Arsenal's Greatest Feuds
With the enormously entertaining "my Dad could beat up your Dad" spat that has erupted between Carlos Tevez and Gary Neville over the last couple of days, it lubricated the wheels on the old memory banks and got me rummaging through the archives for some of the best footballing feuds involving Arsenal in recent years. For all the hand wringing and faux moral indignation, every football fan enjoys a good old scrap, whether it be some "the PR gloves are firmly off" verbal sparring, or Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner getting down to some good old fashioned, homoerotic shirtless grappling, football fans simply love it when one guy is wearing a black hat and one guy is wearing a white hat. Who could but remember with relish the barnstorming 4-3 victory over Norwich at Highbury in 1989? Controversial last minute penalty to make it 4-3, followed by 21 adult males scrapping like a bunch of playground adolescents in the goalmouth? Or the less than edifying, but let`s face it, if you`re a Gooner, totally glorious jostling of van Nistelrooy back in 2003. (I know the picture that immediately comes to your mind is the same one that comes to my mind. I have a tee shirt with that picture on it). So here`s a retrospective glance of the feuds that we hate to love.
Sol Campbell v Teddy Sheringham
Two supremely talented footballers with one common bind; they both realised that in order to win the game`s best prizes, getting the hell out of White Hart Lane should be a priority. (Unless you`re going back there to win a trophy with a visiting club). Sheringham shouldn`t have been and probably wasn`t annoyed by Campbell`s supposed mercenary machinations in making the hop, skip and jump across North London. Particularly when one reviews Sheringham`s own malleable affections- I have heard him variously claim that he was a boyhood fan of Tottenham, Manchester United, West Ham and Millwall- depending on whose Chairman was sitting next to him at the unveiling press conference. But tensions seemed to erupt between the pair for Sol`s first North London derby in the Red and White, with Sheringham and Campbell executing some notably physical challenges on one another. The return fixture at Highbury proved to be more combustible as any festering resentments came simmering to the boil. Sheringham and Campbell fell to the ground after contesting an aerial ball, Sheringham took a cheeky swipe at Campbell`s chest with his studs with both players grounded. Campbell, usually an incredibly placid character (so much so that you sometimes wonder if he is not an apple short of a basket), ferociously pulled himself up, grabbed Sheringham by the shirt, positioned his face around half an inch from Sheringham`s and bawled into his face like Bruce Banner when they hit him with the gamma rays. The look of ghosty faced fear on Sheringham`s face was a sight to behold. The next season, as Arsenal defeated Spurs 3-0 at Highbury, Vieira was substituted and Campbell took the captain`s armband. Campbell immediately turned to Sheringham and rubbed the armband warmly. The minutia of the feud was never made public- unlike Sheringham`s distaste for Manchester United team mate Andy Cole. However, rumours abound that Teddy`s disgruntlement allegedly arose from Sol doing some, ahem, horizontal dancing, with Teddy`s ex wife. How true that little rumour is I guess we`ll never know, but it didn`t stop us directing some choice songs towards Teddy.
Ruud van Nistelrooy v Lauren, Parlour and Keown
One of the more excitable and infamous rivalries of recent times. To the witless rabble that get their opinions spoon fed to them by Murdoch, the beginning and the end of this particular battle was the sight of Martin Keown, snarling maniacally over a prone stricken, wounded ickle Ruud. The history that had been building for a long time prior, this was a culmination of accumulated frustrations. Firstly, there was Ruud`s donkey punch to Freddie Ljungberg`s guts which referee Paul Durkin saw but ignored at Arsenal`s title carnation in May 2002. In a tempestuous F.A. Cup clash the year after, van Nistelrooy somehow escaped censure after hacking wildly at the shins of both Keown and Lauren in the opening five minutes. In the build up to the "Battle of Old Trafford" in September 2003, van Nistelrooy spotted Lauren, knelt over tying his shoelaces during the warm up, van Nistelrooy ran up to him and shoved him to the ground. He also had a sly dig at Ray Parlour`s ankles in the tunnel as Parlour ran out for his warm up. The Sky cameras did not reveal something seen by a good number of Arsenal fans at the game, when Steve Bennett pointed to the penalty spot in injury time, van Nistelrooy celebrated the award rather openly in the direction of Keown. So when the emotion of watching karma stick out a sneaky leg and trip the horse faced twunt over as he smashed his penalty onto the underside of the crossbar, emotions exploded and the Arsenal players felt moved to move towards Nostrelface and pass on their "commiserations." Sky, who had a 9.9% stake in Man Utd at the time, neglected to tell the entire story. However, the feud continued. In the return match at Highbury van Nistelrooy stamped on Keown`s foot, Keown retaliated with a sly kick. I`ll leave you to guess which half of the incident the Sky cameras did not replay. Van Nistelrooy still had time to perpetrate another act of violence against an Arsenal player when he tried his best to put Ashley Cole`s kneecap in his sock in United`s controversial 2-0 victory over Arsenal in October 2004. Strangely, in retrospect, Gooners don`t feel so bitter about that one. Funny things morals.
