The Paul Vaessen Story part 2
By Les Crang
The Arsenal period after 1979-80
The end of season 1979-80 marked a watershed moment in Arsenal FC history. Having played 70-odd games and two finals, Arsenal had lost two finals and their last two away games, which included a 5-0 away defeat to Middlesborough. Four games and four defeats had meant that Arsenal had lost out on a place in Europe to Ipswich (who went on to win it). They had also lost their best player in Liam Brady to Juventus. Season 1980-1981 would be a big year for Arsenal and Vaessen.
Before season 1980-81 even started, though, Terry Neill seemed to have stopped Paul Vaessen’s progress by buying our first £1,000,000 player, Clive Allen, signed from QPR for less than two months before being swapped for a full-back, Kenny Samson. Clive though, is remembered for many things - getting injured in the FA Cup Final for QPR in 1982 and missing the replay; scoring three semi-final goals against Arsenal and losing; scoring the fastest (at the time) FA Cup Final goal (and losing). But mostly, he’s remembered for not getting a handshake from Arsène Wenger. The last three incidents all while he was with Spurs. That’s Karma I think.
Although Paul played no part in the two finals, he did play in the last three league games, scoring the winner against Coventry City. In season 1980-1981, Vaessen played only a handful of games, being injured between September and December. On his comeback game against Manchester United, he scored in a 2-1 victory. Spurling described it as a game in which ‘Vaessen clattered Kevin Moran all game’. The game though is mainly remembered for Graham Rix scoring directly from a corner (45 second mark) with Gary Bailey grasping for a cross. Does that sound familiar?
Two games later, in January, 1981, Paul again scored the winner against Everton away. And that was Vaessen’s season over. Seven games and two goals. Again, Spurling said, ‘the hero of Turin was the kind of towering aerial presence that was a constant threat to opposition defences, but the hideously unlucky Vaessen had just played his last game of the season, as his crippling knee injuries began’. The knee injury would continually hamper his promising career. The following season (1981-82) would promise many things. Firstly, the opportunity to partner Alan Sunderland up front, as Frank Stapleton acrimoniously had joined Manchester United to ‘further his career’. Unlike David O’Leary, who stayed, he never won a League title (or two) or League Cup (or two) at the delights of Old Trafford. Bitter? Me?
As replacements to ‘Big Frank’, Terry Neill had a nose for strikers. Useless strikers. First up was John Hawley. 20 games and three goals for £80,000. A carthorse who wasn’t worth melting down for glue.
Next was Lee Chapman. Oh, Lee Chapman. Stoke City’s finest striker (well, actually Adrian Heath was). But Terry Neill still spent £500,000 on him. Chapman was terrible. Think Chamakh crossed with Park and divide by ten. That is Lee Chapman. God, and he won a league title for Christ’s sake? How could Vaessen fail to get into a team with this much dross?
Again, Paul tried but Neill was a man who protected his bought players rather than his youngsters. 1981-82 was again a year to forget for Vaessen. He was now expected to fill the big boots of Frank Stapleton. Although Frank was a regular scorer (but never a 30 plus striker), it was a hard thing to follow. Unfortunately, his knee was giving him much pain physically. But the mental pain Vaessen got was even worse during this season.
With bad knees, John Hawley as his strike partner, and the club playing in the UEFA Cup against part-timers, Winterslag, Arsenal would face their biggest European shock defeat. Having lost 1-0 in Belgium, Arsenal had to overturn the score. Vaessen tried all game, but he was roundly booed all match. Spurling described the game as the ‘wall of hatred encountered by Paul Vaessen’. One fan described how he heard shouts for Vasinov, Vasinov, not realising they were saying Vaessen off. Arsenal went on to win 2-1 and lose on away goals.
The Times ran with the headline, ‘Now is the Winterslag of Arsenal’s discontent.’ The paper also noted sadly, ‘Arsenal's impotence in attack, now without Sunderland. who failed a test on his injured calf, was highlighted by Vaessen, the replacelient. His sleepy manner, topped mith an abject failure to do little sight, made him the butt of Arsenal supporters' frustration. The cheers that greeted his substitution were heartless and severe on a young man who was the toast of Highbury two years ago when he headed a semi-final winner against Juventus in the Cup Winners' Cup.’
Booing at Arsenal is not uncommon (the oft-heard blog quote ‘I paid me money, I can do what I like in the stadium’ the justification for this behaviour). Eddie Hapgood, Arsenal’s 1930s captain, relates how Jack Lambert ‘fell foul of a certain section of Highbury supporters’. It is not uncommon for the boo-ing even now to be for Arsenal players. For Vaessen, it hurt as much as his knee. I’ve heard many stories from fans who said Vaessen suffered tremendous barracking - at 20 years of age. Later in life, Vaessen said he found it hard to forgive them for this.
Paul’s last goals were against Leeds and Wolves ‘but the horrible truth was despite his aerial dominance, his awkwardness on the ground spoke volumes for the agony his knee was giving him’ as Spurling said.
