Arsenal Change

Arsenal David Tossell, Author

Jon Sammels was the first footballer I ever saw naked. To this day, he remains my favourite player. I like to think the two are unconnected.

My father was a referee and, on being appointed to Arsenal’s reserve match against Coventry early in 1968, asked permission to take me into my favourite club’s inner sanctum before kick-off.

The first sight that greeted me was Sammels, a midfielder with a rocket shot and the unfortunate habit of frequently frustrating the Highbury crowd, stooping to pull on a jock strap. Being only seven years old and unaware of potential awkwardness, I offered the first page of a pristine autograph book. I can’t recall if he signed first or completed his jock-strap manoeuvres.

For all kinds of childish reasons, Sammels continued to stand out in my eyes. I’d never before seen anyone spell Jon without the middle ‘h’, and in my Soccer Stars stickers collection he modelled a fashionable mod haircut as opposed to the severe side-partings and lengthening sideburns of just about everyone else in my album. In his honour, my Fantasy team has carried the name Jon Sammels’ Haircut for several years.

He scored the finest goal I have ever seen live, a rasping shot against Manchester United in the autumn of 1969 that got further from goal every time I replayed it in my mind. When I discovered it lurking decades later on an Arsenal history DVD I was afraid to watch it for fear that it would turn out to be a simple finish from about 12 yards. Imagine my relief when my hero rasped home his angled left-foot shot from 40 yards.

His decisive goal – another blistering finish – to clinch Arsenal's Fairs Cup final comeback against Anderlecht in 1970 should have earned him lifelong legendary status. But next season the barracking got so bad that manager Bertie Mee was unable to play him at home and he remained an outsider as the Double was achieved.

The say you shouldn't meet your heroes, but when I embarked upon a book about that remarkable 1970-71 season it was Sammels, a retired driving instructor in Leicester, I visited first.

To my delight, he spoke openly, poignantly and lovingly of Arsenal and the regrets of his time there; had his charming wife make us lunch; and was even enough of a gentleman to tell me (whether true or not) that he remembered my dad.

Over the course of two hours I became his biggest fan all over again. And he even kept his clothes on.

David Tossell

David is a sports writer and the author of 11 sports books, 4 of which have been short-listed in the British Sports Book Awards.

Follow David on Twitter @David_Tossell

Click here to order any of David's books

1 Comment (Add your voice)

This makes me very happy. What a player and style icon!

– David Sammels, February 15 2014 at 13:13

Add a comment