I was recently approached by a journalist and asked a number of questions. I thought I’d share them with you, just in case most of what I commented on gets ‘lost’ in the editing process.
Relationship with Arsenal – when and how did I come across the club?
My first encounter with Arsenal fans was at a primary school in south London. My entire table was composed solely of Gooners, although no one called Arsenal fans that at the time. I remember in our art classes, all I did was draw a football pitch with players wearing the distinctive red shirts and white sleeves. I didn’t win any prizes for those paintings, surprise, surprise!
Around about the same time, my great uncle, Ron, asked me which team I supported. I had just mastered a football game named Bobby Charlton’s Casdon Soccer, so I said Manchester United. My uncle told me I couldn’t support a team from the north of England if I was from London and he suggested Arsenal. It was only then that I realised most of my mother’s side of the family supported the Gunners. In later years, I found out that my great grandfather used to work for them when they were based in south London and were called Woolwich Arsenal.
However, on my father’s side of the family, Arsenal were far from a popular club. My father sustained a serious knee injury playing at Highbury for Ipswich’s reserves in a cup match. He scored the only goal, but was clattered by Steve Burtenshaw’s knee-high challenge. This is information that I found out a lot later, as all I knew at the time was my father’s professional career had ended prematurely because of knee problems.
What is my most memorable game and who is the most memorable player?
I think I would have to say the 1979 FA Cup final against Manchester United is the most memorable game that I’ve watched. The last few minutes of that match yielded three goals and Alan Sunderland’s winner came right at the death. It was the first time I had seen Arsenal win a trophy and, although I wasn’t at Wembley, I remember celebrating wildly. I jumped so high when Arsenal landed that last-minute sucker punch that I think I grazed my knuckles on the ceiling at home. What made it the victory even sweeter was the fact that my best friend was a Manchester United supporter and Arsenal had lost the previous cup final to Ipswich.
Choosing a favourite player is a lot more difficult, as there have been so many memorable ones. I was a huge fan of Thierry Henry, even before most Arsenal fans realised how gifted he was. Malcolm ‘Supermac’ MacDonald was another favourite of mine, as was Liam Brady. I think if I had to choose one player who was absolutely sublime from day one, it would be Cesc Fabregas. He’s the best passer of the ball that I’ve ever seen in the modern game so, despite his time at Chelsea, I would have to choose him.
What impact has Arsenal had on my life?
Arsenal’s results can affect my mood. When they win, I have a lot more energy than when they lose. I feel like the eternal optimist, after a winning performance, whereas I’m quite down in the dumps deep inside, if results don’t go the club’s way.
How do I currently support Arsenal?
I have been a ‘Red Member’ since returning to the UK in 1997, and I applied for a season ticket at that time. I was on a waiting list for around ten years with about 49,000 people in front of me. Ironically, just when I was notified that I could get a season ticket, work commitments prevented me from doing so. From a work perspective, my life has been pretty busy as of late, so seeing games ‘live’ at the Emirates Stadium has been difficult. However, I still watch most games on television rather than at the ground.
Do I have any interesting stories about my experiences as an international DJ and then as a teacher?
Of course, there are plenty of experiences that I would like to mention, but I’ll keep them Arsenal-related.
I remember working in Hong Kong in a club called ‘Hot Gossip’ and, using our ‘state-of-the-art’ technology at the time, I wrote on all our video screens that George Graham’s Arsenal would beat the virtually invincible Liverpool 3-0 at Highbury. I was lucky enough to see the whole game, as we didn’t start playing music until after the game was over. You can guess the scoreline.
As regards teaching, when I was at a school in Kent, I got to manage the year 11 team. They were a very talented bunch and one of them, ‘JJ’ Jordan Jay Lawrence-Gabriel, was a former Arsenal trainee; he is now playing for Nottingham Forest. Incidentally, ‘JJ’ used to play upfront for us, but Forest play him as a full back for some reason. He made his first-team debut playing for Forest at the Emirates, where else? In the games that I managed the school team, we were particularly tight at the back, like George Graham’s teams of old. I was so proud that we did not concede a single goal, although I have to thank our ex-Millwall goalkeeper, Cam Hall, for keeping so many clean sheets against the odds.
What about my mindset? What do I value? What are the things have influenced me most?
We’ve all heard of the positive growth mindset. I’ve been subscribing to that from even before it had a name. Nearly all the things that I was told I would never be capable of doing, I’ve managed to achieve. Basically, if someone tells me I ‘can’t’, I take the ’t’ out and know that I can. I was told I couldn’t be a Shakespearean actor, but then I landed the lead role in a massive production. I was told I’d never be a DJ and within days I had my first residency. I was wasting my time trying to be a journalist, apparently, but then ‘I got lucky’. The list has become quite long, as I get a kick out of proving doubters and critics wrong. Who said I couldn’t write in rhyme? Hard work makes things happen. That’s my mantra.
Regarding what I value, money is not high on my list at all. Aside from work, I think what I value most are family and friends. It’s a cliched answer, I know, and I make no apology for that.
As regards things that have influenced me, I’d say books. Acting in Shakespearean plays gave me a sense of liberation that I’d never felt before and, meanwhile, reading ‘Catcher in the Rye’ was a life-changing experience for me. It made me realise that no matter how tough our exteriors are, underneath it all, some of us are quite sensitive deep down. It also made realise that literature addresses the human condition in far more depth than other academic disciplines.
Is there anything troubling me?
Like most people around the world, I am affected by Covid-19. You don’t need me to tell you that the number of deaths around the world that have been recorded is quite horrific and my heart goes out to all those people who have lost loved ones.
Do I have an opinion on the state of the UK today?
I think the UK made the wrong decision in voting for Brexit but, now that it’s been decided, the country should make a clean break with Europe. Slowly, I have begun to realise that the UK could forge stronger relationships with other English-speaking countries, if it can do that as a truly independent country. We will have to wait and see how damaged the UK is by breaking away from Europe. Will one door close and others open? It’s hard to know, right now.
What’s been in the news lately that I’m paying attention to?
Although I’ve been looking forward to the welcome return of the Premier League, I’ve been deeply saddened by the news of Theo Foley’s death. Theo was George Graham’s former assistant at Arsenal and Millwall.
I met Theo on numerous occasions and he was always very chatty and friendly. He even replied, at length, to a letter I wrote to him about Northampton Town’s one and only season in the top division. He answered every question and there were a lot! I’ll miss Theo a lot, as will his family. I used to go to school with his son, Adrian, and I want to send my sincere condolences to all the Foleys.