It’s Christmas night and I’ve had a nice day with my family. The fire is lit. Two German Shepherds are lying on the rug. I have a bourbon in a glass beside me. And I feel very lucky to have that, but also sad because today we lost our friend Dave Faber, who many of you knew as Goonerholic.
He had his own site and he did his own thing, but he was a big part of the Arseblog community down the years. A regular guest on the Arsecast, but also someone who was a big presence at our ‘real life’ events and escapades.
The 5-a-side tournament we had every year, he was always there. Not to play, just to watch, support, encourage, and chat to anyone who needed someone to chat to. He told stories, he held court, and he radiated a friendliness and goodness that drew people to him.
Online and offline he was all the things people have said about him online today. All those wonderful descriptors that made him who he was to so many people: A gent, a sweetheart, a rock, a great friend, a Gooner, a mate, a welcoming figure to Arsenal fans from far and wide, and so much more.
He wrote well, he spoke well, he blogged and podcasted well. His website is still hosted on a sever I own – I’ll make sure it stays up a long as possible. He filled in for me here on Arseblog when I had a weekend off and made jokes about the Arseblog basset hound which I loved.
He hadn’t been on the Arsecast for a while, but I never thought I’d run out of time to ask him again. This evening I’m thinking of my friend, but also of his family and loved ones who will miss him so acutely every day from now on.
I hope they can take some comfort from knowing that Dave was someone who was loved and appreciated by so many. He made an impact on, and a difference to, people’s lives, and always in a positive way.
It’s rare in life to meet someone who has that ability. It came naturally to him, he set an example with kindness, patience, understanding, and such genuine warmth.
I’m sorry you’re gone, Dave, and gone far too soon, but you won’t ever be forgotten and I’m proud to have been your friend. Rest well, Maestro – and we’ll turn those guns outwards for you.
Below is a piece he wrote from the Arseblog book So Paddy Got Up, which gives you some glimpse of who he was and why his Arsenal outlook was something we could all take a little from.
STRENGTH FROM WITHIN : FROM MEE TO GRAHAM
I suppose if I were to suggest to supporters born in the late 40’s that I had a bit of a tough time following Arsenal in my formative years, they would have an inward chuckle. My first vivid Arsenal memories go back to our first European campaign in the autumn of 1963. Ten trophy-less years had passed to that point, so the teens of the day had a lot more to grumble about than I did. Arsenal were a team for whom goal-scoring wasn’t an issue, but a porous defence ensured season after season of frustration.
Billy Wright, then holder of the world record for international caps, had been the first manager appointed from outside the club in nearly forty years. The last one, Herbert Chapman, took five years to bring a trophy to Highbury, but the former England captain would not get as much time to deliver. In each of his four seasons, Wright’s Arsenal slipped lower in the First Division table. Unlike Chapman he did not deliver a Cup Final appearance to suggest better would come. His dismissal in the summer of England’s world Cup triumph was inevitable.
The man chosen to succeed him was certainly not predictable. Bertie Mee was the physiotherapist who had a reputation among the players as a strict disciplinarian, but was little known outside the walls of Highbury. Denis Hill-Wood, the chairman, and his board had gone back to the tried and trusted method of promotion from within established following the death of Chapman. Bertie was entrusted with repeating the achievements of Tom Whittaker, who moved from the treatment room to the manager’s office, and delivered two League Championships and an FA Cup in a five-year spell around the start of the 50’s.
The new boss would be the first to acknowledge that he needed help with the coaching as the modern day game was taking shape, and the old fashioned ‘trainers’ now needed to develop greater tactical and motivational skills in their armoury. The appointment of the progressive Dave Sexton was a good one, and it was no surprise that he would soon go onto the ‘big job’ at Chelsea and Manchester united. Fate also delivered Mee, a second lieutenant, who would get to the very top of the coaching tree.
Don Howe was a former England right-back recruited by wright, but had fallen victim to a broken leg in March from which he would not recover sufficiently to resume playing. He was a leader and a thinker who learned very quickly from the more experienced Sexton and when the latter took over at Chelsea, little over a year later Don became the chief coach of Arsenal. The gift of timing did not just present the new boss with top coaching staff. The junior set-up established by his predecessor meant that a very talented group of youngsters were graduating at much the same time. Bob Wilson, Peter Storey, Peter Simpson, George Armstrong, Jon Sammels, and John Radford were all progressing from being good prospects to established players. They were to be followed by an equally talented trio of Eddie Kelly, Charlie George, and Ray Kennedy.
