The next of Arsenal's trailblazers is acknowledged by almost all that saw him in the flesh as the greatest player in Arsenal's history. Yet ironically, he was a mainstay of a side on a downward spiral, embarking on one of the more unremarkable spells in their existance. The man in question continues an enduring legacy to the club as an integral part of the coaching staff. Though his playing career in N5 curtailed at the tender age of 24, the legend of Liam Brady has loomed large for infinitely longer.
Liam Brady joined Arsenal as a schoolboy in 1970, having hopped across the Irish Sea to begin a dazzling career in red and white. Brady's class was obvious from an early age and he made his first team debut as a 17 year old in August 1973. During the 73-74 campaign, a season in which the Gunners flirted with relegation, Brady was used 13 times. His impact was such that by the 1974-75 season, he became a first team regular, earning the nickname 'Chippy' for his unique passing range. In a time when dressing room politics were rife as Mee broke up his imperious Double side early and internal conflict raged, Brady had a confidence and outspoken eloquence that instantly commanded respect in the dressing room. Brady, in typically Irish fashion, was as adroit with his vocal chords as he was with his left boot. Brady was the perfect antidote to the combustible and departed Charlie George. Of course this led the mischief makers in the press to lament Arsenal as 'London Irish.' The presence of Eire's Terry Neill, David O'Leary, Frank Stapleton, John Devine and Northern Ireland's Pat Jennings, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson provoked the British gutter press to mock the Gunners for being overly reliant on the Emerald Isles and spoke of formidable, Guinness drinking, clover clad cliques ruining the dressing room. Fortunately, society has moved on and nobody refers to modern day Arsenal as L'Arse or Francenal and the media have never spoken of plotting beret clad factions in the Arsenal dressing room.......
However, for all his skills as a diplomat, Brady's real poetic sensibilities lay in his feet, anything James Joyce could conjure with a turn of phrase, Liam Brady could do with a football. Brady was noted for his outright flair. The delivery of his passes, with both feet, was unnerringly accurate. Famously, Brady's through balls would be delivered with backspin, enabling the ball to travel quickly through defences before slowing at the onrushing striker. (Think Bergkamp's through ball to Vieira at Stamford Bridge in 2004). Brady was also possessed of a cute footballing mind and elegant balance, able to weave between legions of defenders before delivering a final pass or shot. Like an Alex Hleb that can shoot. Brady was Arsenal's sole shining light, in a side that was falling from grace and reverting to dour type, Brady carried the team with his poise. In the late 1970s, there were few other reasons to pay the entrance fee into Highbury. His coup de grace came in a 5-0 win at White Hart Lane in December 1978. Brady scored a goal that has been repeated infinitely in the last thirty years, Chippy sauntered to the edge of the Spurs box before unleashing a left foot shot that arced away from goal, only to swerve viciously back into the top corner like a boomerang laced with amphetamines. Those who have not seen the goal in question may be minded of Roberto Carlos' 1997 free kick against France. But bear in mind this was 1978, before UEFA decided to make match balls a complete and utter joke by modelling them on those petrol station plastic footballs I used to purchase for 50p as a kid.
Trouble was, Brady was outgrowing a very ordinary Arsenal side. Though Chippy flourished under the stewardship of Neill and Howe, like any other player of Liam's exceptional quality, he wanted the biggest prizes. Arsenal had become a decent Cup side, reaching three consecutive Cup Finals in 1978, 1979 and 1980 as well as a Cup Winners Cup Final in 1980. But Brady craved league championships. Rumours of Brady's departure for a bigger stage were persistent. Much like a 1970s Vieira, stories circulated on a weekly basis in the press. Brady won one solitary honour in an Arsenal shirt. Having been an F.A. Cup runner up in 1978 to Bobby Robson's Ipswich Town, Brady was integral to the infamous 'five minute Cup Final' against Manchester United in 1979. Brady was the catalyst for Alan Sunderland's dramatic last minute winner. With United having equalised late on, Brady took the ball straight from centre and embarked on a long dribble down the left flank before releasing Rix, who crossed for a bubble permed Sunderland to score. Brady later attested that he was simply trying to get the ball as far away from his own goal as possible to prevent United scoring again.
At the beginning of the 1979-80 season, Brady confirmed every Arsenal fans' worst nightmare. He announced he would leave at the end of the campaign, the end of his contract. Brady affirmed his desire to play abroad, he wanted to challenge for league titles and, never one to bullshit, Brady knew the bigger money lay on the continent. Due to EEC regualtions at the time, Arsenal could only receive a maximum of £600,000 for his sale, probably about half his market value at the time. That season, Arsenal would confirm their Cup acumen again, playing a marathon 70 game season. (The last 15 games came in a 45 day period). However, Arsenal would run out of steam and lose the F.A. Cup Final to Second Division West Ham United. Four days later, a 0-0 draw with Valencia in Brussels saw the Gunners succumb in a penalty shoot out. Like Vieira, Brady's Arsenal career was dogged with runours of unrest, like Vieira, Brady would leave for Juventus. Like Vieira, Brady's last kick for Arsenal came in a Cup Final penalty shoot out. Unlike Vieira, Brady missed. A most unbecoming end for an Arsenal legend. Brady played 307 matches and scored 59 goals for Arsenal. He was voted supporters player of the year in 1977, 1978 and 1979. He was voted PFA Player of the Year in 1979.
Brady proved he was no big fish in a small pond. He went on to win two Scudettos with Juventus, before enjoying fruitful spells with Sampdoria, Internazionale and Ascoli. He returned to London with West Ham as he entered his thirties and retired at Upton Park. Brady made the grade in the glitz and glamour of Serie A. Chippy tried his hand at management but endured ordinary spells at Celtic and Brighton. In July 1996, he took the job as Head of Youth Development at Arsenal, a position he fills to this day. He has overseen the development of the likes of Cole, Fabregas, Bentley, Sidwell and Bendtner. The Youth teams have won two F.A. Youth Premier League titles, 2 F.A. Youth Cups and the U-17 Academy Leagues title. In February 2008, he was appointed Assistant Manager of Eire.
After his departure in 1980, most Arsenal fans will affirm that Brady was never properly replaced. Paul Davis, Ian Selley and Stephen Hughes have all been adointed with the deadly modiker 'the new Brady.' Emmanuel Petit was possibly the only player who could have rivalled Brady's range of passing. Brady was a terrace favourite because of his swagger and technical poise. Quite simply, he got supporters out of their seats (and in some cases, into their seats). Around 30% of the residency of Highbury is based on Irish immigrants and Brady was the jewel in Arsenal's emerald crown. In fact, one could argue that Brady has only finally been replaced properly in contemporary history. A young man who, like Brady, arrived during the mass departure of some of Arsenal's greatest legends. A man who made an impact as a teenager and stamped his personality on the side. A young man who took the mantle from a terrace favourite and the club's star striker to make it his own. Really, Brady's mantle has only really been assumed by Cesc Fabregas. Who is that a bigger compliment for? Fabregas or Brady? I'll let you decide.LD.