Ironically, Vaessen’s last game was a home defeat to Swansea (we love them?). Vaessen, a man seen with the world ahead of him, was outshone by Arsenal legend Ray Kennedy scoring Swansea’s second goal.
Paul Vaessen retired, aged 21 years old, in 1982.
To be continued
If anyone is still in contact with Paul Vaessen's family, or was a friend of Paul's I would really appreciate the opportunity to interview them, either for a possible book or to add to this series of articles. Please email me if you are able to help.
6th February 2013
User Comment and Reaction
User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.
Leggsy 8:25am 6th Feb 2013
I remember the frustration of not beating Winterslag but I dont remember Paul getting the boo's for it,more the team in general and the manager specifically ! In the match in Belgium people actually threw rocks at Neil,one of which hit him ! - Post No. 34224
Matt 11:19am 6th Feb 2013
A really interesting series. The human stories connected to our great club are what makes it. None of us are saints and life can be very hard. It's good the Paul is remembered. - Post No. 34226
Tony Evans 12:30pm 6th Feb 2013
The early 80s, right up to 1986, was one of the darkest periods for me, right up there with the mid seventies. I have obviously blotted most of the bad memories out, because I had forgotten all about the Winterslag result. Hawley and Hankin must be the worst front paring ever - now there's an idea for an article - the best and worst strike pairings. Can't remember Paul Vaessen being booed either. The one player I can recall getting the treatment was Niall Quinn for some reason. One older supporter in front of me was giving him a right old ear bashing and I remember suggesting he should go and stand with the Forest supporters (so critical of the team and especially Quinn was he) and nearly got thumped for my trouble! Funny that I would probably now be as critical as he was being. One other point is (as Ron pointed out on the previous article)the kit Paul is wearing in the photograph - we want our Arsenal kit back! - Post No. 34229
GG89 12:36pm 6th Feb 2013
He was a more curly haired Alan Davies.... I hope he saw the funny side of Football because the rest was too terrible to be true. The Hero of Turin.... didn´t Henry put 3 past Juve more recently? - Post No. 34230
Daniel 13:13pm 6th Feb 2013
Some things never change whatever decade we are in there's always the base boo boys and those who love to be critical of certain Arsenal players.Retards the lot of them. - Post No. 34233
WeAreBuildingATeamToDominate 13:53pm 6th Feb 2013
Tony Evans - I recall Hawley and Hankin being likened to Laurel and Hardy in later days. If memory serves me right, top scorer that season was Graham Rix with 11 in all competitions (not that we were in all competitions for very long 81/82) and who remembers Chris Whyte playing as an emergency centre forward for some of the 85/86 season? Scored the winner vs Aston Villa at Highbury in the 3-2 win early in the season. - Post No. 34234
kilkenny cat 13:56pm 6th Feb 2013
I remember big Niall getting booed,even Paul Davis. Tony Evans makes a good point,that you tend to put up with more,and moan less when you,re younger. I dont remember Vassen getting booed,vut was really young at the time,and in the seats with dad. Always been a scapegoat it seems,i usually do it in the pub,or on the train,its no good in the ground,need to get behind them,even though its hard sometimes - Post No. 34235
Les Crang 13:57pm 6th Feb 2013
It was Roma GG89 - Post No. 34236
Ron 15:29pm 6th Feb 2013
When we recall the early to mid 80s, it can even evoke warm feelings about the likes of Chamach and Diaby et al, thats how bad the younger fans should realise it was. Chapman Hankin and Hawley must surely be the worst 3 forwards the Club's ever had. I use the words 'forwards' reservedly! On the booing, the worst i can recall as a kid was the stick that the morons used to give Jon Sammells. I thought JS was a lovely footballer too and couldnt figure the boo boys logic. He had a smashing shot on him and was a very cultured player to me then. - Post No. 34240
maguiresbridge gooner 16:14pm 6th Feb 2013
I had to look twice i thought it was Alan Davies in the caption.Good old Clive Allen bless him, not getting that handshake really pissed him off which was good to see.I don't know if Paul was receiving pain killing jabs back then, so he must have been playing in pain,it certainly wouldn't be the case today. - Post No. 34241
Greg71 17:19pm 6th Feb 2013
I remember paul davis being booed for keeping the ball and going sideways and backwards with no end product(sounds a bit familiar) Don Howe i think is the man who gave him his legs. 80/81 another what if season, having sold our star player and finishing third,what price a repeat in 12/13? - Post No. 34242
Dan h 17:23pm 6th Feb 2013
