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Saturday, May 26, 2007

 

26th May, 1989

Where to begin?

It had been a season of great promise, heartache, tragedy and it was fitting that it should end in high drama at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC, the dominant force in English football at the time. It was a season I could write a book about, even 18 years after the event and 18 years is an appropriate number. Before this night our last Championship had been 18 years earlier when we had won the Double. But the parallels are uncanny. Our final game of the season, away at our fiercest rivals. In 1971 it had been Tottenham. Ray Kennedy in the last minute. In 1989 it had been Mickey Thomas at Anfield. Both reared at The Arsenal. Both moved on to Liverpool shortly after. Both times we won the league in the last minute.

We'd started at Plough Lane, Wimbledon. How things have changed! Eleven Englishmen took too the field while we took over the ramshackle non league stadium. Wimbledon had just beaten Liverpool in the FA Cup Final, we were about to beat them to the title and on the August day we were buzzing. 5-1, Alan Smith scored a hat trick and we were on our way! Villa at Highbury brought us back to earth, we lost 3-2. A week later we were at the Lane where the Totts had made their season high profile pre season signings, Gazza and Paul Stewart, and were bigging themselves up but we knew it was all just hot air. It always was from up the Seven Sisters Road. Gazza lost a shoe but still scored but we won 3-2 and Villa was forgotten.

A week later the normally midl mannered Paul Davis took a whack at Southampton's Glenn Cockerill, a short sighted Glenn Hoddle, and broke his jaw. We couldn't win at home, 2-2 and Davo lost his chance of an England call up. Next up was a defeat at Hillsborough and after five games we had just one win. Hardly the form of Champions but things would change. We tore West Ham apart at Upton Park, 4-1, with Thomas and Rocastle sharing the goals from midfield with Smith and I got nicked(!).

The first weekend in November we travelled up the M1 to Nottingham. In those days Forest away was a regular event on the diary and nearly always a good day out. As ever we sat with the rest of our travelling support, in excess of 4,000 making a right old noise, totally unlike the Tarquins today. We won, 4-1 again, this time Adams and Bould getting among the goals. After the game the Gooners on the terraces were kept behind while we in the seats sneaked out. As we walked to the car through a misty Trent Bridge the remaining Arsenal fans' voice broke through the fog. 'Boring boring Arsenal.' It sounded wonderful and still sends a chill down my spine but then it was a busy season for my backbone.

We were on a roll. New Years' Eve saw us take our customary 000's to Villa Park and return with three goals and three points. We beat the Totts 2-0, went to the old Den and won 2-1, celebrating after the game amid a light shower of rocks and bottles. We slipped the escort and made our own way back to the station on those dark South London streets and I swaer we didn't speak again till we got north of the river! We tore Everton aprt at Goodison, one of our best performances of the season that even had the locals purring with delight.

A run of three games at home threatened to derail our campaign. Cloughie's Forest turned us over 3-1 and the one thing I remember was my stick insect like younger brother, occasional Forest fan, jumping up when Forest scored and banging his head on one of the fences that divided the Clock End in those days. Along come old bill and says do that again and I'll nick you! What, asks my incredulous brother, for hitting a fence? It was the only laugh of the day.

April took us to Old Trafford where George Graham tried something new. He brought Steve Bould in alongside Adams and O'Leary hoping Dixon and Winterburn could bomb on more. Adams scored twice, once for each time and the donkey legend was born.

Two weeks later I decided to take the day off from the game and go on the piss round London. On the train on the way back we got talking to a Forest fan who had been to the semi final at Hillsborough. To be fair, he didn't say much. Why should he? He'd just been to football and seen dozens die. It shouldn't be like that. Through our drunken state there for the grace of god...Luton, Oxford, Southampton...pokey terraces hemmed in by high fences.

For a couple of weeks football took the back seat. When it resumed we tonked Norwich 5-0 in a masterclass at Highbury and we could think of Championships again. Our game at Anfield was rescheduled till the end of May but we could use the same tickats and of course I had a ticket. Boro away and possibly our lowest away support of the seaon, perhaps 4,000, saw whoops a daisy Martin Haysey score his first of the season but how vital was it?

Perhaps it was academic. Next we lost at home to Derby. Then we drew at home to Wimbledon. All we had to do was go to Anfield and win by two clear goals. Something no one had done since Shankley used to go for morning jogs on the Mersy apparently.

The game was on a bastard Friday and my guvnor at the time wouldn't give me the day off. Some tosser was having a wedding the next day and we were short staffed. Forget it. I could have just gone and sacrificed my job but I wasn't ready to lok for a new one. I wanted out but on my terms. So the ticket, that precious piece of paper that had been sitting on my bedside cabinet for weeks was given to a mate. I could have flogged it on e bay if we had the net then but maybe it was a different time and we were less greedy. Or maybe a mate is a mate and you don't screw your mates.

I got pissed. I watched the game. I watched Alan Smith get the slightest of touches and we were 1 up. I sang with The Arsenal fans 200 miles up the M6, I groaned, I cheered. I kicked every ball as if I'd been there. As I had for most of the season. We break forward. It's up for grabs now! I still get the goose bumps 18 years on. Mickey Thomas did a quasi somersault. In my surbaban hell hole so did I. I rang may mates but of course there was no one home. They were at the match. There was just me at home looking for a party but my budgie wasn't interested. Round The Arsenal the party went on long into the night and there were still people hanging round the stadium when the players coach and the travel club returned from the long journey. 18 years of shit, of mid table oblivion, of Pat Howard, John Hawley and Steve Walford. Losing at York, at home to Walsall. Mickey Thomas wiped the slate clean in those few seconds and at last we could sing 'we are The Arsenal and we are the best' and the world would know it to be true.

