Premier League Career: Arsenal (1992-1999), Sunderland (1999-2000)
Steve Bould spent two decades as one of the game’s most challenging and uncompromising defenders. His partnership at the heart of the Arsenal backline alongside skipper Tony Adams is one of the best pairings the English game has ever seen. Arsenal has been a huge part of his career and he remains an integral member of the club today, now in his sixth season as Arsene Wenger’s assistant manager.
Born in Stoke-on-Trent, Bould signed for his hometown club Stoke City as a schoolboy in 1978 and turned professional in November 1980. He would spend the next eight years with the Potters, although he did have a nine-game loan period with Torquay United in 1982 to enhance his playing experience. Initially training as a right-back, it was Mick Mills who converted him into a centre-back. Not only was this a shrewd decision, it ensured Bould would excel in this position for the remainder of the 20th century. Despite his rapid improvements, Stoke were still a Second Division club and in 1988, the time came for him to move onto pastures new with a higher reputed side. Both Arsenal and Everton registered an interest and for £390,000, Steve moved to Highbury in the summer of 1988 and started a relationship with the club that has largely held together over the next 30 years.
He became part of the much-talked about ‘Arsenal back four,’ together with Adams, his former Stoke teammate Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. There was instant success in his new surroundings. Bould won the English Division One title in his maiden season with the Londoners as Arsenal recorded a dramatic victory on the final evening of the campaign against Liverpool FC to snare title glory away from the Merseysiders.
A second league title followed in 1991 and a year later, he was voted the club’s Player of the Season despite a slightly underwhelming campaign for the team which included an embarrassing FA Cup exit at the hands of lowly Wrexham. In August 1992, Steve Bould ensured his name with be in Arsenal’s Premier League record books forever. After 28 minutes of the club’s first match of the new era, he headed home the opening goal at home to Norwich City. Norwich stormed back from 2-0 down to claim a very surprising 4-2 victory but no-one could take this feat away from the centre-back. Fittingly, it was another centre-back in Shkodran Mustafi who recently scored the Gunners’ 1000th home Premier League goal against Watford in March 2018.
Injury ruled him out of Arsenal’s double domestic cup success of 1993 and it was his deputy, Andy Linighan, who scored the winner in the FA Cup final replay victory over Sheffield Wednesday. However, he returned to the first-team fold in time for the second Premier League season, winning the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994. By now, Martin Keown had arrived from Everton and was a serious challenger to Bould’s regular place in the team. When Adams was fully fit, the pair would often alternate roles and initially on his arrival at the club in 1996, Wenger seemed to prefer using Keown. Bould saw this as an extra challenge and his desire to prove his use was never greater than in Arsenal’s double-winning 1997-1998 season. He featured 24 times and famously set-up his central defensive partner Adams for the fourth goal against Everton that sealed Arsenal’s first league championship in seven seasons.
After one further season in north London, Bould briefly severed his ties with the club to continue his playing days at Sunderland. When Kevin Ball departed in December 1999, Black Cats boss Peter Reid made Bould the club captain and he played 20 times as Sunderland finished an excellent seventh in their first season back in the top-flight. However, he was forced to retire from the game in September 2000 due to arthritis.
In June 2001, he returned to Arsenal and began working with the club’s youth teams, whilst studying for his UEFA coaching qualifications. He was head coach of Arsenal’s Under-18 Academy side that won back-to-back Premier Academy League titles as well as the 2009 FA Youth Cup.
In May 2012, long-serving senior assistant manager Pat Rice decided to retire and Wenger promoted Bould to the role as Rice’s replacement. On appointing him, Wenger said: “His qualities are that he has the experience of the top-level game. He has managed here. He knows our football philosophy and therefore there will be continuity.” It is a role he has held since then and therefore, has experienced being part of the coaching staff to win three FA Cups in the last five seasons.
A stalwart of the Arsenal defence for over a decade, Steve Bould has shown his desire as a highly-rated coach since being forced to retire 18 years ago. Whilst his name is never linked as a long-term successor to Arsene Wenger, he should be a figure that remains at the club for many years to come, due to his outstanding knowledge of the DNA within Arsenal and their excellent youth system.