Arsène Wenger not the only legend to leave Arsenal
Joanne O’Riordan: More than a kitman, Vic Akers is a legend of the women’s game
Arsenal kit manager Vic Akers salutes the fans after his final home game before leaving the club during the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium, London. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
You would be forgiven for thinking the sporting world has ended as we know it. A man who, for many years, I thought had a club named every him merely because he was that good, has left after 22 years in charge. While I acknowledge I’m late to the #MerciArsene party (I was consoling a few friends of mine who are Arsenal fans), there was one story behind the Arsenal manager’s departure that was left untold.
We all know it takes a village when building something great, and one unsung hero behind the background who, to be fair, did Trojan work was none other than Vic Akers. Somewhere in the middle of the odes to Arsène, richly deserved, by the way, was a man whose legacy extends so far into the future, only Arsène Wenger could overshadow him.
When I mentioned Vic Akers to my devout Arsenal friends, the usual answer I got was “ah, that’s the kit man right?” Sure, that’s what he did now, but his record is absolutely phenomenal. Some fans may know him as the man who sits by Wenger’s side, dressed in shorts even on the chilliest of days. But, in Wenger’s words, he is a real football connoisseur.
Akers arrived at Arsenal in 1985, as a kit man, and in 1986, he began running the community schemes at the JVC Centre for people of all ages and walks of life. Then in 1987, Akers, backed by David Dein, founded the Arsenal Ladies football team. The result?
Well, Akers is not one to brag, but his achievements were stupendously good. He managed Arsenal Ladies to every major trophy in English women’s football – the FA Women’s Cup ten times, the FA Women’s Premier League Cup ten times and the FA Women’s Premier League eleven times; this includes five League and FA Women’s Cup doubles and four domestic trebles. In fact, they were the first team to ever complete a sextuple in 2006-07, a feat only ever matched by FC Barcelona under Pep Guardiola in 2009-2010.
There is an element of widening the characteristics of a sextuple here, as two of the trophies in this season were the Community Shield and the London FA Cup, which, as the name suggests, is just a regional competition, something like a divisional final in junior football, or the Munster championship if you’re the Kerry footballers.
But, if you were to look and measure success, you have to mention the 2006-07 season because of the sheer domination displayed by the Arsenal Ladies. They won the league, the FA Cup and the Premier League Cup without losing or drawing a single game, an utterly extraordinary 100 per cent domestic record. As well as that, they had an unbeaten run of 108 league games over three seasons, including a 51-game win streak. As my Arsenal pal said to me, they’re not Invincibles, they should be known as the Unstoppables.
They then finished the season by winning the Uefa Women’s Cup (aka the Women’s Champions League) without losing a game. Indeed, the only match they didn’t win was the second leg of the final, against Umea of Sweden, with the 0-0 draw enough to claim the trophy after Kelly Smith’s late goal secured the first leg. In total, during that campaign, Vic Akers and the Arsenal Ladies won all 22 league games, scoring 119 goals and conceding just ten. From an Irish perspective, in that team were goalkeeping hero Emma Byrne, Ciara Grant and Yvonne Treacy.
Even back in 1997, Arsenal let both teams, who had each completed a double, be lauded by fans on open-top buses, an honour rarely seen in the women’s game.
All in all, it was nice to see Vic Akers get some level of appreciation. He retired in 2009 from the Arsenal Ladies post, having won 32 major trophies in total, to care for his elderly mother. He was presented with an OBE in 2010 in honour of his services to football, shortly before his mother passed away after an illness. And on the last home game for both him and Arsène, he was given a hero’s farewell and went into the tunnel knowing he is treasured.
Laurent Koscielny will miss his favourite kit man giving him the Arsenal captain’s armband every time, while other players will miss the fun to be had around Akers during the turmoil which surrounded the club. But, it’s the women’s football world who has also lost a legend.
Although still honorary president of now renamed Arsenal Women, or just Arsenal depending on the context, a bit of history will now be written in the books as Akers takes his place among the legends of the game.