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Wednesday
Nov262014

"If it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood" - Jeffrey Freeman interview, Part Two

 

In Part Two of his interview with The Arsenal Collective long-standing season ticket holder Jeffrey Freeman reveals how he celebrated the 1971 Double and casts an eye over the players, matches and victories that he most cherishes.

Let’s talk about some of the players you watched. Who in your mind is the greatest man – as opposed to player – who ever pulled on an Arsenal shirt?

The greatest man? It’s not an easy choice. It would lie between Tony Adams and Joe Mercer [pictured above]. When you get older you tend to look back more favourably on your younger days. If I had to make the decision, I’d go with Mercer. To me Tony Adams is The Arsenal. But Joe was a much more rounded character. He was very focused, and like Adams captained England. He was inspirational. Joe was more slight than Tony and bow-legged, more spindly. Physically they weren’t the same, but they were great leaders. It’s very difficult to choose.

I saw Joe’s last game playing against Liverpool in 1954. He had a collision with our left-back called Joe Wade and you could hear his leg crack right around the ground. Everybody knew there and then it was the end. As he was being carried off he just waved to the crowd and they responded. It seemed to be farewell. It was quite emotional. I was very upset. My father said to me, ‘Don’t be upset. It’s better he go out in a blaze of glory than as an old man people don't think well of.’

I think that’s very relevant today. There are people in football today who do hang on too long. I think Joe did try and make an [unsuccessful] comeback, but I have a vivid recollection when that injury occurred that that was it. And it proved to be. He was 39.

Do you have any favourite recollections about Joe?

We were lucky to get him in the first place actually. Everton treated him appallingly after the war and he was going to give up football. He only agreed to sign for Arsenal if he could continue to train in Liverpool. He only came for the games and never trained with the team. Before the FA Cup final in 1950 against Liverpool he trained at Anfield! Another unusual point is that Joe ran a successful grocery business at the same time as being a professional footballer. Can you imagine that today?

A couple of years later we were playing Newcastle in the FA Cup final, but we had a host of injury problems. Centre-half Ray Daniel broke his arm and was playing in a cast, Jimmy Logie – the best player of all time – was in hospital days before. In the first half Wally Barnes twisted his ankle or knee and was carried off. There were no substitutes back then so we played with ten men. Then Don Roper got injured, Cliff Holton got injured and then Daniel couldn’t continue. We were effectively playing with half a team!

With six minutes left George Robledo scored for Newcastle and they won. But we were all so proud in defeat. At a function after the game, Joe Mercer made a speech in which he said, “I thought that the proudest moment of my career was captaining England, but it was captaining Arsenal today.” That’s my favourite story about Joe.

Joe went on to manage Sheffield United, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Coventry. He was caretaker manager of the England team for a while and they were relatively successful. There was some talk of him being appointed permanently but the FA, in their wisdom, chose Don Revie. That resulted in its own long story...

Do you think that generation of Arsenal players have been overlooked recently? Obviously modern greats like Adams, Bergkamp and Henry have their own statues outside the Emirates…

A question for you. Why is there no statue of Joe at the Emirates; or for that matter, of Bertie Mee or George Graham? They all deserve one. It’s difficult choosing others, there are so many options. Personally, I’d have a statue of Jimmy Logie but that’s because I think he was the best player I ever saw. He only played once for Scotland but he was like Lionel Messi with the skills he had. Obviously you can’t have statues everywhere. That team of the 1930s with Ted Drake had unbelievable players…Charlie Buchan, Cliff Bastin, David Jack, Wilf Copping, Herbie Roberts, George Male.

What’s the greatest goal you’ve ever seen?

The greatest, not necessarily the best, is when Tony Adams scored the fourth goal against Everton to wrap up the league title in 1997. It wasn’t a goal, it was a statement.

As the story went he and Steve Bould couldn’t ‘play’ football and there they were combining with a deft ball over the top and Adams running through and the way he hit that ball…he was making a statement.