Paul Davis v Glenn Cockerill
One of the more infamous incidents involving an Arsenal player. In March 1988, Arsenal locked horns with Southampton at the notoriously hostile Dell for a gritty league encounter. The game ended in an uneventful 1-1 draw, which was forgettable enough but for one off the ball incident. Arsenal`s silky, cultured midfielder Paul Davis had been subjected to some, ahem, "treatment" by the Saints moustachioed, be-mulleted midfield hard man Glenn Cockerill, which led to some verbal sparring between the two. Glen Cockerill takes the story up, "We`d been exchanging words throughout the game, that`s probably how the media would put it. But it was nothing too unusual, until the punch and the next thing I knew I was on the ground." Davis obviously took umbrage to Cockerill`s potty mouth and swung a powerful haymaker in the direction of the Saints midfielder, breaking his jaw in two places. The referee and the linesmen all missed the incident completely, so Davis became the first player in history to be punished retrospectively on video evidence, earning himself a 9 match ban and a then record £3,000 fine. In truth, Davis was fortunate that the F.A. were the only authority that chose to get involved. Off the ball fisticuffs were no rare occurrence in the days before football grounds were awash with television cameras- members of my family tell me of a time when Charlie George once lifted a Newcastle defender off the ground by his throat- but the severity of the injury incurred forced the F.A`s collective hand. But what was really most peculiar about the event was that one could scarcely think of a more affable, placid character to play for Arsenal in the 1980s than Paul Davis. It would be the modern day equivalent of Gilberto Silva ripping off his shirt pub car park stylee before aiming a Romford kiss square on the nose of Lee Bowyer.
Patrick Vieira v Roy Keane
Simply the greatest, most anticipated and keenly contested personal duel in the Premiership era. Both men captains of their clubs, duelling it out to be England`s seminal football club. Arsenal and Manchester United has been a grudge match for some years, dating back to the two boards falling out acrimoniously over the transfer of Frank Stapleton. Since then McClair and Winterburn, Keown and van Nistelrooy, Wright and Schmeichel, Ferguson and Wenger have all duked it out on the pitch and the back pages. But no rivalry was so balletically played out on a football pitch and theatrically choreographed in a tunnel than when these two warriors locked horns. A rivalry engendered in a fierce mutual respect, embodying the talent and determination of both of their teams. Possibly one of the most enduring images of the Premiership era would have to be the two engaged in a mutual choke hold during a league game at Highbury in August 1999. Keane, shaven headed and snarling, Vieira indignant with rage, shrugging Keane`s stare off with an icy stare of his own. Jaap Stam is in the background, tempted to break up the scuffle but too apprehensive to come between the two. The key to victory in matches between Arsenal and Manchester United was usually deeply entrenched in this personal duel. In May 2002, with Arsenal needing a point to cement a league championship at Old Trafford, Keane and his partner Scholes resorted to bully boy tactics, kicking anything that moved in the Arsenal midfield. Vieira and Edu were either too nimble and dodged the bullets, or else replied with some buck shots of their own. Arsenal won the game 1-0 with the central midfield performance a master class. But in August 1999, it was Keane who dished out the lesson in a 2-1 win for United at Highbury. Keane dragged his team back from a 1-0 deficit, scoring both goals and leaving Vieira trailing in his wake. It was the parity between the two that made it such a fascinating battle. To this day, I can`t think that there`s much to choose between their respective talents at their twin peaks. Like a good boxing match, it was a slugfest; Vieira would dominate one game, Keane the next. Arsenal would win the league one season, United the next. There was also a fascinating element of theatre too. Prior to a league game at Highbury in March 2004, Arsenal faced United 11 points clear of them at the summit of the table. Vieira appeared in the tunnel alongside his opposing captain Keane and said, "Come on, smile, man!" Keane kept his eyes forward and replied, "If we were eleven points clear I would smile. We`re not, so I won`t." Even more famously, Graham Poll had to separate the two captains prior to a league game at Highbury in February 2005. After a stormy encounter the previous October, Vieira made a beeline for Gary Neville in the tunnel and, referring to the violent treatment he had admonished to Reyes in that match, Vieira remarked to a frightened looking Neville, "If you want to kick him (pointing to Reyes), you`re gonna have to kick me first." Keane interjected with a similar sentiment, aimed at Vieira. Childish maybe, the sort of haranguing school children indulge in. But nevertheless, entertainment the likes of which you would have to watch WWE to mimic. Both captains of their clubs sticking up for their players, warriors willing to plough back into the field and fetch their wounded, slinging them over their shoulder as they dodge the literati of bullets. Ultimately, as it has done with Wenger and Ferguson, the respect began to shine through. When van Nistelrooy`s cynical piece of cheating saw Vieira sent off at Old Trafford in September 2003, the Arsenal skipper went postal at the Horse faced schemer. He found an unlikely sympathiser. Keane can be seen pulling Vieira away and mouthing the words, "I know, I know, just appeal it." Acknowledging the folly of his team mate`s actions and in his own mind, exonerating Vieira and attempting to prevent him from getting into further trouble. When Vieira first left for Italy, he gave an interview in the English press in which he admitted to missing the physical side of the English game. Tellingly, he told the reporter, "I even miss Roy Keane." It was a great by-line for a great rivalry, forged in the flames of war and forever scalded with the charcoal of respect.LD.