Ahead of Manchester United’s recent Premier League tie with Fulham and on Old Trafford’s 100 year anniversary, I was fortunate enough to interview former Reds and Arsenal striker Frank Stapleton. He spoke fondly about knocking out Barcelona in the 1984 Cup Winners Cup, and how United came back at The Theatre of Dreams to win the tie.
He mentioned his international career with the Republic of Ireland and how he held the record for the most goals scored for his country which stood for over 11 years. He also talked about what it was like to play against Maradona and how Wayne Rooney’s recent heading improvement is a great lesson to young footballers everywhere.Firstly today is the official celebration of 100 years at Old Trafford – how have you been involved in the occasion?
“Well we’ve been doing some interviews with the TV station here, and they’ve been asking us about our memories and what was, our best ever game or the memories of our best ever game here. For me it was the Barcelona match in 1984 when we came back from 2-0 down (first leg) to win 3-0 (second leg) and I got the third goal in the game. It was just about the atmosphere, and that’s what you talk about when you’re talking about a place which is a hundred years old. When you talk about what it entails and what the whole place is about and of course people remember certain matches and that one stands out for a lot of people. When I speak to those who were old enough to be here, they always look back on that game as being the most special one, even now. There’s been some great nights and afternoons here with the team down the years.”
During your career, you played for both Arsenal and Manchester United, how did the two clubs compare off the pitch at that time?
“When I first came here [Manchester United] I’d spent nine years at Arsenal. At that time when I first arrived here, Manchester United wasn’t as efficient as it is today. Compare it to Arsenal at the time, the way it was run behind the scenes. I’ll give you an example they had a ticket office here were people could wander freely in and out of, I don’t mean staff, people who were friendly with staff used to wander in which is absolutely amazing. Think of security today and how where money is around there’s going to be the temptation for people to try and steal it but that was just open and of course just part of it at that period of time. Manchester United caught up and surpassed Arsenal in that respect but the two clubs are fantastic, brilliant, brilliant clubs and I’ve been very privileged to have played for both and to have spent 15 years at two of the best clubs in the world. I’m a very lucky guy and they’re both such great clubs and they’ll go onto be even greater as time goes on.”
Not many players have United and Arsenal on their CV’s, do you still receive a good reception when you go back to London?
“I’ve been there a couple of times, I think if I was to walk out on the pitch I wouldn’t. When I first went back after leaving, I got stick and it continued thereafter, but that’s part and parcel for supporters. They wouldn’t boo you if they didn’t rate you, so I kind of look on that as a kind of compliment. Meeting people wherever, they obviously loathe the fact I ever left Arsenal but the circumstances at the time dictated the move, but they were good memories and I have a positive feeling from the club.”
You had a great international career with the Republic of Ireland, and you held the record of the highest goals scored for over a decade.
“Yes I did, I think for 11 years which was amazing. When I look back on it now I don’t say too much because I think Robbie Keane scored 40 or 41 goals and I only got 20, so he’s blown that out of the water. Niall Quinn actually took the record away from me but then Robbie just went on and, I doubt at that level, it will ever be beaten and he’s well worthy of it. Playing for Ireland has been great but we obviously didn’t have the greatest teams. We had a nucleus of first division or Premier division players but the strength as a team both, at club and international level, was always to do with your squad and what goes from 11 to 22 these days, 11 to 16, 11 to 18 – that dictates how strong you are.”
You obviously had a great career, but who for you were the best players you played with and played against?
“I played a lot of my years with Liam Brady at Arsenal and obviously with the Republic of Ireland, and he created an awful lot of the goals that I got. We had a very good understanding which just came from playing together for a number of years. I suppose I’ve got to say the best player I’ve played against was Maradona even though he didn’t play great against us, he was the greatest player you could come up against and over two games it doesn’t say whether you’re a good or bad player. We know over a period of time that he was absolutely fantastic, and one of the greatest players who played the game.”
To finish, you were a great header of the ball during your career, this is something Wayne Rooney has obviously worked on recently, what do you think of his current form?
“It adds to the array of skills and ability that he’s got and it’s a lesson to youngsters that you can’t actually stand still and be happy with the way things are, you’ve always got to strive to be better, and better, and better, and be the best you can. Wayne Rooney isn’t known for being a good header of the ball, but as we’ve seen over the last few weeks the work that he’s put in on the training ground to improve his heading has helped him and I think seven of his last nine goals have been headers which is fantastic. It just shows what sort of rewards you can get allied to the other abilities he’s got. The fact he’s a very strong runner and he can score goals with both feet along with his heading makes him even more of a dangerous player. Working on things like that is a great lesson to youngsters who are wanting to be professional footballers.”
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