To me it summed up how good they were at the time. The way Tony reacted afterwards. No taking off his shirt, no somersaults. He just stood there saying, ‘We are The Arsenal. We are The Champions.’ It was a statement.

I haven’t given much thought to the greatest goal. Obviously I’ve seen the Bergkamp goal against Newcastle and Liam Brady’s goal at the Lane.

Are their any opposition players who stood out for you?

Oh I don’t think about the opposition. I don’t! Okay, there was a guy called Wilf Mannion at Middlesbrough who reminds me of Tomas Rosicky at his best. There was Reg Carter at Derby County. George Best was a flawed genius. He’s probably one of the best, if not the best. He was more skilful than [Real Madrid’s] Ronaldo, who relies more on his physique. Honestly though, I’m so blinkered on the Arsenal that I don’t really watch the other team. I never have.

What was it like watching Arsenal win the Double in 1971?

The emotional release after the game at Spurs was overwhelming. I couldn’t sleep for days. Then it was Liverpool [in the FA Cup final] and I thought, ‘We’re never going to do this.’ I was so drained after we won. I had no emotions. What are those headaches? A migraine, I had a migraine. I guess I was so much more emotionally involved then, than I am now. We were only the second team to do the Double, Spurs were the other, so to celebrate I threw a party. You know, I had to! I had a lovely Boxer dog and I dressed him up in the Arsenal kit and it was as a result of that party that I met my wife. 

And the players used to turn up at parties with supporters back then?

The players were readily accessible back then. I had a very good friend, who has since passed away, who was close with George Graham and Frank McLintock and after a cup final we inevitably ended up a party with the players somewhere or other. It just wouldn’t happen today. I’m pleased to say the amount I drank means that I cannot remember a lot of what took place. They were at Grosvenor House, that type of place.

You used to get really great characters around the game back then who used to sell match tickets on the black market. It’s not [illegal] like it is today, they were acknowledged people. The first one I met was Johnny ‘The Stick’ Goldstein and his mantle was taken by Stan Flashman or ‘Fat Stan’ as he was known. What a character! He used to hire trains to take us to away games, just the Arsenal fans, and he’d also arrange these parties.

You crossed his hand with silver, metaphorically speaking, and everything was done for you. You got a seat on the train, a fantastic meal, a ticket to the game. There was a different culture, footballers didn’t earn the money they do now. And Stan used to look after them and us. I better not say too much, but there was a different culture. If you read up on Stan you’ll see he used to claim he could get you a ticket to the Royal garden party at Buckingham Palace. He wasn’t much liked by a lot of people because of the business he was in, but I thought he was fantastic. In the end he got in trouble with the FA when he owned Barnet football club.

Did you ever find your dedication to Arsenal ever getting in the way of the rest of your life?

That’s the easiest question to answer. Never! It was never an issue. I’ve got an accommodating wife who never said anything about me going to games. If it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood. Even now, I shouldn’t get upset by things when they don’t win a game, but I do. It’s only in recent years that I’ve stopped going quite as regularly as I used to. 

Of all the trophies Arsenal have won during your lifetime, which brought you the most satisfaction?

It’s a difficult choice, but I can’t look past the two games in a week to win the Double in 1971. There was the FA Cup final in 1950 when Reg Lewis scored twice and we beat Liverpool and although I wasn’t at the game, Michael Thomas’ last minute goal at Anfield was also special. And beating Manchester United 3-2 in the cup final in 1979.

I feel terribly privileged to have been an Arsenal supporter. It’s had an enormous influence on my life. It’s helped mould me as a person, taught me a lot about sport, it helped me when I was at school and it’s been my social life. Unless you’re a real supporter, you just don’t get all that…

Last year I went to watch Bournemouth play and there were about three hundred Rochdale fans in the away end and they were going berserk. It was great to see. If they’d drawn a Championship side in the FA Cup and won, that would have been their moment; they’d take as much from that moment as a Manchester United supporter winning the Champions League.

That’s what’s so wonderful about football and it’s given me so many different highlights like that. It’s made my life much fuller and more colourful. 

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You can read part one of this interview here.

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