FFC columnist Matt Kelly reviews the life and times of Arsenal legend Charlie George, a man who touched many Gooners' hearts in his playing days, and a man who has now returned to the club he supported as a boy.
Frederick Charles George, or Charlie George as he is more famously known around North London, had one of the more romantic journeys through life as an Arsenal footballer. Born in Islington and an avid Arsenal supporter, Charlie was one of the fans favourites and not only for his footballing abilities.
Charlie signed for the Gunners on an apprentice contract in 1966 at the tender age of only 16. After growing up less than a mile away from his favoured football team, Charlie fed his Arsenal habit with weekly trips to the North Bank and as legend has it, Charlie apparently called in sick in order to excuse himself from a reserve match to then travel to Bristol in support of the Arsenal first team for their FA Cup clash.
After turning professional in 1968, he then went on to make his debut for Arsenal in August 1969 in a 1-0 defeat against Everton. Following his debut, Charlie cemented his place in the first team making 39 more appearances that season, playing in both legs of the Fairs Cup Final win over Anderlecht, aged just 19.
However, after a less than ideal start to the following season, everything was about to peak in George's Arsenal career. He broke his ankle in the first game of the season but eventually made enough progress to return to the first team to see in the end of the season. And what an ending it turned out to be for both Charlie and Arsenal that season.
Charlie not only celebrated winning the Championship on Tottenham's White Hart Lane turf, but followed it with a 20-yard, extra-time strike weeks later against Liverpool in the 1971 FA Cup Final, securing the Gunners first ever double.
Although an international career eluded Charlie, as it did many other great players of the time including Rodney Marsh, it was certainly not for his lack of skill. In fact many have since argued that this was the precise reason Charlie was only awarded with one cap. Football at the time was so different from the present day, that skill and flair was almost frowned upon. Most certainly in England, where managers and some fans alike were all for the ‘lion heart', traditional, never-say-die English approach, and as a result it saw players such as George and Marsh regularly on the end of dangerous tackles. It has since become clear that leaving players with skill out of our national team can result in a draught of silverware for over 40 years.
According to both George and Marsh it was a rather exclusive group of players who at the time played for the manager rather than the England. And both the Londoners issued the manger with an expletive after being told they couldn't play the way they wanted and thus ended their international careers.
As I say, it wasn't for his lack of skill. As an attacking midfielder George was sensational. It may be too early to compare the talents of Cesc Fabregas to that of George's yet, but the link provided at the end of the article shows the resemblance. Not only could George provide goals from outside the area, but his vision, first touch and first-time passing was of the highest quality.
His on field footballing displays were not the end to George's charm. He also had an impressive party trick of punting the ball as high as possible above him, appearing nonchalant whilst awaiting the balls return and bringing it back down beneath his feet with the faintest of touches, almost without a bounce. Accompanied with his obvious love for the club which was present in his excitement in almost every celebration (which can be seen in the video link below), he became a joy for everyone to watch.
Unfortunately for both Arsenal and Charlie, his Arsenal career slowly declined after being plagued with injury. His relationship with the manager at the time Bertie Mee was thinning and after four more seasons George was sold to Derby for £100,000 in 1975 aged just 25. Arsenal's financial situation didn't help the predicament but it wasn't all over for the then former Gunner.
Charlie's finest moment for Derby was hard to believe in itself but in today's circumstances the chances of a repeat occurrence would be regarded as impossible. Derby played Real Madrid in the European Cup and won 4-1, with Charlie bagging a hat trick.
He then moved on again to Southampton in 1978 for £350,000 aged 28. However, injury would again plague his playing days, this time a knee injury hampered the number of appearances he clocked up for the Saints, but at the end of his time there, he was loaned out to Nottingham Forest. In the short time he was managed by legendary Brian Clough, he won the European Super Cup against Barcelona scoring the only goal in the first leg.
The remainder of his footballing career included short spells playing in Hong Kong and for Bournemouth, before retuning to Derby.
After making 179 appearances for Arsenal and scoring 49 goals, Charlie has finally returned to the ground where he grew up and now heads the tour guide at Arsenal's museum. Along with making regular appearances at Arsenal fund raising campaigns, he also features on Arsenal TV and writes for the Arsenal Monthly Magazine.