Almanack: George present to enliven past

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The Independent Online
THE ARSENAL Museum, tucked away under the tinfoil-lagged ducts and pipes of the club's new North Bank stand, is everything you would expect of a football club's historical collection. Cardboard cut-out figures hold aloft fake trophies on the top deck of a mock-up Victory Parade bus; a pub-style room houses pub-style machines that ask trivial pursuit- style questions; an oddly emaciated waxwork of George Graham surveys the scene with a glassy basilisk stare.

On weekdays flocks of schoolchildren in miniature football gear - mostly Arsenal, a smattering of Lazio and Manchester United - tear from display to display, pushing buttons, getting behind the wheel of the 'bus', marvelling at the ball used in the 1936 Cup final ('look sir, it's got laces'), chattering about Smith and Wright and Campbell. Their teachers and parents wander behind, standing for longer in front of the sepia portraits and themed displays of the Wonder Years. They stand for longest in front of the 'Double' display, commemorating the triumphs of the immortal team of 1971.

There's Bob Wilson before his television days, Frank McLintock, Ray Kennedy in his prime, but somehow the display is dominated by the photographs of Charlie George: the epitome of arrogance on the pitch, the epitome of wide- boy chic off it - the flares, the shades, the hair. The schoolchildren race on to the next section; their minders pause to discuss the enigmatic striker. Almanack, pretending fascination at the luxuriance of Charlie's '71 sideburns, listens in.

' 'E come frew the Islington schools, the 'Olloway schools, a local lad. You don't get schoolboys like that now, they're all cream puffs, like that Merson . . . '; 'I'd buy 'im for the team now'; 'Nah, 'e only 'ad one good season'; 'What I liked about 'im, Charlie George, 'e done it from outside the box, 35 yards. I tell my lad - 'e plays for Bloomsbury Juniors - you get over the 'alf-way line, you 'ave a crack, just like Charlie George . . . '

And on match days the Arsenal Museum has another exhibit, one that no other football collection can match: Charlie George, in the flesh. 'He's our front-of-house man,' Ian Cook, Arsenal's museum supremo, says. 'He's got a blazer and an Arsenal tie on, and he usually stands next to the memorabilia he donated to the museum. He's still recognisable 20 years on - you can't really miss him.' He is indeed an arresting sight: the same gaunt features and long, lank, hair (though not so much of it in front); but now the tough-guy manner of old is replaced by smiles and handshakes as Charlie plays his audience with charm: reminiscences are encouraged, autographs are signed. The fans - mostly club bond-holders, for whom the museum is a match-day treat - adore him, and wisely keep to themselves any disappointment at the sadly truncated sideburns.

The Charlie George Cafe in Mountgrove Road ('Full English breakfast pounds 2') is oddly bereft of images of its namesake: Laurel and Hardy, Marilyn Monroe and the Queen are on the walls instead. It's comforting to know that the real thing is still doing a roaring trade just around the corner.

(Photograph omitted)