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Rogues Gallery #50: David O’Leary

By Les Crang: Senior Old Players Correspondent

David O’Leary. To many a fan, the ultimate Arsenal hero. A man who started under the tutelage of Bertie Mee, then Terry Neill, followed by Don Howe and then George Graham. A player that has the most appearances for Arsenal, 772 over a 20 year period (1973-93). A player rated 14th in our all time greatest list on the Arsenal website. A player who won two league titles, two F.A cups and two League Cups at Arsenal. A player who captained the team in the early 1980’s. A player, unlike Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton, who stayed at Arsenal. A player who was a local, in that he was born in Stoke Newington¹, just up the road from Arsenal (he returned to Ireland with his family when he was 3 years old). So. Why does he get on my nerves? Simple. Leeds United. But more of that later.

David O’leary, joined as a mere 15 year old, coming over from Dublin and living in digs was difficult at first. Fortunately, David was surrounded by fellow Irish youngsters such as Frank Stapleton, Liam Brady and a good friend of his, John Murphy.²

(left to right John Murphy, David O’Leary, Frank Stapleton & Liam Brady)

Most fans would feel that joining a club like Arsenal is the best thing ever. But not for everyone and John Murphy is a case in point. O’Leary wrote in his biography My Story wrote about the homesickness some of the Irish players suffered, saying :-

John Murphy…couldn’t cope. He went home one weekend and didn’t come back. It was homesickness. After John quit, there were times when I wondered whether I would follow.

John Murphy quit football at 18, going on to play Rugby Union in Ireland, representing them Internationally, being a part of the Triple Crown team in 1984 and captaining them. Recently, the Irish broadcaster RTE made a documentary entitled ‘Who’s That Standing Beside John Murphy?’ [see above picture].

Anyhow, David O’Leary, or ‘Spider’ due to his thin, tall legs as the fans would later call him. David Tossell in his excellent autobiography on Bertie Mee said of him:-

Dubliner David O’Leary, whose gangly limbs created an ungainly first impression that was quickly replaced by respect for his awareness and composure on the ball.

O’Leary would make his debut in August 1975 against Burnley. His second game would be a 3-1 victory over Sheffield United at Highbury. Unfortunately, his home debut would mean his giving away a penalty for the United goal. Mee’s last season though was full of in fighting and spite. Bob McNab had left, telling Bertie Mee what he thought of him before leaving, Eddie Kelly had been made captain and then had it been given back to Alan Ball causing much upset. Alan Ball was trying to get the team to select Bobby Campbell as Mee’s replacement. Plus Mee had first replaced club legend, Frank McLintock with Jeff Blockley. After Blockley had failed he bought a player many older fans shudder at. Terry Mancini.

Terry Mancini (or ‘Henry’ as the fans called him), was a cheap buy from QPR after Blockley failed. A man with more wit and vivacity than style and speed. Many fans who saw him play often look skyward and shake their head in disbelief. Ironically, in the season of 1975-6, a season in which we would flirt with relegation (ending a disappointing 17th) O’leary would come to the fore with two other young Irish lads in Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton. But who did O’Leary say helped him out? Terry Mancini of whom he said :-

I have rarely come across a player with a better attitude. ‘Henry’s’ ability might have been limited but the size of his heart was unbelievable.

He didn’t have a lot of pace and strikers who were a bit quick troubled him. But during my uncertain early days as an Arsenal first-team player he helped me enormously.

After the nightmare of 1975-6 season, Bertie Mee left and was replaced by Terry Neill. With Neill entering as manager, Arsenal were often seen as an Irish team with Sammy Nelson, Pat Rice and (in 1977) Pat Jennings from Northern Ireland and Brady, O’Leary and Stapleton from the Republic, it might look that way. Unfortunately, this was not totally true as Jon Spurling has pointed out in his new book Red Letter Day who quotes O’Leary saying:-

Frank, Liam and I never socialised together at all. Frank was teetotal and kept himself to himself, Liam’s best mate at the club was Graham Rix, and I was good pals with Pat Jennings. The ‘London Irish’ thing mattered more I think to outsiders than it did to any of us.

