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Saturday, 30 September 2017

Tribute to a Gooner Legend

Frank Benn

This will probably be the hardest blog post to write that I've yet done. This morning we heard that our dear Frank Benn, legend of the Dover Gooners, has passed away. Some of you reading this will know Frank personally, others will have read about him before in these pages, and some will recognise his face from away games both here and in Europe over the last 20 years. For me personally I have had the pleasure of being in Frank's company on so many occasions, whether at Arsenal or elsewhere. He came to my wedding, knew my children, and is a genuine friend of our family. More than that he was a friend to so many others, a local legend known to hundreds. In terms of our travelling as a group of Dover people to watch Arsenal he is one of our originals.
Way back in the mid-90's Frank lost his wife. He was a regular in one of the local pubs, The Boars Head, where my brother and his mates used to drink. I think there was genuine worry for what might happen to Frank once he was on his own. At this point my brother Mick stepped in and got him to come along to Arsenal. Frank was a lifelong fan, but match going had been a thing of his younger years. It's said by some that Mick saved Frank by getting him back in to going to Arsenal. So it began that Benny started to follow The Arsenal over land and sea (and Leicester) until his health began to falter a few years ago. The fact that he was getting on in years didn't slow Frankie down in the drinking stakes and he would hold his own with most of us over the years, although he did become famous for falling over a lot once he was out of his tree. He followed Arsenal from Moscow to La Coruna and all points in between. In doing so he became well known and a popular friend to Gooners from all over the continent. The pre-season tours of Austria, where he'd go with my Dad and Mick, were where some of the most lasting friendships we have at Arsenal were made. Everyone there knew Frank, and everyone there liked Frank. 

Frank and his European friends from Austria, Germany, Italy and beyond

There was always fun to be had when Benny was about, often at his expense. He had his own song on the FA Cup Final trips down to Cardiff to the tune of the Sol Campbell song, something about being a "stupid old ****, who falls over drunk" and the stories are legend. There was the night he couldn't operate a turnstile in a petrol station shop to the point where Bill, one of our other Dover men, had to plead with him to stop because he was about to wet himself with the laughing. There was the night he was drunk as Mick and Tony played football on some forecourt somewhere and decided he was David Seaman, taking off at full length to save a ball that was about 15 yards away - Frank was in to his 70's at that stage! He informed everyone he had the address of their hotel should a taxi be required in Germany one night, not realising that the hotel he had the address of was from Belgium the night before. And then there was the day my Dad always loves to talk about when Frankie brought the travelling Gooner army to their feet in a German (at Schalke was it?) beer kellar; someone pointed out that a stein had gone untouched as they were leaving for something to eat, so Frankie lifted the 2 pint jug and downed it in one. I'm reliably informed that everyone in that pub cheered the old boy to the rafters. Frank was indeed a legend.
Being of the generation he was Frank was not politically correct. He would use words and phrases in the presence of certain people that would not be necessarily acceptable in this day and age, but Frank being Frank meant that nobody ever took offence. He was just Frank and everyone loved the old boy. He was with us in Copenhagen when we lost to Galatassaray, and in Paris when we lost to Barcelona. He went to the finals at Cardiff and Wembley and rarely missed a game that any of the others were going to. It didn't matter whether it was Selhurst Park or Ewood Park, just pick Frank up from his house and he was happy watching The Arsenal. He couldn't say "Keown" even when he was sober, but he loved Dennis Bergkamp. Who didn't? Looking back it's great that this old Arsenal man (who used to tell me about playing at Highbury in his youth) got to see the very best of the Wenger years and the success that we had.
The last time I got to speak to Frank was at the Dover Gooners dinner last year when we persuaded him to come along. He looked well at the time, especially considering how sick he had been in recent years. The dinner this year will now have a certain sadness attached as Frank was there when we had the first one in the upstairs room of another local pub back in 2003. Maybe going to football hasn't been quite the same since he stopped going, certainly him and Bill are missed by us all. The Christmas Eve lunchtime session has certainly missed his presence these past few years. Frank will always have a place in the hearts of the Dover Gooners -my Dad has known Frank all his life - and will always be a legend to his many friends, whether here in Dover, all over England, Norway, Austria, Germany or Italy. There will never be another Frank Benn. RIP old'un, I'll miss you.

