David O’Leary: I left for Arsenal in economy but I’m coming back on a private plane

Picture by David Holt

Arsenal and Republic of Ireland stalwart David O’Leary is back on Gunners duty in Dublin tonight, working in an ambassadorial for the International Champions Cup meeting with Chelsea at the Aviva Stadium.

It is an emotional occasion for the Dubliner, who left home to join Arsenal 45 years ago, never dreaming he would become such an important figure in the history of the club, still holding the all-time appearance record.

“It’s an amazing club and it’s as big as any around the world,” O’Leary told The42.

“If someone had said to me that a Dublin lad going over at 15 years of age would be coming back 45 years later I wouldn’t have believed them. I went over there, was badly homesick, but wanted to give it a try.

“If you had said to me that I would get into the team, last 20 years there and still be the record appearance holder, I’d probably have had you locked up.

“Here I am now, returning the Arsenal team in an ambassadorial role. I left in economy but I’m coming back on a private plane.”

O’Leary’s early years at Highbury came in an era where Irishmen dominated the Arsenal line-up. He played in the 1979 FA Cup final when Arsenal fielded six Irishmen – Pat Jennings, Sammy Nelson and Pat Rice from the north as well as O’Leary’s fellow Dubs Frank Stapleton and Liam Brady.

O’Leary added: “Frank and Liam were a few years older than me. I saw them as two Dublin lads doing well and that helped me. They were two great players in their own right. I came over with a lad called John Murphy, but he lasted about six months. I was thinking ‘Jesus, am I going to stick this out?’

“It was something I really wanted to do. I’m not sure how I did see it through, but I did even though I found it very hard the first year. It took me a couple of years but I got into the team first at 17 and stayed in there from then on. Luckily, I avoided major injuries and played a lot of games over the 20 years.”