Tribute to Big Willie Young – Arsenal’s fiery Scots defender bought from Spurs








Willie Young was one of the few players who have made the move across North London and made a success of it.

He started his senior career at Aberdeen, making 133 appearances and scoring 10 goals, before moving south to join another small club, the Spuds in 1975, under Terry Neill. During the summer while at Aberdeen, he worked on the oil rigs to make up his earnings.

In the two seasons he was at WHL he played 64 games and scored 3 goals, but no titles or silverware was forthcoming and, when Neill moved to manage the Arsenal, he then signed the towering 6ft-3inch defender with different outcomes for both North London clubs.

From 1977 until 1981, “Big Willie Young” played 170 league games and scored 11 goals for the Gunners, before moving on to Nottingham Forest.

He played in three successive cup finals for us, a 1-0 defeat to Ipswich, the next year that wonderful 3-2 win against Man United and the loss to WHU by 1-0. He also played in the 1980 Euro Cup Winners Cup loss to Valencia on penalties 5-4.

Willie was a permanent figure at centre half until the 1981/1982 season, where he lost his place to Chris Whyte.

Having played a total of 237 games in all competitions and scoring 19 goals, he joined Forest for £50,000.

But it was the switch across north London in 1977 that makes Willie such an important part of our history and also the Spuds, perhaps in a much bigger way.

It all came about when Willie was sent off in one of our many derbies that included fisticuffs. The then Spud manager, Keith Burkenshaw, had already had some spats with Willie and this game was the beginning of the end for Willie, as he was dropped – Willie even says that he was told by the manager that he didn’t want Scottish players in his team”!!!

Even though he had cost the Spuds a reported £176,000 when moving from Aberdeen, when The Arsenal put in a bid of £80,000, it was gratefully accepted – and two months later, joy of joys, the Spuds were relegated.

However, his debut for his first really “big club” didn’t go to well, as he gave away a penalty and we lost to Ipswich Town.

Interestingly (following Dan’s great article about mental health and abuse) he recalls being approached by three irate Arsenal fans who gave him some terrible abuse – he suggested they leave him alone or there would be consequences. As with all bullies, they left in a hurry, but Willie says he has never forgotten that episode (shades of Arsene Wenger and the same sort idiots at the train station, but I digress).

He also believes that he was finally accepted as an Arsenal player following an accidental injury he received from Jimmy Rimmer, our goalkeeper at that time. A mistimed punch for the ball, split open Willie’s forehead and he had to leave the pitch for treatment, with bandages applied.

This, of course, had to happen at Highbury against the Spuds, but the injury didn’t deter Willie, as his first action when coming back into the fray, was a flying header. The gooners roared their appreciation and Willie says that from that moment on he believes “I wasn’t ex-Spuds player anymore; I was an Arsenal man.”

Another interesting thing I found out, was the 1979 cup final against United, where he believes that their equaliser actually came off his foot – although he is not sure if it would have gone in anyway… but that was never picked up by the cameras or the media. It was Willie himself who disclosed this in an interview years later.

Winning the cup that day was, according to Willie, “the greatest day of my career. I had left for Arsenal and become a FA Cup winner. It is fair to say I had a few beers that night.”

***Leaving the spuds, seems to be the only way to win trophies… just ask Sol Campbell and Pat Jennings***

His lowest spot seems to be the following year when we lost to WHU at Wembley in another FA cup final.
Paul Allan was in the clear with only Jennings to beat and Willie stopped him in his tracks with a terrible challenge. We all expected him to be sent off, as did Young himself. However, he was given a yellow card with the referee stating, “There was no malice there, it wasn’t dangerous”!!!

I sat there dumbfounded that he had got away with such a cynical foul, but we lost anyway, so it didn’t matter in the end.

Willie maintains that if it wasn’t for Liverpool having such a dominant side while he was at The Arsenal, there would have been more FA cup wins and league trophies, and he also blames them for the WHU final loss, as we had to play them four times in the semi-final before getting to Wembley.

Needless to say, one of our favourite chants were “We’ve got the biggest Willie in the land” and can any of the old fogies out there remember what came after the title singing chant that I started this article with?

Willie Young is one of only eight players to have featured in a north London derby for both clubs, the eight players are: Willie Young- Emmanuel Adebayor -Laurie Brown – David Jenkins – Jimmy Robertson – Pat Jennings – Sol Campbell – and William Gallas.

What makes Willie Young so special for me though is the fact that, when he left the Spuds, they lost a lot of money in the transfer agreed and two months later they were relegated – OH HAPPY DAYS!

Thanks, Big Willie, if only I had been born with the same attributes you had, my footballing dreams (and possibly others) would have been truly fulfilled!!!


Thanks to Daily Cannon, The Scotsman newspaper and Wikipedia for the stats and information.


