Category Archives: History


Legends Gallery: David Rocastle

By Les Crang

I can’t believe it will be 30 years this September that I first saw Rocky making his debut against Newcastle at Highbury. I’d heard we had a young kid playing in the reserves who was exceptional whose name was David Rocastle. With some players you can tell instantly they are going to be outstanding. Players like Charlie George, Liam Brady, Paul Merson & of course Rocky Rocastle was one of them. He slotted in the side like he’d been playing at the top level for about 10 years. – Gary Lawrence in an email correspondence on Rocky.

As I sit here and write, I’m left wondering two things. How and why? How do I write about David Rocastle. How do I write about a player who is still regarded with such high esteem by a certain generation and then sadly passed away at the age of 33 leaving a wife and 3 kids in 2001? I have written previously on the demise of Paul Vaessen (1, 2, 3) and its not fun. Writing about the passing about people seems wrong. That is where the ‘why’ comes in.

Am I writing this for ‘hits’? I like to think not. I write these articles mainly because I’m a fan fond of history and so newer fans can see our glorious (and not so glorious) past. I also write about the players who have passed on as therapy, usually after a family member has passed. It gives me some introspection. I wanted to do something on Rocky and it is something I’ve thought long and hard on because of the above. This article will include discussions via email from fans who watched and meet David Rocastle and take a look at his career. Hopefully it will be well received by all and apologies if not.

Let’s go back 30 years ago to September 28th, 1985. Don Howe is manager of Arsenal and struggling in the job. Arsenal are at home to Newcastle and attendance stands at a paltry 24,104. In the team? Ian Allinson on one wing (a free transfer from Colchester United) and at the back, the accident prone Tommy Caton. On the bench? Chris Whyte (only one substitute being allowed back then). Hardly something to strike fear into a poor Newcastle side. Fortunately, a young 18 year old on the other wing was making his debut. His name? David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle.

Jon Spurling in his book All Guns Blazing : Arsenal in the 1980’s:-

September 28th witnessed the birth of a Highbury legend; David Rocastle. The first in a new wave of Highbury kids who could boot out the stars, his debut performance was awe inspiring. His jinking up the right wing induced panic into the Newcastle defence and with his powerful physique and determination, we had a player ideally suited to the demands of the 1st Division. Unfortunately, the game was one of astounding awfulness. A radio 2 reporter, when asked to report on the match simply said; ‘0-0, and back to the studio.’

This was hardly a surprise to one man at Arsenal. In Michael Calvin’s excellent book on scouting The Nowhere Men, he spoke to ex-Arsenal scout Terry Murphy. Murphy spoke eloquently of the 13 year old he saw on astroturf saying of Rocky, then and later:-

David was the difference between the sides. He was so comfortable on the ball. He had tricks; even as a youngster he would do his step-overs and drag-backs. He was a talent….

David was easy to talk to. Some youngsters won’t come close to you at all, they’re distant. But David was very friendly, talkative. We just got on well….David was special. Yes, very special.

The bond would be forever strong between Rocky and Murphy. Rocky would later give Murphy his England debut shirt with the words ‘the best scout’ written on it. Murphy would also see him two days before he passed away.

In his first season, Rocky would play 24 league and cup games, scoring two goals. By the season of 1986-7 Rocky would be what Dave Seager described as:-

A home grown talent with the flair of a Brazilian, a shoulder drop that seemed to fool every full back again and again, vision, an accurate pass and the ability to score spectacular goals.

He would also be utilised with full effect by the new manager in George Graham. Although the fans had seen the skill.

It was obvious that Rocky was one of life’s nice guys too. There is a very famous picture of him, taken in around 1991 at Highbury. He`s decked out in his red Arsenal kit, glancing firmly towards the cameras with his thumb up. It`s a picture that tells a thousand words, it said; “I belong in this kit; in this stadium.” Rocky`s infectiousness was loved by the supporters and his character was well loved by his contemporaries too. Ian Wright, who grew up on a neighbouring Lewisham estate and caught the bus to training with Rocastle referred to him as “my little brother.” – Excerpt from Tim Stillman’s excellent article on Rocky

As George Graham took over the reigns from Don Howe in 1986, Arsenal would have a team based on youth and experience and no big names bought. Experience coming from John Lukic, Kenny Sansom, Viv Anderson, Paul Davis, Steve Williams and David O’leary, with the hunger of the youngsters, Rocky, Michael Thomas and Tony Adams coming through.

