George ‘Geordie’ Armstrong’s Cannon
On 5 February 1974 at Elland Road, Leeds, Arsenal’s George ‘Geordie’ Armstrong became the first player to play 500 competitive games for the Gunners. Before this match Armstrong was presented with a set of candelabras and champagne for his landmark achievement. The closest that any player had previously come to this number was Bob John who had amassed 470 appearances during the 1920s & 1930s.
In honour of reaching this milestone Geordie was presented with a commemorative silver cannon mounted on a stone plinth by chairman Denis Hill-Wood before the following home game against Tottenham Hotspur eleven days later. It was, perhaps, a shame that the team was going through a poor run of form and lost both games.
However, despite how indifferently the team was playing at that time one element was a constant: the astonishing energy and grit shown by the mercurial winger. Week-in week-out Armstrong, during a game, was a force of nature: running, making endless short sprints, interspersed with countless collisions, punctuated by passes taken in and given with either foot with a rare efficiency. His consistency was allied with an abundance of natural ability, bolstered by his optimism, and a cast iron belief. He did not leave the pitch at the final whistle without knowing that he could have done no more to further the cause of his club: The Arsenal.
This landmark was a testament to Armstrong’s incredible consistency that had seen him as first choice in the team for a decade, with only a couple of injuries keeping out of the team towards the end of the 1960s. Having signed in August 1961, he broke into the first team just six months later, becoming the club’s second youngest ever player and, on the final day of the 1961-62 season he scored his first goal which made him Arsenal’s second youngest goalscorer.
Football being part of his nature was backed up by an unnamed team mate who in a Sunday Times interview just after the 500th appearance said of Geordie:
“For him to miss a match is absolute misery. He is a pre-TV player. By that I mean he was brought up at a time when the only entertainment was that kids made for themselves with a football. If he’d not been a pro he is the sort of bloke who would have played twice on Saturday, and hung around the marshes on Sunday morning with his boots hoping to get a game. And if it came to the worst he’d referee.”
Amongst those 500 games were six games in major finals (the European Fairs Cup final was played over two legs) and every game during the 1970-71 double-winning season. Geordie was one of the key players during Bertie Mee’s successful reign.
During his debut season he also appeared three times for the England youth team and progressed to the under-23 team. However, this was the period under Alf Ramsey’s “wingless wonders”, which possibly explains why he never played for the full national team. Geordie is widely acknowledged as one of the best players never to have represented his country in a full international.
Geordie went on to play in 621 first team games for Arsenal before signing for his former team mate Frank McLintock at Leicester in September 1977. After retiring from playing Geordie embarked on a number of coaching roles, before coming ‘home’ in 1990 at the request of George Graham. He was Arsenal reserve team coach from 1990 until his untimely passing in 2000 at the age of 56. George’s memory still lives on at Arsenal with his cannon, medals and other memorabilia on show in the museum at the Emirates Stadium, on loan from his family, whilst one of the pitches at the London Colney training ground was named in his honour by the club.
It was 81 years after joining the Football League before an Arsenal player reached 500 games. However, in the 43 years since 1974, seven other Arsenal players have joined Geordie in the “500 club” whilst only two have surpassed his appearance record.
|Player||500th game||Total games|
|George Armstrong||5 February 1974 v Leeds United (A)||621|
|Peter Storey||22 January 1977 v Bristol City (A)||501|
|Pat Rice||26 December 1979 v Tottenham Hotspur (H)||528|
|David O’Leary||20 September 1986 v Oxford United (H)||722|
|Tony Adams||19 January 1997 v Everton (H)||669|
|Nigel Winterburn||3 May 1998 v Everton (H)||584|
|Lee Dixon||20 March 1999 v Coventry City (H)||619|
|David Seaman||8 September 2001 v Chelsea (A)||564|
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Background to the article
The season past we were asked to write a regular page in the official Arsenal magazine based on a historical object related to the Club. Magazine and Programme editor Andy Exley has kindly given us permission to reproduce the match reports on our blog. We will also be including additional material that didn’t make the final edit of the magzine.
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