Almost immediately, Bertie took the opportunity to ease out some of the established stars at the club. It is probably fair to say that the supporters were not best pleased when George Eastham and Joe Baker were shipped out to Stoke City and Nottingham Forest respectively. The two had made the initial England world Cup squad, although Baker would not survive the final cut, and many considered the best of a bad bunch had been lost. The experience that was lost was soon replaced.
Although the roles vacated by Eastham and Baker would offer opportunities to Sammels and Radford, the signing of left-back Bob McNab provided a first-class solution to an old problem area. Radford, promoted from a right wing position that did not play to his strengths, would get some support up front from Scotland international George Graham, signed from Chelsea.
Proof of progress was delivered in the first season of the new regime, as Arsenal climbed from a fourteenth place finish in 1966, to seventh place twelve months on. with the benefit of hindsight it is apparent that George Graham in particular had learned the lessons of promoting the youngsters and adding the experience they lacked. Nobody at that time could have imagined what he would achieve little more than twenty years later following that train of thought.
In his second season at the helm Bertie delivered a Wembley final. It was only the second time the culmination of the League Cup had been staged at the home of English football, and we were in it. Standing between Arsenal and the trophy were a Leeds united team being honed by Don Revie. They were ruthless, and although the likes of Frank McLintock and Peter Storey matched them kick for kick, a hotly disputed volley from left-back Terry Cooper settled the match. That it was put past goal- keeper, Jim Furnell, who had been floored at a corner by big Jack Charlton, still rankles with older Gooners today.
Twelve months on an even more painful defeat would be suffered at the same stage of the same competition, and in the same place. A year earlier I had missed out on seeing my first Wembley final in the flesh. At least defeat to Leeds meant I would be present to see us grab the trophy from the frail challenge presented by Swindon Town, then in the Third Division. That was the theory, anyway.
One hundred and twenty minutes of pure footballing theatre on a mud-bath (created by holding the Horse of the year Show on the hallowed turf ) left this twelve-year-old with a pain I had not experienced before, but one that would become repeated many times over in the ensuing years. Swindon were deserving winners after extra-time, but I was not as charitable at the time. would Arsenal ever win anything in my lifetime? I was taking it very personally.
Taking it even more personally was Frank McLintock. Prior to joining Arsenal he had been in the Leicester City side that had reached two FA Cup Finals, only to lose both. That he was now a four-time runner-up left him with a burning desire to get his hands on a winner’s medal. Arsenal’s fourth place finish in the League was impressive, but Frank was after something better. That League position earned Arsenal a second crack at the Fairs Cup, and in Europe, as the ’60’s became the ’70’s, Mee’s Arsenal came of age.
A remarkable journey for the Gunners opened with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Northern Ireland’s Glentoran; continued past Sporting Lisbon (3-0); Rouen (1-0); Dinamo Bacau (9-1); and Ajax (3-1) to a Final meeting with Anderlecht. To put that battering of Ajax in perspective, the Cruyff-inspired Dutchmen would go on to own the European Cup for the next three seasons. Beating them 3-0 at Highbury in the first-leg of that semi-final was prob- ably the performance that convinced that Arsenal team they were a match for anybody on their day.
Success again looked to be out of Arsenal’s grasp in the first leg of the Final as the Belgian hosts took a three goal advantage, but a late header from young substitute Ray Kennedy provided the all important away goal. At a packed Highbury six days later I was on the back step of a crammed Clock End to witness fabulous strikes from Eddie Kelly and Jon Sammels – either side of a typical John Radford header – give us the trophy. Thousands streamed onto the Highbury turf to celebrate with the players daft enough to attempt a lap of honour. Bob wilson eventually returned to the changing room stripped of everything but his dignity.
In a corner somewhere, Bertie Mee was already planning the next momentous campaign. Ray Kennedy had made six appearances in 1969-70. It is doubtful he expected to make many more in the season that followed. Fate can be as spectacularly giving as it is sometimes fickle. On the opening day at Goodison Park Charlie George broke his ankle as he scored in a 2-2 draw. The nineteen-year-old Kennedy found himself promoted as a regular starting partner to John Radford, and the pair terrorised defences as Arsenal rampaged through the opening half of the season. West Bromwich Albion were hit for six, and four goals were notched against Manchester united, Ipswich Town, Nottingham Forest, Everton, and in the Fairs Cup, Beveren waas. Those who later called that team ‘functional’ conveniently overlook such performances. The team and supporters were enjoying some exciting days.