After celebrating on my own for a while, and very sobering it was too, I went to bed. I hung my Arsenal flag in the bedroom window and tried to sleep. I couldn't, not much anyway. Next morning a neighbour from opposite came across. 'Please mister, can you get rid of the flag from your window?' I went to the wedding and the boss apologised but it was as fake as his tan. If I couldn't see my team when I wanted why stick around? I would leave and soon.

It was a different time then and I don't just mean 4 quid a ticket and tight shorts. That season we used 17 players and only one, Niall Quinn, was foreign! Nine had come through the youth ranks at The Arsenal.

What happened to:

John Lukic - born in Goalkeeper City, Chesterfield, Lukic started at Leeds where his understudy had been a lad named David Seaman. Lukic replaced the legendary Pat Jennings before being replaced by...Seaman in 1990. He returned to Leeds before returning to Arsenal again in 1996. Now does some coaching.

Lee Dixon - started his career at Burnely, he also played for Bury and Chester before moving to Stoke where The Arsenal signed him in '88. Are there no such gems today in the lower leagues? Now active in business and punditry.

Nigel Winterburn - another player who served his time in the lower leagues. Also does some punditry

Michael Thomas - one of several South London boys in that team Thomas now plays for a Liverpool Legends team which seems daft. Moved to Liverpool in '91.

Tony Adams - stayed at Arsenal donkey's years! Now assistant manager at Portsmouth but would love to manage Arsenal one day. So would I!

David O'Leary - 20 years at Arsenal! Went on to manage Leeds and Villa without any great success. Everyone involved at The Arsenal was happy for him as the title repaid his loyalty. He'd broken into the team at the same time as Brady and Stapleton but O'Leary had stayed.

Steve Bould - left in '99, now back on the coaching set up at The Arsenal

David Rocastle - left in '92, moved round a few clubs but never settled down after leaving The Arsenal. South London lad, he tragically died in 2001 but is still revered at The Arsenal...his name is regularly chanted at games home and away. RIP Rocky

Paul Davis - left in '95 after 18 years at the club. has kind of disappeared off the radar after a short spell as Gazza's assistant at Kettering.

Alan Smith - scored over 100 goals for the club, now moved on to journalism

Paul Merson - how do you replace this legend? With Dennis Bergkamp. The Merse was a true legend at the Arsenal, a scorer of great goals and possibly never better than in 91-92. Awesome player. A player fans could identify with, something you rarely see these days, Merse managed Walsall for a while. Now does some punditry

Brian Marwood - the whiniest voice on TV, Marwood had a couple of years at The Arsenal after years of oblivion in the lower leagues and gained a reputation as a whinger after he quit. Read his book! Scored many vital goals in the title winning season

Perry Groves - ginger haired winger low on talent, high on enthusiasm. Good, honest lad who released an autobiography last year that has outsold such media hyped prima donnas as Lampard, Ferdinand and Cashley Cole. The fans know the score...When not counting his royalties he works for a company owned by ex Manchester City and England strike Francis Lee

Martin Hayes - a bit part player, he disappeared after leaving The Arsenal. Now manager of Bishop's Stortford, a non league club with a long connection with The Arsenal. John Radford was involved there for many years.

Kevin Richardson - a real journeyman pro whose career took him round the houses after leaving Highbury, now coaching Sunderland's reserves.

Niall Quinn - moved onto Manchester City and Sunderland and now is now Chairman of Sunderland. A breath of fresh air in football, he has made his wedge but gives a lot back including charity work. Famous for this quote - "These are my people, you cannot treat them like that" to a member of Easyjet's staff at Cardiff airport after celebrating fans were made to leave the plane.

Gus Ceaser - made just a couple of appearances including replacing Adams at the Goodison Road massacre mentioned earlier. Think he maybe in Hong Kong now!

Comments:
That Liverpool Arsenal match was the first English league match I can remember -- being brought up in a family of Spurs supporters (dad and grandad used to go to the Lane during the 60s) I have a vague memory of wanting Liverpool to win :):):)

-- that, and all my mates were Liverpool supporters back then too :)

actually the Hillsborough match was the first I can remember...

btw, i reckon foreigners in english football has only been good. changing the rules to make it practically a non-contact sport is another thing -- all resultant diving and softest of softest free fouls etc is just crazy.

really great post!
 
tottenham eh???
 
Should there be a Salary Cap in Football?
Personally I think there should be! It’s just getting to be stupid money in football at the top of the premiership!
It’s always the same teams at the top proving that football success is based purely on money which ruins the idea of it being a sport! They’ve done it in rugby, basketball, hockey and American football and it makes the sports more competitive and better to watch!
I do a little Spread Betting from time to time and most matches don’t hold much surprise who is going to win, its boring! I want to see a team at the bottom pulling off an amazing season beating last seasons winners in a close fought battle!
Make things fair! It shouldn’t be about money!
Plus!
All there is all that money in the premiership and barely any of it stays in the UK so it’s not even helping the economy!
From my Spread Betting, if I ever win big (which is never, I’m unlucky) it’s still nothing compared to the average premiership players weekly wage!
This Rant was brought to you by Spread Betting Spike.
 
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