Remember Big Niall getting some stick also Perry Groves got a bit as well towards the end of his Arsenal days.Met Perry a couple of years ago at Lords for a test match he is Arsenal through & through.He made a good point expectations of all the players went up as the side got better under GG really top man & was happy to talk about anything Arsenal over a couple of beers.Graham Rix also got plenty during his last few days to the point when pre-game he became sarcastic when we sung 'Rixy give us a wave!'Older mate of mine went to Winterslag the team got untold stick at the end he said.One of the worst i was at was Luton on the plastic in the cup we got stuffed & other than Rocky every other player that came over at the end was told to do one.Some memory jogging comments! - Post No. 34243
maguiresbridge gooner 17:57pm 6th Feb 2013
In reply to one of Robert Exleys pieces i said it was weird how comparisons could be made up through the ages,some things don't change, we had cart horses back then to. - Post No. 34244
Green Hut 18:01pm 6th Feb 2013
Dan h- Luton game must have been the 2nd replay, midweek, freezing cold and everyone squeezed into one pen in the corner instead of the three we had at the first game. Shocking performance and some very angry fans on the way out. Rixy was the master at hitting the first defender from a corner, used to drive me mental. I'm sure he's been giving Walcott lessons! - Post No. 34245
Les Crang 18:38pm 6th Feb 2013
Just been informed they'll be a book out this year on Paul Vaessen. Would love to have written it myself, but glad Paul's memory is kept alive. - Post No. 34246
Carlos 18:44pm 6th Feb 2013
Like a few others on here I don't remember Vaessen in particular getting booed at the Winterslag match. I do remember the goal against Wolves, stopped it with his left, turned and hit it with his right at the North Bank. These posts have been great to read, very moving and evocative of a time when, for all its flaws, and there were a great many, football and those who played for the top teams were far closer to those who paid to watch them than their modern day counterparts. - Post No. 34247
Paul 19:29pm 6th Feb 2013
Neill and Howe were awful managers who very nearly killed the club in the early 80's until the knight in shining armour George came to save us.Neill bought Hankin and Hawley our Laurel and Hardy.Anyone remember Peter Nicholas a pile of Welsh ****e who was bought by Neill to replace Brady and Chapman was Stapleton's replacement.Chapman was an blond version of Chamakh.Howe bought hasbeen striker Paul Mariner.There was a quarter final replay in the League cup where we played Villa having drawn up there and Howe dropped Steve Williams and played Mariner in midfield!!!he also played centre half Chalky White a CB as a striker.We lost of course.I felt so sorry for Kenny Samson who had to play alongside this rubbish and won just one medal in his career and that was under GG.David O Leary was more lucky as he won 5 medals under George - Post No. 34248
CanadaGooner 19:31pm 6th Feb 2013
tragic story indeed. Poor chap, could have had a 5 years contract in today's game and played 2 or 3 games each year like keiron dyer and made millions. Or like RVP, play a handful of games till he has one good season and head off to Man Utd. - Post No. 34249
Rob 19:39pm 6th Feb 2013
I remember Rix getting plenty at Highbury one game from a bloke directly behind me and my Dad in the West lower,He ambled over to the touchline,picked the fella out and promptly stuck 2 fingers up at him.....Oh and Paul Davies,He should have won at least 50 England caps,I know I'm obviously biased but what a fantastic player,so underated, - Post No. 34250
Green Hut 22:45pm 6th Feb 2013
@Paul- Agreed, Don Howe wasn't a good manager but he WAS a good coach. He was no.2 to Bertie Mee when we won The Double and Fairs Cup, Terry Neill when we made 4 cup finals in 3 years and Bobby Gould when Wimbledon won the FA Cup. None of those 3 did much else as managers. Remember the Villa away game well, the support we had up there that night was incredible, when Charlie scored at the Holte End loads of Arsenal in the Villa stand at that end ran on the pitch up celebrate with him. - Post No. 34252
theopants superstar 1:21am 7th Feb 2013
Just as a point of record, we actually won our penultimate match of the season 2-1 away to Wolves, thus didn't lose our last 4 matches that season as you state. - Post No. 34253
Les Crang 9:28am 7th Feb 2013
theopants superstar apologies for error - Post No. 34254
theopants superstar 15:24pm 7th Feb 2013
No worries. Someone was bound to pick up on it. That was the era when I first started going to Arsenal independently and more regularly. Very sad but enjoyable series of articles nonetheless. - Post No. 34264
JC 17:21pm 7th Feb 2013
Paul got slaughtered at the Winterslag game with the North Bank chanting 'Vaessen off, Vaessen off, Vaessen off'. I was in the North Bank to the right of tha goal that night with my brother-in-law watching my cousin and the crowd murdered him. Never heard anything like it since, even the booing of Eboue, Song was just booing, not chanting our own players name to get him taken off. It was shameful. Been to over a thousand Arsenal games and that still makes me feel sick. - Post No. 34268
Les Crang 13:35pm 8th Feb 2013
In response to JC, what can you say? What I read (and I wasn't there) seemed pretty bad. I wish I could say I've not lost it and boo'd (mainly in the pub), but its sad to turn on one of your own..... - Post No. 34291
26th July 2016
Online Ed: Arsene never did prioritise defence