By Tony Attwood
Older supporters of every team will tell you (when they are being honest) that after years of watching their team, some games fade from the memory. You know you were there, but for the life of you, you can’t remember the game.
So it is with me, but there is one moment in one match 15 years ago that I remember so thoroughly that I can’t believe the memory will ever fade. Not a cup final or a game that won us the league. And indeed I can’t remember the whole match. What I recall is an incident.
And not even an incident on the pitch – although that is what sparked it off. Let me explain.
For many years I went to Arsenal games with my pal Roger. Sadly he’s no longer with us, but his memory is still bright in my mind, and I did my bit to keep the thoughts of him alive by dedicating “Making the Arsenal” to him. As you get older such things are important.
Roger and I often joked that we went to matches together, but then saw totally different games. Which made for lively conversation on the way back to the Midlands.
But to get to the point. We were at Arsenal v Sheffield Wednesday on 16 September 1996. Bruce Rioch had been removed from his position and the unknown (in Britain) Arsene Wenger had been put in his place. Tony Adams had made his comment along the lines of, “He’s French – what does he know about English football”, and we all waited while Pat Rice was stand-in manager.
Thus far we had won 2, drawn 2, and lost 1 under Pat Rice. Mr Wenger was still in Japan seeing the season out, showing us for the first time how honourable a man he is. And we heard that there were already signings done in his absence.
Which was a sign of what was to come. Here was a man who knew everything about football. He knew Arsenal, he knew Milan, he knew Patrick. And he knew Milan were making one hell of a mistake by leaving Patrick to rot in the reserves. So he ordered the club to buy Patrick Vieira, for £3.5m (shall I say that again – £3.5m).
Of course we’d never heard of him, and a reserve player for that price didn’t sound groundbreaking. We were , frankly, hoping for a bit more.
Worse, Patrick was injured when he came to us, so we didn’t see him. Anyway, with a team of Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Jensen, Bould, Linighan, Platt, Wright, Parlour, Harston and Merson we knocked Sheff W around 4-1 (a Wright hat trick). It was not a fabulous start, but you know to the season, but it wasn’t too bad.
Then into this match came Patrick as a sub for Platt. We watched this man mountain come in, and sat there with mouths open. And I remember, even 15 years later, saying to Roger: “Look at that new guy Vieira. He’s just taken total control of the centre. He’s running the team and the match, and he’s only been playing for 5 minutes.”
That was the impact Patrick made. It was extraordinary from the start. Completely different from Thierry Henry who did not make that great an impact at the beginning of his time with us – Patrick just walked in and took over.
I even once met him – and was amazed at just how huge he was. Me, 5 feet 8 inches. Him towering up to the sky.
So, to the basics. Patrick Vieira was born 23 June 1976 in Dakar, Senegal
He won three League trophies and four FA Cups. After leaving us he made the awful error of going to Juve, who were relegate for their part in “irregularities”. (Interestingly we have recently had some Juve fans on Untold saying that it is now widely known that Juve did little wrong and that their relegation was a conspiracy by Inter – something that makes Italian football sound even darker than I thought it was.)
Patrick played 107 times for France and won the World Cup and Euro 2000 with them. And we bought him for £3.5m.
From what I understand is that because Patrick’s grandfather served in the French Army, that made Patrick eligible for French nationality.
Perhaps most of all we remember that Patrick was the captain of the Invincibles – the greatest Arsenal team ever. And to round off my personal tribute, I remember also of course the final game of that amazing season. We had won the league, and just needed a draw against relegated Leicester to become unbeaten. Sir Alex had made comments to the fact that he remembered being in a Rangers side unbeaten all season who had lost the last game. As if there was a comparison.
But, of course, we went one-nil down at half time. I was shaking – literally shaking – through the half time. Couldn’t even have a drink. I just sat there thinking, this can’t happen. And then, if I recall it right, Henry got the penalty and Patrick scored to give us the winner.
And we stayed in the ground for hours after the game.
One last memory. 28 March 2006 – he played against us in the Champs League. That was the moment Robert Pires tackled him, and got the ball – and from that moment we went on to score. Sorry Patrick – but if you must leave Arsenal, these things happen.
Patrick played 407 times for Arsenal and scored 34 times. I don’t kid myself that ex-players would ever read my ramblings – but still, it feels good to pay my compliments to one of the Masters.
- 22 June 1893 – the date the modern Arsenal was launched
- Sylvain Wiltord, a tribute
- Tottenham’s strange election to the football league – an update
- Jack Crayston – player, coach, manager
- Paul Davis, wonderful player, great coach, and one incident
- Don Howe at Arsenal
- The last time Arsenal were bottom of the league