Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday January 16 2008
I have often been known to quote passages from Fever Pitch on this site. Perhaps predictably, it has become something of a bible to me over the years. And one phrase used in both the novel and the cinematic adaptation bears repeating in this article, "We all have our reasons for loving things the way we do." Now I am not about to begin some psychoanalytical dissertation on my reasons for supporting Arsenal. Firstly, the word limit on the admin tool prevents me from producing some kind of Fever Pitch sequel; secondly, I think that is ground I have trodden before. But without going to biblical proportions, perhaps it is time to talk about messiahs. Nowadays, I like to think I am a little too old and a little too wise to fall into the idle grip of hero worship within the current Arsenal team. In fact, many of my views towards the team are very clinical, I have on a few occasions seen Arsenal players in the street and never even thought to trouble them. I even glided past Arsene Wenger at Athens airport before an away fixture at Panathinaikos with only a curt nod by way of acknowledgement.
However, nostalgia can offer a slightly different perspective. Once a player has left our great club and his career has passed without any 'Colegate` type sagas to instantly sour our memory of them, one can sometimes not help but become misty eyed. People often ask me who my favourite ever Arsenal player is. The names Rocastle, Adams, Vieira, Bergkamp, Seaman, Merson, Wright, Keown, Bould, Winterburn, Dixon, Pires, Smith, Davis, O`Leary, Henry, Overmars and Petit have all come and gone in my time supporting the club. But none assume that mantle. All of the aforementioned could rightly claim a more enduring contribution to the Arsenal legend than the man I choose, but, well, we all have our reasons for loving things the way we do.
Without doubt Anders Limpar would have to be my favourite Arsenal player of all time. I am quite happy to confess that this is mainly for reasons of nostalgia more than anything (though it wouldn`t be at all foolhardy to suggest that Limpar at his peak would be a regular feature in the current Arsenal side). His Arsenal career spanned a criminally compressed four years, much of the last two were spent in the wilderness. Yet I have always been attracted to that sense of short term genius, the star that burns twice as bright burns half as long. Three of my favourite bands of all time are the Stone Roses, Nirvana and the Sex Pistols. Those bands back catalogues combined wouldn`t trouble that of other artists I love such as Bowie, Neil Young, Aretha Franklin, Public Enemy and even the Beatles. I guess I`ve always liked the 'they came, they conquered, they fucked off` philosophy.
Having been reared on George Graham`s Arsenal it sounds fanciful to say that the first thing I fell in love with was the flair of the team. Whenever the bell rang for playtime and the sponge ball was rolled out, you would always find me glued steadfastly to the flanks, this was a time when Chris Waddle returned to England, a United team set to conquer England had Kanchelskis, Sharpe and the embryonic Giggs. England were playing with (ahem) Tony Daley. But it was Arsenal`s legion of wingers that held my young imagination captive. Rocastle, Merson and a Swede named Limpar.
Limpar became a firm fan favourite virtually instantly following a £1m move from Cremonese in the summer of 1990. His star cameo in the 1990 Makita Tournament at Wembley gave Gooners high hopes. His first goal arrived in a 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea at Highbury that September. But his stock would increase with a smart finish that deceived Les Sealy at Old Trafford and crept over the line for a 1-0 win at Old Trafford. The game would become infamous for more contentious reasons as a 21 man brawl broke out between the two sets of players, Limpar prominently involved. (He was disciplined internally by the club for his part). The man the North Bank christened 'Super Swede` would go on to play a starring role in a title winning season, he came to embody both Arsenal`s flair and ability going forward, as well as the 'Rebels for the Cause` camaraderie that permeated the side in a trying season. (Anybody who has read Perry Groves' autobiography will be struck by what a prankster he was).
The next season saw George Graham break the bank to sign talismanic goal machine Ian Wright. Limpar would come into his own in the presence of the charismatic front man. Wright went onto win the Golden Boot that year, an accolade he memorably dedicated to Limpar, "about 90% of this belongs to Anders." Time and again, Limpar would foray down the flanks and use Wright`s electric movement as an ideal bedfellow for his flair and vision. But Limpar was not always necessarily the bridesmaid; he was at the epicentre of some of the season`s more memorable moments. Scoring in the 6-1 rout of Austria Vienna and grabbing two in the 7-1 mauling of Sheffield Wednesday. His most kairotic hour arriving in April 1992, following a forty yard lob over Mike Hooper in the 4-0 rout of Liverpool at Highbury. This was no serendipitous occurrence, with Hooper off his goal line; Limpar looked up and aimed a perfectly weighted chip over the stranded keeper to have Highbury exhaling in amazement.
That would prove to be the pinnacle of his time at Arsenal. Following a crushing defeat to Benfica, Graham decided a change of tack was in order, selling Rocastle to Leeds and freezing out Limpar. He did not appear in any of the triumvirate of 1993 Cup Finals against Wednesday and played a diminished role in the 1994 Cup Winners` Cup success. Evidently he had fallen out with the manager, the dour, stoic Graham (ironically known as Stroller himself in his playing days) thought Anders to be lazy and virtuoso. The writing was on the wall. In April 1994 in a match at the Dell, Limpar made one last ditch attempt to impress the manager, laying on two assists and winning a penalty that would supplant another Ian Wright hat trick. Limpar claims to have asked for a meeting with the manager after the game, whereupon he was told he had no future at the club. Graham`s hard headedness was a great virtue, but also his biggest hubris. Despite Limpar`s impressive, industrious cameos, Graham could not get past a personal vendetta and Limpar was sold to Everton that summer.
With Rocastle having been unceremoniously ushered out of the door, Paul Merson undergoing rehabilitation, Paul Davis` limbs creaking with age and Eddie McGoldrick handicapped by a distinct lack of talent, the creative cog in Arsenal`s next ill fated campaign fell entirely to Stefan Schwarz. But his imperious form could not prevent a dour slide into lower mid table obscurity as Graham`s era was eventually put out of its misery by an embarrassing 'bung` saga. Limpar was the shooting star in the Arsenal sky just as my impressionable eyes were cast N5wards as a young boy, much in the way that it is perhaps perverse to remember your first crush with embarrassing fondness; my memories of Limpar are unsullied. But much like your first crush, it was all over as quickly as it started, and destined to end in heartbreak.LD.
NB. If any of you guys wish to add a piece on your favourite player, get over and slap it on the forum. Myself, Rocky, Simmo and Wingers will pick out the good'uns and give them a front page airing. Whether you`re relatively new to the Arsenal family and want to wax lyrical about Kolo, or want to join many of the more senior members of my family and chew our ears off about the genius of Liam Brady, or if Fat Old Dave wants to give us a low-down on Cliff Bastin: the early years, all contributions are welcome. Cheers.
Date:Wednesday January 16 2008
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