Anyhow, under Terry Neill, Arsenal started to entertain, with a young striker like Stapleton up front, ably supported by the ever greedy Malcolm Macdonald, Liam Brady at his best and O’Leary excelling at the back. But for any centre-back you need a pair. O’leary could carry the ball, often looking so elegant moving forward with the ball out of defence. In the 1970’s if you had one cultured centre-half, you needed a mean one. So our mean one was Willie Young. Willie Young was a ginger haired Scot we had brought from Tottenham after he had been sent off against us in a London Derby. Big, Tall and fearsome was Willie’s way. But alongside O’leary they were fantastic. With O’leary saying:-

Willie was a hard living Scot. Put a lager in his hand and anything could happen. But when you were going to battle there wasn’t a better or braver man to have beside you… He was particularly strong in the air. It allowed me the freedom to go forward.

In this period Arsenal would make three consecutive F.A Cup finals from 1978-1980. They would also make the European Cup Winners Cup Final in 1980. Of the four finals, Arsenal would win just one, the 1979 F.A Cup final against Manchester United:-

In the challenge for the European Cup Winners Cup in 1980, O’leary would have an unforgettable time. In the first leg of the semi-final O’leary was stretchered off after a horrendous challenge by Roberto Bettega. O’Leary later called it ‘criminal’. Terry Neill went further after the match saying ‘We had to take the studs out of O’Leary’, adding to his hyperbole prior to the second leg in Rome to the Italian press:-

You must be ashamed. It must be difficult admitting you are Italian tonight.

O’leary, although injured played in the second Leg. A game Arsenal had to win (and did so) with a late winner from Paul Vaessen.

Again, Arsenal would lose the final. This time to Valencia on penalties. O’leary, although still nursing an injury, he was still able to keep a firm eye on World Cup Final scorer Mario Kempes plus have the only meaningful effort on goal in the game.³

After four finals in 3 years O’leary would remain with the club whilst first Liam Brady and then the following year, Frank Stapleton departed. The period of 1980 to 1986 was full of lows and lowers. The only constant quality we generally had was David O’Leary, Kenny Sansom and Stewart Robson. With an occasional good game from Tony Woodcock and Charlie Nicholas. For O’leary it was one in which he was often in attendance. For example in his first ten years at the club he averaged 40 games a season, except in season 1980-81 when he suffered a knee injury and still played 27 games. Terry Neill then made him Captain from 1980-83. O’Leary later said in his biography  that it was something he never really enjoyed.

At least internationally things were going well for O’Leary, though on international trips Stapleton would point out he was wasted at Arsenal (unfortunately, true) and that he should look at better paid opportunities. Again, O’Leary, in the early and mid 1980’s was arguably the best centre half  in the country (along with Alan Hansen  at Liverpool, Kevin Ratcliffe at Everton). O’Leary was approached by Bayern Munich he says in his biography but turned them down. This alone made many fans thankful to O’Leary’s loyalty. Also, by the mid 1980’s O’Leary’s wages were not increased for the first time in his career. Then when George Graham came in, O’Leary went to see him about a new contract and pay rise. George sat down a 30 year old O’Leary and said he’d offer him a one year rolling contract but no pay rise. But George Graham being George sold him on a future that would bring David O’Leary less games but more success. True to his word, O’Leary would win 2 League Cups, two League titles and another FA Cup medal.

Three stand out matches come to mind in O’Leary’s rarer appearances in these years. The first is easy. It has to be May 26th 1989. Liverpool 0 Arsenal 2.

For many its Mickey’s goal or perhaps George on the sidelines telling everyone to calm down after taking a 2-0 lead. No, I think it is the final whistle and the camera pans on O’Leary, jubilant. The commentator pans to David O’Leary who goes up to console his international team mate, John Aldridge. Aldridge ungracefully shrugs O’Leary’s kind words away. What is it they say about The Arsenal? ‘Remember who you are and who you represent.’  How true. O’Leary had stayed with us through the grimmest of years after Brady and Stapleton had departed and he was the only one to win a League title in England.