The season of 1986-7 would see that hunger transferred into passion on and off the pitch for Rocky. If anything would define the season any better it has to be the the 3 games in the League Cup semi-final against Spurs. I remember watching the games on television and for the 1st game at Highbury and the 1st half of the game at White Hart Lane, we were abysmal. How we were 1-0 in both was criminal on Spurs part. But these are the games of legends. For years we had put up with Spurs lording it over us, having won the UEFA Cup and two F.A Cups since we had last won a trophy.

At half time of the first game at White Hart Lane, an announcement was put out that tickets for Spurs fans for the final would be available for sale. Arsenal captain, Kenny Sansom said of the announcement:-

‘That just made the lads go berserk! You cheeky so-and-sos!’ Kenny exclaims. George is in the middle of his speech and suddenly the place is in chaos. Arsenal roar back onto the pitch, itching to get into Tottenham.

Arsenal came bursting back, scoring two goals in the second half, with Niall Quinn scoring the second. But who provides the low cross for Quinn at the back post? David Rocastle (see 5 minutes 8 seconds in).

Arsenal would have to replay the semi-final against Spurs at White Hart Lane. A game that would go down as a classic Arsenal game and lead to a fanzine and a blog owned by Dave Seager: One nil down, Two one up [we knocked Tottenham out the cup]. It would also put Rocky on the map as an Arsenal great.

With Clive Allen again putting Spurs in the lead for the third time in as many games (this would be a season Clive would score 49 league and cup goals in a season, get one of the quickest Cup final goals….and win nothing). Arsenal poured forward. Squad player, Ian Allinson then equalised in the last ten minutes. Then with the clock ticking down to extra time, Arsenal burst forward, with Spurs looking deflated. Rocky explains what happens next:-

It was a long punt up the field – not the typical Arsenal style. The ball goes to old wooden-head Ian Allinson on the edge of the area. I don’t know what he was doing trying to shoot from there, but anyway, the ball ricochets to me and I know I have to get a good touch before I swing my left foot because it’s non existent. I see it go under Ray Clemence body right in front of the Arsenal fans who are going absolutely berserk.

Arsenal were in their first final in seven years after beating Spurs in the Semi-final. A thing of beauty. After the match Rocky summed up the George Graham and Arsenal team, saying :-

Everybody fights for each other. We are friends as well as team-mates. The kind of togetherness breeds a tremendous team spirit.

Arsenal fan Mark King in an email correspondence wrote of the semi-final and aftermath the following the game wrote :-

My own personal memory of Rocky was in 87. It was the night we beat the scum in the LC semi replay. To celebrate, a few of us went to the Camden Palace which was our regular Wednesday night  drinking spot. We heard a while after coming in, that some of the Arsenal players had also arrived and we made our way upstairs to the top bar. There was Adams, Rocastle, Thomas, all in club blazer with Champagne Charlie in his casual gear sitting slightly apart, sporting leather trousers!

We chatted with them, congratulating them on victory against the old enemy. I was pissed, so I told Rocky he’d made me the happiest man in North London and asked if I could buy him a drink. He modestly shrugged, saying thanks but he was ok for a drink. You wouldn’t get near players nowadays and I’d imagine even if you did you’d probably get a more frosty reception.

We left them to it and later heard some spurs fans had also ended up there and had given the players some verbals later that evening, to which Rocky took exception and suggested they sort it out there and then. Thankfully Thomas had dragged him away before it could escalate.

For me, the George Graham team will always hold more resonance. The no surrender attitude. The team spirit, The team ethos. Ok, not always pretty, but players like Rocky could give us style and elegance alongside Davis and Thomas.

Arsenal would then go on to beat Liverpool in the League Cup final in 1987, with Rocky, Williams and Davis controlling the midfield.

For our younger fans, Liverpool were perhaps the finest and most reviled team in the country in equal measure. Arsenal, with this league cup victory had lopped off one limb. Now was the time to dismantle the Scouse edifice. Bit by bit.

