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Thursday, 24 December 2015

Don Howe - a giant of Arsenal FC, Christmas Eve is here

Arsenal will pay tribute on Monday

Don Howe is, quite simply, one of the most important men in the history of Arsenal Football Club. Player, coach, Manager, and youth-team coach of our great Club spanning nearly 50 years. He was the tactician behind Bertie Mee's success in the early 70's, and Terry Neill's great cup sides at the end of that decade. He was the man who laid the foundations of George Graham's Arsenal by bringing through Tony Adams, Martin Keown, David Rocastle, Martin Hayes, Michael Thomas, Niall Quinn and Gus Caesar. He later returned to Arsenal under Arsene Wenger to lead an all conquering youth set-up. 
Don was a top class England international full-back until a broken leg forced an early end to his playing career. He stepped in to coaching where he became revered by his players. No coach in this country, or beyond, has had the influence that Don Howe has had. A man maybe not suited to the actual management side he was the ultimate tracksuit man - a professor of football coaching. He loved Arsenal FC and the fans loved him. When he was stitched up by the Board in 1986 the fans backed Don Howe and sung his name long and loud on the North Bank. They will again on Monday.
The team of 1971 were drilled by Don Howe, and managed by Bertie Mee. It was a match made for football with Don the man who really dominated the way the team played. Bertie was an organiser and a disciplinarian, but Don Howe was the football brains of the operation. His influence on the Fairs Cup win in 1970 and the Double the following season can not be over-estimated. We can say the same about the Terry Neill era (albeit Terry probably wasn't quite the organiser that Bertie was!)
It wasn't just Arsenal where Don Howe excelled as a coach. He was assistant to Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson and Terry Venables during their time as England Manager. At Spain 82 England didn't lose a game. At Mexico 86 they were undone by Maradona's handball. At Italia 90 and Euro 96 England lost on penalties in semi-finals against Germany. Those are the closest England has come to winning anything since 1966. It is not a coincidence that Don Howe was coaching all of those sides. Always, perhaps, the unsung and unnoticed influence over the players it is only with hindsight we can look back and see what an unbelievable record he had. 
Last night the tributes were flooding in for Don. One of them in particular really struck me. Bryan Robson said on Twitter that Don Howe was "the greatest coach" he ever played for and how he had been "taught everything I know" by him. Coming from one of the finest midfield players in England over the past 40 years that is some high praise indeed and it reflects the respect and the gratitude his players have for his influence on their careers. Arsenal will be paying tribute over the next two home games with the cover of Monday's programme already carrying a wonderful photo of Don being presented to the Wembley crowd by Terry Neill in 1979. I am just grateful to have seen a Don Howe Arsenal team and been able to have seen his players make Arsenal great again under George Graham. With Jimmy Hill passing away earlier in the week English football has lost two of its most influential figures ever. It's a sad week in the game.
Don Howe is a true Arsenal Man. He will be sorely missed. RIP.

So here we are on Christmas Eve once again. It's been a very good year for Arsenal when all is said and done. When I wrote this piece last year we were struggling badly and playing poorly. This all changed with the introduction of Francis Coquelin to the side, particularly after the game at Manchester City. I suppose the two wins over City have book-ended the year quite well in that respect. Let's hope Monday's win isn't the high-water mark for this team and that they go on from here and make 2016 even more of a success.
This time last year 970,000 people had accessed the site. Over the last 12 months there have been around 92,000 hits, significantly down on any past year, though there are now more than 1 million in total. I don't know why there are less hits. Obviously the writing isn't always great, and it is regularly negative. There have been roughly the same number of posts as there were in 2014. I think the saturation of Arsenal blogs plays a part as nobody can read all of them. I'm just pleased that some of you take the time to read what I put here. I can't thank you all enough for reading my nonsense.
The Facebook page has been a success this year with a steady trickle of new "likes" across the twelve months. If there has been any debate then it has been on that page. There was one occasion where an Arsene Wenger fan got out of his tree and fancied a punch-up but there is always going to be an idiot or two. 
In terms of my watching Arsenal I have not been to anywhere near as many games as I would like, purely down to my shifts at work. There is a spell coming up at the end of January and through February where I can actually go to about four home games in a row which will be the first time in a long time. My absence means more opportunity for my eldest to go instead (and his little brother might make a few appearances at Arsenal in the next year) so it's not all bad. It does mean my opinion is not so much based on being there as it maybe used to be and that lends less credibility to my writing in my opinion.
I'd struggle to pick a low point from this year as the players have largely done well. My three highlights would have to be, in reverse order, the win over Bayern Munich, the win at Olympiacos and the FA Cup Final in May. There can have been few more dominant victories in any Wembley final as the one Arsenal produced against Aston Villa. I will never forget the goals going in, especially those from Theo Walcott and Alexis. The massed Gooners were going mental when they hit the net and it was one of the best atmospheres I've ever been involved in. Sitting there for that last 30 minutes, knowing we'd won, was surreal and brilliant all at the same time.
I can't seperate my two players of the year. I would hasten to add that this is based on the whole of 2015, not just the last three months. That being the case my choices are Francis Coquelin and Nacho Monreal. The consistency of these two players and the role they have played in Arsenal's improvement is immeasurable. Both of them gained their places on merit and have been superb throughout the year. They deserve far more recognition, especially Monreal who is undoubtedly the best left-back in the Premier League right now.
All that remains now is to sign-off so that my sons can get the laptop back and start tracking Father Christmas on Norad. I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and I hope that we can all be celebrating three points again on Boxing Day. Have a great time, and thanks for reading.

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