The second game has to be the  home game against Norwich in November 1989. O’Leary would break the Arsenal appearance record in this game and also score. Better still, Arsenal came back from 3-2 down to win 4-3. But better still there was a brawl between the players at full-time.

George Graham and whole team, including O’Leary bought into that, going toe to toe with Norwich. That Arsenal fracas meant that when it happened again at Old Trafford a year later, Arsenal would be docked two points by the FA (and we all know where we told them to shove them to):-

The third game has to be one that David O’Leary did not actually play in. Injury meant that O’Leary was injured for the League Cup final of 1988 and in came poor Gus Caesar and we all know what happened there:-

David O’Leary would make his last appearance for Arsenal in the FA Cup final of 1993 when he came on as a substitute to win his second FA cup winners medal with a 14 year gap:-

O’Leary would then go onto play a final season at Leeds United after making 722 appearances at Arsenal. After George Graham left Leeds United as manager, O’Leary (as his assistant) would take over at Leeds United. This, is where my adulation turns to fury for O’Leary. Firstly, it was Leeds, a team in the 60’s and 70s caused us to lose a league cup final and FA cup final. They were also a team full of skilled players but incredibly dirty team. Norman Hunter, Jack Charlton, Allan Clarke, Billy Bremner and John Giles. All fantastic players but dirty:-

So, that was a minor irritant, but what annoyed me was two events whilst managing Leeds United. First up, was the season of 1998-9 when Arsenal were going for the title. To me, that team was probably Wenger’s best (Emmanuel Petit was at his magnificent best as was Anelka and a new striker called Kanu). All we had to do was not lose. Which of course we did in the last three minutes:-

Prior to the game, O’Leary had said:-

It’s going to be some night. This will be a great way to finish off our home programme and we shall be going all out to beat them. It won’t be difficult for me, trying to beat my old club, even when I know there is so much at stake for them, because it’s almost five years since I left Highbury and a lot of things have changed there in the meantime.

When he danced after the final whistle just stuck in the claw. Ok. O’Leary was no longer at Arsenal, but he could have kept it for the dressing room. That we had lost the title due to that defeat just irks me more every time I think of it.

It was not much helped the two years later at Elland Road, when O’Leary couldn’t resist poking fun at Robert Pires. The Guardian reported the incident thus:-

Two local radio reporters had been interviewing O’Leary in the players’ entrance, more than an hour after the match, when Pires walked past with Thierry Henry and muttered something in French. O’Leary responded by blowing a kiss in their direction and saying “au revoir”. And with that all hell broke loose.

Pires had to be restrained by Henry as he attempted to confront O’Leary, with witnesses claiming he was repeatedly screaming “putain ” – French slang for whore. O’Leary, in turn, was heard shouting to Henry: “Get him out of here, get him out of here.” The Leeds manager then turned to his interviewers: “You’re the proof. What have I done? What have I done?”

Henry eventually led his compatriot to Arsenal’s team coach but not before turning to O’Leary and rebuking him for his behaviour: “It is not a nice way for a coach to behave.”

Totally no need for it to be honest. It was also hard to have much respect for O’Leary when he stood by Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer after a racist attack on a young asian student in Leeds City centre. Then released a book called Leeds United On Trial: The Inside Story of an Astonishing Year. It all seemed so. Tacky.

Anyhow, O’Leary was a great player when we had none. An amazing servant to the club and one who always speaks fondly of his time at Arsenal. Shame he had to go Leeds though.

¹Back then, Stoke Newington was a bastion of Irish people and Irish bars. Not the double buggies with Tristan and Isolde sat there, pushed by their media savvy mum and dad, who feel the pavement was made for them to take up, that now seems to be Stoke Newington.
²Picture via Reg³
Information via Gary Lawrence


Rogues Gallery: Emmanuel Petit

By Les Crang – Senior 80′s Correspondent

I had to look into the deepest part of my soul and be born again,” he says.I read many things including Buddhism but there was one book which helped me more than any other and it was given to me by my friend Jan and was called The Prophecy of the Andes. It tells the story of a traveller who makes a discovery about the world and the way it works.I could have gone to see a doctor but instead I did my own therapy. I found my doctor in this book.

Emmanuel Petit discussing how he coped with the loss of his brother.

