I was recently approached by Nick Brown to help him promote his new book ‘The One Hundred Club’. You may recall that the esteemed GN5 did a series on the 19 Arsenal players who reached the 100-goal mark and more wearing the mighty red and white colours of our beloved club, a few years ago. This was a tremendous success. Nick Brown has now written a very fine book on these 19 heroes, providing us with numerous new insights and below you can read more about it.
Those of us who have played football – it doesn’t matter to what level – knows that there is no better feeling than sticking one in the old onion bag, especially if it is a real cracker of a goal. Can you imagine, then, what it must be like to glide across that pristine Emirates Stadium carpet of a pitch, drop a shoulder to send a defender the wrong way and hit the ball so sweetly that the moment it leaves your foot you know it’s in? And then to see the goalkeeper fly through the air fruitlessly and watch the net bulge as the ball nestles into the top corner before dropping to the ground, bouncing triumphantly behind the hapless prostrate custodian? And hearing 60,000 people anticipating what is about to happen as soon as you let fly, the murmur building into a joyous crescendo, the noise erupting like the sound of a tube train thundering into the station at Finsbury Park?
Just once! Just once would be enough, wouldn’t it…?
Now imagine what it must be like to have scored over 100 goals in the famous red and white. Only 19 people in history have achieved that, from Jimmy Brain, founder member of the 100 Club in 1928, down to Olivier Giroud, the most recent inductee in 2017. Some of the names of that elite crew are amongst the most famous in the annals of not only Arsenal history, but the history of English football – people like Thierry Henry, Ian Wright, Cliff Bastin and Dennis Bergkamp.
There is a reason that it is the goal scorers who command the biggest transfer fees. Willie Groves, the first player to move clubs for £100 when he switched from West Bromwich Albion to Aston Villa, was a forward; the first £500 player, the first £1,000 player, the first £1,000,000 player, the first £10,000,000 player (I don’t need to go on, do I…?) were all forwards. Goals win games.
As a youngster, my favourite player was Alan Smith. One of George Graham’s early signings during his reign, Smith was a centre-forward in the traditional sense, a typical number nine. Tall and difficult to knock off the ball, he was a master of shielding it from his marker, holding it up and bringing others in to play. Good in the air, he was also more than capable of slamming one home from long range, the most obvious example being the winning goal in the 1994 European Cup Winners’ Cup against Italian team Parma. He lost his marker and found some space from a Lee Dixon throw-in, knocked it back to Dixon and seized upon the loose ball after a defender had only half-cleared Dixon’s attempted through ball to Paul Merson. Smith took it down on his chest and struck home the only goal of the game from the edge of the penalty box. Unerringly accurate, the ball flew past Parma keeper Luca Bucci to bring the cup to Highbury.
Another such strike came against Norwich in the title winning season of 1988-89. A long goal kick from John Lukic bounced towards Smith. He held off the attentions of his marker, kept his eye on the ball as it came down once more and in one movement turned and slammed it home from 20 yards.
No doubt, every Arsenal fan – every football fan – will have memories of special moments from their own special players. The thing is, most of these moments won’t even be remembered by anyone else. Hands up who can recall Thierry Henry’s stunning effort against Watford where he collected it almost on the half-way line and jinked through the opposing defence before steering it home? Or Ian Wright making the Aston Villa defence look silly before sliding the ball into the far corner? Or Frank Stapleton leaping like a salmon before bulleting a header into the Leicester City net? But that’s just the point, isn’t it? Memories fade, even the best ones.
‘The 100 Club’ is a chronicle of every goal scored by those illustrious few Arsenal centurions. Currently available direct from the publishers Morgan Lawrence, Waterstones bookshop (online if not actually in store) and on E-Bay, it is a must for every Arsenal fan, historian and statistician. My eternal thanks also go to the aforementioned Mr Smith for writing the foreword.
By Nick Brown
Instagram : @nick.brown.books