Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday March 12 2010
Some achieve fame through epoch making talent that reaches far and above the threshold of average human endeavour. Some achieve respect with their drive and determination to a single cause. Some achieve celebrity by dragging their mini skirt clad arses around Essex nightspots before wrapping their collagen inflated lips around footballers` cocks. However, some earn notoriety, even cult status through their crapness. It is a very English we thing do to celebrate and revere those whose best efforts can`t quite disguise their lack of ability. Perry Groves has cheerfully and knowingly taken on this mantle amongst the Arsenal family, his self mocking autobiography 'We All Live in a Perry Groves World` intentionally released to cock a snook at the idiocy of Ashley Cole`s Byron botherer 'My Defence.` In line with my recent look over Arsenal careers that fell spectacularly short or else failed to live up to early promise, there was one name and one career that around 99% of the readership would be familiar with. It would simply have been unethical to have left out Gus Augustine Caesar.
Most will recognise Gus`s name as something of a figure of fun amongst Arsenal supporters, a kind of in-joke that has been carefully passed down the generations. The interesting thing here is that Caesar has done very little to cultivate that himself, he rarely gives interviews, his involvement in football nowadays is incredibly remote- he certainly doesn't work as an Arsenal corporate box hound or Arsenal TV pundit, in fact, he doesn`t even live in Europe anymore. Caesar now works very successfully in the Financial Services industry on a tiny island next to Hong Kong. Part of Caesar`s legend was cemented in Nick Hornby`s 'Fever Pitch.` In one chapter, Hornby uses Caesar`s career to draw a succinct parallel to his attempts at being a writer.
To get where he did, Gus Caesar clearly had more talent than nearly everyone of his generation . . . and it still wasn't quite enough. [...] Gus must have known he was good, just as any pop band who has ever played the Marquee know they are destined for Madison Square Garden and an NME front cover, and just as any writer who has sent off a completed manuscript to Faber and Faber knows that he is two years away from the Booker. You trust that feeling with your life, you feel the strength and determination it gives you coursing through your veins like heroin . . . and it doesn't mean anything at all.' Nick Hornby, Fever. Pitch
Ostensibly this chapter sowed the seeds of Caesar`s popular notoriety. Whilst playing for Airdrie, Hornby was a guest on a local radio station. The station wanted to execute a comedic coup by inviting Caesar to call in and wind him up, but such a prank was at odds with Caesar`s Zen like outlook, "I didn't really want to get involved. He helped to immortalise me in Fever Pitch, so I can only thank him really. A lot of people only know my name because of that book." Reading such quotes, you begin to forge the impression that Caesar was really too nice and too modest to make it at top level football. (This past Tuesday night was a perfect illustration of a young player with the attitude to succeed). Curiously, not an awful lot is known about Caesar as a person due to his taciturn media presence, the myth is what has really fuelled his ever presence in Arsenal folklore.
It is known that Gus was born in Tottenham in March 1966 where he lived an unremarkable working class childhood, until he joined Arsenal as an apprentice as a sixteen year old in 1982. Gus was a humble, quiet and hard working young man, who impressed the coaching staff at Arsenal with his diligence in training and his ability to read the game from centre half. He continued to impress as a trainee until he signed professional forms in February 1984. Incidentally, he signed professional forms at the same time as Tony Adams, but whilst Adams would also suffer taunts as to his ability in traumatic circumstances as a young player, their respective dealings with those chidings would be markedly different. Caesar accelerated quickly through the Youth and Reserve teams, with contemporary Arsenal mainstays Viv Anderson and David O`Leary no spring chickens, the club were looking to Adams and Caesar to form the defensive axis for the club for the years to come. In August 1985, Viv Anderson had to pull out of the trip to Old Trafford with a groin injury and Caesar was being thrown into the deep end for his debut at right back. Arsenal won 1-0 and Caesar was awarded Man of the Match. The expectation it created killed him.
Just as a decent debut from a young player will inevitably be greeted with, "He`ll captain England one day" so a couple of indifferent performances are usually dismissed with "He`s probably Conference standard." Caesar showed early promise in his first few games for Arsenal, enough to earn himself an England U-21 call up and a regular slot in Arsenal`s match day squad. But his performances began to dip in 1986/87. Caesar explains retrospectively that being O`Leary`s understudy meant he was afforded very little playing time. He also reveals now that during 1987 he played for an entire year with a hernia problem, whilst the fact that he broke his ankle twice as a teenager enervated his mobility. Caesar explains now rather glibly, "I never made a big deal of it, because I didn't want to make excuses. Injuries come with the territory." He was basically too polite to tell the medical staff he wasn`t fit enough. But after 18 months as a bit part player, Caesar got a run in the side during the 1987-88 season when O`Leary suffered a very rare injury. (O`Leary`s status as Arsenal`s record appearance holder as well as the fact that he didn`t leave Arsenal until aged 35 tell you this wasn`t a man who suffered for fitness).
