operate like a long distance runner. Noddy said “I was lucky because I could run all day. I was born with a slow heartbeat, so it wasn’t something I’d learnt or gained it was something I had, it was God’s gift to me” Noddy wasn’t the most elegant of players, in fact I’d go as far to say that his running style was ungainly. But Brian had incredible stamina and endurance, he was also rarely injured. In one four year period at Arsenal out of a possible 225 games Noddy started 223 of them! Brian was no Abou Diaby!
Brian Talbot was born on the 21st July 1953 at Ipswich in Suffolk. He left school as soon as he could at fifteen, on the Friday and signed as an apprentice for his hometown club Ipswich Town on the Monday in 1968.
Bill McGarry was the Ipswich manager and Noddy broke his leg soon after joining. He had two seasons on loan in Canada with Toronto Metros before returning to Ipswich. He was in the reserves for quite a while until he was eventually given his debut by Bobby Robson, aged 21, against Burnley at Turf Moor on the 9th February 1974 in a 1-0 win.
Brian became a regular in the side and in 1974-75 Ipswich came within two points of winning the Title finishing third behind the Champions Liverpool and Derby County. Noddy thinks they would have won the Title but for an injury to their best player Kevin Beattie. The same season Ipswich also came close to winning the FA Cup, when they controversially lost a Semi-Final Replay against West Ham United 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, with Noddy convinced Trevor Whymark’s disallowed goal should have stood, but it was ruled out by referee Clive “The Book” Thomas.
In the 1977-78 season Ipswich again reached the FA Cup Semi-Final. This time the tie was at Highbury and Ipswich reached the Final beating West Bromwich Albion 3-1. Brian bravely headed the ball home to give the tractor boys the lead. But in doing so clashed heads with West Brom’s John Wile, which left both players covered in claret. Wile could continue, but Noddy was concussed and had to leave the pitch. Ipswich went on to win the FA Cup, as the underdogs when they beat The Arsenal 1-0 with a Roger Osbourne goal. We didn’t play well that day and Ipswich fully deserved their victory. Liam Brady started when he clearly wasn’t fit and Ipswich took full advantage with Talbot having an excellent game.Brian bravely scores the opener in the semi-final for Ipswich v WBA at Highbury
Brian thought the FA Cup Final was going to be his last game for Ipswich. He’d impressed Arsenal and Terry Neill wanted to buy him. Noddy was keen to join The Arsenal but it was to be another eight months before the deal went through.
Arsenal paid £450,000 for Brian’s services and he signed for The Arsenal on the 11th January 1979 and made his debut two days later in a 2-1 win against Nottingham Forest at Highbury. Arsenal were in the middle of the five game FA Cup marathon with Sheffield Wednesday when Talbot signed and David Price retained the number 4 shirt for those games. But Brian came back into the side, wearing the number 4 shirt, for the next round of the FA Cup against Notts County at Highbury, with David Price taking the number 10 shirt. Arsenal won 2-0. Willie Young nodded home the first goal, then Brian Talbot slotted home his first goal for The Arsenal, after some magic from Liam Brady who provided the cross for Noddy.Noddy scores his first goal for The Arsenal
In the 5th round of the FA Cup Noddy played his part in a real smash and grab 1-0 win against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, up at the City Ground. It has to be remembered that Forest were a brilliant side back then and went on that season to win the European Cup and retain it the following season. So it was a fantastic feat by The Arsenal to knock them out the Cup on their own patch. It was a backs to the wall job for Arsenal as they threw the kitchen sink at us. But Pat Jennings was incredible that night saving everything they hit us with, then with one of the few chances for us Frank Stapleton got the winner.
A 1-1 draw in the Quarter-Final, at the Dell against Southampton, who Arsenal despatched 2-0 in the replay, then a comfortable 2-0 win in the Semi-Final at Villa Park against Wolves and The Arsenal were back at Wembley for the 1979 FA Cup Final against Manchester United.
On another sun kissed day at Wembley Noddy opened the scoring in the Five Minute Final. Noddy looked puzzled that nobody ran to him to celebrate as his team mates converged on Alan Sunderland wrongly thinking he’d scored the first goal. A Frank Stapleton header put us 2-0 up from a pinpoint cross from Liam Brady and we were coasting until United hit us with two late goals. We looked dead and buried. All we’d gone through to get there, 10 matches, including the 5 games with Sheffield Wednesday looked like us ending with nothing for the second year running.