It has more often than not been discussed in Arsenal fans that Arsenal lack a defensive midfielder. A man to sit in the middle, break up attacks and get an occasional goal with surging runs. Many have said the man mountain of Patrick Vieira was that man. Other people, including Dan Betts (aka Jokman) wrote a thought provoking piece entitled Enough is Enough. When will Arsenal Replace Gilberto? Discussing the need for a player like Gilberto to act as a  defensive midfielder. For me though, under Arsene Wenger, Gilberto and Vieira are not ‘pure’ defensive midfielders, especially Paddy. They didn’t sit deep and break up attacks like Emmanuel Petit, probably a player under rated by some, most likely next to Sol Campbell, the best bargain signing Wenger ever bought.

Emmanuel Petit (or Manu as he was often called) was Born in Dieppe in Normandy. Fred Atkins in his excellent book Arsenal – The French Connection noted that Petit’s early life was surrounded in tragedy. For example, when aged 12 years his father appeared unscathed from France’s deadliest car accident in Dieppe in 1982, in which 53 died. Also one of his favourite teachers died in an avalanche, whilst a close friend committed suicide before he left for Monaco.

One of the most significant events in Petit career though  occurred on 10th April, 1988. Petit’s Dad received a call from the local football team, where Petit’s brother elder Olivier was playing and his other brother had been watching. Petit’s Dad was informed Olivier had died playing football. The impact of the death would still impact on Petit 15 years later, when he would say of the death of Marc Vivien-Foe on the pitch :-

There are times when you should sit back and think about the men before thinking about the game….When a player dies on the pitch in these circumstances, there are other priorities. Of course, like Sepp Blatter [the FIFA president] says, the sport – the game – must go on, but you must first honour the player, stand close to his family and support them. When Marc-Vivien Foe collapsed on the pitch, I immediately thought about my brother. I was in shock. I know what his family must feel like, having been through it myself.

Emmanuel moved to Monaco under the tutelage of chief scout, Pierre Tournier who would go on to discover Lilian Thuram , Gilles Grimandi , and Sylvain Legwinski. Emmanuel Petit’s first manager at Monaco was of course Arsene Wenger. Both Pierre and Wenger would have a great impact on Manu. Petit would make his debut for Monaco as a central midfielder and occasionally would play full-back. He made his debut in 1989 and would also play in the French Cup final in 1989, which Monaco would lose 4-3  to Marseille:-

The importance of Marseille in French football, might be underlooked by some Arsenal supporters. Marseille were a team that had the loud, brash and financially flush Bernard Tapie chairman. Tapie would then go on to buy the French League in many ways. He would buy players like Chris Waddle, Trevor Steven and Jean-Pierre Papin. There would also be rumours (later found to be true) of opposing team’s players taking bribes to throw games when playing Marseille. Arsene Wenger did not like the fact that Tapie was an early example of ‘financial doping’ in France (something he has discussed about Chelsea before). Of the bribes in France, Wenger said recently :-

“You hear rumours and after that you cannot come out in the press and say: ‘This game was not regular’,” Wenger said. “You must prove what you say. To come out is difficult. It is very difficult to prove it. From knowing something, feeling that it is true and after coming out publicly and saying “Look I can prove it” is the most difficult.”

The effects still hurt. “It is a shame. Once you don’t know any more if everyone is genuine out there, that is something absolutely disastrous. I think we have absolutely to fight against that with the strongest severity to get that out of the game.”

Petit would see Wenger’s distrust of the Marseille model after a 3-0 defeat to them. Petit was called in by Wenger to watch the game, especially two of the goals. Petit has been called in as :-

Petit didn’t realise what was going on but as the youngest and least corruptible member of the team he had been singled out as the most reliable witness by Wenger.

[After telling Wenger he felt they had played poorly, his manager said] “Ok, you can go, that confirms exactly what I was thinking. There are a number of us who think some of our players have been bought by Marseille.”