However, best with the pain of a hernia and the niggles in his untreated ankles, Caesar`s performances were unsteady and nervous despite his obvious talent; he lacked assurance, especially when placed in one on one situations with attackers. But still the coaching staff and the supporters felt his talent would shine through with experience. Until one fateful afternoon at Wembley. Arsenal played Second Division Luton Town at Wembley in defence of their Littlewoods Cup crown, which had been obtained by beating the mighty Liverpool the year before. Arsenal went into the game as supreme favourites and nobody was overly surprised to see them command a 2-1 lead with ten minutes remaining. Arsenal won a penalty which would surely seal their expected victory, but Nigel Winterburn`s tame effort was saved. Three minutes later, the ball came into Arsenal`s penalty area and Caesar, in his panic, swung wildly to clear. He missed the ball completely and literally fell on his backside such was the force and vigour of his air shot. Danny Wilson bundled home the equaliser in the ensuing chaos. To seal Caesar`s misery, Brian Stein scored a last minute winner and Luton completed an unlikely victory. Caesar never recovered from the humiliation and only played five more times for Arsenal in the two proceeding seasons, he was booed by his own supporters on nearly every occasion. Steve Bould, Colin Pates and Andy Linighan were all brought in. Caesar`s time at Arsenal was over, unable to surmount the psychological scar tissue. He spent several months on loan at Queens Park Rangers, where he failed to impress. In June 1991 he was transferred to the anonymity of Cambridge United.
There he only managed a few Reserve team appearances before being shipped out to Bristol City three months later. He made ten appearances there before the club decided he could not cut the mustard and was transferred to Airdrie in Scotland (where he did play in the 1992 Scottish Cup Final defeat to Rangers as a substitute). From there he enjoyed a good two season spell with Colchester United until the summer of 1996, when he moved out to Hong Kong. As chance would have it, his Youth Team companion Tony Adams spent the early summer of 1996 in Hong Kong- as England captain on their Euro 96 preparatory tour. Caesar was beginning to think beyond football and became interested in working in Financial Services. By moving to Hong Kong he had the chance to enjoy playing stints at Eastern, Happy Valley and Golden, whilst also working a day job in Financial Services. Caesar explains now how he had begun to lose his taste for football in the mid 90s; he attributes Columbian defender Andreas Escobar`s murder as the catalyst for his disenfranchisement. Escobar was shot dead in Columbia after his own goal in the 1994 World Cup put Columbia out. Perhaps Caesar never thought he`d see a defender treated with more vitriol than himself based on a single mistake on a football field.
Caesar briefly came back to England in 1997 for unsuccessful trials with Dagenham and Redbridge and Partick Thistle, but quickly returned to Hong Kong to continue playing part time football whilst building up his career as an accountant. Since his retirement from playing in 2001, Caesar has been gainfully employed in football, spending three years as a Director of Football for Buler Rangers from 2002-05. Caesar now is an Honorary President of the Arsenal Hong Kong supporters club and has set up some coaching schools in the country. Caesar identifies that there is a great love of football in the region and the Hong Kong F.A. has lavishly funded pre season visits of the likes of Real Madrid and Liverpool, but Caesar`s involvement revolves more around grass roots level investment. He sees his role at the Hong Kong Arsenal Supporters Club as a chance to reach out to the local community, as well as the Singaporean and Malaysian communities, "Not just to keep the ex-pats happy" as he puts it. It is typical of his apparently level headed and pragmatic nature. He continues to split his time between Hong Kong and Essex- where his two children attend school and he is still holding down a prosperous living in the Financial Sector.
Few people will be au fait with many of the details of Caesar`s life or indeed his career, what is remarkable about Caesar is that his myth burns much brighter than his life dictates it should. Bar one high profile mistake on the Wembley turf, Caesar`s career is barely distinguishable from any other young player Arsenal have rejected. Igors Stepanovs, Stephen Hughes, Adrian Clarke, Scott Marshall- all of these players have recently had stints in Arsenal`s first team as youngsters only to fade into a similar obscurity. Yet none of these players featured in Arsenal fanzine The Gooner`s poll of the worst players ever to play for Arsenal- a poll Caesar topped. None suffered the ignominy of being voted 3rd in the Times newspaper`s poll of the 50 worst players ever to play in the English top flight. I would chance there were many parties who cast a vote for Caesar without ever having seen him play (as indeed, I never saw him play in the flesh). Caesar`s career I think teaches us two things. Firstly, to never underestimate people`s ability to cling to a myth. Secondly, as Hornby alludes, that talent isn`t quite enough for a young player, event ability and application is not a potent enough marriage to succeed at the top level. Mentality and the ability to forget mistakes in high pressure situations is just as key to a player`s success. Unfortunately, as Caesar found out, you often don`t find out whether a player has that psychological fortitude until it is tested to breaking point. Caesar`s fellow defensive graduate overcame intense national ridicule and alcoholism to become one of the finest defenders English football has ever known. Caesar never pulled himself back up off the Wembley turf.LD.
Date:Friday March 12 2010
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