I have supported the Arsenal since I could understand the rules of the game, was taken to my first game aged 10 and have been going on my own steam since I was 14. Now aged 47 I consider myself as passionate as the next Arsenal fan and have supported the team through many highs and lows but recently I have found my love of the club deepening.
I write about the Arsenal has a hobby but in November 2013 I was fortunate enough to be asked by the daughter of a true Arsenal legend, Geordie Armstrong, to collaborate on a book about her father. Hence I embarked on a journey that has left me pinching myself daily. I decided to build on the tributes sent to his family when Geordie after 10 years back at the club as reserve team manager, when he passed away so suddenly and tragically in 2000. He collapsed on the training pitch at Colney with his players, a pitch now so fittingly named ‘The George Armstrong Memorial pitch.’
Rather than writing a conventional biography I am telling his story by interviewing and obtaining contributions from those he influenced through his career. I have spoken with those he played with in the 1960s and 1970s. Those with whom he returned Arsenal to European glory and a domestic double, those he influenced as a senior pro and right backs he tortured with his pace and trickery. I have interviewed journalists who reported on him, fans who worshiped him and countless Players who he coached to successful career at Arsenal or beyond.
I hope the book when it is published in October 2014 will be a compelling read but I can confirm that it has enriched what it means to me to be a supporter of Arsenal FC. Why because it brought to life the reality of what Bob Wilson meant when he said “One an Arsenal man, always and Arsenal man” and how David Rocastle felt when he said “Remember what you are, who you are and who you represent.” For those like George Armstrong and those like him Arsenal was not an employer but a way of life.
As supporters we often hear of the Arsenal way or of Arsenal tradition but to those who have played for the club or even just been coached there it is a reality and it has become obvious that to so many, Geordie Armstrong was the embodiment of what it meant. Stewart Houston told me that on arrival at Arsenal as a coach it was Geordie who took it upon himself to ‘Arsenalify’ him. George Graham told me he brought him back in 1990 to imbue the ‘Arsenal way’ in the young professionals. Numerous players he coached felt they owe their ‘Arsenal Education’ to him.
The Arsenal Education and the Arsenal way are about being winners but in the right way. On the football pitch from a young age it is about football intelligence and being ahead of the game in your thinking. It is about a thought process as well as technique and skills, but is also about respect and conducting yourself in a certain way. The Arsenal way is to develop not just better footballers but better people. This is the ‘Arsenal Education’ that Geordie Armstrong and so many of his generation stood for and represented.
I sincerely hope my Arsenal is still his Arsenal and that we are still the club he served for 17 years and 621 games as a player and 10 years as a coach. Perry Groves summed it up to me:
“His enthusiasm and love for the game and for the club made him a legend in my eyes. He simply ate slept and breathed football and Arsenal.”
Geordie Armstrong was the Arsenal and the Arsenal was Geordie Armstrong. I fear that the game has changed so much that we may not see that club affinity in the future. I hope I am wrong and that as fans we can again feel a bond with our heroes on the pitch. For those like Geordie for the 13 years he was not at Arsenal whilst successful coaching elsewhere I suspect he would never have felt quite whole, like something was missing. Some professionals like Geordie have a second chance to be at their spiritual home as a player and as a coach and trust me they like him, Wilson, Rice, Keown and others feel blessed. For them Arsenal was integral to their very being and I suspect it is to millions of Gunners around the world. However, when you claim you are Arsenal till you die think of Geordie Armstrong who literally was.
“Thank you George Armstrong for enriching my life and the lives of all those you touched.” Bob Wilson
The new book ‘Geordie Armstrong on the Wing – Memories of George Armstrong, an Arsenal Legend, by myself in collaboration with Jill Armstrong (@Touchofpowder) can be pre-ordered here now.
Until next time
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