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PIERS MORGAN: The Arsenal love affair that started with Charlie George and a touch of danger

My team is Arsenal and it goes back to 1971 when we won the Double and I was six years old. Charlie George scored that great 25-meter screamer in Wembley.

And that was it. I was in love. With Arsenal. With Charlie. With Frank McLintock. With Bob Wilson. With George Graham. With Pat Rice. It was the start of a 49-year love affair, with all the pain love brings.

It was the beginning of color television and Arsenal had beautiful yellow and blue shirts. I signed such a shirt by Charlie, one of my precious possessions.

People talk about the past 20 years like we never had a great team before; that ’71 team that won the Double was a really great side, back to front. One of the largest in Arsenal history.

My team is Arsenal and it all started with the (right) screamer of Charlie George in Wembley in 1971

My team is Arsenal and it all started with the (right) screamer of Charlie George in Wembley in 1971

I have been in love with Arsenal ever since. The complication is that my dad is a lifelong Spurs fan!

I have been in love with Arsenal ever since. The complication is that my dad is a lifelong Spurs fan!

I have been in love with Arsenal ever since. The complication is that my dad is a lifelong Spurs fan!

The complication was that my dad was and still is a lifelong Spurs fan. He ran a pub in Sussex and kept his eyes off the ball; before he knew it …

Charlie George was so loved. There have been a lot of great players, but when it comes to the most beloved, it’s usually people like Charlie George or David Rocastle or Ian Wright or Ray Parlor or Martin Keown. Not necessarily the one you may think, but the ones who have a real connection with the fans.

Charlie was the North Bank fan who scored the winning goal in the FA Cup final. The greatest cup competition in world football. The Wembley FA Cup days were so beautiful. It was a national event, building up, over 20 million people all day long.

One of the saddest things about modern football is that my boys and my daughter – they are all Arsenal fans – never experienced what the FA Cup meant to my generation.

Arsenal captain Frank McLintock holds up the FA Cup on that fateful day at Wembley

Arsenal captain Frank McLintock holds up the FA Cup on that fateful day at Wembley

Arsenal captain Frank McLintock holds up the FA Cup on that fateful day at Wembley

Charlie George was so loved by the loyal Arsenal - he had a real connection with the fans

Charlie George was so loved by the loyal Arsenal - he had a real connection with the fans

Charlie George was so loved by the Arsenal believers – he had a real connection with the fans

That ¿71 team was a really great side, front to back. One of the largest in Arsenal history

That ¿71 team was a really great side, front to back. One of the largest in Arsenal history

That ’71 team was a really great side, back to front. One of the largest in Arsenal history

My mom remembers being a crazy Arsenal fan within hours. All the posters on my walls went up. I had Charlie, Wilson, McLintock, the entire Double-winning team.

The first game I went to was in 1972: Arsenal v Manchester United. We won 3-0 at Highbury with goals from Ray Kennedy, John Radford and Peter Simpson. I was seven years old.

I remember the smell, the sound. There were no stadiums with all seats. I was on the North Bank with my dad and the crowd waved and the beer was everywhere and the smell of the hot dogs …

I recently watched Fever Pitch with my daughter, who is eight, so she could get a sense of how different it was and understand how football was. Colin Firth’s character as a child was like me as a child. An amazing experience; it was not as clinical and clean and safe and comfortable. Hooliganism was widespread.

It was strangely exciting. More dangerous and therefore more exciting. I wouldn’t say it’s a shame it’s cleaner and safer, it’s different. I have a photo that is very special.

When we won the Invincibles year competition on White Hart Lane in 2004, I ended up in the boardroom with my dad.

Everyone before Spurs had clearly left. The doors opened and Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice entered. I grabbed a bottle of wine and we sat for an hour talking about football. It was probably the last time I spoke to Wenger, but it was special!

Undoubtedly, the longer Wenger remained as a manager and the longer it went on, the sadder it got. In the end, I didn’t see anyone who would shed a tear for him.

