The start to the 1988/89 season can be best described as indifferent. The opening day had seen Wimbledon torn to shreds, Alan Smith plundering a hat-trick. That day more than many sticks in my mind with meeting and chatting to the late Bobby Moore once he had finished his post-match punditry for GLR, I think. Such was the antiquated state of the stands at Plough Lane, there was nowhere for the poor man to escape to but he was unfailingly polite through it all. In today’s age, I would have set off a full-scale security alert by wandering through the inner sanctum of the changing rooms; nobody batted an eyelid then.
The first home game of the season saw Aston Villa plunder a 3-2 win at Highbury. That score was reversed into Arsenal’s favour at White Hart Lane. The Gascoigne and Waddle inspired Tottenham were thoroughly put in their place; the friendliness of sitting amongst the home fans on the season’s opening day was not replicated for the North London Derby.
Southampton then threw away a golden opportunity to take three points with a ‘Fergie Time’ equaliser for Arsenal in a match more remembered for Paul Davis breaking Glenn Cockerill’s jaw than Alan Smith’s late goal.
Sheffield Wednesday snatchd a win by the odd goal in three at Hillsborough followed by the expected win at Boothferry Park in the Littlewoods Cup, Hull City despatched 2-1.
So it lead to Upton Park. West Ham were struggling having taken just four points all season. The week before Arsenal’s visit, they had lost at Old Trafford and were just outside the bottom three. Even so, they had won three and drawn one of the five previous meetings in the East End and were reasonably confident of taking the points. By the final whistle, what little confidence they had was snatched, battered and stamped on.
The match was Paul Davis’ last before his nine-match ban commenced and his value to the side was fully appreciated. Arsenal dominated West Ham from start to finish, Alan Smith poached his goals but the abiding memory is of Thomas and Rocastle storming through the midfield time and again. The hosts were picked off and thoroughly humbled.
David Rocastle’s goal is at about 3.5 minutes.
The win was important to settle the team. They were unbeaten for a month and a half in all competitions before Liverpool won a second replay in the Littlewoods Cup and Derby County completed the first half of a double over Arsenal with a 2-1 win at The Baseball Ground, despite Michael Thomas giving Arsenal the lead. More importantly they showed that the occasion would not disrupt them, an emphatic win in a London derby is a statement of intent.
For West Ham, it summed up their season. A modicum of revenge came when Leroy Rosenior dumped Arsenal out of the FA Cup in a third round replay but the campaign ended with despair, condemned to relegation with a 5-1 thrashing at Anfield despite winning five of the last seven games.