Petit would go on to play for Monaco up to the season of 1996-7, a season in which they would win a League and Cup double in France. By now. Petit was a full international and also captain of Monaco, but had decided to leave France, and had looked to England. He was famously approached by Spurs and meet chairman Alan Sugar about a transfer at White Hart Lane, then asked to think about it, borrowed some money from Sugar, and got a taxi to meet Arsene Wenger and sign for Arsenal. He was then unveiled famously with Arsene Wenger and Marc Overmars at Highbury.

To be honest, I thought, well Overmar will be brilliant, but a French guy with a ponytail, I had never heard of?  I do not think I was that impressed by our new signing. But rumours, later confirmed by Petit arose, that put him within high esteem by the Arsenal supporters and that was:-

Up until now the alleged meeting with Tottenham Hotspur and taxi from White Hart Lane to Arsenal were pure legend, but former Arsenal star Petit, speaking to Four Four Two Magazine, cleared up rumours regarding the meeting with Tottenham Hotspur, and the rumours that the club paid for his taxi to Arsenal, when the Frenchman snubbed a move to White Hart Lane in favour of joining the Gunners. Petit said:

“I don’t know if it was Gerry Francis who paid, but it’s true the day I arrived in England I first went to White Hart Lane. I had a meeting with Mr Sugar and they made me an offer.

“Two hours later they ordered me a black cab, it was pre-paid, and I went to see Arsene Wenger at his place. When I arrived he was with David Dein, and two hours later I’d given my word to Arsenal”

Patrick Vieira said of him:-

‘I knew that Manu would be a superb signing,’ recalled Vieira. ‘He could tackle, he could distribute the ball and he could add weight either up front or back in his own defence. Some saw Manu as a mirror image of me in terms of ability. That was a compliment, although I was more of a box to box player than him.’

His first season at Arsenal didn’t really seem to start well. He would have some outstanding games later in the season, but him and the team at the beginning of the season were not quite on fire. Maybe the biggest game before December would be against Manchester United, the Premier League champions at Highbury:-

The 3-2 win would put us back in the race for the league title. Or so it seemed. The next four games would include 3 defeats from four games. These included a 2-0 defeat away to Sheffield Wednesday:-

A home defeat to Liverpool and a humiliating defeat at home to Blackburn:-

For the Sheffield Wednesday game both Manu and Patrick Vieira were missing. Vieira had injured himself in scoring against United and sliding on his knees.

The Blackburn Rovers defeat though would famously cause the turn around at Arsenal and certainly for Patrick Vieira and Manu would be affected. BlackBurn Rovers, Colin Hendry said after the game:-

This place Highbury is not quite so worryingly as it used to be. We won every individual battle out there whether is was in defence, midfield or up front. Our strikers had the beating of Arsenal’s back line. For all the talk about their centre-halves and what they are known for, we won everything.

Arsene Wenger said of the display ‘the last half hour was the poorest since I have been here.’ After the game at the Christmas party and Blackburn game, Jon Spurling points out:-

In the 1997–98 Double-winning season, it was Tony Adams and Martin Keown, not Wenger, who sidled up to Vieira and Petit at the Christmas party and told them to start shielding them during matches.

After that, Petit and Vieira acted in unison, shielding the defence. Often, Petit would do the defensive work, allowing Paddy to move further forward. Paddy underlined the importance of this partnership saying:-

On the field he know he can count on me, that I am the first to defend him in a physical combat and that I think exactly the same of him. Sometimes on the field we could find each other with our eyes shut.

After the Blackburn game, Arsenal and the defence tightened up. For me, three unique things happened. Nicolas Anelka was banging in important goals after Ian Wright was injured. Overmars was ripping it up on the wing, scoring 16 goals that season. The final one, was Petit. He was like a midfield version of Tony Adams. With a motor. Hard. Commited. Willing to win at any cost.

After the defeat to Blackburn Arsenal went on a run of 18 games, including a 9 match winning run and overturned a 12 point lead United had previously held. The culmination of this fine run would be the 1-0 defeat of Manchester United at Old Trafford in March 1998:-

Graham Weaver wrote of the game:-

Vieira and Petit controlling the midfield and Marc Overmars at his brilliant best, the Gunners were always on top and when, after 79 minutes, Overmars found himself clear in the United penalty box and slid the ball under the goalkeeper to score the winning goal, Arsenal were right back in it.

