• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Former young Gunners James Dunne and Kieran Gibbs fighting same battle on different fields

THEY grew up together playing schools football, saw their fledgling careers thrown into doubt when Wimbledon upped sticks and moved to Milton Keynes and could barely believe their luck when Arsenal came calling to offer them both a lifeline.

St Johnstone's James Dunne will hoping to get his hands back on the Scottish Cup after Saturday's final against Dundee United, a prospect he could not have imagined when he joined on loan. Picture: SNS
St Johnstone's James Dunne will hoping to get his hands back on the Scottish Cup after Saturday's final against Dundee United, a prospect he could not have imagined when he joined on loan. Picture: SNS

Time, in conjunction with differing career trajectories, has caused James Dunne and Kieran Gibbs to drift apart since the St Johnstone midfielder was released by the Gunners five years ago and forced to complete his education on a rather less salubrious stage at Exeter City.

However, over the course of Saturday afternoon, these childhood friends will, once again, share a common cause: the capture of the first senior medals of their footballing lives.

Dunne, on loan from current employers Stevenage, is almost certain to be part of things when Perth's finest go head-to-head with Dundee United at Celtic Park in the William Hill Scottish Cup final.

Just two hours later at Wembley Stadium, Gibbs, back in the fold following several weeks out with an ankle complaint, will hope to be given the call by his manager, Arsene Wenger, to step out against Hull City and transport the FA Cup back to their particular corner of North London for the first time in nine years.

Dunne sincerely hopes Gibbs, whose twin brother Jaydon remains a close confidant, will join him in bringing a welcome glint of silverware to the season and can barely believe they will both be involved in such showpiece events on separate sides of the border.

"He's from near me and we played against each other in Sunday League games," recalled the 24-year-old Englishman. "We were in the Croydon and Bromley areas, so we played in the Kent Leagues and we played with our schools. I played a lot with Kieran and his brother, Jaydon, who is at Aldershot now.

"I went on to Wimbledon and the two of them turned up, so we took it from there. Kieran and I went on to Arsenal and Jaydon came for a year, but they didn't offer him anything after that. I've lost touch with Kieran over time, but he was a good guy and he has done exceptionally well.

"We used to play central midfield together and I never would have thought that he would become a left-back.

"Of the people who are now in the first team with him, I came through with Jack Wilshere as well. It's a little surreal we could be playing in cup finals on the same day. I hope Arsenal win."

During Dunne's time within the Arsenal youth system, Wilshere was always the one player marked out for great things. Now a full England internationalist, the World Cup-bound midfielder is back from injury and expected to start at Wembley this weekend.

Dunne admits his old team-mate's rise to prominence was written in the stars and remembers, vividly, the very moment he first won his way into the hearts of the Arsenal public.

"The year before he broke through, he was on the bench for the reserves because he was quite young," he said. "All of a sudden, we came back pre-season and he was playing in the Emirates Cup.

"We were playing Real Madrid and he smashed their right-back, Michel Salgado, right up in the air with his first tackle. The fans loved him from then on.

"He is an unbelievable player and reminds me of Andres Iniesta. He is so hard to get the ball off. He had a lot of quality that a lot of English kids, like me, didn't have."

Dunne reflects fondly on the schooling he received at Arsenal, though, and is self-effacing enough to admit that he never quite managed to strike fear into the hearts of the established first-team players on the few occasions he was invited to join them for training.

"I dealt more with Pat Rice than Wenger, but we went round to first-team training when they were preparing for Champions League games and needed mannequins and the like," he smiled.

"We also worked with them pre-season and it was a great experience. Steve Bould, who is now with the first team, was our coach and he was quality.

"You'd go over there and you'd be training with Cesc Fabregas and Thierry Henry. They were superstars, but made you feel so welcome. There were times I did feel a bit scared. You can get found out playing against guys like that and I got found out quite a few times."

Dunne has more than earned his own day in the sun at St Johnstone, though. He has been impressive since arriving at the club in January and earned the respect of manager Tommy Wright to the extent that his cup final place seems a given.

Sadly, his parents, John and Janet, will not be present at Celtic Park to cheer him on. They are currently touring the Far East and are, no doubt, already working out how to ask the all-important question "Do you have Sky Sports?" in Mandarin.

"My dad wanted to fly back from China for the game then fly back, but I told him it's too much money," said Dunne. "They are travelling around Malaysia, China and Dubai, so it's a fair trek.

"They'll be in China at the time of the game, I think, but they'll have wi-fi and will get it on the iPad or, more probably, try to find a bar.

"They'd booked the holiday before I came to Scotland. My mum and dad love coming to the games and wouldn't have booked anywhere if they'd known I was going to be playing in a final.

"My sister, girlfriend and cousin are coming up along with a friend and his dad, though."

Dunne concedes he would like to see his move to St Johnstone made permanent this summer, but Stevenage are likely to look for a fee of some sort and that may prove to be a sticking point.

"I'd like to stay, but it's out of my hands because Stevenage have the option on me," he said. "This is the biggest game of my career and I just want to focus on it for now.

"When I first arrived here, I didn't think that, come May, we'd be in the final. It has taken the club a long time to get here and I'm looking forward to it."

Dunne also prefers not to think about what might happen to Wright should he win the first trophy of his managerial career. However things work out at Celtic Park, he believes that the Northern Irishman's achievements in his debut season as his own man in the dug-out will be attracting admiring glances from elsewhere.

"Tommy can go as far as he wants in the game," said Dunne. "It's up to him, really. Even if he doesn't win the cup, the things he's done this year in his first year of management - getting to a League Cup semi-final, a Scottish Cup final and finishing in the top six - ensure teams are going to look at him.

"I have been very impressed by the way he handles the players and the training," he added. "It is up there with the best training I've had and that's also down to Callum Davidson and Alex Cleland."

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

233326