It was off the pitch that two events that would create a special bond in the team occurred. At a post-match dinner in Rome the Arsenal party reacted to an attack on Ray Kennedy in the street by going toe to toe with the players and officials of Lazio. Ten days later a hastily arranged team meeting followed a five-nil defeat at Stoke, and harsh words were encouraged as the players got that performance out of their system.
That meeting owed as much to McLintock as it did to Mee and Howe. The players took responsibility and the reaction was astonishing. After that reverse in the Potteries on 26th September, Arsenal did not lose a League match for nearly four months, when a penalty awarded for a handball offence outside the area by McLintock presented Huddersfield with an unlikely triumph. The Championship was turning into a two- horse race between the Gunners and their old adversaries, Revie’s Leeds.
At one point in February we trailed the Yorkshiremen by seven points, the equivalent of ten today as there were only two points awarded for a win. Slowly, we reeled them in. The last thirteen League matches provided only one reverse, ironically at Leeds to another hotly disputed goal. As for the rest, there was one draw and eleven wins, six of which were by the only goal of the game. I still recall the absolute joy that followed those single goals. In particular Charlie George’s belligerent thump from the edge of the box to beat Newcastle, and Eddie Kelly’s spectacular finish to avenge our battering at Stoke. It was of course the last match of that nerve-jangling sequence that provided yet more unforgettable moments, and another single-goal drama.
So, a decade after Tottenham lifted the first double of the twentieth century they were all that stood between FA Cup finalists Arsenal, and the first leg of what would become the second. A year after a late header in Belgium set us up for a Fairs Cup triumph, Ray Kennedy was to repeat the achievement at a packed white Hart Lane, where at least as many as got in the ground were locked outside. Not bad for a nineteen-year-old who must have thought he would spend the season in the reserves.
It was absolutely brilliant for a fourteen-year-old Arsenal fanatic savouring every moment of it on the Shelf. The margin between success and failure is sometimes minute indeed, and the resilience shown by the men in red as they repelled the Spurs onslaught that followed that goal paled into insignificance five days later at wembley. Chances came and went as Arsenal missed the opportunity to do the second leg of the double in ninety minutes against Bill Shankly’s Liverpool. In the opening minute of the added half hour Bob Wilson made an uncharacteristic error of judgement, and we were a goal down on a very hot and strength-sapping afternoon.
If I could convey one thing about the Arsenal of this era, I would like it to be the strength they showed in adversity. The spirit of determination instilled into the side by a combination of Mee’s discipline, Howe’s persuasive powers, and McLintock’s sheer bloody-minded never give up attitude, was quite awesome. Eddie Kelly’s equaliser and Charlie George’s unforgettable winner produced a turnaround of epic proportions. The hat I had trodden into the wembley terracing after Liverpool’s opener was retrieved, bashed back into shape, and planted proudly back on my head for the lap of honour. The pain of two years earlier was banished, but only temporarily. The next of many more Final disappointments was just twelve months away, and it was dirty Leeds again.
The aftermath of the double was more significant than any of us perhaps realised at the time. Don Howe left Highbury to manage his former club, West Bromwich Albion. As he himself remarked on the Official History of Arsenal DvD, “There’s been times when I left that I should have stayed. The double time was one of those when I left, and I should have stayed, because there was a lot more in that team.”
Indeed there should have been. Not that it was immediately apparent to those of us on the terraces that the best of the era had come and gone. The following Christmas we signed Alan Ball, a world Cup winner, from Everton for a British record fee of £220,000. Ball’s strength was his quick one touch passing game, somewhat at odds with Arsenal’s desire to get the ball wide and cross for the big men. The champions suffered twelve defeats and yet finished only six points behind their successors, Derby County. A year later we finished as runners-up, just three points behind Liverpool, and reached the semi-final of the FA Cup, only to lose to Second Division Sunderland, who went on to defeat Leeds at Wembley.
The break up of the side started with George Graham’s sale to Manchester United when Ball arrived. In the summer of 1973 the skipper, McLintock, was sold to Queens Park Rangers, much to his surprise. A year later Ray Kennedy became Bill Shankly’s last signing for Liverpool and Bob Wilson retired. By the close of the 1974/5 season, Arsenal had returned to the bottom half of the table, surviving relegation by four points. Bob McNab moved to Wolverhampton Wanderers and, most shockingly for the supporters, Charlie George turned down the overtures of Tottenham and was shipped out to Derby in his prime. Four years after winning the double, half of a great side was elsewhere.