Rocky had spoken previously about Liverpool’s hegemony when going there to play:-

You’d climb off the team coach outside Anfield, and there would be the Liverpool scalles. “Y’alright there Rocky la?” they’d say in their broad scouse accent. They had a swagger and they’d smirk at you on the way in as if to say, “You’re in for it today.”

But the season of 1988-9 would see Arsenal and Rocky slowly dismantle the Liverpool edifice. First, was the game in the league cup which went to three games. Arsenal would draw the first two and lose at Villa Park in a second replay, but in the first game, Rocky scored the equaliser (a thing of beauty).

Although Arsenal lost the game they wouldn’t lose the battle on the 26th of May, 1989.

Rocastle had been instrumental in the league winning team and perhaps best underlined by his goal away to Aston Villa (see below).

Rocky’s relentless work for Arsenal (and England) should have meant he, not Paul Merson, got the Young Player of The Year award for me. Rocky was excellent that year.

The following year, there seemed a drop off in David Rocastle performance. In March 1990 we found out why when it was reported:-

On Monday, 19th March, he [Rocky] was admitted to a St.John’s Wood hospital for surgery to his right knee. It meant one of Arsenal’s most charismatic players would miss the England game against Brazil two day’s later as well as the next 3 weeks battle to keep the league title. It hurt the usually bubbly Rocastle that outsiders had criticized his performances in previous months without attempting to seek an explanation. Perhaps the standards he set was so high that any falling-off would attract attention…

It was after his brief hospital stay that Rocastle admitted ‘The knee had been bothering me all season. I tried to play on, although I knew I wasn’t 100% fit. We were all hoping it wouldn’t be necessary for me to go into hospital, but it reached the stage where I knew there was no alternative. I wasn’t doing myself justice. I wasn’t right. And if that was the case then the team was suffering.’

The knee and Rocky would never quite be the same again unfortunately. Although Rocky would be part of the 1990-91 team, he’d play a mere 15 games in the league. Although he would play most of the following season of 1991-92, Rocky was not able to command the wings like previously (but still good enough for the middle of the park). Rocky would have some stand out moments even in his final season, with fan Mark King and Gary Lawrence pointing out Rocky’s goal against Manchester United in particular:-

Unfortunately, On the 23rd of July 1992 Rocky joined league champions Leeds United for £2,000,000. George Graham wrote of the transfer:-

If there was one player I would have liked to have kept it was David. He epitomised the Arsenal team spirit, and would always accept defeat and victory with the same dignity. He was in tears when I revealed to him the board had accepted a bid from Leeds United. When he was at his peak and before knee problems started to take the edge off his game, David was as good as any midfield player in the land.

Mark King said of his departure:-

A few years later, whilst we all knew he was having problems with his knee, when the news came that we were selling him broke, I think I must have been as near to shedding tears as Rocky obviously did when George told him the news. I don’t think he ever actually recovered from the heartbreak.

I must say I felt the same. In Leeds, Manchester City or Norwich City team, the willing seemed always there, but not the body. It also looked like Rocky missed Arsenal too and cut a rather forlorn figure.

As Wenger came in 1997, Rocky seemed to move off the horizon, certainly in my mind, but then the sad news came through that on the 31st of March, 2001, at the age of 33, Rocky had passed away from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A man who left behind a wife and 3 young children.

As a mark of respect, Arsenal asked for a minute’s silence in their first game after his passing, which would be against Spurs. Spurs fans kept an impeccable silence. Many an Arsenal fan appreciated that.

Ex players such as Steve Williams [a man of few emotions it always seemed] said of Rocky:-

‘David was a top man, who got on equally well with players from his own age group, like Quinny, and Mickey Thomas, or myself and David O’Leary. I’ll always remember a happy, streetwise kid, who was confident from the moment he came into the side. He made his debut in a bloody awful goalless draw with Newcastle at Highbury back in 1985 – we used to have a lot of those back then – and the game was famous because a radio reporter had absolutely nothing to say in his match report, because absolutely nothing had happened. But in my opinion, Rocky deserved a mention, because basically, you could see that the boy could play, right from the off. He was strong, determined, and very impressive going forward. What was strange was that at different times, Stewart Robson, Rocky, and Mickey Thomas were all labelled by the media as future England captains. All of them had left Arsenal by the time they were twenty-four, and had effectively burnt themselves out. That’s either a hell of a coincidence, or it’s down to the fact that George Graham expected all his midfielders to attack and defend like their lives depended on it.

