Legendary Arsenal keeper reveals how Alf Fields saved his career
Bob Wilson remembers ‘total gentleman’ former Gunner who has died aged 92
Bob Wilson has paid tribute to the late Alf Fields, who he credits for saving his Highbury career after he nearly quit the club nearly seven years before becoming a Double winner.
Fields was the club’s oldest surviving player up to his death on Monday, a day before his 93rd birthday.
After signing for the Gunners back in 1937, the Canning Town-born defender only made a handful of firstteam appearances due to World War II and a series of knee injuries.
But he was a regular fixture around Highbury for around half a century, serving the club in a variety of backroom roles under managers such as Tom Whittaker, Billy Wright, Bertie Mee and Terry Neill.
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“He was a total gentleman who always, always had time for people,” said Wilson.“Alf was a centre-half in his playing days but injuries took their toll and he never fulfilled his undoubted talents. But, Arsenal being Arsenal, they kept him on the staff when he was forced to retire.
“It was great that they did because he was an exceptional, decent man who was always there. He did a bit of everything and must have helped many players throughout the years.
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“He was a tall man, and someone we all looked up to in more ways than one.”
And it was in the early months of the 1964-65 season, when a young Wilson was growing increasingly disillusioned, that Fields stepped in with some timely advice – in what turned out to be a pivotal moment in the young goalkeeper’s fledgling career.
Wilson, pictured below, now 70, takes up the story: “I had a full blown, 24-carat row with the then manager, Billy Wright, and if it had not been for Alf, who knows what would have happened?
“I was in the second team playing Hendon. We went 2-0 up early on but contrived to lose it 3-2. Collectively, for the entire team, it was a bad night.
“When the team sheet went up for the next game I had been dropped to the third team – the only player to be publicly blamed for what had happened. Well, I was furious and queued up outside the office of the then physio Bertie Mee’s office, where Billy used to meet us.
“I challenged Billy about it. He called in his entire medical team and asked them what they thought – I couldn’t believe he did that. It was like being on trial.
“Well, Alf said the whole team should be dropped. Then Billy accused me of not concentrating, looking in the mirror, and I just lost it. People think of me as a placid, nice guy but I can get angry and I certainly did that day.
“I stormed out, grabbed my stuff, and made for the exit. As I got to the marble halls Alf was waiting for me. He sat me down on a bench in the corner and we talked.
“He told me playing for Arsenal thirds was still better than most first teams – and he was right. But he also told me I should not leave and that I WAS going to make it. He said I had something different, I was brave and that my talent would eventually shine through.
“I got home and my wife also told me to calm down and think about it. I applied for a lecturer’s job at Loughborough University – a job I’d never have got anyway – but I thought about Alf’s words and went back.
“I’m pleased I did because Alf was right, he told me ‘Bob, you WILL make it’ – he had such faith in me. Can you believe I had grabbed my boots and was leaving? I thanked him and, a couple of years later, he was proved right.
“Alf was a war hero. He served in Africa and Italy and I think he had seen things that had made him realise what was important in life. Alf was a fantastic man and a genuinely great servant to the club.
“His role at the Arsenal was all-embracing. He was kit man, sponge man, physio for the reserves for a while. .. he had many roles.”
Fields retired in 1983 but was still a regular fixture at both Highbury and the training ground.
“When I’d see him we’d always have a chat and he was always so lovely. I am sure he was still going to Highbury right up to the end. I know he was there for the final game back in May 2006,” adds Wilson.
Arsenal director Ken Friar, who first met him in 1947, led the tributes this week, saying: “He was a real servant for the club, an extremely nice chap and he had an awful lot to offer.
“Alf had time for everybody, he was Arsenal through and through ... it was so sad to hear the news of his death.”