An audience with Lee Dixon: Arsenal boys can tell a story

Lee is mullered on three bottles of champagne driving through Liverpool with his Australian uncle. Arsenal have just won the 1989 league title at Anfield on the last day of the season, and blurry eyed, without too much thought, Lee stumbles into a local fish and chip shop still wearing his Arsenal blazer. Suddenly noticing the huddle of angry Liverpudlian faces he mumbles to his uncle something about dying. “Four fish and chips please,” he says to the chippy, all lily-livered with his head bowed. “EXTRA CHIPS FOR YOU LAD, I’M AN EVERTONIAN!”Luckily, I’ve been brought along as a guest with my competition winning friend to An Audience With Lee Dixon in the media room at the Emirates. He is a great story-teller and has everybody in stitches when he recounts the night Arsenal stole the league title from Kenny Daglish’s Liverpool side. Dressed in a thin grey round-neck jumper it’s a much more animated ‘Dicko’ than the one we are used to seeing on Match of the Day.
Lee has to keep turning to the host for the evening, Tom Watt, to ask what the question was. What with so many solid gold memories it’s no wonder he can waffle on. Somebody asks him what his first impressions were of Arsene Wenger? By the pause and eyebrow press-ups Lee is giving, the old Arsenal boys clearly thought this Frenchman was a bit of a loony.
He remembers the third game under Wenger where they were one down at half-time to Liverpool. Having said nothing, Le Professeur claps his hands with about a minute before the team go out, draws a few crosses on the chalkboard, prattles some orders off and waves the players away in a more confused state than they already were. The team go on to win 3-1 and in his best French accent Lee says how Arsene came in afterwards claiming “I told jou so.”
For that, Lee says Wenger is a genius. He firmly believes it too and pokes a jibe at his colleague at the BBC, Alan Hansen, who he says has nothing but animosity for Arsenal and who can’t wait for them to slip up so he can pick at Wenger’s faults. In fact, in these comfortable surroundings, Lee comes across much more aggressive than his job on television allows for.
Mocking a spitting action at the floor, he hates Richard Keys and those at Sky Sports, and then runs amuck of the “thick forwards” of his generation who couldn’t hold their run, making Arsenal’s illustrious off-side trap child’s play. He calls Adrian Chiles “gormless” and even gets a laugh from the audience at the expense of the poor camera-man who he calls “a ringer for Steven Hughes.”
Maybe Lee has earned that position though, explaining how hard it was for him when he first arrived at Arsenal from Stoke in 1988. Early days of piggy-in-the-middle with his new team-mates which would last for 20 minutes, the city, and living in hotels in St Albans with his wife and son clearly made Lee a tougher competitor though.
David Ginola knows this all too well, as Lee leaps out of his chair demonstrating how he and the old Arsenal rear guard of Nigel Winterburn, Martin Keown, Tony Adams and Steve Bould would smash the French maestro up in the air. This was Lee’s longest running battle which started in the early 1990s when Ginola was playing for Paris Saint-Germain and ended with the Frenchman planting an elbow on Lee, resulting is thousands of pounds worth of damage to a crown.
I can sense this rough-neck attitude is what Lee misses in the modern game because his view of himself is of a old-time player with no first touch, little in the way of pace but somebody who lived for the tackle. Conceding to the fact that today football is “unrecognisable” compared to the one he grew up with, Lee isn’t hiding his hankering for the new regime, one which would also have him up at 8am to stretch on match-days. Classic Wenger!
Sure to make the point that it’s not a criticism of Arsenal, he explains how Pat Rice is left trying to pass on the traditions of the club, as it were when he started out. Lee recalls being practically bullied by Tony Adams, Paul Davies, Michael Thomas and Rocky Rocastle in the changing room before his first north London derby, to make sure he didn’t let the side down. That type of player he explains is missing, and what makes Arsenal more unrecognisable today than any other club. Even Wenger has reverted from his early philosophy of playing only 4-4-2 he adds.
Still, born in Manchester and bearing some very northern traits, Lee is proud to claim his allegiance to Arsenal, and of course his bias. One guy at the back attacks the current squad’s lack of strength in depth. Watt almost explodes pointing out the fact that Arsenal are in the hunt for the title with seven games left. Lee agrees, although does believe Manuel Almunia needs to feel more pressure as number one, suggesting a new keeper would be his first move in the summer.
Lee’s last move is to sign autographs and pose for photos with everybody. There is much more to this analyst – I learnt it’s best not to call him a ‘pundit’ – than meets the eye, other than his even-handed image on Match of the Day. Lee is actually an Arsenal bigot, story-teller, actor and comedian, fully loaded with a raw emotion for the Gunners.
Despite him claiming the 1998 squad would be his one team to take into the final day of a league season needing a win – shooting down Watt’s choice of 1991 – there was a sense of hope that the current one could emulate those greats of the past. If they are to win the league this year, a little bit of Lee Dixon’s attitude might just be what makes it happen.

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