The fans I interviewed spoke of Rocky as follows. Jokman [Dan Betts] wrote:-

His pace and dribbling were latched onto by adoring fans and the fact he played every minute of the now sacrosanct League winning campaign of 1989 only serves to grow his legendary status.

The fact that every season he is chanted by fans and the banner – signed by past and present Arsenal players – is displayed, just adds more lustre to what is possibly one of the most alluring jewels in Arsenal’s crown. His now famous quote sums up everything he stood for.

Mark King said:-

You never hear anyone in the game say a bad word about him. He was a superb player and by all accounts a lovely man with a great family. For them to lose him at the age of just 33 was a tragedy. I hope that his family all know that Rocky is still worshipped by the fans and that he will always have a place in our hearts.

Gary Lawrence wrote:-

Rocky Rocastle was one of my all time favourite players & I loved watching him play. Also very upset as were all the Arsenal fans when he tragically passed away so young at just 33 years of age.

Below are a couple interviews about Rocky and his place at Arsenal.

I conclude with this: I’ve sat on the sidelines while people argue over “defending” and “berating” our team for who we buy or don’t buy, over who should come in and who should go; I’ve even gotten embroiled in those same arguments and many more, the tenor of which seems to be a crescendo of anger and ugliness. I have even been told to “go support Chelsea” which is a step away from “go support Spurs.” Through all of that I think on a Rocky.

David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle was a man and a player who loved Arsenal. He put everything he could into his game, the team and club. I doubt we’ll see a player like Rocky again. So, Rocky, thanks. You’ll always be a legend in our eyes.

Perhaps on the 28th of September 2015, the 30th anniversary of his first game for Arsenal, we should take a moment and think on that?

I'm thinking that this might be where Cesc's leg was broken, just maybe.

Arsenal 2009/2010 Season Review: a warning from the past to Wenger present

I’m going to tell you a little story about heartbreak. One of my regular readers bought me the 2009/2010 Arsenal season review DVD and it is, in a word, a story of heartbreak.

Arsenal went into that summer hoping to keep top striker Emmanuel Adebayor but after a mega offer from Man City turned his head, Arsenal were forced to sell. The Gunners also sold Kolo Toure to City, though that was planned and Wenger brought in Thomas Vermaelen as his replacement.

Vermaelen was Wenger’s only buy in the summer. The logic behind not buying anyone, despite losing Adebayor’s 10 goals, was that Arsenal already had a young, world class, striker on the books in Robin van Persie. In fact, Arsenal’s strike force was amazing on paper; van Persie was deployed as the tip of the lance in a three forwards formation and Wenger had his choice of Nicklas Bendtner, Андрей Аршавин, Theo Walcott, Eduardo, Vela, and Samir Nasri to either play as the center forward or either of the two wide forwards next to him.

In midfield, Arsenal also boasted some of the best young players in England. Cesc Fabregas was not only captain but ran the Arsenal offense and ended the season with an amazing 15 goals and 13 assists. Diaby had his best season in an Arsenal shirt, Alex Song developed into a top defensive midfielder, Denilson started the season well for Arsenal, and a very baby-faced Aaron Ramsey even contributed 3 goals and 3 assists.

It was also a season when many players were returning from injury. Eduardo was returning from having his leg snapped in two by Martin Taylor and Tomas Rosicky returned from an 18 month layoff. Neither player would regain their former glory, though both had a part to play in the season.

And Wenger seemed vindicated in his vision for the club as Arsenal raced out to a crazy start to the season. On opening day, the Gunners beat Everton 6-1 at Goodison Park and followed that up with a 2-0 win over Celtic away in the Champions League qualifier. Then in the home opener, Arsenal beat Pompey 4-1, only conceding when Kaboul jumped into the Arsenal keeper, Manuel Almunia, and the referee allowed the goal to stand.

What was remarkable about that opening run of games was that goals were mostly coming from defenders and midfielders. Eduardo was the only forward to score in that run, the 6th against Everton, and the remainder of the goals came from players like Thomas Vermaelen and Diaby.

