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Unsung Arsenal heroes: John Lukic

Jack Kelsey, Bob Wilson, Pat Jennings, David Seaman, Jens Lehmann, and maybe now Petr Cech, it’s an extended record however the place is John Lukic?

Typically the durations between these greats have been transitional, with a succession of lesser custodians mirrored by a scarcity of credible title problem. Although competent sufficient, names like Jim Standen, Jim Furnell, Jimmy Rimmer (three Jims both aspect of Bob Wilson), George Wooden, Manuel Almunia and even Wojciech Szczesny don’t encourage nostalgia and awe in fairly the identical approach.

The lanky Yorkshireman with the Yugoslav surname was the undisputed first selection at Highbury for 5 years, hastening the retirement of Pat Jennings till discovering himself unceremoniously changed by David Seaman. Sandwiched between these two, it might be straightforward on reflection to assume that he was ‘keeping the seat warm’ for an additional prime keeper, as we’ve seen in recent times underneath Arsene Wenger.

In actuality, that couldn’t be farther from the reality.

He was a really, excellent goalkeeper in his personal proper, with shot-stopping, claiming crosses and prodigious goal-kicks his specific strengths.

Signed by Terry Neill in July 1983 for simply £75,000, Lukic had already racked up slightly below 150 begins for lately relegated Leeds United, regardless of being solely 22. He was earmarked as a possible long-term successor for Pat Jennings, and was primarily tasked with watching and studying from the large Ulsterman. And that is precisely what occurred for 18 months.

It wasn’t till the brand new yr of 1985, with Jennings already contemplating retirement, that Lukic made the Arsenal number one shirt his personal. As soon as he did, he was to stay unchallenged, offering remarkably constant and reliable service for simply over half a decade.

Given the best way his star was eclipsed so instantly by the peerless excellence of his successor, it’s typically forgotten what an necessary position John Lukic performed within the development of the legendary defence that was to serve the membership so nicely for on common a decade after his departure. With solely Tony Adams difficult his longevity within the first workforce, Lukic was an ever-present within the workforce in the course of the first half of George Graham’s tenure, and his willingness to take duty helped him construct an prompt rapport with new arrivals Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon and Steve Bould.

17 Oct 2000: John Lukic of Arsenal saves a free-kick during the UEFA Champions League match against Lazio played at the Olympic Stadium, in Rome, Italy. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. Mandatory Credit: Clive Brunskill /Allsport17 Oct 2000: John Lukic of Arsenal saves a free-kick in the course of the UEFA Champions League match towards Lazio performed on the Olympic Stadium, in Rome, Italy. The match led to a 1-1 draw. Credit score: Clive Brunskill /Allsport

Even earlier than these arrivals, the group had began to evolve underneath Graham, initially by means of the likes of Adams, Rocastle, Thomas and Quinn cementing locations within the first staff.

“The young players were like a breath of fresh air as they don’t carry all that baggage around with them – it dragged the team forward from where it was. It was like a freshening up of a team that needed to take place, and it did at the right time.”

As this inflow of youth started to cement itself, John performed a key half in Arsenal breaking their Eight-year trophy duck, with victory within the League Cup remaining of 1987, behind a again 4 of Adams, O’Leary, Sansom and Viv Anderson. Coming into the sport as large underdogs, the Gunners almost buckled beneath early Liverpool strain, and have been indebted to an early sensible save from Lukic low right down to his proper, denying Craig Johnston from shut vary. He might do nothing, nevertheless about Ian Rush’s opener, placed on a plate for him by Steve McMahon after certainly one of a succession of positional errors by captain Kenny Sansom.

