Arsenal v City this weekend. We’ve had a few players in common down the years, and we’ve picked an interesting quintet out for you…
1: Jay Simpson
Stocky striker of the “sticks his bum out” type so loathed by defenders, who was close to proper progression from the ranks at Arsenal – two goals in three League Cup appearances and loads of plaudits and goals in various loan spells – prior to his coming our way on a free in the summer of 2010, one of Nigel Pearson’s first acquisitions as he began clearing up the debris from Premier League relegation.
Simpson took a while to settle and was never prolific, but once Sone Aluko arrived under Steve Bruce in 2012, they formed a genuinely artistic, watchable and successful strike partnership, showcasing an instant understanding as City gained promotion under the new manager at first go. Highlights included the first goal of Bruce’s reign in a 1-0 win over Brighton, and one from the byline that looked a physical impossibility as City beat Wolves at the Circle.
He was the headline-maker among the released players that summer, with 13 goals in 86 senior appearances. He went to Leyton Orient for three years where his scoring record was close to one in two in league football, and is now in the USA. He’s still only 28.
2: David Rocastle
An all-time hero of Arsenal and a rare breed of Arsenal footballer whom fans of all clubs could admire. Rocastle was the skilful winger with exquisite touch, strength, vision and incisiveness that played a key role in Arsenal’s rise to the top under George Graham, winning two League titles and a League Cup, picking up a smattering of England caps along the way, before he was insanely sold to Leeds United.
His time at Elland Road wasn’t a success, and spells at Manchester City and Chelsea were equally frustrating and injury-hit, and somewhat inexplicably, he joined a struggling City on loan, with Mark Hateley using his contacts to get us someone who was probably the most skilled player we’d ever seen in the black and amber, despite the level the rest of our team was at.
Rocastle played 11 times, scored once, galvanised everyone who was there to witness his performances, and then left again. His last game for the Tigers – a home defeat to Chester on Boxing Day 1997 – was his last game in English football, aged just 30. Three and a half years later, he had succumbed to non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and all of football mourned him.
3: John Roberts
Gangly Welsh international defender who impressed enough at Swansea and Northampton in the late 60s to earn a move to Bertie Mee’s Arsenal, where he earned a title medal in 1971, although didn’t make their victorious FA Cup final squad. Forever behind Frank McLintock and Peter Simpson in the pecking order, Roberts went to Birmingham City in 1972 and then back to Wrexham, before finishing his professional career with City, signing in 1980.
By now 34, Roberts stayed for two seasons but injury meant he only played in the first of those as City were relegated to the Fourth Division under his former international manager Mike Smith. His last game came in January 1981, when he also scored his only goal for the club in a 3-2 loss against Charlton.
Roberts went back to Wales to play non-league football and subsequently worked as a driving instructor. He died last year, aged 69.
4: Vito Mannone
Reliable, fierce-looking Italian goalkeeper who came on loan twice from Arsenal’s reserves and, with City fans wondering if we were ever going to sign a keeper of our own again, the most impressive of the loanees we had in between Boaz Myhill’s sale in 2010 and Allan McGregor’s arrival in 2013.
Mannone’s consistency was his greatest asset and it was irritating that City couldn’t get him permanently due to lack of funds, because Arsenal were quite content to sell him – and did so, to Sunderland, where he remains to this day. He fended off relegation twice before losing his place to youngster Jordan Pickford, but is now back in the team.
5: John Hawley
Still a name of folklore in the game thanks to his apparent status as football’s last amateur, owing to his arrangement with City in the 1970s that saw him score goals for his bus fare home while training as an antique dealer in the family business.
Withernsea-born Hawley finally turned pro in 1976, four years after his City debut. He joined Leeds in 1978 following City’s relegation to the Third Division and he was a moderate success at Elland Road at a time when they were in sharp decline. He only stayed there a year before going to Sunderland, scoring a hat-trick in his first game, and then joining Arsenal in 1981, where he was not a success.
The North Bank got on his back and he returned for a loan at City in 1982 before joining Bradford, where he was on the pitch during the 1985 fire at Valley Parade and took part in the rescue of fans. He ended his career at Scunthorpe before returning to the antiques trade, which he still does to this day while also doing hospitality gubbins at the Circle on matchdays.
When Hawley joined Arsenal, it was the first – and, as it turned out, only – time that Terry Neill had signed one of his former charges at Boothferry Park.