Arshavin Signs!

I can count on one hand the signings Arsenal have made that have made me excited. 

Charlie Nicholas was the first. 

In the summer of 1980, Arsenal fans were in an optimistic mood. The past three seasons had seen them reach three successive FA cup finals – which was a big deal back then – and a European Cup Winners Cup final – the clubs first European final in 10 years. Although the club only won the FA cup – in 1979 – during that period, the future looked bright. 

That was until they sold Liam Brady – the clubs best player – to Juventus. His departure left me absolutely gutted. The man was my first Arsenal hero, and was, in my eyes, irreplaceable.

The following summer they sold Frank Stapleton to Manchester United. He had replaced Brady as my new Arsenal hero. But I couldn’t understand why he joined a team that had finished the previous season in 8th place – five places below Arsenal. United in my eyes were not bigger than Arsenal.

I soon became disillusioned. Arsenal were now a selling club.

The 1981-82 season was a major disappointment. We were knocked out of the UEFA cup by Belgian part-timers K.F.C. Winterslag, got beaten 2-0 by Everton in the FA cup 3rd round and finished 5th in the league – behind Spurs, who also knocked us out of the League cup. It didn’t help watching Spurs win two back to back FA cups -1981 and 1982 – as well as play more attractive football. They had Ardilles, Hoddle and Villa. We had league defeats to Swansea City – both home and away – Notts County and Stoke. The country was in the grips of a severe recession, unemployment was up and my spirits with regard to Arsenal were down.

In the summer of 1982, Arsenal tried to appease fans with the signings of strikers Tony Woodcock and Lee Chapman. But both were disappointments, especially Chapman, who only scored 4 goals in two seasons. 

The 1982-83 season saw some improvement. Arsenal reached the semi-finals of both the League and FA cups. However, this achievement masked the real truth. We were average, as was shown when Manchester United beat us 6-3 on aggregate in the League cup and then 2-1 in the FA cup. United were superior in those games and to add insult to injury Stapleton was banging in the goals. I’ve hated them ever since. 

That season United finished 3rd, Spurs 4th, while we finished 10th in the league. We had an average home attendance of just over 19,000. Both statistics were a better indication of how bad we had become. The football we played was boring and made any team managed by Sam Alladyrce look like Brazil. 

During those depressing days you never mentioned winning the title. It was something that was never going to happen. The equivalent would be vacationing on Mars next year. You get the picture. 

But in the summer of 1983, everything changed. 

We signed Charlie Nicholas, the young, exciting, Scottish striker who played for Celtic. Nicholas had just scored 50 goals and won the Scottish Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards. Every club seemed to be after him. 

His transfer was a real saga. One week he was going to this team, the next week he was signing for that team. He held talks with Manchester United and champions Liverpool. The top Italian and Spanish clubs were also interested. So when Nicholas eventually signed for Arsenal, I was stunned but over the moon. I felt that we had finally replaced Brady. Although, I, like many other Arsenal supporters had never seen him play. I believed the hype.

I was wrong.

Nicholas turned out to be another disappointment. He only scored 11 goals in his first season, but for some reason he held cult status. The fans worshipped him. Young men copied his mullet haircut, which was known as a”Charlie.” Fans sang a song about him to the chimes of Big Ben. This could have been due to his “champagne lifestyle” of partying, drinking, and sleeping with Page 3 models. It could have been his wonder goal against Spurs where he went past 3 Tottenham players before beating the keeper. 

It could have been that we were desperate. 

The early 1980’s recession was bad. We were still in the middle of the Cold war and constantly reminded that we could have nuclear war with the USSR at any time. The Falklands war had only ended a year before. Lee Chapman was crap and so called England star Tony Woodcock had palyed his best days at Nottingham Forest.

I needed Charlie Nicholas. I needed good news and his signing provided it.

Just over twenty-five years later we find ourselves in another recession. The Cold War is over but the threat of nuclear attacks still hangs in the air – if you believe what you are told. The world is different today but the economic news is gloomy – just like it was back in the early 1980’s.

But I am a happy man. 

At 12:00 noon today, I watched SKY Sports news. Reporting live, outside The Emirates stadium, standing in the snow was a man holding a microphone surrounded by smiling Arsenal fans. “The Arshavin deal is all but done,” he said. “The Russian midfielder has completed his medical, the two clubs have agreed a fee. The transfer just has to be finalized by the Premier League.”

A big cheer went up by the fans. They didn’t care that they had only seen him play in Euro 2008. They didn’t care that he could be another Charlie Nicholas. They just wanted him. The gloom was over. The transfer saga was finally done.

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