Tabs is today’s conductor on the charabanc down memory lane…
I am on a tube. My small band of compadres have gathered. We are on our way to White Hart Lane, a League Cup Semi Final Replay no less. Conversation is at a premium. Pensive glances, cognisant of the emotional effort that we all know is coming, are exchanged. “Enjoy the game” a colleague had cheerfully said as I ducked out of work early. Enjoy?? These games were not to be enjoyed but endured. Enjoyment didn’t come into it, not unless you were three goals to the good, there were five minutes to go, and Tottenham had given up the ghost.
We walk up Tottenham High Rd from Seven Sisters. The atmosphere is expectant but is also heavily undercut with the omnipresent threat of incipient violence. Questions, questions. Will the fledgling Michael Thomas cope? Will Big-time Charlie turn up? Are we capable of winning for a third time in two months on enemy soil? Relax Son, relax. Still two hours to kick off.
Inside the ground, we position ourselves on the Park Lane terrace, towards the back and, as you look out onto the pitch, to the left of the goal. Soon we are packed in so tightly that independent movement has become impossible. We have become one, a swaying mass of hope, tension and defiance. Nothing to do but sing. Sing for the Arsenal.
The game starts. My God, this is really happening. The tension transmits itself to the pitch. Gone is the end to end roustabout of three days earlier. Instead, an attritional war develops that turns the vice of apprehension ever tighter. A callow Tony Adams, all arms, legs and bloody mindedness leads a defence that holds firm. The midfield give as good as they get. Paul Davis, a velvet elegance wrapped around a steel core, conducts. Alongside him, Michael Thomas bristles with muscular energy. On the right, the jewel, David Rocastle, a purposeful mix of intensity and desire. Half Time comes. 0-0.
On the hour, a soft goal is conceded. Three sides of the ground reverberate to that spirit-sapping Chas ‘n Dave number. It soon gets worse. Charlie is carried off. Stoic resignation sets in. Depression can wait.
Another look at the clock. No longer a friend. Ten minutes to go. A hopeful ball down the inside left channel from Davis. The Tottenham defender hesitates. Go on Ian Allinson, you’re in son. A pirouette turn. A shot. I don’t see the ball hit the back of the net. I don’t need to. The Park Lane explodes. Hope is reborn.
Arsenal are suddenly everywhere. We roar them on with a soundtrack of almost primal noise. Come on Arsenal! The Chicken is squawking, time to snap it’s neck. A hopeful shot from that man Allinson takes a deflection. Rocky is there. ROCKY IS THERE! A swing of the leg. The net bulges. Delirium! Wide-eyed strangers embrace, grown men go crowd surfing. We are at the centre of the Universe.
The final whistle is upon us, and for the third time in fifteen minutes, the Park Lane is enveloped in a frenzy of celebration.
The Arsenal are back. Bonnie Prince Charlie will have his day in the sun, and yet more wondrous deeds lay on the horizon.
And it felt fantastic.