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Arsenal legend Bob Wilson says Aaron Ramsdale looks worthy successor as Gunners’ No.1


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Fifty years after he won the Double with Arsenal, Gunners royalty Bob Wilson was impressed when Aaron Ramsdale’s first request after signing for the club was to seek an audience with ‘Safe Hands’ David Seaman

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Even in its darkest moments, Bob Wilson has always counted his blessings from the hand football dealt him.

As a goalkeeping legend at Arsenal, he had the last laugh 50 years ago on the night Alan Mullery’s flying boot left him needing two stitches in a head wound at White Hart Lane.

Eight minutes later, it didn’t hurt. The Gunners were crowned champions, and five days later they completed the Double.

When the players decamped to favoured licensed premises to celebrate, Wilson – never an avid boozer – made his escape to sobriety through a window in the gentlemen’s toilets.

Earlier that season, he had made what he regards as the best save of his career, sprawling at George Best’s feet to deny the Manchester United magician a certain goal.

Safe hands: Arsenal goalkeeping legends David Seaman (left) and Bob Wilson
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Image:

Stuart MacFarlane)

When Michael Aspel ambushed Wilson with his big red book at Arsenal’s training ground, Best was among the studio guests paying homage to one of the nicest men in football on ITV’s This Is Your Life.

“George came on the programme and said he couldn’t remember anything about my save,” recalled Wilson. “But he added, ‘Don’t worry, because Bob remembers the date, what time it was and who was in the crowd.’

“I consider myself privileged to have played against some of the greatest players ever to grace the pitch, and I just hope the guys of today understand how fortunate they are – not just the money side of it, which is crazy.

“I hope they appreciate the respect they earn, the lifelong friendships they make and the youngsters who idolise them, just as Bert Trautmann was my early hero.”

Amid the panic of Omicron, a nation’s pandemic fatigue and the prospect of another abstemious Christmas, the joy of football remains a precious release from the siege.

Jumping for joy: Bob Wilson celebrates after Ray Kennedy’s winner at Tottenham in May 1971 clinches the title – the first part of the Arsenal’s League and Cup Double
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Image:

Getty)

With games being called off, fixture schedules facing gridlock and fans facing another lockout in the New Year, the grand old game again finds itself looking for avuncular voices of reason to hold sway.

Few are better-qualified to offer festive perspective and reassurance than Wilson, a familiar voice who held the fort on the BBC’s Breakfast News sports bulletins, Football Focus and Match of the Day flagship.

The great man turned 80 in October, but he still knows a fine keeper when he sees one – which brings us back to Trautmann.

“It was difficult for my dad to accept me idolising a German prisoner of war,” said Wilson. “He had fought in the Great War himself and then lost two of his sons – my older brothers Jock and Billy – who were killed in action during the Second World War.

“Jock was a Spitfire pilot and Billy was a rear gunner in a Lancaster bomber, and yet within a few years of such terrible loss I would be going anywhere I could to watch Bert play, and the way I kept goal was in many ways a tribute act, a mirror image of him.

“My dad wouldn’t let me sign for Manchester United as a teenager saying, ‘Football’s not a proper job, son’ – so I went to Loughborough University instead and trained to be a teacher.

“I still finished up at Arsenal, and I remember walking into the marble halls at Highbury to meet Billy Wright, the manager, and thinking it felt like a cathedral.

“That’s the feeling I’m trying to convey when I say that I hope the players of today appreciate the history of the clubs they represent.”

Bob Wilson presenting Match of The Day, 1981
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Image:

BBC)

Wilson would spend 28 years as Arsenal’s goalkeeping coach, working with Pat Jennings, John Lukic and David Seaman. Somehow it was fitting that he would become a trusted consultant of legends, champions and Double winners.

In retirement, his signature achievement has been the Willow Foundation, a wonderful charity he founded in 1999 with wife Megs in memory of their daughter, Anna, who died of cancer shortly before her 32nd birthday.

To date, it has provided 18,000 Special Days for young people with life-threatening illnesses.

But he still finds time to watch his beloved Arsenal and cast an educated eye over Aaron Ramsdale, the latest incumbent of the jersey he wore so proudly.

Sign here, please: Aaron Ramsdale (centre) joins Arsenal

“I must admit, when we signed Ramsdale – player of the season for Bournemouth but relegated, then player of the season for Sheffield United but relegated – I did wonder if bad things still came in threes,” admitted Wilson.

“But he has been a terrific influence on the team. The day he signed for Arsenal, he asked to see David Seaman as quickly as possible because he wanted to understand what it means to play for the club.

“I thought it was brilliant that he had the foresight, and respect, to seek out somebody who won 75 England caps, three titles and two Doubles.

“As an old-school keeper who was happy to get the ball down the other end, playing out from the back drives me crackers – and yet last Saturday was a classic example of how it can lead to something beautiful.

“Aaron came within the tiniest fraction of losing the ball in his own box, and yet 15 seconds later, after a flowing move, Alex Lacazette was applying a glorious finish at the other end.

“I was out of my seat, applauding such a terrific goal, and whoever you support, for any team, the game still boils down to one thing: It’s about giving the people who matter most, the supporters, that exhilaration of jumping out of their seats.

“If football is not for entertaining the people, what is it for?”

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