  1. Phil says:

    @Ken1745- another brilliantly researched and presented article.
    I clearly remember when Terry Neil brought the player over from “ The Dark Side” and I’m not wrong in saying that his was not a signing that had the supporters rejoicing. You clearly state that the Spuds were relegated that season and Big Willie was a part of that defence. But he proved his doubters wrong very quickly and proved to be the ideal partner for a young David O’Leary in a pretty decent Arsenal team.
    The Paul Allen tackle was a disgrace, but what was he supposed to do? We were 1-0 down, the player clean through, it was either that or certain defeat. He had no choice, but how he stayed on the pitch is still talked about, mainly by the elder Hammers, who lets face it, don’t actually have too much else to talk about, do they?
    Keep them coming Ken, and I hope all the younger fans on this site appreciate that we really did have some characters in the years gone by.

  2. SueP says:

    I enjoyed reading your article Ken. My husband has taped loads of old Arsenal cup games and I watched the WHU game a couple of nights ago. That tackle was a definite red, but back then it was very different and crunching tackles were not so often given a card

    I can’t imagine the current generation going off to the oil rigs , or similar, to earn extra money in the summer!!

  3. jon fox says:

    Another great article KEN – and beautifully put together for someone who, according to PHIL, was born in 1745( have you ever met Bonnie Prince Charlie BTW?). I’d have Willie back like a shot today, rather than the three mistake ridden regulars we have, even though he was more of a warrior and a tough guy and rather less of an actually accomplished CB.

    I also could not fail to notice that Spurs are not your most well loved opponents! And if that is not the understatement of ALL TIME, I don’t know what is! That is an amazing coincidence too because ,incredible though it may seem, millions of Gooners world wide have precisely the same view of Spuds. Who’d have thunk it!!! A distinctly rear mirror view too for almost ours and theirs entire existence.

  4. Alanball08 says:

    You cant be serious a john mac would say
    6″2 eyes are blue willie young is after you
    Had a heart of an ox but come on jon..he was totally pants
    He couldn’t trap a bag of cement
    God bless him he did try

    Every one please Keep well and safe

  5. Marty says:

    I remember the game when he was sent off for Spurs against us, I think he had an altercation with Frank Stapleton ( I could be wrong, memory a bit hazy ) and I was amazed that we signed him soon after, but he was a whole hearted player who would always give 100%.

    1. ken1945 says:

      Marty, you are 100% correct and the ruckus that followed was great to watch as well wasn’t it?

      I personally liked both Willie and Ian Ure, they always gave 100% and in those days, were both more than adequate for the team we had, in my opinion…as their medals prove.

      1. Phil says:

        Ehh Ken- other than Big Willie winning the FA Cup in 1979, am I not right in understanding everything else they both collected were runners up medals. Or am I missing something?

      2. jon fox says:

        Ken , Ian Ure and a medal? I think you’re in the wrong decade. Ian Ure won nothing with us and Big Willie just the one FA CUP win. So what medals(plural)? If you mean runners up medals, most players care nothing much for them. The term “medals” means they win something surely?

  6. Kenny Rolfe says:

    Sorry Ken, thought Willie young was useless, I like Centre Halves that could play, big heart but that wasn’t enough for me however Ian Ure, now he could play. One of the first footballing Centre Halves. Big long ball down the middle, Willie Young would head it straight back, no thought where it was going, however Ian Ure would take it on the chest, on to the knee and then look for a pass. The game against Swindon ruined Ure’s legacy but he was a class Centre Half.

  7. ken1945 says:

    Gentlemen, Ian Ure won three full International caps and two league cup runner up medals during his Arsenal career.

    While at the club, our league positions were 8th 13th 14th 7th 9th 4th 12th: Average = 9.5
    Before that? 5th 12th 3rd 13th 11th 10th 7th 8th: Average = 9.8

    While at the club our FA cup results were 5th 4th 3rd 5th 5th 5th 3rd.
    The seven seasons before? 6th 3rd 5th 3rd 3rd 4th 5th

    Willie Young honours with The Arsenal, a FA cup winners medal in 1978/79 and two runner up medals 77/78 and 79/80, plus a runner up medal in the 79/80 season in the european cup winners cup.

    While at the club, our league position was 5th 7th 4th 3rd. Average = 4.7
    The four seasons before he arrived? 10th 16th 17th 8th. Average = 12.7

    In the FA cup while with us? Final Final Final 3rd.
    Before that? 4th 6th 3rd 5th rounds.

    So, both players improved our overall league positions and Willie most certainly in the FA cup – if I was either of those players, I would be happy to say that, while I was there, I improved The Arsenal and that,surely, is a great honour, plus the medals, whether winners or runners up!!!

    Kenny, the stats seem to lean towards Willie regarding results and I guess this is two players we disagree on, for me Willie was the better player and the fact that he left the spuds to be relegated, holds him in the highest esteem for me as well.

    As always gents, it’s all down to personal opinions – I just wish I had won a FA cup runners up medal while playing for The Arsenal – but I understand, Phil and Jon, exactly what you mean.

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