When Arsenal travel to the Stadium of Light this weekend to take on Sunderland, a fairly familiar face for Wearsiders will be sat in the Gunners’ dugout. Following the departure of long-serving Irishman Pat Rice in summer 2012, Steve Bould has, as assistant manager, shared with Arsene Wenger his tactical nous, encyclopaedic defensive knowledge and passion for the club he spent 12 years playing for. Bearing the badge of Arsenal is indeed the image that will be in the minds of most when Bould’s name is mentioned. However, albeit at the final hurdle of his career, the big centre-half captained Peter Reid’s Sunderland side in the 1999/00 season.
Bould made 20 top flight appearances for the Black Cats as we finished a currently unprecedented 7th in the table. And so he will make another return to the stadium he could once call his home ground on Saturday with fond memories of his spell shared with Sunderland fans. Prior to his retirement in 2001, whilst still a member of Reid’s team, the ex-England stopper enjoyed a brilliant career (which was suitably ended at a brilliant club!).
Born in 1962 in Stoke, Bould was brought through the ranks at his hometown club and went on to cement his place as a key cog in the Potters’ defence alongside Lee Dixon, making 211 appearances. Aged 25, the 6’4” defender – as well as team mate Dixon – was brought to Highbury by George Graham in 1988, commanding a now seemingly nominal fee of £390,000.
It was as a Gunner that Bould established his status as one of the best English defenders of recent times. He was a member of the legendary, co-dependant defence which brought the club 2 first division titles just before the beginning of the Premier League era, in ’89 and ‘91. Alongside Dixon, Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn and goalkeeper David Seaman, Bould became an Arsenal legend and was rewarded with the accolade of fans’ player of the season in the last year of the old First Division, 1991-92. He fittingly went on to score Arsenal’s first ever Premier League goal in August 1992, but the early seasons of the new top flight were not as kind to him. Injury and a lack of success blighted Bould’s final years under the supervision of Graham, although his two England caps did come in May 1994.
His debut, against Greece, came at the age of 31 in a 5-0 win, whilst he also figured against Norway 5 days later as England drew 0-0. Both games were friendlies played at Wembley and, despite two clean sheets in two full games, this turned out to be Terry Venables and England’s solitary use of the defender.
"I've got no regrets. If there is a regret - and it's not really a regret - I would have liked to have played for England more than I did, but it wasn't to be. I think I hold the post-war record for the oldest debutant, so at least I went down in history. Steve Bruce didn't get one, so it's not bad company.”
Not bad company at all, alongside another man to have been a leader – albeit of a different kind - at Sunderland. Bould continued to feature regularly at Highbury but the closing seasons of Graham’s reign were hardly laden with silverware.
In came Arsene Wenger in 1996 and the Frenchman managed to get the best out of Bould once again as he featured in a remarkable 33 league games at the age of 34 in Wenger’s first term. He went on to play two more seasons in North London, winning a Premiership/FA cup double in the process, before his distinguished Arsenal career came to an end. After 372 appearances, he remained very complimentary of Wenger;
“He's a great coach, a great thinker, a nice fella and he treated all the older players when he arrived at the club with a lot of respect.”
Arsenal managed to reap a healthy transfer sum of £500,000 for the then 36 year-old as he travelled north to Wearside. In spite of an ongoing toe injury, Reid saw the vastly experienced defender as an important addition following promotion to the Carling Premiership. This physical endurance and exceptionally long career became the stuff of legend as not only did Bould add to the sturdiness of the defence, he also was handed the armband by Reid following legendary Kevin ‘the hatchet’ Ball’s departure to Fulham. In a staggeringly successful return season for Sunderland, the new skipper turned out in 20 league games, broadcasting his strong, powerful yet skilful style play to the fans as he made up for his inevitable lack of pace. Unfortunately, the aforementioned toe problem proved too agitating to ignore and Bould hung up his well-travelled boots in September 2000, rending him unable to play a part in the team’s successive 7th placed finish. Despite this, he was grateful for his brief yet memorable time at the Stadium of Light.
"I would have loved to have played more games for Sunderland because they did me a big favour. They took a bit of a chance, taking somebody at 36, and I think there were a few questions asked at the time. But I hope I've repaid a little bit of that, if not as much as I would have liked."
These were his words upon retirement.
Since putting an end to his playing career, Bould has followed an almost parallel path to Ball, by becoming an influential figure within Arsenal’s academy. As under 18’s manager, he brought two Premier Academy Leagues and one FA Youth Cup to the Emirates. This success led to Wenger handing him the opportunity to succeed Rice’s 16 year spell as assistant manager, and he consequentially will on Saturday return to Sunderland sat alongside one of the most influential men in his football career.