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Cult hero: Arsenal legend Charlie George

Published: Monday 20 October 2014, 11.06CET
In a series on the game's cult heroes, Champions Matchday recalls Charlie George, whose goals helped fire Arsenal FC into the European Cup for the first time in 1971/72.

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Published: Monday 20 October 2014, 11.06CET

Cult hero: Arsenal legend Charlie George

In a series on the game's cult heroes, Champions Matchday recalls Charlie George, whose goals helped fire Arsenal FC into the European Cup for the first time in 1971/72.

A north London lad who lived the dream of playing for the club he supported as a boy, Charlie George made his debut for Arsenal FC in 1969 as a skilful 18-year-old forward. Later converted to a raiding midfielder, he went on to make 179 appearances for the club, scoring 49 times.

A tall, slim, flamboyant figure who could take care of himself, George had exceptional control and vision. "To see him receive a ball amid a ruck of defenders and escape them with the skill of a Houdini is delightful," cooed Brian Glanville in the Sunday Times.

The goal that sealed George's status as a club legend came in the 1971 FA Cup final. With the score against Liverpool FC tied at 1-1 in extra time, the exhausted 20-year-old scored a tremendous drive from 20m to secure Arsenal's first league and cup double. His response was to fall spreadeagled on his back, his arms outstretched above his head – one of the iconic images of the era.

Four months later, Arsenal kicked off their debut European Cup campaign with a 3-1 win against Strømsgodset IF in Norway. George played in five of the six matches, scoring once in a 3-0 home victory against Grasshopper Club, before the Gunners lost to eventual winners AFC Ajax in the quarter-finals.

The North Bank fans loved George as one of their own. After the victory against Liverpool, he remembers having a pork pie in the team bath before getting the bus home with the supporters. Idolised because of his flair and individualism – 'I love Charlie George' badges sold well – he was mobbed by teenage girls. 

A rebellious character who simply did what he thought was right, George often clashed with his manager, Bertie Mee, who wanted a greater work rate. Injuries compounded the problem and in 1975, George was sold to Derby County FC who had just won the English league title. In October 1975, he scored a hat-trick as the Rams beat Real Madrid CF 4-1 in the European Champion Clubs’ Cup. Sadly for George – and Derby – the Blancos won the return 5-1.

This article appears in the latest issue of Champions Matchday, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League. Champions Matchday is available in print and in digital format, where the first three issues of this campaign are free of charge. You can follow the magazine on Twitter @ChampionsMag.

Last updated: 20/10/14 11.41CET

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