Exclusive: Szczesny will bounce back just like I did, says Arsenal legend
Goalkeeping great gives his verdict on Carling Cup final gaffe
Sunday’s horror show at Wembley isn‘t the first time an Arsenal goalkeeper and defender have combined to help hand English football’s ‘third’ trophy to supposedly inferior opponents.
Bob Wilson OBE will tell you all about that.
An horrendous mix-up, involving equal measures of miscommunication and indecisiveness, didn’t exactly help the Gunners back in 1969 when they played third division Swindon Town, eventual 3-1 winners in the League Cup final.
Back then, Wilson and Ian Ure failed to clear a routine ball – Ure’s backpass famously sticking in the mud as the pair dithered, allowing Roger Smart to steal possession and put the Wiltshire minnows ahead.
At the weekend, Wilson watched, head in hands, as history painfully repeated itself when Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny calamitously gifted Obafemi Martins the easiest of cup final winners.
“Oh dear, it was awful wasn’t it,” Wilson, now 70, tells Ham&High Sport.
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“I’m not taking anything away from Wojciech because he is a very talented young man, and I like the fact he comes for things, but maybe he should have come for this one.
“That said, in the 89th minute of a game – a Wembley final too – surely Koscielny should have just put his laces through the ball and smashed it clear.
“The defender was caught in two minds and that, ultimately, proved their undoing.
“Was there a late shout from Wojciech? I don’t know. I haven’t heard from the horse’s mouth – but Nigel Winterburn got it spot-on the next day when he said if there is any doubt at all the defender should just launch the ball as far as possible.
“It is a terrible way to lose any game – particularly a cup final at Wembley in front of 90,000.”
As did Arsenal 42 years ago.
“Nothing has changed in my mind, Ian (Ure) should have done what Koscielny should have done, and cleared the damned thing!” recalls Wilson, with irritation still in his voice as he cast his mind back to that dark day.
“But then we both had to take our share of the blame – as do the two Arsenal players this week.
“All I will say, from a goalkeeping perspective, is every great keeper has made a big mistake. My hero, Bert Trautmann, won the FA Cup the year after making an awful error.
“The great Ray Clemence seemed to recover after letting Kenny Dalglish’s ball through his legs at Hampden Park all those years back.
“Wojciech is a confident, talented young man and he will bounce back from this I’m sure – I expect the team as a whole to do so too.”
Nobody was more disappointed at the final whistle than Wilson, but he has managed to keep a sense of perspective about the game – and Arsenal’s current situation.
“Gutted, annoyed, sad ... yes, I was all of those things. I was wide awake in bed for two hours on Sunday night going through the game. I may be 70 but I remain in the dressing room. That never goes.
“But we move on. We had 60 per cent possession, didn’t play as badly as many people are making out, and had far more shots at goal than them.
“It was a big, big kick in the teeth but we have an awful lot to play for. Don’t forget, Birmingham hadn’t won anything since the early 1960s, so good luck to them. Spurs haven’t won the title for 50 years!
“We may have only gone five-and-a-half years, but we have finished in the top four for something like 11 seasons, we are the best run club in the country and soon we will be debt free with a brand new stadium and lots of revenue coming in.
“Clubs like Spurs, Chelsea and Man City have spent hundreds of millions but even Manchester United have gone the Arsenal way and won’t spend what they haven’t got.
“And, by the way, we have reached three finals in the last five years. Yes, we have lost them, but I’d rather get to a final and have a chance of winning a trophy than being knocked out in an earlier round.
“Also, let’s be honest, to have the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott ruled out so near to the final would be a blow for any team in the country, perhaps in Europe.”
Wilson has now called on the team to draw strength from adversity.
“We lost the League Cup final in 1968 and again, as previously discussed, the next year – but we didn’t give up. It made us stronger and more determined to make amends and a year later we won the Fairs Cup – our first trophy for 17 years. We followed that with the Double [in 1971].”
And he refutes claims there is no spirit in the current side.
“Cesc is an extraordinary player with immense character. Wojciech is also a very strong, vocal man. Thomas Vermaelen has been a big loss – not many Belgians captain a Dutch club like Ajax, believe me that takes character.
“He is our best defender and a real leader of men too and will be a big boost when he returns.
“Robin van Persie is the same. I also like the look of Kieran Gibbs – he is a determined young man with a very strong personality.
“Yes, I would agree there are some not as strong as others. But then it was the same when we won the Double. Pat Rice, for example, was just a young boy. He turned into an inspirational skipper. That comes with experience and learning from others.”
Another young Gunner has also caught his attention; Jack Wilshere.
“You know,” adds Wilson, who forged a career as one of Britain’s most accomplished sports presenters, “I am on Twitter now, something my family think is hilarious for some reason. I’m not on Facebook, no way, but Twitter I like.
“A lot of the players are too, in particular Jack, who tweets a lot and sort of inspired me to sign up. He said sorry on Twitter straight after the game, which is lovely for the fans to have that new kind of connection with the players.
“The boy is a fantastic talent with a strong heart. Wow. But he also loves the club – you could see that when he cried solidly for 10 minutes after the game. One idiot journalist gave him a five out of 10. He was absolutely immense and ran his socks off.
“I see lads like Jack and I see such a bright future for the club.”
And Wilson maintains that bright future could be closer than some critics would have you believe.
“Manchester United are catchable, particularly after their defeat at Chelsea on Tuesday night, and we are still leading against Barcelona at half-time, however hard the second leg may be,” he says.
“I’m not delusional, just realistic. We have lost one final but are still in a good position in the two big competitions. People complain the games are stacking up which is something else –would they rather we weren’t in these games, and we had nothing to play for?”
– Bob Wilson earned an OBE in 2007 for his charity work, after setting up the Willow Foundation – the only charity of its kind providing special days for seriously ill 16 to 40 year olds throughout the UK – following the death of his 31-year-old daughter Anna from cancer in 1998.
He has raised millions for the organisation and will get on his bike next month as he aims to add at least a further �250,000 when he attempts to cycle to 23 football stadiums over 600 miles in 13 days.
Bob explains: “I wanted to do something else. My greatest year was 1970/71 when we won the Double. Now I am 70, and in my 71st year, and wanted to achieve something else.
“Our charity, like many, is facing a deficit. We can only survive for maybe four years with a deficit before we’d go under so we have to keep being proactive.
“I will cycle from London, visiting all five Premier League grounds, before cycling north and ending in Glasgow. I will be visiting some great football grounds on the way, and hope people give generously for a charity that really makes a wonderful difference to people’s lives.”
And is he looking forward to the challenge, which begins on Monday, April 18.
“Goodness me, just looking at those dates I have just realised it is NEXT month – that is a concern!”
– If you want to donate, go to www.justgiving.com/BobWilsonSoccerCycle