I was on White Hart Lane when Arsene Wenger's Invincibles won the Premier League title

I was on White Hart Lane when Arsene Wenger's Invincibles won the Premier League title

I was on White Hart Lane when Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles won the Premier League title

That day in White Hart Lane was probably the last time I spoke to Wenger, but it was special!

That day in White Hart Lane was probably the last time I spoke to Wenger, but it was special!

That day in White Hart Lane was probably the last time I spoke to Wenger, but it was special!

I ended up in the boardroom with my father, while everyone had left for Spurs, of course

I ended up in the boardroom with my father, while everyone had left for Spurs, of course

I ended up in the boardroom with my father, while everyone had left for Spurs, of course

I never thought that day would come. It was a sad, long-drawn-out end of his time at Arsenal, and looking back, I would rather have gone seven or eight years ago.

I, like quite a few fans, had discovered that he had lost that lead. Yes, we have won some FA Cups, but they are not the same in terms of the appreciation of that tournament by the best players and coaches.

We have not taken part in the competition since 2004-05, so I found Wenger to continue a third too long. It was sad for the club, it dragged us down and it’s hard to get back up.

It was sad for Wenger. It was not tinged with the same regret as when Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United as Premier League champion. I saw that Wenger didn’t want to leave rock bottom, like a drug addict with the next high around the corner.

Undoubtedly, the longer Wenger remained as a manager and the longer it went on, the sadder it got

Undoubtedly, the longer Wenger remained as a manager and the longer it went on, the sadder it got

Undoubtedly, the longer Wenger remained as a manager and the longer it went on, the sadder it got

Enough time has passed now that I can look back on those first eight years of his management and say it was the best period in the club’s history.

The football he gave us was absolutely beautiful. When he and Ferguson got together, it was one of the greatest battles in football history.

For eight years he was Arsenal’s greatest manager and transformed the club. He gave us a unique brilliant football brand and was the best manager in the world at the time. He changed English football.

Mikel Arteta watches and sounds the role. He is doing the right things. I like his style, I personally like him.

And since he has no managerial experience, he was impressive. I am confident that if he gets the money, he can make Arsenal compete again. But does he get the money? Can he keep a player like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

If you are Aubameyang and in your thirties, you should watch this as Robin van Persie did: I am nearing the end of my career, where am I going to win trophies? If not at Arsenal, we will lose players like him as we did.

Mikel Arteta watches and sounds the role. He is doing the right things. I like his style

Mikel Arteta watches and sounds the role. He is doing the right things. I like his style

Mikel Arteta watches and sounds the role. He is doing the right things. I like his style

But can Arteta convince Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is in his thirties, to stay with Arsenal?

But can Arteta convince Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is in his thirties, to stay with Arsenal?

But can Arteta convince Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is in his thirties, to stay with Arsenal?

If he left now, it would be a devastating blow to the club. We have talented young players who are very promising, such as Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney.

I much prefer to see them in the team than Mesut Ozil. But if you lose your talisman, you have advanced one or two steps, but are back 10.

For all Arsenal fans, we’re all in this together. It is often very painful, but there is no doubt that in the 49 years that I have followed the club, I have had great moments.

We should always cherish the great moments because, as we know now, the bad times are never far away.

Ronaldo is the best. He said I had great abs!

My favorite player outside Arsenal? Cristiano Ronaldo.

I went to Turin … he said I have great abs. To say it is not something I often hear is an understatement. We have become quite good friends.

I don’t have a favorite foreign team, but I do have a favorite foreign player. I think he’s the best the game has ever played. Wet Wednesday in Bolton and you need a goal to save your life, I would put money on Cristiano.

For 16 years we have had him and Lionel Messi at the peak of their powers. Ronaldo has done it on the international stage, in the Champions League and in four different countries, while Messi has never left Barcelona. It’s Ronaldo to me.

Cristiano Ronaldo (right) is the best who played the game ... and he said I have great abs!

Cristiano Ronaldo (right) is the best who played the game ... and he said I have great abs!

Cristiano Ronaldo (right) is the best who played the game … and he said I have great abs!

Listen to Piers Morgan’s Best XI with Jonny Owen and Friends on talkSPORT on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

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