Unsung Heroes #2
Number 2 in the series of unsung heroes is attributed to somebody whose legacy at our great football club is sealed and celebrated, but only in the collective sense. He is forever confined to be mentioned briefly in a flurry of breath, a strapping lieutenant whose achievements have been confined to the margins by his sergeant Major. Throughout the 1990s, the infamous Arsenal Back Five was one of the most cogent, miserly and feared footballing units on the planet, relentlessly drilled and cajoled by manager George Graham. David 'Safe Hands' Seaman secured his own personal legend by carrying his country through the European Championships in 1996. Tony Adams' courage in adversity and the material fastened to his left arm entrenched his stamp onto the football club in his own right. Dixon and Winterburn are rightly considered amongst the finest full backs of the modern era, both now indulge in media work which ensures their faces are still a regular feature on our television screens. Martin Keown's eye bulging zeal as he towered over Ruud van Nistelrooy and his involvement in the Invincibles squad sees him earn individual acclaim.
However, Steve Bould's part in this fiersome unit is oft overlooked. No disgraced shenanigans to surmount in resolute fashion, no penalty saves for his country at the zenith of football's marriage with popular culture, no comfy BBC sofa on which to expend his wisdom and no acts of vein popping aggression against unpopular opponents. As a result, Bould's imperial defending is forgotten amidst the literati of his colleagues. Steve Bould was born in Stoke On Trent in 1962 and he joined his local club as a schholboy in 1978, before signing professional terms in 1980. Bould started out as a right back as a young man, his side parting vainly attempting to mask his fading follicles. Bould struggled to make his name in the Stoke starting line up and spent half a season on loan with Torquay United in 1982 where he would play under Bruce Rioch- a man he would work with in more auspicious circumstances again thirteen years later. Bould reinvented himself, dropping the modiker 'Steven', he insisted on being called Steve and moved to centre half, which his tall, imposing frame was better lent to. He arrived back from the South West a stronger, better player and muscled his way into the starting line up.
However, adversity would test him to his fullest just as his stock was rising he obtained a severe back injury which threatened his career, several operations later he was back playing again and won his place back in the starting line up- though his posture would be corrected in unconventional style. George Graham signed him for Arsenal in 1988- having already bought his Stoke team mate Lee Dixon and industrious Wimbledon left back Nigel Winterburn. Graham felt Bould was an excellent 'stopper' of a centre back, imposing in the air and gracile on the ground. However, the back surgery had caused him to become a little uneasy on his feet. Graham booked Bould into ballroom dancing lessons in order for him to improve his physical co-ordination and reattune himself to the changes in his body. There was a time when Graham could be quite the pragmatist you know!
In his first full season, Bould began to displace the ageing O'Leary and became a League Champion in his first full season in 1988-89. He was a surprise starter at Anfield on May 26th, with the Gunners needing two goals, Graham surprisingly opted for three centre halves with O'Leary and Adams completing the triumvirate. Bould had a significant part to play in the winning goal too, Barnes dribbled menacingly into the Arsenal box in the first minute of injury time, only to be denied by a composed tackle by Bould, who then calmly rolled the ball back to his keeper. Lukic bowled it out to Dixon and we all know what happened next. A lesser centre half would have hacked wildly at the bandy limbed Barnes in the last minute with their side needing a goal. But Bould could also have his calmitous moments, he is credited with what I am pretty sure is the fastest own goal in English football history when he put through his own net after ten seconds at Hillsbrough in 1990. Fittingly, he was wearing the number 10 that day- it was a header any centre forward would have been proud of. As is befitting of Bould's gentle, self depricating nature, he remarked shortly after his retirement, 'I was never a great goalscorer, I was a scorer of great own goals.'
With O'Leary beginning to succumb to oldmother age, Bould was a bona fide first choice and helped cement Arsenal's reputation as the most stingy oufit going. He secured another Championship Winners Medal in the 1990-91 season as part of a defence that conceded only 18 goals. His competition now was more in the shape of Andy Linighan and Colin Pates, but he continued to fend them off. However, his share of the limelight was once again compromised when he suffered a knee injury at the back end of the 1992-93 season, causing him to miss both the League Cup and F.A. Cup Finals, where unsung and much lesser players in Steve Morrow and Andy Linighan ensnared their photo fit pictures in the frame of Arsenal's history with a winning goal a piece in each final.
