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Colin Pates; an unsuccessful Graham recruit, now working at a top private school

By Tony Attwood

Colin George Pates was one of George Graham’s purchases at Arsenal when he joined us on 19 January 1990.

He was born 10 August 1961 in London and started out at Chelsea in 1979, and eventually became their captain as they gained promotion from the second division in 1984.

He continued to play with Chelsea making almost 350 appearances before being sold to Charlton in 1988 for £400,000 in 1988 and then in 1990 moved to Arsenal on 19 January 1990 but never lived up to whatever expectations George Graham had for him.  After a loan move to Brighton he moved there permanently.  In all he made 16 starts for Arsenal and made his début
in a 1-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in February 1990.   He also came on nine times as a sub.  He scored one goal, a European Cup goal against Benfica at Highbury.

Following an injury he became player-manager at Crawley, later playing for Romford and has since coached footbal at Whitgift School in South Croydon.

In an excellent article on the Great Wen web site we find this about Whitgift School, in which it is described as a…

“breeding ground for bright young talent (which) is as far from the stereotypical back streets of football’s urban north as you can get.

“Situated in 45 acres of parkland and boasting colonies of albino wallabies, flamingos and red squirrels, Whitgift School is one of the oldest and wealthiest private boys schools in the country. For centuries, it has produced outstanding academics and sportsmen. The latter have usually been rugby players such as England fly-half Danny Cipriani or cricketers (the county-standard pitch is used by Surrey CC), as befits the tradition of the English independent school, which  leaves football to the hoi polloi of the comprehensive sector.

“So how have four professional footballers emerged from Whitgift’s ranks in the past few years? Why does the school currently count 13 children from different footballing academies – including Chelsea and Tottenham – among its 1,200 pupils? And how did the school attract three former footballers to work on its coaching staff?”

The question is answered through the conversion of the school’s head (Dr Barnett) from rugby to football…

“In 1996 I went out to a school in Parramatta,’ he says. ‘I was walking round the grounds and it was rugby as far as you could see – rugby match after rugby match after rugby match. But then I turned the corner and there was soccer being played. So I thought, if they can do it…’

“Convinced that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly, Dr Barnett looked for a coach and found Colin Pates, the Chelsea and Arsenal centre-back, who had retired with a knee injury. A posh school in the suburbs is not where you’d expect to find a hard-bitten former pro, and Pates admits: ‘Whitgift is quite alien to some of us, because we had state school educations. It was intimidating, and not just for the boys.’ But he jumped at the opportunity.

‘The headmaster asked me to take a sixth-form team on Wednesday afternoons,’ he says. ‘I asked if there were any goalposts, pitches, teams or even footballs, and we didn’t have anything. So we had to start from scratch, pretty much teach them the rules. They were rugby boys playing football, so these were quite aggressive games. But after three years we introduced fixtures and we’ve never looked back.’”

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