By Andy Kelly
Sadly (for me) this article isn’t about me. I’ve been collating line-ups for Arsenal games since the late-1970s and have been fascinated by those people who played the odd game here and there, wondering how they got a game. Some of these people went on to become relatively famous – Glenn Roeder, Robbie James, Jesper Olsen – but most disappeared into the non-league scene or even out of football altogether.
Through the wonders of the internet and Google I recently contacted a chap called Pete Cernis and asked if he had played in goal for Arsenal in 1969. I guessed that he might be as it is not the most common of names.
Pete replied and confirmed that he had played for Arsenal and gave me some background which I found fascinating. Here is his story of how he got to pull on the famous red jersey (actually it was green as he was a goalkeeper).
Pete was originally invited to train with Arsenal in 1965 when he was 13. Something went awry and he ended playing for Tottenham’s youth team as they were closer to where he lived. After this brief foray to the dark side he signed as an apprentice for QPR who had a strong youth team. He played in the same team as Gerry Francis and Ian Evans where they won the South East Counties League. Shortly before the 1969 FA Cup Final, finalists Leicester City put out their first team in a reserve game against QPR. Pete played and obviously put in a good performance that knocked Allan Clarke and Len Glover’s confidence for six!
At the end of 1968-69, QPR asked Pete to sign professional but his parents felt it was better to pursue his studies. How times have changed.
In September 1969 Arsenal were suffering something of a goalkeeping crisis. Bob Wilson was injured so Geoff Barnett was bought from Everton. Geoff also picked up an injury so Malcolm Webster played in the first team. When youth team goalkeeper Glenn Johnson was also injured, Arsenal had big problems – Four injured goalkeepers.
Out of the blue, Arsenal gave Pete a ring where he was studying to ask if I could play for them. Pete played in two games for Arsenal:
29 September 1969 v Charlton Athletic away in the London FA Challenge Cup (1-1). This was the reserves cup competition which they went on to win. Alongside Pete for this game were Brendon Batson, Sammy Nelson, John Roberts, Eddie Kelly and Terry Burton.
4 October 1969 v Tottenham Hotspur away in the South East Counties League (1-2). The following Saturday the reserves didn’t have a game but the youth team did. So Pete played in this game at Tottenham’s training ground in Cheshunt. After the game, Pete was offered a bottle of Coca Cola. When he opened the bottle, the neck broke and sliced into his thumb. The Arsenal coaching staff decided to send Pete to Highbury to have the club’s doctor look at it. He was taken into the changing room where the first team were preparing to play Coventry.
Here are Pete’s words: “The ‘doc’ looked at the thumb and said it needed stitches and told me he would have to do them without local anaesthetic. He looked at me – a 17 year old – with a gaze of sympathy and shouted ‘large scotch here now!!!’ Some frightened guy came running back with a full tumbler of scotch making sure nothing was spilled. ‘Great’, I thought, ‘at least something out of this little episode.’ However the Doc ignored my outstretched hand and downed the whisky in one and then proceeded to stitch me up.”
Unfortunately for Pete, when the stitches were removed he contracted septicaemia and was out of the game for a while and lost interest in football at that level.
During his youth he represented Senior County, England boys’ clubs and the FA teams. When not playing for the big boys h trained and played with Enfield, Hayes and Bishops Stortford amongst others.
His final words: “Always will have a soft spot for the Arsenal though.”