However, in the next season he once again took his place in the best backline going and helped Arsenal to win the Cup Winners Cup in 1994. The exploits of the Arsenal backline in that expedition was tunefully immortalised by Arsenal fans with their rendition of '1-0 to the Arsenal.' It was the defenders' scoreline of choice. Whilst Adams took most of the plaudits for the competition victory, it has always been my humble opinion that Steve Bould was the best player on the pitch that night, effortlessly marshalling the frightening trio of Zola, Asprilla and Brolin in his salad days- literally his salad days. Terry Venables agreed and handed Bould his first England cap in the immediate aftermath of that game. The first of a paltry two caps for his country. A travesty for a centre half of his quality. In fact, his stiffest competition for the position seemed to be Bruce and Pallister- who were also overlooked in favour of a creaking Des Walker.
Bould did not just earn his first England cap that summer, he also earned an amusing nickname. Arsenal lined up against Crystal Palace in Tony Adams' testimonial and Adams' young son referred to Bould as 'Uncle Steve.' The team forever referred to him as 'Uncle Bouldy' thereafter, a moniker perfectly in keeping with his gentle nature and the avuncular affection with which he was held by his team mates. Bould helped marshall a defence that once again made its way to the Cup Winners Cup Final in 1995, amazingly scoring two goals against Sampdoria in the Semi Final, two of only five goals he ever registered for the club. But the memory of his two headed efforts is now buried amongst the trio of triumphant penalty saves by David Seaman in the penalty shoot out in Genoa. Injury would again strike in the next season, two weeks after Tony Adams damaged ankle ligaments, a piece of tendon floated away from Bould's knee, confining him to the sidelines for six months. Martin Keown came into the side and that was ominous for Steve's Arsenal career. When Arsene Wenger arrived a season later, Bould played alongside Keown and Adams in a three man centre half partnership. But once Wenger restored the 4-4-2 formation a season later, Keown was usually preferred to the 35 year old Bould.
Though age and injury were beginning to catch him, Uncle Bouldy would still play one last telling part in Arsenal folklore. Securing himself another league title and F.A. Cup Winners' medal, he would set the stage for one of the most iconic moments in the club's history. Just as his superbly timed tackle at Anfield accentuated his defensive skills and teed up Michael Thomas' Hollywood moment, his comfort with the ball at his feet provided the North Bank with its favourite moment. It was his wonderfully chipped through ball that put Adams through on goal in injury time against Everton, leaving his colleague to smash the ball into the net left footed. 'Tony Adams, put through by Steve Bould.' His name was finally etched into our history, albeit once again as a sideshow to his captain. Bould was seldom given credit for his cultured approach to defending, hardly ever conceded free kicks, rarely booked and not the chest thumping, vein bulging sort. But somebody whose tackling was exquistely timed, rarely if ever did he need to go to ground. He was economical with the ball too, every inch your modern centre half in an era of tight shorts, muddy paws and bloody claws. You can tell that Johan Djourou has spent time under Bould's wing on the training ground.
Bould moved to Sunderland in 1999 for one season, before his return to Highbury ironically convinced him to call it a day. Arsenal'snew young striker by the name of Thierry Henry gave Bould the run around in a 4-1 win in Janaury 2000 and Bould valued his dignity too much to carry on. He retired in 2000 as a three time League Champion, a two time F.A. Cup Winner, a League Cup Winner, a Cup Winners Cup Winner and a member of the most infamous backline England has ever seen. Bould took his UEFA Coaching badges and came back to the club in 2001, Wenger hired him to coach the U-19 Academy side. His thoughtful, intelligent outlook on the game and his cultured approach to playing won admiration from Wengerand Bould has since overseen the development of the likes of Johan Djourou and the fledgling Jack Wilshere. It is a role he adopts quietly and well. Much like his playing career. He may have had no hair and apparently we didn't care, but Bould figures prominently in the most iconoclastic moments of our club's history. Whether it be a perfectly time tackle in the penalty box in injury time, a sumptuously chipped through ball or a deft left footed curler by an exciting 17 year old young English talent, Bould is usually in the picture, peering in from the shadows.LD.