George ‘Geordie’ Armstrong was every inch the modern-day winger. Born in Hebburn in Newcastle in 1944, George Armstrong made his debut for the Gunners at the tender age of 17, making a total of 621 appearances, which was a record at the time of his departure in 1977.
Blessed with a hunger and desire which was enhanced by his natural-born ability and instinctive attacking skills, he showed great close control and was credited with always making the right, perfectly weighted pass.
He could deliver a devastatingly awkward cross or corner, which nine times out of ten would end in a goal, a selection of wicked long balls which would split defences, whipping low crosses or looping, lofted balls that put the fear of God into defenders.
George Armstrong created excitement whenever he got the ball and embarked on one of his trademark runs down the flanks or when cutting inside through the middle.
Armstrong would be a key player in a number of teams today because of his versatility. He was able to play on the left or right flank and probably could have acted as a secondary striker which he did almost unwittingly.
He never went out of his way to dazzle but did anyway by dancing through tight markers and creating space, all this when England had no place for recognised wingers under the England boss Alf Ramsey.
George Armstrong was a star in the Arsenal side but by today’s standards, he would be a world-class superstar. He managed to establish himself in the Arsenal side in the early ’60s and by 1969 he had made himself crucial to the gunners with strong, consistent performances.
It was no coincidence that Arsenal won the 1969/70 Inter-cities Fairs Cup and he was an integral part of the Gunners’ 1971 double-winning side. In that season, he was a constant feature, playing every single game, which given his commitment and fearlessness was remarkable.
George Armstrong contributed to half of Arsenal’s goals that iconic season and provided Ray Kennedy’s winning header at White Hart Lane. It was another devastating high ball into the box in the 88th minute, which was steered into the top right corner of the Spurs net courtesy of Kennedy’s head.
George ‘Geordie’ Armstrong should have been a much, much bigger star than he was. He should have been an England regular with a large collection of caps but that wasn’t to be. The club’s website says that he was
“One of the most accomplished players never to have won a full cap”
How very true.
Despite the disappointment, George Armstrong became a Highbury hero and Arsenal legend. Legend is a term that’s handed out too easily these days but Armstrong was and always will be. Fans never forget class players that gave them so much and Armstrong is as key as Brady, Henry, Vieira, Pires, Bergkamp or Adams.
He was an Arsenal player through and through and only the disagreement with Arsenal boss Terry Neil ended his association with the club, but that never stopped the endless adulation of thousands of appreciative fans. He was ahead of his time, the Eden Hazard of his generation and although his trophy haul isn’t staggering, his gifts were as glittering as any silverware.
I remember when I bought a signed 1971 double-winning Arsenal shirt. There were two signatures that I was looking for, Charlie George and George Armstrong, the epitome of the side back then.
After he retired in 1981, Armstrong had coaching roles with Fulham, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, Queen’s Park Rangers, before becoming the manager of the Kuwaiti National side.
He returned to Arsenal as part of George Graham’s coaching staff in 1990 and was responsible for guiding Ray Parlour into the first team. It was noticeable that Parlour had a similar work rate and energy to Armstrong, which would make him invaluable to Arsene Wenger after Graham departed.
‘Geordie’ could teach the new breed of young footballers a number of valuable lessons including humility, commitment, loyalty, and dedication.