UK: INFLUENTIAL PLAYER IS HUMBLE FAN.

UK: INFLUENTIAL PLAYER IS HUMBLE FAN. - BP chairman Sir David Simon has been a lifelong football enthusiast and avid Arsenal fan since 1947. He joined sports writer Brian Glanville at a Gunners v Man City match to reminisce and share his views on the gam

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

BP chairman Sir David Simon has been a lifelong football enthusiast and avid Arsenal fan since 1947. He joined sports writer Brian Glanville at a Gunners v Man City match to reminisce and share his views on the game.

'The issue is,' says Sir David Simon, as we sit in the Arsenal press box, watching the Gunners take Manchester City apart on a cold March evening, 'do you feel better or worse on a Saturday when you know the result? If it has an effect on you, you still have a bad case of romantic love for the team.'

The chairman of BP clearly retains such an emotion for Arsenal, a team he has supported since 1947, when his French father, once an amateur goalkeeper with Lille, took him to Highbury for the first time.

Nearly 50 years on, Simon's joy in the match is itself a joy to behold.

His comments on the action are perceptive and knowledgeable, the analogies he draws between football and business intriguing. He only watches Arsenal occasionally now, but that, he says, is because he plays golf on Saturday afternoons.

So many memories of Arsenal - of Ronnie Rooke, the centre-forward who looked as if he'd been hewn from rock. Picked up by Arsenal for a song as a 35-year-old at Fulham (to save them from relegation), he scored 33 goals during 1947/8 season, when they won the championship. 'A net bulger!' is how Simon describes him. 'He was very exciting when you were a lad. Then he went to Palace and I could follow him at Crystal Palace' - the Simon family had moved to south London.

On the field below us, Simon praises a rejuvenated David Platt and, as a lover of Dutch football, meditates on the enigma of Dennis Bergkamp. This he is well qualified to do. In the '70s, he worked in Holland, played football for a veterans' team called The Black Devils, and watched the glorious Total Football Ajax team, inspired by Johan Cruyff. 'They were a great side to watch.'

Bergkamp, an heir to Cruyff, was brought through at Ajax. 'For a Dutchman, he looks very sensitive,' says Simon. 'It's a terrible thing to say. Cruyff was a sensitive man, but he was also very able to take the rough and tumble.

Bergkamp isn't a quitter, but he doesn't like the rough and tumble.'

Simon compares the challenges which face the recently merged arms of BP and Mobil with those that confront English teams in European competition.

'You're always having to put up with this routine about this being the finest league in the world. It's just that when you go into Europe, you find you don't get the results,' he says.

'The same issues apply,' he adds. 'You can compete really well in your own market, but when you go out into the world in the oil industry, are you really going to be able to compete in a different Europe? You keep asking yourself, are they going to be rising up to a different challenge? These comparisons with football are interesting of course - but they're certainly not absolute.'

Simon likes to draw comparisons in terms of teamwork too. 'I'm always interested to see which people are influential in a team, why a team plays better with some individuals.

I'm always trying to understand what makes a football team work, just as I do with a team at the office. You're always trying to work out which is the best mixture - and it's never the six or eight most able people.'

He talks nostalgically of Arsenal's Double Team of 1970-71, which won both cup and championship, and especially of its captain, the Scottish international centre-half, Frank McLintock, now a radio commentator and agent. 'He was a wonderful organiser of the side, a motivator, a great player, very economical,' he says.

There is nostalgia too for the days he spent at Highbury, standing beneath the famous clock at the south end, with his two sons, both Old Cholmeleians who are keen football players still. 'There were four postmen who always stood in front of us and played cards during the game. I remember one of them looking up and saying of George Graham (then a player), "Graham, you're lousy! Show us your magic ... disappear!"' Despite the low opinion others had of George Graham, Simon himself was 'a great Graham fan'.

Once the game's over, we go off to attend the press conference. The Daily Mail reporter remorselessly grills assistant manager Stewart Houston over which player Arsenal manager Bruce Rioch has absented himself from the game to watch. Houston departs in a huff. 'It sounds like an analysts' meeting,' says Simon. 'What is the price of oil?' "We don't know."

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