Friday, 16 November 2012

Gooner For a Month

1st August 1980 and a young star in the making makes his debut as an Arsenal player in a friendly against Rangers at Ibrox. 

Clive Allen was from footballing stock.  His Dad, Les Allen, was part of the Spurs double winning side of 1961.  His cousin, Paul Allen, had made his debut as a 17-year old for West Ham in September 1979. 

Clive Allen made his debut for QPR at home to Coventry in April 1979, a month short of his 18th birthday.  He scored a hat-trick on his debut and was announced loud and clear to the world.  QPR were relegated that season and in Division Two the following season, Allen hit 28 goals as Rangers narrowly missed out on coming straight back up.  For Allen, though, things were about to go big. 

1979-80 season had been a busy one for Arsenal.  They’d finished 4th in the League and reached two cup finals, only to lose them both.  They were beaten by West Ham, then a Second Division side, in the FA Cup Final, a match in which Paul Allen starred for The Hammers.  In the Cup-Winners’ Cup they were beaten in a penalty shootout against Valencia, when Graham Rix missed the final kick.

Their league position had been their highest since finishing 2nd to Liverpool in 1972-73 and manager, Terry Neill, had put together a strong strike partnership in Frank Stapleton and Alan Sunderland.

Several First Division clubs had been watching Allen’s progress and Arsenal manager, Terry Neill was the one who got the chequebook out and paid £1.25m to QPR in June 1980.  Allen was the hottest young property in football at that time, and Neill clearly thought he was buying for the future.  He paid a record fee for a teenager.

£1.25m may not seem much these days, but to put it into perspective the £1m mark had only been breached in February 1979 when Brian Clough paid Birmingham City that amount to bring Trevor Francis to Nottingham Forest.  Francis was a 25 year old with 12 England caps so there was a certain amount of proven ability within that valuation, but Neill was buying potential, pure and simple. He was determined to spend to bring the league title back to Highbury, a trophy not seen there since 1971 when it proudly stood alongside the FA Cup. 

Allen was selected in Arsenal’s first pre-season friendly when they met Rangers at Ibrox on 1st August 1980.  He played alongside both Stapleton and Sunderland but none made an impression as Rangers won 2-0.

Allen played in two further friendlies and then just two weeks later he was less of a gooner than a goner.

Arsenal had also been eyeing up one of the finest young full-backs in the country, Kenny Sansom.  Sansom was part of the young exciting Crystal Palace side who won the back-to-back FA Youth Cups  in 1976 and 1977.  This Palace side had been labelled ‘Team of the 80’s’ when they won promotion to the First Division in 1979.  At the end of September 1979, Palace even lead the First Division, only to fade and finish 13th.  Sansom was an integral part of that team and Neill saw him as an ideal replacement for Sammy Nelson who was into his 30’s.

Crystal Palace were managed by Terry Venables and not prepared to give up their prize asset without something in return.  The deal the two clubs struck was that both Allen and Sansom were valued at £1m and so would be swapped.  Arsenal then threw in a young goalkeeper called Paul Barron and Palace added £400,000 to the deal.

So in just over a month, Allen had gone for the payroll at QPR to Arsenal and now Palace, without playing in a competitive match.  He lined up for his new club at league champions, Liverpool on 16th August 1980.  Barron was also in the Palace line-up that day which lost 0-3.  It would set the scene for the season as Palace finished bottom of the table 16pts away from staying up.  Allen ended as top scorer including a hat-trick against Middlesbrough in only his 3rd appearance for The Eagles.

Allen went onto play again for QPR the following season, and then to Tottenham in 1984.  During the 1986-87 season Allen hit 49 goals in all competitions for Spurs.  In the 10 years between 1978 and 1988 Allen scored 141 goals in 266 games.  Arsenal fans will never know what difference he could’ve made to their side during those years.

Kenny Sansom also went onto fulfil his potential.  Until recently, he was the most capped full-back for England playing 86 times and stayed at Highbury till May 1988, making almost 400 appearances.

Clive Allen is also cousin to Martin Allen and elder brother to Bradley Allen.

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