What a lot of bull! Shockingly fictitious story of how the Arsenal bullfighting club almost came about…

The Henry Norris Hour

Henry Norris is the ancient football correspondent of the Bugle newspaper and an ardent Arsenal supporter to boot. He has had somewhat of a sabbatical but he is back in business. Each week he’ll bring you his forthright views on all things AFC…please be advised, it is not for the faint-hearted! And, yes, he DOES hit the bottle early…

Greetings one and all, salutations of the day on this fine Wednesday. Alas, the news today is that the little Spanish full-back, Hector Bellerin (he who chooses to wear a headband, known in modern parlance as an Alice band, I am told), could well be on his way back to its homeland and the clutches of La Liga giants Barcelona. These mutterings reach me as I sit here on a hotel balcony in the south of France. I have been in the region espying on our esteemed guardian Arsene Wenger and sometime sidekick Ivan Gazidis as they pursue transfer targets including Monaco striker Kylian Mbappe. I am working on a scoop but the fallout from last night’s tequila has kicked in and I have a hangover worse than Chris Kiwomya’s show reel.

The route for Spanish players switching back to this to their country of origin is a familiar one for Arsenal supporters; a route with which we had to contend when Cesc Fabregas left us for pastures new all those years ago.

The whole Spanish motif sets my brainbox into gear thinking about a forgotten organisation of yesteryear, the now-defunct Arsenal Bullfighting Association. I was lucky enough to be a patron of this set-up back in 1971 when, along with Double-winning manager Bertie Mee, his No.2 Don Howe and physio Fred Street, we helped kick things off for its founder, full-back Bob McNab, with a charity fundraiser – to get the bull rolling, you might say.

Looking back it was a crazy idea because for one, we didn’t have a bull, or bulls; AND we didn’t have any bullrings in London, either. The idea was mooted that we should create one on the pitch, the hallowed turf at Highbury, during the summer months that year. The ground staff at the time were dead set against the idea, and such was their vehemence in opposition that we had to placate them by agreeing to a clandestine strippers’ night in the Marble Halls’ boardroom after a pre-season friendly against Montrose.

And, of course, the other encumbrance we faced was that we didn’t have any matador outfits. But the lacks of bulls proved most irksome of all the barriers we faced. That’s not to say that efforts weren’t made to secure the services of some of these beasts. A chap by the name of Robert Primrose Wilson, better known to the majority of our readers as ex-Arsenal goalkeeper and BBC television pundit Bob Wilson, took it upon himself to pay a visit to Whipsnade zoo in the pursuit of such an animal, or two. Alas, in all the excitement, Bob had forgotten to take into consideration his journey was one which started on a Bank Holiday straight after training. And so it came about that Wilson’s trip came to a halt in a jam on the A4146 some 30 miles from the aforementioned zoo. It wasn’t to be.

But all was not lost for the ABA at that time; for a plan was afoot. Strike partners of that era John Radford and Charlie George, so influential in the glorious 1971 League and FA Cup double-winning side, had previously holidayed in Spain and were familiar, by some strange quirk, with the country’s most historic bullring, in a little mountain-top town called Rhonda. The Plaza de Toros de Ronda benefits from stunning surrounding scenery with an Andalusian backdrop that includes a rather deep gorge.

As this intrepid duo made a flying visit to Rhonda to try to import some bulls, Mee, who intended well but a bit of a stick-in-the-mud blazer type, started to go off the idea. Rapidly.

Radders and Georgie boy were ordered to return to Blighty bull-less and did so in time to play the second-half of a pre-season friendly at non-league Kettering. All these years later and it occurs to me that a quick visit to Edgar Street to see the fine chaps at Hereford United would have done the job…they have one as a mascot, after all. Ho hum, and pip pip, while I am at it.