Monday, 19 November 2007

Arthur Albiston - Player Profile

A veteran defender, Arthur joined the Blues during the twilight years of a remarkable footballing career. His playing career began as a schoolboy playing in his home City for Edinburgh and District Schools. From there the talents of the youngster were immediately recognised and he promptly signed as a trainee for Manchester United in July 1972. Arthur turned professional two years later in July 1974 and just three months later, he made his first team debut on 9 October 1974 against Manchester City in a League Cup tie, at Old Trafford in front of 55,000 spectators. His League debut came six days later at Portsmouth in a 0-0 draw.

However, it was Albiston's F.A. Cup debut which was more notable than most, as it was made in the 1977 cup final tie, against arch rivals Liverpool. He replaced the injured Stewart Houston, who had damaged his ankle two weeks prior to the cup final. Arthur was only 19, with just a handful of first-team appearances behind him, when injury to Stewart Houston presented him with his big chance. He came into the side towards the end of 1976/77 and was immediately pitched into the FA Cup Final against Liverpool. He confounded critics who predicted that he would be a weak link, that the Merseyside flyer Steve Heighway would cut him to ribbons, and he played an accomplished part in a stirring victory. As well as locking up the left flank of the Red Devils' rearguard, he found time to attack on the overlap, leaving England internationals Phil Neal and Tommy Smith staggering in his wake on one scintillating run that was marred only by a wayward cross.

After the game, amid the inevitable euphoria, Arthur remained commendably level-headed, and it was typical of the generous youngster that he offered his winner's medal to the unfortunate Houston. Though much touched by the gesture, Stewart declined with thanks.

Once in the team Arthur remained a fixture for a decade. The reason was plain: he was good at his job. He had speed, assured control with both feet, first-class distribution and a canny tackle. His only weakness was lack of height which occasionally left him exposed against big strikers, especially when defending deep crosses to the far post. Arthur played in four cup finals collecting three winners' medals, a club record at the time.

Arthur's talents were recognised at international level. He realised his dream of playing for his native country early on, representing Scotland at youth, schoolboy, under-15 and under-21 levels before going on to collect 14 full caps for the Scottish national team.

Arthur Albiston was never lauded as a superstar, he never figured in a transfer saga and his name was never tainted by even the faintest whiff of controversy. But when it comes to the final reckoning, when all the media hype is cast aside for the meaningless pap it truly is, and when the player's real worth down the years is reviewed, there will be few names that stand comparison with that of the plucky little Scottish left-back.

For a start, only five men - Bobby Charlton, Bill Foulkes, Alex Stepney, Tony Dunne and pre-war goal-scorer Joe Spence played more senior matches for the Reds. While statistics alone can mislead, such a record speaks volumes of a consistency and loyalty beyond reproach.

He left Manchester United in August 1988, on a free transfer, after making a massive 464 (18) appearances scoring 7 goals. When he was allowed to join West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer at the age of 31, he was as fit and mobile as ever - and, arguably, some supporters still saw him as the best left-back at Manchester United. After a season at the Hawthorns, Albiston had spells with Dundee United, Chesterfield (loan), ourselves and Molde before retiring from the game.

Although he didn't have the greatest of times with us at the Deva Stadium, the Manchester United legend will be remembered for his superior commitment and drive. Now involved with the under 15's at Manchester United's school of excellence, Arthur is proud to have been such a loyal servant to the Old Trafford club. This can clearly be seen when between March 1980 and April 1983 Arthur Albiston made 126 consecutive league appearances for the Red Devils, how many modern day players can boast such a record? Football needs more men like Arthur Albiston.

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