All together in Paris

Monday, 18 September 2017

So they can do it after all

I last got around to writing something between the Stoke and Liverpool matches. Let's make no mistake here, the start to Arsenal's season has been a car crash on and off the pitch. The humiliation at Liverpool, who have been totally undone by everyone they've played since, was just a continuation of recent years against certain clubs. Wenger yesterday claimed it was down to the transfer window being open and the uncertainty caused by that. Utter nonsense. The fact there is that Wenger and Gazidis presided over yet another disaster of a transfer period and failed to deal with the buying and selling of players appropriately. To blame their incompetence off the pitch (while taking no responsibility himself) for the players performances on the pitch (while taking no responsibility himself) is symptomatic of the malaise which runs through Arsenal right now from top to bottom. No ambition, no plan, no leadership, no direction and, apparently, no money!!!
That's the negative stuff out of the way (I'm not going to go in to what happened at the stadium last Thursday as I wasn't there myself so nothing I have to say is really going to add to the debate) let's get on with the good stuff.
At the risk of stating the obvious we needed a good win at home to Bournemouth and we got it. I don't care that Bournemouth were rubbish, the players went out and won comprehensively. There was some decent football played and Lacazette scored a very fine goal, as did Welbeck with his second of the game. It doesn't mean forgiveness for what happened at Stoke and Liverpool, but you have to start somewhere. This was followed up with another very good win in the week against Cologne. Played against the backdrop of what was happening around the ground the players concentrated on the job in hand, after half-time at least, and again scored some superb goals. Even better was that Jack Wilshere was back in the squad and those present gave him the sort of cheer that Wenger hates as it tells him the fans love a particular player that he doesn't. Jack looked sharp from what I could see on TV so it was disappointing yesterday to see Elneny and Maitland-Niles named on the bench instead of him. I have a theory here that Wenger is going to make Wilshere's position at Arsenal so difficult that he has to ask for a move in January.
Yesterday was a game that I fully expected Arsenal to lose. In fact I expected us to concede at least four goals and be hammered yet again. What we got instead was 100% effort from everyone on the pitch, with no player really worthy of criticism - at least among those who started the match. Iwobi playing instead of the injured (really?) Ozil was a surprise but the youngster did everything asked of him on the day. For once the team was set up properly to play against a top class opponent and Arsenal should have won the game. My Dad pointed out this morning that we seem to be able to play well against Conte's Chelsea and so it proved again yesterday. Aaron Ramsey, by cutting out the flicks and tricks, and not just bombing forward aimlessly, was superb by keeping things simple. Along with Xhaka and Iwobi I thought we dominated the midfield for most of the game, with Kante, Fabregas, Pedro and Bakayoko pretty much anonymous on the day. I criticise Ramsey a lot on this site, and deservedly so, but I also give credit where it is due - yesterday Ramsey showed that when he plays properly and doesn't try to be Lionel Messi he is top class. On the theme of giving credit I have to say that Shkodran Mustafi had far and away his best game for Arsenal yesterday. It's a shame he got himself offside for the disallowed goal as he would have been a worth scorer of any winning goal yesterday. I thought he absolutely put Morata in his pocket throughout the match, to the point that Morata got frustrated enough to lose his head. If Mustafi can produce that kind of display on a consistent basis then I might begin to understand the money we paid for him. As I said above, the performance of the team was top class and as far as I'm concerned it was no coincidence that a certain German international (whose contract is running down completely under the radar compared to Alexis) wasn't involved.
This Arsenal team has a lot of catching up to do, and a lot of making up to do for the supporters. The game at Chelsea should stand as a spring-board to them for this season, showing that they can play well against other top teams. However, there have been enough false dawns in the past for me to get excited about it just yet. Let's see where we are after 10 games, or a few more away to the other big clubs, and then start to judge whether the penny has dropped. In the meantime I want to see the good run kept going with a handsome League Cup performance at home to Doncaster in midweek. Momentum is key if the season is to get on track properly.