The season of 1997-8, Petit scored only two goals that season. His first was in a 5-0 win over Wimbledon at Highbury and the winner against Derby in a 1-0 win over Derby [the first two goals on the video below]:-

After the game against Derby he said after about his groin injury he had got in the previous game with Barnsley:-

It was giving me problems during the game but I was determined to play and to stay on. I am just determined to play in the match against Everton as well. If I can play, I will. I know I should rest but is is not impossible to cope and I will.

You have to like an attitude like that as a fan to be honest. To finish off a glorious season, Petit set Overmars up for the first goal with a pass over the top from the halfway line:-

Anyhow, the season culminated in Wenger’s first double of the 1997/8 season. A second double in two different countries. How could it get better?

Well, the World Cup in France of 1998, culminating in France, being 2-0 up, but down to 10 men against favourites Brazil. Then France break from a Brazil corner, substitute Patrick Vieira passes inside the defender to Petit running through. One touch, a gentle shot slowly trickles towards goal. Petit scores. 3-0 to France. Petit on his knees. Not being French, but being the Arsenal it was a great feeling.

The Daily Mirror comes out with the famous headline, Arsenal Win the World Cup.

The following season, Petit still had his golden moments. Perhap my personal favourite was the goal he got at Spurs when he put the ball over the head of the defender and buried it, in a 3-1 win:-

Unfortunately, it was also a season in which Petit’s passion started to cause us problem. He had been sent off before, in the double season, rather comically against Villa, when he had raised his hands, gently touching the ref by accident, who sent him off for violent conduct. Season 1998/9 though would see him sent off twice (and one in an F.A cup tie). In the sending off at Everton Wenger defended him saying:-

You could see today that he’d missed some games [he had missed the previous months games due to suspension and injury] and his reactions were not right which is why he was sent off. The two yellow cards were not for bad fouls, they were just a little bit late.

After this, Petit came out saying he was leaving England due to the victimisation from English referees. In the end he stayed another year. By then, Petit was about to turn 30 and Barcelona were offering £5,000,000 for him. Arsene accepted the bid. It made financial sense, but what a shame.

So what did Petit offer? Well, watch the video below at the bottom. The dead ball delivery for corners, his free kicks and through balls. The lifted pass over the top of the defence. I just seemed to have forgot how bloody good he was. I still rate him way above Paddy to be honest. He is also incredibly loyal to Arsenal. He once said :-

If I have one regret its leaving Arsenal for Barcelona. I saw this separation as a break-up, like the end of a love story when you know it’s all over but despite everything wish the other party would make the effort to stay with you.

I still think Petit rates with Peter Storey as are finest defensive midfielder. But with more skill :-

Let us not forget, that Paddy said of him on his departing:-

We are still really close, I played with Manu the right time of my career and he helped me a lot. He was really mature, and a sweet, emotional boy. He looked sometimes like he didn’t care, but no. Manu will kill for you, he will die for you, he will give you everything.

Something most fans would love to see from Ozil if you believed Paul Scholes.

And lets not forget something else Petit had. The best fans song ever:-

He’s blond,
He’s quick,
His name’s a porno flick,
Emmanuel, Emmanuel…


It’s time to stand up to the Man U bullies

Monday is a big game for me, after all, my very first memories of football are of hating Manchester United.

My football story is a bit unusual, I didn’t play much as a child, I didn’t fall in love with the sport as a teenager, and I didn’t follow any teams as a young adult. I came to football almost 30 years old and I discovered it through the magic of television.

My memory is foggy but I recall Fox Sports World (the precursor to Fox Soccer Channel) showing some whole matches and a highlight reel that may have been the video from Match of the Day. It was tough going in those circumstances to pick a team to follow because you never knew which games were going to be on television. Plus, as this was the turn of the century there was no internet, no blogging, no cell phones, and all communication was still done by Pony Express and telegraph.

But I dutifully watched and, despite my failure to pick a team, it soon became apparent that there was one team I despised: Manchester United. Pompous, yes. Arrogant, again yes. Pricks, sure. But worse than all that, they were bullies and I can’t stand bullies.

