This article unfolds the story about one of the most remembered and revered players in the club’s history, Charlie George, an Arsenal hero, an Arsenal legend. Charlie, described as ‘A bona fide Cockney rebel’, was a darling of the Highbury in the early ’70s and an entertainer on and off the pitch, who got unwanted attention wherever he went.
There were a few Standout stars in football during the 1950s, but nothing along the lines of what was to follow. The 6O’s put down a marker of the modern player and if you were fortunate enough to talent and charisma, you went to a different level altogether.
Football had gone through the stratosphere with England’s World Cup final victory over Germany in 1966 and it was just the start of a series of bigger successes, that had Television companies competing to secure key matches.
George Best was the 60’s equivalent of David Beckham, promoting sausages, hair products, and aftershave. It was clear that the earning potential and celebrity of a player was on the rise. George Best and his club Manchester United would inspire a nation by winning their first European Cup in 1968, the same year that Best won the Ballon d’Or and FWA Footballer of the year.
Meanwhile, back in North London, a young prospect by the name of Charles Frederick George was working his way towards his own slice of personal history, turning professional that same year. He would start to feature regularly in the Arsenal side by 1969 and just two years later, found himself celebrating Arsenal’s first historic league and FA Cup double.
The rangy lad who had supported the Gunners on the terraces with friends was to become a much-loved icon and future fan favourite. George had several stand out qualities, his work rate, ball control, and passing abilities were excellent and he wasn’t averse to jumping into a tackle.
Aside from that, Charlie George George could fire the ball over distance. If he collected the ball outside the box from in or around 20 yards, he wouldn’t hesitate to hit the ball goal-wards. The power of the strike was probably akin to a melon being fired from the turret of a tank and once struck, fans instinctively began to cheer even before the net had bulged.
He had a swagger about him that at the time, wasn’t exactly in line with the rest of the Arsenal players. Often sneering at other professionals, calling them out, or referring to them as ‘wankers’ in the heat of battle.
Although he was initially seen as a striker, his best position was as an attacking midfielder but as good as he was at his peak, he never knocked hard enough on the England team’s door. He gained a single cap for the national side and we can only wonder what he may have become in the famous white shirt had he been less inclined to clash with managers.
Then England Manager, Don Revie, felt the wrath of Charlie George after being substituted after 30 minutes. George was frustrated at being placed out on the wing and when the manager confronted him as he trudged off, he told him, in no uncertain terms to ‘Fuck off’ and Revie closed the door on him and never opened it again.
Ron Greenwood tried to tempt him back to the fold with an appearance for the England ‘B’ team. George soon told Greenwood something similar and that was that.
This fiery temper and blatant disregard for authority would eventually end his Arsenal career prematurely. 1971 -1973 were his peak years in the side, but injuries became more frequent and saw him clash with the manager, Bertie Mee. This saw him embarrassingly demoted to the reserves for spells of his career.
Charlie’s red mist also led to him head butting a certain Kevin Keegan and Newcastle’s Bobby Moncur, also came in for the Arsenal man’s particular brand of retribution. Charlie George had been kicked time and time again by the player when he decided to lift Moncur off the ground by his throat, issuing him with a warning not to put his foot on him again.
These types of incidents got him into more trouble with his club and that, coupled with injuries, saw him transferred out of Highbury in 1975 and away from his boyhood club. Similar to George Best, he became a wandering talent with spells at Derby, Southampton, Forest, and Coventry City but he wasn’t the player he was in a Red and White shirt.
After years in the wilderness, he headed home to Arsenal in his new capacity as host, conducting tours of the stadium and sharing stories with adoring fans. He said:
“I always played for the fans, I stood on the terraces with my mates and was fortunate enough to play for Arsenal. Yeah, everything was for the fans”
When asked about his goals, Charlie George said:
“I was a scorer of great goals, not a great goal scorer.”
“I knew I could hit a ball and (referring to the cup final goal against Liverpool in 71) when I hit that ball, I knew it was a goal.”
As for his finest moments, it unsurprisingly includes that incredible strike in the FA Cup final against Liverpool which secured the double and also the 3-0 destruction of Ajax Amsterdam at Highbury in the Semi-Finals of the European Fairs Cup. George played in both legs of the final against Anderlecht which Arsenal won 4-3 on aggregate.
Charlie George was a Gunner and always will be and despite his flaws, he is an icon and an Arsenal legend.