Frank and the author
As I told you on Saturday evening, yesterday was the Dover Gooners annual "Legends Dinner" with this years special guest, Frank McLintock. A highly enjoyable day was had by all as over 170 local, and not so local (some travelled from Italy and Austria), Gooners sat down to a carvery lunch in the company of one of the greatest players in Arsenal's history.
After the meal we had the pleasure of listening to Frank's after dinner stories, before a question and answer session with the audience. Frank told us a tale or two from his time as a player at Arsenal, including the famous story of Don Howe telling him to put Denis Law out of a game at Old Trafford. When Frank told Don that he might end up being sent off he was told not to worry as United would miss Law far more than Arsenal would miss McLintock! A lot of Frank's stories were from his time at Sky Sports which, although entertaining, had nothing to do with his Arsenal career. I suspect that on the after dinner circuit there is a need to appeal to many different people, hence Frank's well polished performance, but in front of yesterday's Arsenal audience a more Arsenal-orientated speech may have been even more appreciated. One of things that shone through was his affection for George Best during their time together at Sky, but not so much necessarily for Rodney Marsh (though there was a certain amount of tongue in cheek).
When we got to the question and answer there was more of a focus on Arsenal, as you might expect. Frank is not a fan of Theo Walcott and believes he is easy to defend against - basically just stand still and let him run in to you! Of course that's very simplistic, but I think most regulars at Arsenal would agree with what he was saying - the point being that Walcott does not have any tricks at all and lacks the skill to beat a defender in the way of a traditional winger. McLintock is also not so keen on the zonal marking that Arsenal are currently playing and he believes it is Steve Bould who is marshaling it. That's not to say he was criticising Bould in any way. In fact he was quite revealing in that he told us that Pat Rice was never "allowed" by Arsene Wenger to actually coach the defence. In Frank's words it was Pat's job to "put the cones out and do the warm up" at Arsenal. He said that the work Bouldy is now doing is evident in performance on the pitch, and he has been surprised by Per Mertesacker.
I asked who he considers the best Arsenal player he has seen and he picked out four or five names, including Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Charlie George and Robert Pires. He didn't actually give a definitive answer but he seemed to be veering towards Henry or Bergkamp as you might expect. He also confirmed to me afterwards that he had indeed had to put a Spurs supporter in his place in the executive boxes during a North London Derby a couple of years ago. I'll say no more than that.
Someone asked about Financial Fair Play and what effect it would have. Frank was quite clear that it will have no effect whatsoever as the clubs are already finding ways around it with so called sponsorhip arrangements, such as Man City's stadium rights etc. He believes that Arsenal are not following the right model - while he acknowledges the need for not breaking the bank, he also feels we should use what is available to us. He is not a fan of the owner, Mr Kroenke, and is convinced his sole objective is to make money out of Arsenal in the medium to long term. It was interesting to hear him talk about Usmanov in reasonably favourable terms, though he stopped just short of endorsing him as the right alternative to the status quo.
Listening to Frank McLintock it is easy to see that he is a supporter of Arsenal. He talked about the Club in the way that most of those present would. He wants the same things from Arsenal that we all do, and is quite clear that charging the high admission prices without providing the success on the pitch can not go on. He wants to see a couple of signings - big signings - that would complete this squad of players, though he was quite clear that he doesn't want to see us spending £50m on one player - he was firm in his criticism of the Chairman over his quotes in that regard.
Frank clearly hasn't lost the desire that made him a fierce competitor and his views on what he would do to Andrey Arshavin given the chance were enlightening and amusing. It was also very interesting to learn that Tony Adams wanted "in" at Arsenal over the Summer in any capacity possible, but that he appears to have given the rub-off. I'd love to know what has gone on with Tony and Arsene Wenger, but all is clearly not quite right in that relationship. Apparently Wenger doesn't get on with Dennis Bergkamp either, despite appearances to the contrary. Frank is of the opinion that Arsene doesn't like to be questioned in any way, and that is why certain people are not part of the set up. It would certainly explain a few things, would it not?
I would have liked to hear more from Frank's playing days, such as what really happened with Bertie Mee and himself, and a first hand account of the Lazio altercation. Sadly much of the audience seemed more keen on getting his views on today's Arsenal which I found a bit bizarre - you've got a legend from 1971 in the room, so why not ask him about it? He did manage to tell us his two career highlights, however - the Fairs Cup win in 1970, and winning the Title at Tottenham in 1971. He is an Arsenal man through and through, and that was the main thing that came across to me.
The most important part of the day was the raffle in aid of Bob Wilson's Willow Foundation. As ever there was a huge amount of signed Arsenal memorabilia on show, including some exclusive prints from Willow and a Bob Wilson Cup Final shirt, also from Willow. Those in attendance raised over £1700 on the day, which was topped up to £2000 by Arsenal Dover Supporters Club. All in all it was another very fine day.