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Me and Frank

BY DARREN MICHAEL / @darrenmichael

When the oft heard debate as to who was the greatest Arsenal captain of the modern era comes around, two names appear to be the most agreed upon; Tony Adams and Frank McLintock. I saw Adams play hundreds of times, but being of a certain age I never saw Frank play for Arsenal. I did see him play in his final year as a pro for QPR, not long after my Dad started taking me to games. We lost 2-1 at Loftus Road if my memory serves me correctly.

Of course, Frank is assured of genuine legendary status within our club. He was the skipper of that side in an era when the Double could not be bought by the rouble or as appears seemingly inevitable by the dirham.

But this is more of a personal tale than one of footballing history as such. You see, Frank is part of my extended family. My only sister is married to one of Frank’s sons. My nephew is his grandson. Frank and his lovely wife Barbara are best of friends with my Dad and, formally, my late mother.

I first met Frank when I played in the same youth team as his youngest son, Scott, in the early 80s. He played at the back, as you would imagine, yet for all his DNA and Delap-esque throw-in ability was pretty ordinary. To be honest we all were, we won one game all season…but I digress. Frank’s first words to me were “You played well son,” when I had been foisted in goal as an emergency keeper for a game. He stood on the sidelines watching with his boxer dog. It was my moment to shine and I milked it to be honest. Routine saves became as spectacular as a 10-year-old could make them.

I’d always known the younger McLintock boys, through youth football, school teams etc but in the summer of 1991 my sister came home and declared her new boyfriend to be one of the McLintock clan. As lifelong Gooners and season ticket holders, we strangely felt our family had been validated by the club itself. As the bond and friendship between the two families grew, we became privy to the occasional tidbit of info such as being told 100% that Geoff Thomas was the number one choice to replace Rocky in the summer of 92!

Going round to Frank’s house and seeing his footballer of the year trophy from ‘71 adorn the mantelpiece, almost flippantly in the way a family photo would sit on yours or mine, seeing and holding both winners medals from the ’71 season were quite surreal moments. At one BBQ my brother-in-law came down the stairs and threw an aged, yellowing football at me. It was the ’71 cup final ball. Signed by the team. Fuck. Then he bought down a yellow number 5 shirt from the game. Even more fuck.  To be honest, the ball could have been signed by anyone as footballers signatures are right up there with GP prescriptions in the illegible stakes. I could just about make out Charlie George’s name and I recognised George Graham’s after years of reading his programme notes.

I’ve been lucky enough to hear first hand reports of the Lazio brawl, how he asked Billy Wright for a move in the mid 60s as he was disillusioned in playing for a team he felt weren’t good enough (sound familiar). I even learned how Bill Shankly wanted him at Liverpool. I heard about all the key games. I was surprised to learn he liked the occasional fag.

He once told me that he got dogs abuse from a fan as he left the pitch at Highbury during a pre-season friendly and they arranged to “sort it out” but ended up sharing a drink at one of the boozers close to the ground. There have also been wonderful tales about individuals from the Double side. For example, Peter Simpson needed Frank to constantly reassure him of his outstanding ability. Frank has also spoken about the time he marked Johann Cryuff when we played Ajax and that despite his brilliance the Dutchman would pinch and slap him whenever he could at corners. It seems impossible to believe you could get away with such shit these days thanks to Sky’s cameras everywhere.

Watching games with Frank today is as engaging and entertaining as you could imagine. He is a true Gooner just like us. His deeply ingrained will to win not only reveals a true love for the club, but the difference in how a true professional sportsman views the challenge of 90 minutes to say the average Sunday league clogger. Watching one game on TV with him last year, he lambasted one of our hapless defenders and said if he was still playing he would pin him to the dressing room wall and let him know in no uncertain terms as to what his responsibility to the team was to ensure no repeat.

A real quirk is that he will demonstrate forcibly as to how to defend a corner, manhandling you as he explains along with a practical demonstration how a defender should be side on and within touching distance of the forward. It’s more like a judo exhibition than football but you suddenly realise in that small micro-example how intense the battles must have been and how winners are born and not made.

I realised then that succeeding as a professional footballer during his era was as much about desire, strength of character and a fear of defeat as it was about an ability with the ball. Money was certainly not the issue for these guys. Indeed Frank earned less in his entire 20 year top flight career than John Terry earns in four days. Slightly sickening eh?

Frank is no longer Frank McLintock to me. He is merely Frank, a hugely likeable bloke, with a big heart, a great sense of humour and an engaging naivety. Frank loves to sing Sinatra too. Once he starts, it’s hard to stop him becoming a compendium of Rat Pack tunes. He has a more than decent voice too.

However, despite his legendary status and for all his gorbals bred grit, my abiding memory of Frank is one of humanity. He and Barbara were the first people on hand when my mum passed away at Christmas last year in the early hours of the morning. They were there.

That’s a measure of the bloke.

Cheers Frank. Arsenal’s number 5. 

Reader Comments (5)

Nice one Darren. A lovely read and a great insight.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLong Time Gooner

Not sure if I've mentioned the fact that my daughter is getting married in Israel next year but please let Frank know he's invited. Not half!

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCannon Balls

splendid darren

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterabu

Hi Darren. Heard about your posting via Carly on FB last night. Knew you were a Gooner too, but didn't know you were well and truly i'n the family'. Makes me want to write about my sketchy memories of when Arsenal played Yeovil Town in a pre-season testimonial friendly...might just do that!

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter@alexstone7

Excellent and heartwarming article Darren

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex
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