I’m convinced that there are certain fans who applaud bullying and that no club is free from these folks. These fans actually demand that their team be insufferable, cheat, shove players on corners, go in hard in the tackle, and use unnecessary force at all times. You hear the war cry of these fans (and their friends in management) when they say “ohh, eh, they don’t like it up ‘em!”

During his tenure at Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson had the resources to brand Manchester United as one of the top teams in Europe. Look at clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich. They are not only known for winning trophies, as was Fergie’s Man U, but they are also known for playing amazing football. But instead of focusing on the football and producing the best football the world had ever seen, Fergie focused on making a team that were insufferable thugs.

Arsenal’s 49 game unbeaten run was halted by Manchester United, aided by a soft referee in Mike Riley, putting in one of the most egregious examples of strong-arm robbery in the modern era.

In classic abuser behavior, Gary Neville celebrated bullying culture and the tactics of his club in a column for the Daily Mail. It’s an amazing column because it tries to re-write history: to say that Man U weren’t that kind of club, that this was a one off performance, and that he didn’t even really play that dirty.

It is basically a 500 word attempt to gaslight football fans. If you don’t know, gaslighting is a term which describes when an abusive person says things that makes the abused person doubt history, that make them doubt their own memory. In his column, he blames Arsenal for getting kicked, saying that United weren’t that bad but that even if they were, Arsenal shouldn’t have been such, and this is a term you hear a lot from bullies, pussies. I invite you to watch the video embedded above and then read Neville’s column. Every sentence he writes is contradicted by the video evidence. That’s why that video above is so important. It’s an island of truth in the murky sea of lies and history.

The typical response from United fans (and some Arsenal fans who wish that Arsenal were more like United) is to point to Patrick Vieira’s disciplinary record and say that Arsenal weren’t angels. But Paddy wasn’t a thug, he was the kind of guy who stood up to the thugs. It’s what I loved about Vieira, he stood up to guys like Keane and Rooney. 

In the now famous “tunnel fracas” between Vieira and Keane, we know that Vieira had (rightly) told Gary Neville that he wasn’t going to allow him to run around kicking Arsenal’s players as he had done in the previous match. Neville, who paints himself as the kind of steely-eyed man’s man with a handshake like an iron vice, immediately went into the dressing room and tattled on Vieira to Roy Keane. Roy Keane then went over and said a few things to Vieira, Paddy squirted him with the water bottle, and Roy got the hump. Arsenal lost that match 4-2 and a lot of that loss was probably down to the intimidation United used in the tunnel and in the game itself. 

That is Fergie’s true legacy at United. When I see Fellaini sent up front to win headers, throwing his elbows around like a sprinkler, kicking players on nearly every play, and shoving Kieran Gibbs to the ground in order to win the ball, I don’t see United in decline, I see a continuation of the tactics and team culture that Fergie honed in the years that he battled with Arsène Wenger for the League title. This is a team with Angel di Maria in it! One of the most talented footballers in the world and his job is reduced to lumping in balls to a player I call “Foulaini”.

When I hear either of the Nevilles comment on Arsenal or when I see Paul Scholes saying Özil took the easy option, it’s more of the same belittling, abusive behavior that I have seen from United since the first day I laid eyes on them.

In my childhood I was taught to stand up to these kinds of people. I’m not a giant dude, I’m just 5’8″ (174cm) but growing up I didn’t let bigger guys torment me. I didn’t always win, in fact I almost always lost, but I stood up for myself and didn’t let them push me around. That’s why I fell in love with Arsenal, because when they won at Old Trafford, they stood up for themselves.

It was a match so cynical that the BBC described it thus:

Arsenal kept their composure in the face of a fierce early physical assault from United as Ferguson’s side relinquished their crown in graceless fashion.

Graceless United tried to kick Arsenal off the pitch. They could have had three players sent off that day but each time the referee chose leniency. And each time Arsenal stood up to them. It’s how they won, by standing up to the challenge of a terrible bully.

Which is why tomorrow, I just want Arsenal to stand up to them — I’ve always wanted Arsenal to stand up to them. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter, just don’t let them push us around any more.