Next out of the door, twelve months later, was Bertie himself after just six points separated us from the drop. Although Mee’s tenure had gone full cycle, from bust to boom to bust, what he achieved around the turn of the decade persuaded the board to continue to appoint men with an Arsenal background to the managerial hot seat. Next up was Terry Neill, captain of the club in Mee’s early days, and a man who maintained a close relationship with the club chairman, Dennis Hill-Wood. Initially Neill found the job quite a challenge. The Arsenal dressing room had contained strong characters for some time. when Alan Hudson and Malcolm Macdonald were added to Alan Ball, the new manager frequently found his authority challenged. The time had come to recall Don Howe.
Neill, like Mee before him, had inherited some remarkable young talent, and once again good timing presented him with David O’Leary, Liam Brady, and Frank Stapleton, all approaching their peak years. Slowly, the old heads were moved on, and a vibrant side took shape around the talented Irish trio. Macdonald survived the cuts, but sadly not a dodgy knee. with Howe at his side, Neill turned things around to such an extent that Arsenal reached three consecutive FA Cup Finals, and their second European Final, in the Cup winners Cup. That only one of those was won remains a mystery to this day.
That Arsenal side should have achieved more, and probably would have done had two of the leading lights not have been lured away. Like the double side a decade earlier, the keystones of the side were lost. Liam Brady had been open about his desire to test himself at the highest level: in those days that meant Italy. In the wake of our double Final defeats in 1980, Liam joined Juventus, where he would win back-to-back Serie A titles. More controversially Stapleton departed for a huge pay rise at Old Trafford a year later. Within eighteen months Neill was also heading for the exit door, having failed to adequately replace the two Irishmen and Macdonald’s goals.
Don Howe finally moved up to the big job, but later reflected that this was the time he stayed at Arsenal when perhaps he should have left. He lasted slightly over two years and left when it became known that Arsenal had offered his job to Terry Venables. That was the closest that the club came to bringing in another ‘outsider’ until the appointment of Bruce Rioch in 1995.
When Venables turned the club down, George Graham, a double-winner under Bertie Mee, returned to Highbury as manager in May 1986. Like his old boss before him, he cleared out what was perceived to be the old guard and promoted a fine crop of youngsters, added some quality and experience from elsewhere, and instilled a degree of discipline and spirit that brought the club another spell of success. That blueprint yielded almost immediate rewards.
Graham became the first Arsenal manager to land the previously cursed League Cup in 1987 when an Ian Rush strike was overturned by two goals from Charlie Nicholas. Although Luton would heap more misery on Arsenal supporters in the Final a year later, Graham was slowly bringing together possibly the most talented group of young players the club has known, and supplementing them from shrewd signings from clubs large and small.
League championships were secured in 1989 and 1991 with a side famed for defensive impregnability, but like the side in 1971 it didn’t really get the credit it deserved as an exhilarating attacking force on occasion. Like their illustrious predecessors, Graham’s Gunners too developed a strong team bond. That ‘us against the world’ mentality meant the side could overcome the deduction of two points in their second title-winning season. Only Chelsea at Stamford Bridge prevented Arsenal from going an entire League season unbeaten that term.
The arrival of Ian wright heralded an era where the club once again impressed predominantly in cup competitions. In 1993 Arsenal became the first club to land the domestic cup double, defeating Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley in both. A year later European glory was tasted for the second time when a much-weakened Gunners side ground out a single goal triumph against Cup-winners Cup holders Parma. If you had mentioned to those of us who enjoyed the intoxicating atmosphere of Copenhagen that George would be gone within a year we would have laughed at the suggestion. In truth though his powers were already on the wane, and his transfer dealings would provide the ammunition to fire him so controversially.
As with Bertie Mee, it could be argued that George struggled to rebuild his best side. when you consider his first five signings were Groves, Smith, Winterburn, Richardson, and Dixon, whilst his last five were McGoldrick, Schwartz, Hartson, Kiwomya, and Helder, perhaps that viewpoint is easy to appreciate. That doesn’t detract from the pleasure and success both brought to supporters who had been deprived of silverware for a long time. The Mee blueprint was cast aside with George’s departure. Bruce Rioch was recruited from Bolton, and lasted but a year before Arsene wenger was handed the reins.
In these days of huge television contracts, huge wages, and massive commercialism, it is doubtful anybody would take the risk of appointing from within. Big clubs these days demand big name managers, rightly or wrongly. However it is hard to deny that having a degree of continuity, and trusting the management of the club to men who understood what it was all about from the inside, was a demonstrably successful approach for almost sixty years.
David Faber, otherwise known as Goonerholic, was born eleven months after Liam Brady, and therefore arrived at a time when all the footballing genius for the era had been exhausted. He has quietly followed Arsenal home and away ever since.