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The Arsenal Experience

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

Many celebrities will often mention and boast how they had a 'football trial' somewhere. It gives them some extra street cred depending on the audience, but it's all a bit too performative for me.

Gordon Ramsey famously proclaimed to have played for Glasgow Rangers, but the reality was far removed from the truth on that score. Everyone's had a trial.

My experience came in 1986, and it's something I barely mention to anyone, as not only

would few believe it outside of my own family and circle, but it wasn't particularly successful or memorable, therefore I keep quiet. I DID have a trial with Arsenal, and for old Gunners' fans, it was at the JVC centre at Highbury - hidden in the old marble halls.

Arsenal was my local team, as a north Londoner, and I had completed two years of representing Barnet Schools, so it was a natural selection process. I was a skilful, but very small winger on the left and remember my Barnet debut against Hackney. A local snippet in the Hendon and Finchley Times said Alan Dudman blazed over the bar from six yards. That wasn't how I quite remember it.

I was proud of my selection for Barnet, as were my mother, sister and brother who came to the Town Hall when I received my County badge, which was a purple crest on a light blue training top. My mother tended to take me everywhere, and she came to Arsenal and the JVC centre with me along with my old sports teacher Mrs Nash from Martins' School. Mrs Nash was a wonderful person and drove a battered orange Beetle - I liked her and she did a lot for primary school football - which was over 30 years ago now and was a bit of a trailblazer considering the make-dominated era.

Trials were quite daunting too, especially as I was so small and hitting 6"2 when I was 17 was far too late. The JVC centre was magnificent, though. Soft green astro turf inside - unlike the rock hard surfaces outside back then and a stadium-like feel. There was also a balcony that curved around the pitch. My mother was up there, and all I remember was that my marker was about 6ft tall and built like a heavyweight. I had little chance to impress and don't remember doing much. There was another Barnet player there, a goalkeeper, plus someone I had come across in schools football and his name was Doug. Good player, he didn't make it either.

I didn't score or create, and wasn't asked back. Times have changed in selecting players, especially in the 11-14 age group these days. Players aren't developed physically, and my time in later years for Middlesex schools' trials were of similar experience. Hundreds of kids, playing 25 minutes, and hardly touching the ball. How can anyone be judged on that? Now it's more technical ability - which is how it should be.

Highbury may no longer be there, nor indeed the JVC Centre, but I played there, badly. But I played there.

I never cracked Middlesex Schools in senior school either, as some of the players were so far ahead in terms of physique that anyone small (like me before my growth spurt) stood little chance. My school teammate Isacc Mehdi was class, so good on the ball. He was at West Ham and never made it, neither did Anthony Clarke, who was the best striker in the borough. Also Stan Bowder was captain of England Schools' and was on QPR's books, and was immense. He did play non-league but wasn't a pro. But he was as strong as anything.

I came against Junior Lewis as a third year against Brent Borough. He was the big hope and

was so good at that time, no one could get near him. I didn't anyway. He had a highly successful career in the Premier League and everyone knew who Junior was in the 1980s.

My coaching badges later in life with the Essex FA were an interesting and informative experience, especially from my tutor who was with Ipswich. His story of when His club had a Youth Cup game resonated with me, as they played their forward at centre-half. They got smashed of course, as it was against Arsenal, but the forward was marking a player of high-level, and the Ipswich coaches wanted the youngster to get a sense of the Arsenal's kid's movement. Results didn't interest Ipswich, it was more development, something that wasn't mentioned with Chelsea at the time. They had six foot plus players everywhere.

I am convinced I could have had a career in football if I was at a club early. Although I am not sure I would have had the mentality, but I certainly believed in my technical ability - but nodody wanted small players.

Confidence in my own ability with the ball was never a problem, and some days you just knew and felt everything flowed and was right. Seeing things one step ahead of everyone else and gliding past markers as if they were standing still. I also loved a dummy.

A game against St Ignatious College was memorable for me, as it was so easy. My marker asked if I was at a pro club, as I was spraying balls around with ease on my left foot, and everytime he came near me, I was gone. I replied 'no, but I should be'.

I didn't lack confidence. A defender once said I was "all left foot". I remarked "so was Puskas".

I did stretch the cockiness too far on occasions and in League football would often say to the right-back before we kicked off that he was nowhere near as good as me.

That confidence was never quite there trying to crack non league football. My move to Edgware was so exciting for me at the time as I had to send and sign from a Fax machine and Edgware's next game was in the FA Cup.

I joined Town with Aaron Kirwan, as left back and left winger from our club, although my friends mocked that I was the "Wim Jonk" persuader to Denis Bergkamp's move to Inter. Kirwan was an excellent left sided man to have behind me. We'd worked a move in training time and time again with my run towards him and then spin my marker and he could hit the channel. His left foot was sweet and we had a great connection for a number of years.

We both represented the SAL team, and he went on to play for Wembley in Ryman One.

Scott Cousins was my manager at Edgware and I always liked playing for him as he rated me and part of my problem was that I loathed and feared trying to show you were a good player amongst strangers.

Cousins' son Scott Jnr was at Chelsea for many years and I would often ask the then Press Officer Neil Barnett how he was getting on at the Academy. He also played for Hendon and saw me score at Egham once.

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