Liverpool had by no means misplaced when Rush had scored, and it appeared the pundits’ pre-game predictions can be realised. However even in his first season, George Graham had instilled a few of the struggle that was to be hallmark of his groups, and simply as that they had towards Spurs within the semi-final, Arsenal grew into proceedings, and ultimately began to dominate. The introduction of one other under-appreciated man, Perry Groves,  proved the very important catalyst, and as everyone knows, ‘Champagne Charlie’ Nicholas received a scrappy deflected winner to go together with his first half stabbed equaliser.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 12: Arsenal goalkeeper John Lukic in action during a First Division match against Everton at Highbury on April 12, 1986 in London, England. (Photo by Mike King/Allsport/Getty Images)LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – APRIL 12: Arsenal goalkeeper John Lukic in motion throughout a First Division match towards Everton at Highbury on April 12, 1986 in London, England. (Photograph by Mike King/Allsport/Getty Pictures)

Lukic, like most of that squad, had gained his first trophy. He was 26 and getting into his prime, simply as Arsenal have been getting their act collectively after seven years of largely mediocrity post-Liam Brady.

“We received just a little bit swept away with the cup run, as we’d not achieved an awesome deal previous to that within the time that I had been there. Then to get to the ultimate…from reminiscence the objectives have been bizzare…it’s virtually like destiny performs an element. “

With a return to Wembley in the identical competitors the next yr, it appeared the great occasions have been going to roll. Arsenal had made it to the ultimate in a comparatively snug procession, solely to lose in additional time towards large underdogs Luton City in a match greatest remembered for the top of Gus Caesar’s prime flight profession, and the beginning and finish of any aspirations Nigel Winterburn needed to be a penalty taker.

Nevertheless, Lukic’s time in North London reached its highest level only a yr later. He was ever current in an un-fancied Arsenal aspect that had already shocked the soccer world by main the desk into the championship run in, strictly following the previous adage of ‘one game at a time’.

 “We were very efficient that year. Very efficient. The wheels came off in the last few weeks, and everybody had written us off. You do in the broadest sense set out to win things, but in the realistic sense, you are out there to get results. We managed to get the results, we’d got a level of performance, we were playing really well, and we were at the top of the League with a chance of winning it. Only when it gets into the last six games of the season does it really become tangible, that you could win it.”

17 Oct 2000: Goalkeeper John Lukic of Arsenal makes a save during the match between Lazio and Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League Group B at the Olympic Stadium, Rome, Italy. Mandatory Credit: Clive Brunskill/ALLSPORT17 Oct 2000: Goalkeeper John Lukic of Arsenal makes a save through the match between Lazio and Arsenal within the UEFA Champions League Group B on the Olympic Stadium, Rome, Italy. Credit score: Clive Brunskill/ALLSPORT

A trouncing of Norwich on 1st Might and an away win at Middlesbrough put the Gunners firmly within the driving seat, solely to falter, gaining just one level within the remaining two house video games, as strain and accidents kicked in. They discovered themselves confronted with the duty of profitable their last recreation, away at reigning champions Liverpool, by two clear objectives. This hadn’t occurred in over three years. And Liverpool had already achieved an 18 level turnaround on Arsenal because the flip of the yr, with an imperious run of type.

“Definitely (we thought we’d thrown it away), however then once more, there’s that factor in soccer the place you by no means say by no means. Individuals had written us off going to Anfield, we have been simply turning as much as make up the numbers as a result of Liverpool have been going to win the double that night time… Properly, we didn’t go into that recreation like that, and George wouldn’t have allow us to. We have been there to do a job. When the ultimate whistle went on that day, that’s when the season completed. “

As you’d anticipate, his reminiscences of that day and night time stay vivid.

“We were quite relaxed (on the coach up to Liverpool). Everybody was reading newspapers,  writing us off, and we were all having a laugh and a joke. The members of the squad who liked a bet were thinking, well, there’s good odds here! We didn’t feel any pressure at all that night. Liverpool had conceded two goals at home on something like three occasions in the previous nine years. We had an appalling record at Liverpool. God knows how many years it was since we’d won there, so factor in that,  we’ve got no pressure have we! We’re not expected to win, they’re not going to concede two goals, so hey, what have we got to lose…”

Eyebrows have been raised when George Graham began with three central defenders in a recreation the place Arsenal wanted to attain at the least twice, however Lukic confirmed what we’ve heard elsewhere, that the supervisor had all of it labored out.

