The Dover Gooners - another magnificent evening with an Arsenal legend
Today it is not so much MY Arsenal Opinion as Nigel Winterburn's. As I told you on Friday, last night was the annual Dover Gooners Legends Dinner, and this year's esteemed guest was none other than Nutty Nigel. Over 220 members of the Dover Gooners were in attendance, from all over England, and also Italy and an Austrian delegation including the legendary Andy Kovacs.
After a superb meal, we were treated to a wonderful question and answer session with Nigel. Making his way around the room, which added a real personal touch, Winterburn swapped opinion with anyone and everyone. His views on Arsenal's goalkeepers were pretty much the same as everyone else, so no surprise there. I asked him if he felt cheated to have only played twice for England. It was interesting to hear him say that, for a few years, he would listen in hope for his name to be announced in the squad, but eventually he knew it wasn't likely to happen and had to accept that. As a result of these snubs, he now has not too much interest in England, or how they get on, but he loves Arsenal and he was there last night "out of respect to the fans." Nigel doesn't begrudge the players what they are paid these days, but he feels that the distance (both metaphorical and real) between players and fans is an unhealthy problem - he used the way the team arrives at the new stadium as an example of how things have not changed for the better in that regard, saying that turning up at Highbury through the crowds was enough motivation in itself.
A couple of people questioned whether he felt Arsene Wenger had reached the end of the line, but Nigel warned that people should be careful what they wish for. I didn't necessarily agree with him on that, but Nigel felt that some of the problems lie elsewhere - I won't say where! Winterburn was quite candid when talking about David Dein. He described the former director as "Mr Arsenal" and he feels that Arsene is missing that relationship, particularly with regards to making the necessary player purchases.
One of the questions asked regarded the leadership, or lack of it, on the pitch in the team today. It was surprising to hear Winterburn echo Wenger's mantra that there should be 11 captains on the pitch, with each player having responsibility to lead from the front. Nigel felt he didn't necessarily see the importance of one man wearing an armband. Coming from someone who played under Tony Adams this was a bit of a shock to me. He was not attempting to denigrate Adams in any way though, and he felt that Tony and Steve Bould were the best centre-back pairing he has seen - Bould came in for particular praise. His favourite player, as it has been with all of the legends to attend through the years, is Dennis Bergkamp.
Nigel doesn't feel that Bruce Rioch was a deliberate stop-gap, put in by the Board, until Arsenal could get Wenger to join. Again, I would rather not be the one to publicise what was said but, had the approach of Rioch been slightly different, we might not have seen Arsene Wenger as soon as we did, if at all.
Finally from Nigel was a comment with regard to his altercation with Brian McClair. Most Arsenal fans will be fully aware of the penalty miss by McClair in the final minute of a 5th round FA Cup tie, in front of the North Bank. We didn't find out exactly what Winterburn said to the Scotsman, as there were children present, but his dislike of Manchester United and Alex Ferguson came through loud and clear! He was also able to make a joke about his altercation with Paolo Di Canio.
All in all Nigel Winterburn provided those present with some fine entertainment, and his honesty was refreshing, even if you didn't agree with some of what he said. Clearest of all was his respect for the fans, and love for Arsenal. He would dearly love to see them win a trophy this year ("even the Carling Cup"), and he believes that it would be the catalyst that would propel the boys to greater glory. I really enjoyed the evening and it is a credit to the organiser that the event goes from strength to strength (as the organiser happens to be my brother I can't say too much for fear of accusations of bias).
In the more important business of the evening, we were able to present a cheque to Nigel, collecting on behalf of The Willow Foundation, for £2,500. The raffle was, once again, a memorabilia collectors dream, with some unique items up for grabs. More information on the work of Willow can be found at www.willowfoundation.org.uk. The Dover Arsenal Supporters Club have recently re-launched their website at www.dovergooners.com.
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