Happy Birthday to Arsenal legend Liam Brady

Arsenal legend Liam Brady is 65 today - Gooner Fanzine chief feature writer David Fensome hails a great Gunner

Happy Birthday to Arsenal legend Liam Brady

Liam Brady is 65 today

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In March 1980 I was just about to turn 15; it was that moment when the scent of Wembley first appears upon the spring air. I was in my pristine Adidas Stan Smith’s, with a flicky fringe, and although I wasn’t quite ready to swap my number 7 Arsenal shirt for a Lacoste or a Tacchini just yet, I knew I looked the business.

The Jam was number one with Going Underground, and a line in that song seemed to perfectly capture the anticipation, the otherworldly thrill and expectation of going to Highbury: the words, ‘something’s happening here today’, caught the very moment you emerged from the tube station, into the buzz and the smell of a match day afternoon.

Football back then was a strange kind of beauty: and pulsing at the epicentre of that raw, urban mystery in the spring of 1980; indeed, the very thing that was happening here today, was the greatest footballer I thought I would ever see in an Arsenal shirt. Tread softly, for we walk on hallowed ground: it is time to talk of Liam Brady! 

What is there left to say about that mercurial little schemer, the man the Republic claim as their answer to the North’s Georgie Best? Perhaps very little, but it was ever thus, for Brady’s feet always did do all the necessary talking! Most people’s view of Brady is most likely framed by their recollections of ‘that’ goal: the curving, boomerang, which burst out of the surface of the afternoon and in to an orbit of eternal sunshine!

The goal sums up in microcosm the full measure of what Brady brought to Arsenal, for a split second earlier he had ambushed Tottenham’s Peter Taylor 25 yards out with a crunching tackle: and suddenly the ball winning midfielder brilliantly morphed into the sublime architect of gilded football shapes and swept the ball home, arms a loft: has there ever been a moment of more intense football joy? 

Brady was the complete midfielder for not only did you get the passing, the vision, the control, and those two defining aspects of the world class footballer: time and space; you also got graft and a shift! Brady could put it about: indeed, he was the complete midfielder. A quick summary of his time at Arsenal is a catalogue of great sweeping passes out to the wings, into space for Rice or Nelson to run on to, or for Stapleton to pull left; there were the short, intricate, progressive pass and move operations in the congested midfields of the late 70s. What marks him out as a candidate for the modern game is his ability to retain possession in tight areas, for even back then he might knock little passes inside to his trusty bodyguard Talbot, or outside to his second lieutenant Rix, and seconds later with some space created he would be off charging forward with the ball.

Just as his close control bought him time, his little trick of chipping the ball when being tackled so he could usually ride the challenge and continue on his way, enabled him to so often drive the game deep into enemy territory. It is this recollection of him running with the ball which will perhaps most readily chime with your memories too? Countless were the examples of him taking men on, beating them and causing chaos with a final ball.

The 1979 cup final provides three examples – all of which ended in an Arsenal goal. Of course, the third goal has become the most iconic; however, Brady’s contribution to the first and second Arsenal goals was perhaps just as telling?

All three are examples of that Brady drive with the ball: the first goal, diagonally across the pitch drawing United defenders and midfielders out of position and creating the disarray which Stapleton’s ball into the near post to David Price exploited; the second sees him leave two stranded defenders, one of which was the centre-back McQueen, now hopelessly out of position, before he crosses with his right foot straight onto the unmarked Stapleton’s forehead! The third goal of course is taught us on our parents’ knee like the learning of a creed! 

The fleeting football poetry of his early career was caught by the press in words like ‘influential’, ‘outstanding’, ‘gifted’: let’s say he was the personification of verve and brio and leave it there. By 1978 he had become the heartbeat of a young team of cup cavaliers that still to this day feel like the most authentic version of my Arsenal.

In March 1980, we had just beaten Watford away in the 6th round of the cup and smashed Gothenburg 5-1 in the Cup Winners’ Cup and were on the very edge of those heady and electrifying days when the Brady inspired Gunners fought their way past Liverpool and Juventus in a rollercoaster few days of nervous exhaustion.  

Although that season ended in despair, nothing could take away the joy and pride of those semi-finals; and similarly, although Brady too would leave at the end of the season nothing can take away the joy and gratitude at having had the chance to watch him in an Arsenal shirt.  

I was perhaps too young to appreciate Brady fully back then, I recognised him as the talisman supreme, but the full meaning of Liam Brady perhaps went over my head.

When I watch old games now, I begin to see the orchestration, the way the game is dictated by that lovely left foot; the drift, and the dip of a shoulder, the swing of a hip before he is away conjuring magic, his shirt famously out of his shorts. Rarely has anyone done the cannon on his chest so proud! 

Once he had left north London for Italy, I still followed his career, taking interest in whichever team he played for. He is still fondly remembered and thought of in Turin where he turned his occasional goal from distance at Arsenal into something of his stock-in-trade at the Stadio Comunale, scoring some belters, as he seduced Il Bianconeri ultras and team-mates alike.

But perhaps none of them surpassed ‘that goal’ at White Hart Lane. Motson’s commentary was as profoundly apposite as it is famous; it forms a three-line poem, which not only catches Brady’s magical strike, but more than that, within its simplicity expresses an idea which can sustain dreams in a mere 13 syllables, and Liam Brady did that too, not with words, but with a football while he wore an Arsenal shirt: 

“Look at that, 

Oh! Look at that! 

What a goal by Brady”. 

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