“George’s team meeting at the hotel was exactly the script that panned out that night, almost word for word. It was uncanny! His game plan came to fruition, bizarrely! Take to halftime, nil-nil, come out in the second half and press a little further forward, hopefully, nick a goal early on. They’ll panic, start feeling the nerves, and towards the back end of the game, go on and get the winner.”

So Lukic and the opposite members of that night time’s again six, stored their focus all through, very a lot within the picture of their supervisor’s beliefs.

30 Nov 1996: A goalmouth scramble sees David Platt of Arsenal (left) clear the ball ahead of the acrobatic Phillipe Albert of Newcastle and the incoming goalkeeper John Lukic (right) during the FA Carling Premier league match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St.James'' Park in Newcastle. Arsenal won 1-2. Mandatory Credit: Ross Kinnaird/Allsport30 Nov 1996: A goalmouth scramble sees David Platt of Arsenal (left) clear the ball forward of the acrobatic Phillipe Albert of Newcastle and the incoming goalkeeper John Lukic (proper) through the FA Carling Premier league match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St.James” Park in Newcastle. Arsenal gained 1-2. Obligatory Credit score: Ross Kinnaird/Allsport

“(when Alan Smith scored) You’ve still got a job to do. You’ve only got half the job done. You can’t afford to concede, doubly now, because you’ve got a foothold in the game, almost a hand on the trophy itself, so now if you concede, on the night would have been devastating. So it was crucial to keep the concentration and keep a clean sheet.”

They usually did, as historical past was made in probably the most dramatic trend. And lest we overlook, a small contribution although it was, it was Lukic who began that objective, throwing the ball out to Dixon (“an executive decision! To develop the expansive style of football that The Arsenal play today!”)  in what was certainly ‘surely the last attack of the game’.  The remaining everyone knows and Thomas turned immortal.

“He’d had a chance a few minutes earlier. But for me, if you had asked me which individual I would want in that position at that moment in time, then it would have been Mickey. Simply because Mickey was so laid back he didn’t have a pulse…it’s surreal because you are watching events unfold and thinking ‘well go on Mick, go on Mick, go on Mick, and Mick does, and the rest as they say…”

Even then, as Michael Thomas was doing headspins in entrance of the away followers, the calm head on nonetheless comparatively younger shoulders on the different finish prevailed – at the very least for some time;

“I was at the Kop end and wasn’t sure how they’d react to me leaping about, so I decided to be constrained – then went mad afterwards.”

“The only sad thing was that we were so far from home. We were three hours away, and with people out on the streets…it would have been nice if we could have won it at Highbury. We made our way back to London, and a few of the lads did what we did best in those days – went out and had some fun!””

Although it was an important aim that season to start out within the palms of John Lukic, it was not the primary. Fairly extra typically hand was adopted by giant boot, transferring the ball from one penalty space to a different, with messers Smith, Hayes and Merson all profiting at totally different occasions.

Lukic had no bones about crediting George Graham’s teaching with the group’s upswing in fortunes, even when he did say the supervisor’s fashion was ‘dictatorial’.

“It focused your attention because the attention was to detail. Whatever the back four were doing, you weren’t just stood behind them, twiddling your thumbs, because you were an integral part; and the finger got pointed, and quite severely if needs be. So you could never rest on your laurels.”

“Me and George had a relationship, and its important to have a mutual respect, no matter who you work for, whether you like them or not, and I certainly had that, because I think George played a big part in the achievements of the football club in the late ’80s, going into the early 90s.”

And the respect was certainly mutual.

“When I joined the club [as manager], I always had great belief in John Lukic, who was a big favourite with the Arsenal crowd.” – George Graham

However this didn’t cease the supervisor from displaying his ruthless aspect.

George Graham confirmed his intentions to signal David Seaman, with a deal falling by means of on switch deadline day in March 1990 (initially trying to ship Lukic on mortgage to QPR in return). John’s reputation with the followers was confirmed by not solely a variety of terrace chants in his help but in addition a small protest demonstration outdoors the bottom.

