Willie Young, how to tackle at Wembley, how not to comment on Arsenal

By Tony Attwood

This article was updated 26 October 2013

1980, Willie Young.  It is the image of the player that many of us retain.  The trip on Paul Allen in the 1980 Cup Final.  In truth is was a foul like many others, but it was on a West Ham player, and WHU were reputed to play beautiful football so it was a CRIME.  And against a teenager who was smaller than Willie Young.  So it was a BIGGER CRIME.  And he was going to be the youngest player to score in a cup final, so it was a JOLLY BIG CRIME INDEED.  And it was done by an Arsenal player which makes it worst of all.

They probably didn’t like it either because Willie was Scottish.

Willie was born in Edinburgh on 25 November 1951 and started out with Aberdeen, before going to Tottenham.  From there he moved on to Arsenal.

His first game was on 5 March 1977 playing with the number 3 shirt on.  It was a game that game in the midst of seven consecutive defeats and an 11 game winless run.  After that he kept his position in the side for the rest of the season playing at number 5 or 6.

The two regular central defenders – O’Leary and Simpson both had injury problems that first season and the main back up Pat Howard failing to impress after his transfer from Newcastle.  Indeed Pat Howard remained for less than a season appearing first on 11 September 1976 and playing his last on 30 April 1977 – a grand total of 16 games.    However looking at the line up it looks like Howard and Young played the central defence pair for this game.

Thus it was that Arsenal were anxious for a serious central defender on whom they could rely, and Willie Young having got into the team stayed there.

Willie played in all three Terry Neil cup finals – the loss to Ipswich and WHU and the victory over Manchester United.    Here’s his Arsenal league record.

Season Lge games Goals
1976/7 14 1
1977/8 35 3
1978/9 33 0
1979/80 38 3
1980/1 40 4
1981/2 10 0
Total 170 11

His total number of games including cup matches (of which of course there were a lot) is recorded on Arsenal.com as 237 including one as sub.

Some players are mocked because of physique and a certain lack of speed often mark them out – Jeff Blockley is one such who was never taken to heart by Arsenal fans.  Willie Young was a big centre half but he is described in the texts as “determined”, even “imperious” – a word I’d tend to use for Pires, not Young, but then each to his own when it comes to adjectives.

Willie Young held his position until the early days of the 1981/2 season when he lost his place to Chris Whyte.  His last game was a 1-0 home win against Coventry City on 31 October 1981, by which time he was 30.  He moved to Nottingham Forest for £50,000.  However having been fairly injury free, and thus able to play between 35 and 40 games a season, he could no longer manage this and injuries now dogged the rest of his career.

Seasons Team Lge games Lge goals
1970/5 Aberdeen 133 10
1975/7 Tottenham Hotspur 54 3
1977/81 Arsenal 170 11
1981/3 Nottingham Forest 59 5
1983 Norwich City 6 0
1983/4 Brighton & Hove A. 4 0
1984 Darlington 4 0

After leaving football he did what so many players of the game have done before – he became a publican, but then moved onto the less common ex-fo0tball occupation of running kennels.

He does occasional punditry too on Scottish TV and in August 2009 launched an unworthy attack on Arsenal in the Daily Record.  At least, I say “unworthy” – that assumes he said what the Record reports.   The article came on the eve of Arsenal against Celtic in the Champions League qualifiers and the ambiguity of occasional phrases suggests some words were put into his mouth.

In the article the paper claimed that Willie said Arsenal were “ropey in defence, hopeless in midfield and powderpuff in attack” – although the paper also says he would be “quite happy to see his predictions turned into a dog’s dinner over the course of the next week in Glasgow and London.”

Young is quoted in the paper thus: “Logic says Arsenal will win but if Celtic up their game a little bit they’ll give them a right good match. If they take their chances it wouldn’t even surprise me to see Celtic knock them out.

“I’d hate to lose Wenger as boss but it annoys me he has never bought a decent keeper, centre half, holding midfielder or centre forward.

“However, as soon as you question him things seem to turn out right and he rams your words right back down your throat.

“For example, Arsenal can be good to watch but there are a few weak parts in the team especially down that spine. I still think he needs a better keeper and a dominant centre-half who’ll put the fear of God into opposition strikers.

“In fact Arsenal aren’t a great side defensively and part of the reason Wenger has gone with only one man up front and five in midfield in recent seasons is to protect a dodgy back four.

“In midfield I still don’t think Denilson in quite there yet. He gives the ball away far too often and neither he nor Cesc Fabregas has much pace.

“I like Andrey Arshavin, mind you. He’s quick and he’s a stocky little bugger, just like Joe Harper – it’s difficult to push him off the ball.

“Up front I’m not a fan of Nicklas Bendtner – his first touch is dreadful. Robin van Persie was top scorer last season but he’s injury prone and not an out-and-out striker.

“I’d prefer to see him play off a front two but Wenger likes to see his strikers coming in from the wings and that’s why Bendtner starts out right. Still, it’s good to see Eduardo back after breaking an ankle.”

This was the season when Arsenal opened with a 1-6 away win against Everton.  Of this Willie Young said: “Arsenal played well but a lot of things went their way and Everton ended up being posted missing at times. Celtic are a good side, Scottish clubs always raise their game against English opposition and the fans will be right behind their team.

“The atmosphere at Parkhead can only encourage Celtic.”

The games ended Celtic 0 Arsenal 2 and Arsenal 3 Celtic 1.

The books…


4 Replies to “Willie Young, how to tackle at Wembley, how not to comment on Arsenal”

  1. Young’s Arsenal debut took place in 1977, not 1976.
    Also, although he wore the no.3 shirt, Young ‘played’ at centre-back, with Powling in the left-back slot and Nelson on the bench.
    Sounds completely shambolic, going down 1-4.

  2. Terry Neill got the genuine ‘centre-half’ in Young that we needed, at a bargain £80,000, leaving O’Leary to deal with the small nippy ones. Young was quickly a favourite.

    Far better on the ball, with both feet, than O’Leary (he played on the left because O’Leary could not), and Brady would give the ball to Young with confidence. Should have played for Scotland.

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