The match was heading to extra time. But there was a further twist to come in this roller coaster of a game as Liam Brady glided past a United defender, stroked the ball down the line for Rixy, who sent in a deep cross for Alan Sunderland to bury it in the back of the net! The Arsenal end erupted as we celebrated. The final whistle came and Brian Talbot became the first player for over 100 years to win an FA Cup Winners medal in successive seasons with two different clubs. Not a bad first season at The Arsenal for Noddy.Noddy puts us ahead against Manchester United in the Five Minute Final in 1978
For any Arsenal fan old enough to remember 1979-80 was heartbreaking. Arsenal had performed wonders to cope with a horrendous fixture pile up to reach two major cup finals. At one stage we had to battle through a fixture list which read like this:
5/4/80 Southampton (H) Div 1
7/4/80 Tottenham (A) Div 1
9/4/80 Juventus (H) ECWC S/F
12/4/80 Liverpool FAC S/F
16/4/80 Liverpool FAC S/F Replay
19/4/80 Liverpool (A) Div 1
23/4/80 Juventus (A) ECWC S/F
26/4/80 WBA (H) Div 1
28/4/80 Liverpool FAC S/F Replay
1/5/80 Liverpool FAC S/F Replay
A very tall order indeed and a massive test of endurance for the Arsenal team. It was Brian Talbot who headed home the winner against Liverpool and finally kill off their resistance at the fourth time of asking, in the 3rd Semi-Final Replay at Coventry City’s Highfield Road to put Arsenal through to a third successive FA Cup Final.Noddy takes us to a third successive FA Cup Final
Arsenal then had 9 days to prepare for the Final and another two league fixtures to play in that time! Arsenal were exhausted by the time they played West Ham in the FA Cup Final in 1980 and it showed as we lost the game 1-0 to a rare Trevor Brooking header. Brian Talbot collapsed in the dressing room after the game as the punishing fixture schedule took its toll on him. It was a terrible day all round as the police advised us not go up Wembley Way before the game as the West Ham fans were starting on the Arsenal fans. We were jeered and spat at by the hordes of Hammers fans as we made our way to the stadium.
We consoled ourselves by saying we still had a chance of a trophy in the Cup Winners Cup Final four days later. Somehow the team picked themselves up and were slightly the better side against Valencia. David O’Leary didn’t give Mario Kempes a kick of the ball all night, as the game went to extra time finished 0-0 and so to penalties.
Pat Jennings saved from Kempes. But then Liam Brady had his penalty saved. The next four penalty takers from each side scored. Frank Stapleton, Alan Sunderland, Noddy and Johnny Hollins all scored for us. It was then sudden death Valencia scored before Graham Rix agonisingly had his penalty saved and the Arsenal players that had given so much that season slumped to the ground absolutely physically and emotionally drained.Heartbreak in Brussels
There was still a UEFA Cup place up for grabs and Arsenal had to win their last two games away at Wolves and Middlesbrough to clinch it. Amazingly they managed to beat Wolves 2-1. But in the 70th and final game of the season there was nothing left in the tank as Arsenal got hammered 5-0 at Ayresome Park.
A season that promised so much but left us empty handed. Sheer exhaustion destroyed our season and just to round off a miserable season. We lost our best player Liam Brady for a miserly £600,000 tribunal fee to Juventus.
Marathon man Brian Talbot played every one of those 70 games that season. Apart from once being substituted against Wolves at Highbury Noddy played every minute of every game. This included six Semi-Final games, 27 cup games, eight of which were replays and all the extra time that entailed. I doubt there is any player who has matched that remarkable feat and it must make Noddy chuckle to himself when he hears Arsene Wenger moaning about his players being jaded and in the red zone!
Yet the season still wasn’t finished for Noddy as he then had to make an arduous journey across the globe to Sydney to play for England against Australia! That was Brian’s sixth and final England cap and also the only cap he won while he was at The Arsenal.
Brian remained a fixture in the Arsenal side for the next three seasons. In 1982-83 he scored a hat-trick against Manchester City at Highbury in a 3-0 victory. But by 1983-84 younger players like Paul Davis and Stewart Robson had emerged to challenge Noddy for a place in the side. But in his last season at the club in 1984-85 Brian was still going strong featuring in all but one of the 42 league matches and had his best season goals wise scoring 12 times. Which included a brace against Liverpool at Highbury. The first one a stunning free kick.Noddy scores a brace against Liverpool at Highbury in September 1984
In the summer of 1985 Noddy was 32 years old. Steve Williams had been purchased the previous December and though Brian didn’t want to leave Arsenal. Don Howe made it clear he was no longer part of his plans, so he left to sign for Graham Taylor and joined Pat Rice at Watford.
After one season Brian moved to Stoke City. Joining an ex-teammate from Ipswich Town Mick Mills. About fifteen months later Noddy was signed by Ron Atkinson for WBA in January 1988. Big Ron made Talbot his captain and they avoided relegation from the top flight. The following season Ron Atkinson moved to Atletico Madrid and Brian became player manager for two seasons. Noddy then wound down his playing career with short spells at Fulham Aldershot and Sudbury Town. Hanging up his boots in 1992. Brian also served as the Chairman of the PFA for four years between 1984 and 1988.
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Noddy went on to manage Aldershot, Hibernians in Malta where Noddy won the Maltese Premier League and the Maltese Super Cup. After three years there he returned to England in 1996. Brian spent seven years at Rushden and Diamonds. Getting them into the Football League. He left for Oldham Athletic in 2004. Brian spent a season there followed by a season managing Oxford United and his last managerial post was a two stint back in Malta at Marsaxlokk where he guided them to the Maltese Premier League title and a place in the Champions League. These days Brian is at Fulham where he’s the Chief Scout and Assistant Director of Football Operations.
Brian Talbot played 327 times for The Arsenal and scored 49 goals. He was so consistent and dependable never giving less than 100 per cent. He was very much an unsung hero. He may not have been as gifted as Liam Brady or as pleasing on the eye as Charlie Nicholas. But make no mistake Brian Talbot made a significant contribution in his six years at Arsenal Football Club.
As always thanks for reading and there’ll be another Highbury Hero along shortly.