“I was overwhelmed to be honest with you. It’s one of those things you can’t put into words. It helped me get through the last period of that season. From that moment (when the signing of Seaman initially fell through), the fans were with me, supported me, which was a fantastic thing for me. It was quite moving when I left, particularly with the support of the fans, and that lives on.”

This was primarily resulting from his consistency of high-level performances, however wasn’t harm by his willingness to offer house followers within the Clock Finish and North Banks a wave if requested. And naturally, I’m fortunate sufficient to be of the classic to recollect “Johnny, Johnny, do the twist” at objective kicks.

When it turned clear that his solely future on the membership was as an understudy, Lukic returned to Leeds in Might 1990 for £1m, which on the time marked a good-looking revenue.

“I never wanted to leave. I knew the writing was on the wall. But hey, that’s football. You can’t cry over spilt milk. It was an easy decision, but a hard decision at the same time. Well, it wasn’t a decision really. I knew I had to go. It was hard to leave…”

It’s uncommon for a participant to primarily be pressured out of a membership the place he’s glad and well-liked and profitable with out recrimination resting on both get together. Lukic left together with his head held excessive, his popularity intact and on the peak of his powers, and the supervisor was completely vindicated in his want to exchange him, as Lukic readily concedes.

“To be fair when David came in after me…I really haven’t got to say a great deal as far as that’s concerned…what a fantastic goalkeeper, and what fantastic success came with that signing.”

On his departure, Graham famously commented: “I nonetheless assume John Lukic is among the greatest keepers within the nation; I simply assume David Seaman is the perfect“. He was to be proved proper on each counts.

Again at Elland Street, the place virtually a decade earlier than his type had successfully been the rationale the younger Dave Seaman left, he loved additional success.

“I went back to a football club…I perhaps thought I did owe them something, and when I went back we managed to right a wrong from my point of view…when we won the league at Leeds.”

Having little question skilled combined feelings watching his former team-mates canter to the League Title the next season, back-stopped magnificently by his alternative, he then loved what was in all probability the best season of his profession on a private degree, profitable the 1992 League Championship at his boyhood membership, once more as an ever-present.

4 years later, on the age of 35, he returned to Arsenal as back-up to his previous rival, and when Seaman was injured even managed to get a few runs within the aspect, together with Arsenal’s first residence win within the North London derby in 5 years. The next season he discovered himself supplanted as deputy to our in a position Seaman by the short-lived excellence of Alex Manninger. Maybe surprisingly for a goalkeeper of his high quality and expertise, he determined to remain on Arsenal’s third-choice goalkeeper till as late because the summer time of 2001, when he retired, aged 40, after 296 appearances for the membership over two spells. He made 4 appearances in that ultimate season, solely conceding as soon as, away at Lazio. On the time, that made him the oldest ever participant within the Champions League, at 39 years and 11 months. A 5-Zero house win over Manchester Metropolis additionally marked him as one in every of solely 4 gamers to have appeared within the English prime flight in 4 separate many years. The others?  Peter Shilton and Sir Stanley Matthews. And, er… Steve Ogrizovic.

John is now a contract goalkeeping coach, together with work at Arsenal, and excursions the nation as an after-dinner speaker. His son, additionally John, was briefly knowledgeable goalkeeper within the decrease leagues.

Finally, it’s onerous to know the place to put him within the Arsenal pantheon. He was by no means thought-about the perfect within the nation, by no means performed for England, and was flanked by two males who have been within the prime three on the earth at their peaks. However equally, he gained extra League titles in his profession than any post-war Arsenal keeper bar David Seaman, and offered the steadiness wanted to deliver The Gunners again to the highest of the tree after 18 years within the slipstream of others.

Maybe the ultimate phrase ought to go to John’s previous goalkeeping coach, Bob Wilson, who, having gained trophies and subsequently coached Pat Jennings and David Seaman, is aware of a bit about keepers:

“John Lukic, I put up with the greats, “