Vermaelen scored 7 goals for Arsenal that season, with 5 of them coming before October. He scored in his first match of his Arsenal career, making him the 84th debutante to score. He was an instant hit among fans who loved his tenacity, marveled at his leaping ability, and loved seeing their center back bombing forward to score — a habit they would just as quickly grow unfond of.

The first big controversy of the season came in the fourth game. Arsenal beat Celtic 3-1 but it was the opening goal which stirred the villagers into grabbing torches and pitchforks. Arsenal had been struggling a bit to break down the resolute Scottish defense but in the 28th minute Eduardo collected the ball on the edge of the box, drove straight past the defenders, and forced Celtic’s keeper to come out. Eduardo went down, the referee awarded a penalty, and Artur Boruc and the Celtic team claimed that Dudu had dived. Eduardo stepped up and scored from the penalty spot and Arsena went on to win the tie 3-1, 5-1 on aggregate.

Replays showed minimal contact and the British press went into full witch hunt mode. The Daily Mail started a campaign against diving and bowing under enormous pressure from Celtic and the collected outraged media, Eduardo was charged with diving and given a two match ban. Arsenal appealed and won. Thanks largely to the referee who saw the video replay and told the judges that he still would have given the penalty. The UEFA official statement read:

“Following examination of all the evidence, notably the declarations of both the referee and the referees’ assessor, as well as the various video footage, it was not established to our satisfaction that the referee had been deceived in taking his decision on the penalty.”

And the football gods have a sense of humor as well. In the very next match, Arsenal played Man U with Mike Dean the referee. Arsenal were denied a stonewall penalty when Fletcher took out Arshavin on the edge of the box. And of course, Man U were awarded a penalty when Wayne Rooney clashed with Almunia in almost the exact same way that Eduardo had clashed with Boruc. Arsenal lost 2-1.

Rooney must have been listening to Dio

Arsenal also lost the next match against Man City 4-2. It was another controversial match, the third in a row for Arsenal, but this time it was controversial because former Arsenal forward Emmanuel Adebayor stamped on van Persie’s face and then when he scored, ran 100 yards to celebrate on his knees in front of the away fans.

Watch where you put your face!Van Persie, however, scored in that Man City match and whether it was Adebayor’s boot to the face or something else that goal kickstarted a scoring glut from Robin. From that City match until mid November, van Persie scored or assisted in 9 consecutive matches, including two goals and an assist* against old rivals Tottenham.

Arsenal reaped the benefit of all of these healthy strikers and in the first 19 games of the season, Arsenal scored 55 goals, almost 3 goals a game. Wenger’s transfer dealings and faith in his young players to come good looked genius. Then came the international break and Chiellini’s challenge on Robin van Persie’s foot.

Robin van Persie would spend almost the remainder of the season out. He returned to play for Arsenal in April but didn’t score again until the final two matches of the season. In theory, Arsenal should have been able to survive Robin’s absence but in practice none of the strikers listed above were able to step up and take over the center forward spot. Arsenal scored 55 goals in the first 19 games but 60 goals in the last 36 games of the season: dropping from 2.9 goals per game to 1.7.

After the international break Arsenal played Sunderland, Standard Liege (Champions League), Cheslea, and Man City (League Cup). Arsenal scored 2 and conceded 7 in those 4 games.

If you watch the season review DVD, this is where the real heartbreak starts to set in. That first part of the season was magical and if you didn’t know how the season ended you might be tempted to wonder why that Arsenal side didn’t win the League. But as you watch the second half of the season unfold it becomes clear that Arsenal lacked the depth to challenge.

Wenger struggled to find a keeper he wanted in goal, dropping Almunia and replacing him with Mannone. Wenger also couldn’t find a viable starter in the center forward role, trying Eduardo, Bendtner and even Arshavin in the role and getting precious little in return.

And then injuries started to take their toll across the pitch: Walcott was in and out, Rosicky was off the boil and still recovering, Eduardo struggled for fitness, and ironically it was Diaby (the player most known for a history of injury problems) who played more games than any other Arsenal midfielder, playing a whopping 38 games that season in all competitions. And Wenger angered everyone when he refused to buy a player in January, taking former great and imposing center back Sol Campbell on a free. At a time when Arsenal needed a forward, Wenger took a center back, on a free.

