The Premier League is back! Did you miss it? To be honest I was glad of the break. Its been a tough start to the season for the fans, with lines in the sand being drawn and allegiances being set. Back Bruce and you’re a happy clapper, think its time for a change and you’re a doom and gloom merchant. Which ever side you find yourself on one thing is for sure, results have to improve and fast.
So on to this week’s Cult Hero. What Steve would give to have a player of this class waiting in the wings, especially given the absence of a key squad member, nice one Titus. It seems everyone and their dog has been discussing this man this week and quite rightly so. The influence and impact that his experience brought to SAFC upon his arrival all those years back should not be underestimated and it is quite right that he is once again being fondly remembered and fully appreciated.
An integral part of that Arsenal defence for many a season before lending his experience to SAFC, ladies and gentlemen… Steve Bould!
Steve started his footballing career with his hometown club Stoke, signing schoolboy papers in 1978 before turning pro in 1980. Bould found his way into the first team 10 months later making his debut in a 3-2 defeat away to that small town in Yorkshire. A loan spell with Torquay United was next up for the young Bould to help gather invaluable first team experience.
Over the next few seasons Bould made the transition from Right Back to Centre Back, a position which was more suited to his style of play and physical attributes. Steve remained with Stoke for the next few years, even following their relegation from Division One in 1985 and a career threatening back injury in 1987. It would take several operations and many months out before he recovered from the ongoing problems with a disc in his spine.
Despite the horrendous layoff things were soon to look up for the 6’4’’ defender as George Graham paid Stoke £390,000 for his services in 1988. Most Arsenal fans had never heard of Bould before his transfer but after he quickly became an integral part of their defensive setup alongside such greats as Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon they were soon cheering his name, especially as they had winning the League Title to celebrate.
Only injury and ultimately the arrival of Martin Keown at Highbury would keep Bould out of the Arsenal side. In 1996 speculation began to mount that his Arsenal career was coming to an end, that his no-nonsense style was at odds with the brand of football that new boss Arsene Wenger was keen to impress upon his side. If anything however this spurred on a revival in Steve’s time at Arsenal and he was part of the squad which won the double in 1997/98 season. As for Wenger’s arrival, far from being detrimental to Bould’s career, the science that the Frenchman brought to the club would be key to prolonging his playing days:
"He’s the reason I managed to play on for so long. I’m so pleased I bumped into him"
Despite new training regimes and dietary constraints, Bould’s Arsenal days were finally coming to an end and the popular defender was coming up to a testimonial but rather than just see out his days on the bench Steve took on a new challenge, newly promoted Sunderland, despite having just signed a new two year deal with the gunners.
Peter Reid paid half a million quid for the vastly experienced centre back in July of 1999, desperate to add leadership and experience to his fledgling side – the 36 year old was the ideal candidate. Bould’s calming influence worked wonders on the likes of Paul Butler, Jody Craddock and the Darrens, messrs Williams and Holloway.
The thing I admired the most about Bould was his desire. It was clear that he hadn’t just signed for one last pay day before he hung up his boots. He really bought into the new challenge and while the body might not have been able to keep up with the rigours of the Premier League at times his footballing brain was still firing on all cylinders. Bould’s arrival was also crucial as Andy Melville had just left the club – a decision which still baffles me.
Whilst we didn’t get to see Bould as much as we would have liked we did see what made him such a popular figure at Highbury. He made the game look easy and had a straightforward yet graceful approach to his play. Steve was a beast in the air, swatting away aerial attacks but was equally as composed with the ball at his feet, whether playing the ball nice and simple across the turf or finding row z when the pressure needed to be eased. An all round, no nonsense, top defender.
It wasn’t long before Bould’s influence on the side was further cemented with the captain’s arm band following the departure of the ever popular, human tackling machine Kevin Ball, who some what emulated the defenders move away for a new challenge at a later stage of his career with Fulham. The new skipper went on to make twenty appearances for the Black Cats in his first season which was successful beyond any fans wildest dreams with Peter Reid guiding the club to a seventh place finish.
All good things, as they say, must come to an end and Steve was only to figure in one game the following season before injuries had taken their toll and the veteran was forced to hang up his boots. Whilst arthritis was blamed as the final straw, it was more likely to be a culmination of the numerous injuries Bould valiantly battled over his magnificent career. Since retirement Steve has turned to coaching having returned to Arsene Wenger’s backroom staff, initially as a youth team coach and more recently as the head coach of the U18’s academy side. Steve’s name has been subject to some debate as of late following Arsenal’s onfield problems with many pundits calling for one of that famous back four to whip the current squad into shape or to replace Pat Rice as Arsene’s number two following Rice’s retirement due to ill health. Whatever the future holds for Bould he will always be fondly remembered by both sets of fans in attendance on Sunday.