Matt Lucas was the star turn at the Arsenal foundation ball earlier this week. The porcine baldy is of course a fan of the club and his presence allows me to steal a march on Mel for once. Obviously being an ex publican I cannot compete with a Lahndan cabbie for “guess who I had in the back last night” stories but I did have Matt Lucas in my cellar way before any of youse lot ever heard of him. We ran a comedy night called The Bright Side featuring 5 minute slots from wannabe local comedians, a regular compère and headline acts from the national circuit. Being a tiny bar in the absolute back end of nowhere we were always surprised when anyone any good deigned to grace us with their presence. Matt had just picked up a bit of telly with Vic and Bob and his agent told him in no uncertain terms that his career and image must as of that day not be tarnished by association with the likes of us. Yokel underground comedy clubs in darkest Somerset holding about thirty five people simply didn’t fit the profile he needed to build if he was serious about breaking into the big time. Matt, bless his shiny domed pate, told us if we snuck him out after a more prestigious show he was doing in Bristol and drove him over he would be delighted to perform for us and bugger his agent and all who sailed in him. A lovely, quiet unassuming Gooner, who had to change into his stage clothes in our tiny beer store and did so without complaint, he delivered the funniest set I’ve ever seen, almost all of it improvised.
The problem of course with celebrity fans is they aren’t all going to be as nice as Matt. I’m often reminded of the fact that Hitler was a vegetarian , usually when I find myself wondering about the mental health of anyone who can bring themselves to eat the decaying flesh of a dead animal and call it food. Lunatics the lot of them, whereas all veggies are thoughtful, caring, loveable and cuddly. Right? Hitler? Doh. So it is with famous Arsenal fans. For every Lucas and Lofty there is a Bin Laden and a Morgan. I suppose we must also accept that in our fame obsessed culture even ex players come to be considered celebrities these days. But again, for each Thierry there is a Wrighty. A world of contradistinction and paradox will provide many pitfalls for the unwary simpleton.
There is one man who straddles the worlds of ex player and celebrity with an avuncular comfortable ease. A stalwart servant of the club both on and off the field and a televisual personality to boot, a man with a floral name who had to play for a country in which he was not born but overcame these problems to cement his place in every fans heart. And a man who sent me his autograph when I was a mere strip of a boy. On Wednesday evening it wasn’t all Bubbles Devere and Vicky Pollard, ther was some serious business too. We learned that Bob Primrose Wilson, after fifty plus years of devoted service, has not yet finished with us, not by a long chalk. Bob is to take up the role of ambassador for the Arsenal Foundation and the club has also set up links with his own charity The Willow Foundation. What a guy. As a boy I used to marvel at him and the way he would fling himself at the feet of an onrushing forward. Remember this was in the days when football boots were constructed like the type of footwear one wouldn’t expect to see now unless attached to the feet of a deep sea diver. Also the rules on kicking people up in the air were, shall we say, treated with a certain relaxed sang froid. But it didn’t prevent Primrose basically tackling the centre forward with his outstretched hands, despite the fact that his face was following as fast as Bob’s dive could carry it. I’m not sure keepers do that any more. They seem to spread their arms and legs and assume a half crouch as if warding off evil spirits whilst simultaneously practising an obscure marshal art. Bob’s keeping was always more proactive. Rather than saying ” Hah! Look at my muscular thighs, see my huge arms, quail before my monstrously outsized gloves and see if you can get the ball past me” Bob would just launch himself and punch the thing away or often grab it and snuff out the chance.
I suppose coaching methods evolve and change but I’ll lay odds that the unpopularity of the Wilson technique has much to do with two things. Firstly the penchant for forwards to ‘win’ a penalty. This has become so accepted a part of our modern version of the game that commentators sometimes speak with great respect of players who can do it well. The second thing of the two things I referred to just now in my opening sentence of this paragraph is that it’s a bloody difficult technique to pull off and pull off well. It requires a frightening combination of phenomenal timing, enormous skill and quite terrifying bravery. Primrose brushed it all off in his famous quote about having to be crazy to be a goal keeper. For proof of his courage look no farther than a game against Spurs in the late sixties. Bob was knocked out cold on the pitch but his aggressive approach to keeping never faltered. If anything he became more determined . I think another Arsenal keeper summed up the attitude he and Bob shared. Jens Lehmann is supposed to have said when asked about his, ahem, pumped up attitude to competitive sport “If I have a lot of adrenaline in my body, that is helpful because I feel less pain”.
That Bob is still such a tirelessly positive guy after the pain and trauma he has suffered in his family life is a lesson and an example to the rest of us lower mortals and I wish him all the luck in the world in his latest role at the club. I should add that Liam Brady, Martin Keown, and Super Bobby Pires also accepted invitations to work as ambassadors for the charity and it is so good to have such men still doing their bit for the club. On a night when a collection of multi millionaires, for such are our players, managed between them to raise £75,000, the most important man among them, less well paid and yet more cerebral, dignified and modest than any number of his players combined, Le Boss himself, quietly popped twenty five large of his own into the collection plate.
You know what? With men of the calibre of Bob Wilson and Arsene Wenger working for our great and historic club, I can just about live with being associated with the likes of Osama and Piers.