There was a lone bright spot of the season. Arsenal made it to the second round of the knockout stages of the Champions League and had to face Barcelona. This was the Barcelona side which had just won the Champions League and who would win the Champions League the next year. Arsenal was playing against peak Barcelona.

Arsenal notched a moral victory over the Spaniards, holding them to a 2-2 draw at home. After conceding two goals to Zlatan, Wenger took off Sagna and put on Theo Walcott. Walcott almost immediately scored. Barcelona were a bit shell-shocked and so when Fabregas burst into the penalty area to fire in a shot, Puyols fouled him and the referee had no choice but to award the Gunners the penalty. Cesc stepped up and struck the penalty well, giving Arsenal the 2-2 draw.

In the process of scoring, or perhaps because of the Puyol tackle, Fabregas suffered a fractured leg. There couldn’t have been any more perfect way for Arsenal to end their season  Bereft of their leading scorer and now shorn of their leading playmaker, the Gunners finished the season with just 2 wins in the last 7.

Arsenal supporters have seen a lot over the last 10 years or so but none so heartbreaking as the 2009/2010 season. And when Arsenal fans complain about Wenger’s lack of transfer business this summer (2015/16) and him relying on players returning from injury, hoping that all his players will stay healthy, and banking on “team spirit” I wonder if it’s not this season that they are remembering. A season that promised so much, and delivered so little.


*He was awarded an assist for Cesc’s goal since he was technically the last one to pass him the ball.

P.S. I want to say thank you to the reader who bought me the DVD from my Amazon wishlist. As hard as it was to watch that video I think it was an important thing for me to do, to remember. Thank you.


Rogues Gallery: Julio Baptista

By Les Crang

As Sevilla won an unprecedented 4th Europa Cup against Dnipro and watched the often maligned Jose Antonio Reyes captain the side I wishful remembered the former Sevilla player we swapped Reyes for, on his season long loan to Real Madrid. The Sevilla and Real Madrid man mountain Julio Baptista (or ‘The Beast’ as he was named, due to his hulking size). What a bad swap that was.

Julio Baptista had started his career at Sao Paulo and then moved to Seville in 2003. In his first season of 2003-4 (where he’d briefly play alongside Reyes), Baptista would score 25 goals:-

He’d repeat this form the following season. Form like this attracted interest from Real Madrid and Arsenal. On seeing a player like Baptista, he looked worth the £14,000,000 punt on him. Big and strong, with a powerful shot, what was not to like?

Unfortunately, in 2005 and the move was mooted, Baptista made his view clear where he wanted to play, when he said:-

I have always identified myself most with Madrid. I did not want to go to England because I am used to life in Spain….I like the way people live their life here and I will also have a Spanish passport by the end of next year.

Baptista also claimed that he had never considered signing for any other Spanish club.

Never, for one moment, did I see myself wearing the Barcelona shirt,I have moved to Madrid because I believe they are the side that can help me the most. It is not important to me where I play. I will always play where I am asked to.

Real Madrid paid £13.4million to Sevilla. Arsenal instead paid Stuttgart virtually the same sum instead for Aleksandr Hleb. Baptista would have a disappointing season at Real Madrid, scoring a mere 8 goals. Arsenal? Well, we’d be on the march to a ECL final. Beating a few big teams along the way, including Real Madrid:-

We would get to see Baptista come on as a substitute. Who did he replace on both occasions? Thomas Gravesen, a one dimensional player at best. On watching Baptista, he certainly didn’t look the great player we had seen at Sevilla. His touch was poor, he didn’t have the hunger and lethargic. How lucky had we been to escape signing him?

Unfortunately, Reyes had been caught on the Spanish radio saying:-

I wish I was playing for Real Madrid. If I’m not, I’m going to have to carry on playing with some bad people.

Jose Antonio Reyes had made his position untenable and Real Madrid made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. On the last day of transfer deadline day of 2006-7, on 31st August 2006, Arsenal swapped Reyes for Baptista. Baptista was predominantly used as a substitute on first joining, scoring his first goal as a substitute against Hamburg in the champions league with a header:-

This game, would be perhaps one of Baptista better games, as he rarely got minutes as Robin Van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor and Thierry Henry would often play up front, whilst the recently signed Tomas Rosicky, Aleksandr Hleb or Theo Walcott would play the attacking midfielder or wide position (Henry would later get an injury in February, allowing Baptista more game time. Unfortunately). The Guardian said of his and others display:-

It was the introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor, Walcott and Baptista that brought the late surge of energy. In a rising atmosphere Hamburg were being hemmed in and thanks to Wächter’s elbow they eventually caved in. Disaster averted [Arsenal had been 1-0 down at half-time].

