Q&A: Former Arsenal goalkeeper, Bob Wilson

Former Arsenal goalkeeper, Bob Wilson, tells Louise McEvoy about his inspirational daughter, the key to his career success, and what really makes his day perfect

How old were you when you decided you wanted to be a professional goalkeeper and how many years did it take you to realise your dream?I was eight when I decided I wanted to be a professional goalie, as a direct result of receiving a blue goalie's jersey as a Christmas present. I had already shown some natural talent in that position. Seven years later Manchester United tried to sign me but my dad refused the offer on the basis that football was not a 'proper job'. I continued at school, went to Loughborough College and qualified as a PE and history teacher before belatedly, at 22, joining Arsenal in 1963. Although I played a handful of first team games I didn't establish myself as the number one choice until the 1967-68 season.

What do you think was the key to your career success?A fair amount of ability, huge enthusiasm, being in the right place at the right time, and a lot of luck and hard work.

What was the highlight of your playing career?Winning the double of League Championship and FA Cup in 1971 and becoming the first English born player to play for Scotland, the home of my family.

Tell us about the Hatfield-based charity you founded with your wife, Megs.The Willow Foundation provides special days for seriously ill young adults aged 16 to 40. It is the only UK charity specialising in this sort of provision. My wife Megs and I set up the charity following our daughter Anna's five-year journey with a very rare form of cancer. As a community nursing sister, Anna identified the need for quality of life and quality of time and as much normality as possible during a period in which any life threatening illness takes over and means hospital treatment and medical care. After her death in 1998, just before her 32nd birthday, Megs looked into what provisions existed in the NHS for seriously ill young adults. It was as a result of her findings that we decided to create the Willow Foundation and fill a niche.

Where did the charity get its name from?Willow was my nickname as a footballer and Anna's husband Mitchell adopted it for her, calling her Wills and Willow.

How do you feel about being awarded an OBE 'for services to charitable causes in the name of the Willow Foundation' in the Queen's New Year's Honours List this year?Frankly I thought the award should have gone to Megs for her dedication and foresight. She listened better than any of us to Anna's beliefs and was instrumental in setting up the charity. However the award is simply a great recognition of the work we do at the Willow Foundation.

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Describe a typical day for you.There is no such thing as a typical day. If I'm in Hertfordshire it would involve a degree of office work and preparing for upcoming events where I would be expected to attend and speak on the charity's behalf. Many days end in the early hours of the next morning.

Describe your perfect day.One where I can have a game of golf, have time with the family and see Arsenal gain three points.

Having lived in Brookmans Park for 34 years, what do you like most about Hertfordshire?I think it's a beautiful county, offering both rural life and easy access to the city.

Sum up Hertfordshire in one sentence.Hertfordshire contains a wonderful mix of history and the contemporary set within glorious landscapes offering a great lifestyle.

To make a donation to the Willow Foundation, write to the Willow Foundation, Willow House, 18 Salisbury Square, Hatfield AL9 5BE or visit www.willowfoundation.org.uk. The website also gives details of numerous fundraising initiatives throughout the year.

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