Watching Arsenal first outplay then fail til the 86th minute to make the game against Stoke City at the Emirates safe, I was reminded of what Walter Winterbottom said to me in the old FA offices away back in the early 19950s. That football was differentiated from other sports, especially basketball, by the difficulty of scoring goals. Hence you might say the sheer fascination of the game with its counter-attacking injustice, its seeming reversal of logic.
In the first ten minutes of the game against Stoke Arsenal could well have scored several goals: but scored none. They hit the woodwork a couple of times, they were constantly defied by the inspired Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland: a great success in the last Olympic tournament for the British side but only now given his full chance by Stoke, after the departure of Asmir Begovic to Chelsea. In parenthesis that seemed a somewhat self-defeating transfer for Begovic, given the ascendancy of Thibault Courtois, but now the Belgium keeper has hurt himself in training and Begovic is top man. Though given Chelsea’s shocking start to the season, perhaps this is something of a mixed blessing.
Ultimately, Arsenal took over 20 minutes to get ahead and time was running out before they scored their clinching goal through Olivier Giroud (a substitute, previously guilty of a dreadful point-blank miss, booed in Paris earlier that week when playing for France.) And in the interim, Stoke, though largely ineffectual, had two notable strikes on the Arsenal goal, each calling the Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech into action.
Talking of goalkeepers, how very sad to hear that Ron Springett has just died, though one knew he had been ill for a long time. I knew him well and liked him greatly.
He was a bold, fearless keeper for QPR, Sheffield Wednesday and of course England. For whom in the 1962 World Cup quarter final in Chile he made a glorious save at the feet of Brazil’s Amarildo, after an abysmal error by Ben Flowers. Alas, it tended to be forgotten after Garrincha beat him from long distance.
There was some doubt about his vision, none about his courage. When he retired he ran a sports shop near QPR, where I often had the pleasure of visiting him.