Baptista would mainly be remembered for his Carling Cup exploits, especially as Wenger often blooded the youngsters along with a few old heads. Baptista would certainly have his day at Anfield in the Quarter-final of the League Cup against Liverpool:-


Baptista also had a penalty saved. Ironically, although he scored four (his first, a free-kick and third a long ranger were real beauties), the real star was his unselfish striking foil and first goal scorer that night, Jérémie Aliadière.  The Guardian wrote of Jérémie Aliadière:-

The rout began in the 27th minute when Jérémie Aliadière, outstanding all night, capitalised on some rank defending to defy a malfunctioning offside trap and poke the ball beneath Dudek.

The Guardian said of the Arsenal display:-

To their credit, the Liverpool fans applauded Arsenal’s players off the pitch. Earlier, though, the Kop had flirted with turning against their own team and when Baptista scored the final goal large numbers had seen enough. Wenger’s youthful, exuberant players showed everything that is good about the club’s one-touch, pass-them-to-death philosophy and, for the home supporters, it was painful to watch. For the rest of us, it was bewitching.

Having beaten Liverpool, Arsenal would play Spurs in the semi-final. Now, for all the greatness of getting a (surprising) four goals against Liverpool, for me (and I think most fans) it has to be the first leg at Spurs. For all the Chelsea fans mocking us recently, Arsenal’s real rivalry has to be Spurs. In football, you have a binary opposition. You have to something to dislike and for us its Spurs. Losing to Spurs rankles me more than any other defeat, for two reasons. First, it’s Spurs. Second, my nephew is a Spurs fan and since he was 9 years old I have loved ringing him and teasing him mercilessly. I been doing that for almost twenty years. Infantile? Almost certainly. Fun? Without a doubt.

Anyhow, the game started with the locals getting excited as Dimitar Berbatov actually looked interested in playing for a change. Having put them 1-0 up, we then saw what I felt was a usual Baptista, when he put through his own net. 2-0 to Spurs after 21 minutes. We retained the score till half time, with Spurs the better side. In the second half Arsenal came back with two goals with The Guardian wrote:-

On a galling night such as this it must feel to Spurs that great effort merely deepens the anguish against Arsenal. They have prevailed over Arsène Wenger’s side only once in 23 attempts, seven years ago, and now crave a win at the Emirates in the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final. A 2-0 lead at the interval had promised so much here.

Better still was hearing the Arsenal fans chant ‘2-0 and you f**ked it up’. [Game below].

Having defeated Spurs in second leg, Arsenal went through to face Chelsea in the final. Although Arsenal played well and Baptista had a chance early on, they lost the final 2-1:-

His league record for Arsenal was abysmal. He got his first goal against Reading. In March.

He would score his against Manchester City in a 3-1 win:-

His final goal (and only third league goal) would be against Fulham, in a 3-1 win:-

Baptista would conclude his Arsenal career against Portsmouth with a 0-0. Again, Baptista was disappointing with the BBC saying of his penalty:-

Arsenal could have taken the lead on 41 minutes but David James superbly saved Julio Baptista’s well-struck penalty.

Baptista also missed a host of other chances, while Pompey will reflect on a controversial and costly decision.

We had the opportunity to sign him but passed on it for two reasons. Firstly, Reyes was not seen as good enough for Real Madrid and moved on to Atletico, meaning we would have to pay for Baptista. Secondly, and more importantly, he never really impressed and was actually pretty poor.

The reason for this? Well, I don’t think he wanted to come to us in the first place, but with Reyes going the other way, he had no choice. Also, with Adebayor scoring 8 goals in 21 starts, Baptista was mainly on the bench and not getting the opportunity to play in Adebayor’s position. He just never fitted in. It was a real shame, as Baptista looked like a player that would fit in. But at least he got 2 against Spurs.