Our Favourite Match (#10): Manchester United v Arsenal, 1990
by Mark Andrews
Memory plays strange tricks on us all as we get older. As I can’t remember anything about this game other than being in the Old Trafford away end, celebrating Limpar’s goal on the stroke of half time and shouting to our chaps to beat the beastly northerners when the fight came around.
Anders Limpar’s goal proved to be decisive but the match remains in the memory because of the clash between Nigel Winterburn and Brian McClair that escalated into a mass brawl involving every player on the pitch apart from Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman. I think it was started as Winterburn made a hard tackle on the owl impersonator, Denis Irvine, then McClair kicked out at Nigel and it all went off. Most of the players involved were apparently trying to “stop it”. In those days Man Utd considered themselves hard, who could dish it out but couldn’t take it. Of course this dispute had its origins earlier in 1988 at Highbury when McClair had sent a penalty skywards and Nigel had the temerity to applaud him for his spot kick incompetence.
Arsenal fined manager George Graham and five players two weeks’ wages and an FA commission fined both clubs £50,000 and Arsenal were deducted two points and United one in the Division One table.
But near the end of that season we won the second league title under the management of George Graham, losing just one of the 38 league games all season. In a nice twist of fate we won the title on 6 May 1991, just before the kick-off in their league game against Man Utd at Highbury, which we won 3–1, and their players gave our players a guard of honour as they walked out before kick-off. The title was confirmed without kicking a ball as our remaining challengers Liverpool (and that’s not something you hear these days) had been defeated by Nottingham Forest earlier in the day.
However we won the league and got to sing “You can stick your f**king 2 points up your arse” for much of that game.
But I have digressed, the reason the aforementioned away game is so memorable for me is that I travelled up to Manchester in my B reg Escort with my Arsenal supporting friend “Manfred” who I had shared a very pleasant three years at Portsmouth studying History and we spent at least another 6 watching GGs Red and white army. On this occasion we were going to visit our Northern pal from our student days, David “Noakes” who was a nurse in Manchester. Not his real name but he was nicknamed after the Northern comedian in a Derek and Clive sketch.
David “Noakes” was and still is a Man City fan so he was as happy as we were with the win and fight. We spent the rest of the time in various pubs drinking Boddington’s (before it had been taken over by a faceless homogenous brewery). Good football times with friends.
Three years later “Noakes” got married to a fellow Nurse, Maria, on the day before the League Cup Final with Sheffield Wednesday in Driffield, Yorkshire. I attended the splendid event with my soon to be wife, but Manfred couldn’t make it. So the Sunday was a mad dash from Yorkshire in a very old Chevette (we had sold the Escort to raise some money for our first house) to Bromley, quick change and travel to Wembley via the train. I was lucky they decided to make it a late kick off moving the game back from its usual 3pm to 5pm. Not so lucky that day was Steve Morrow, except I suppose he was lucky as he scored the winner in a major game.
by Andy Kelly
I had no choice when it came to being an Arsenal fan. I was born and brought up less than a mile from the ground – close enough to hear the roar of the crowd when Arsenal scored. My dad had started supporting them during the war. My older brother had started going to games in the mid-60s. They took to me see my first game, as an 8 year old, in 1975. It was the start of the worst season in 50 years, but I didn’t care. I was addicted.
In 1980 we moved to Cheshunt and the visits to Highbury were restricted to the odd game per season for 3 years. It coincided with some pretty poor football and I started to lose interest, especially as most of my new schoolmates had no interest in football. But that all changed in 1983. I left school and got a job which gave me financial freedom. There were also a couple of new workmates that were Arsenal fans and we would meet up and go to games together. I went to most home games during 1983-84 and also to my first away game – at Watford. The end of the season saw Arsenal play some good football but this was probably due to the fact that there was no pressure on the players with nothing to play for.
The new season saw no new signings and a poor start. Then, we had two cracking wins: a goal fest against Watford and solid performance against league leaders Newcastle including a wonderful over-the-wall free-kick from Brian Talbot. All of a sudden it looked as though things had clicked into place.
Next up was Liverpool at Highbury. Since I had first gotten into football Liverpool had ruled the roost. They won the League title or finished runners-up almost without fail. FA Cup, League Cup, European Cup, they won them all. I used to hate us playing Liverpool as it was the one team that we couldn’t beat even on a good day. In my first season of going to Highbury I had seen us somehow beat Liverpool. Since then we had only managed two more wins, both by the narrowest of margins.
8th September 1984 was a lovely warm sunny afternoon in North London. I noticed that the crowd queuing up to get into the Clock End was bigger than usual. It didn’t worry me, though. Us terrace season ticket holders had our own turnstile so I was in the ground quite quickly.
As we neared kick-off it was apparent that this was going to be a big attendance. I had watched games the previous season with crowds around the 20,000 mark. This time there was no space to sit on the terraces and stretch out your legs. This was a proper crowd.
Most of the detail of the game is now forgotten but some memories just refuse to fade. We won a free-kick in a similar position to that when Talbot scored during the week. He stepped up and faithfully reproduced his up and under free-kick. Add to this Viv Anderson spending most of the game rampaging down the right wing, roasting Liverpool’s Alan Kennedy time and time again. We couldn’t believe what we were watching – a team managed by Don Howe taking apart the mighty Liverpool. During the second-half the attendance was announced. I can remember the exact figure without having to look it up 50,006. This was the first game that I had attended where more than 50,000 others had also come along. Just to add to the atmosphere, the crowd gave a massive roar at this “good” news.
The game finished 3-1 to Arsenal. I can’t remember where I heard it – maybe from someone with a radio on the way home, maybe on the news later in the evening – but the other results had gone our way and we were top of the league for the first time since 1973! It was the cherry on the icing on the cake.
Our Favourite Match (#8): Blackburn Rovers v Arsenal, 1909
by Tony Attwood
Why on earth would any Arsenal supporter choose a 7-0 defeat as his favourite game? What’s more, how could it be my favourite game when it was played long, long before I was born (yes, even an old timer like me isn’t quite that old), and in an era when there was not even filming of matches. So we can’t really know what happened.
Can we? Well, yes we can, up to a point.
The Blackburn game was preceded by a 3-2 home win against Chelsea (not too hard to do, as Chelsea were doomed to relegation that year), but other than that, it had been an awful season thus far for Arsenal, with the club managing just one draw and three defeats in the opening four games.
Worse was to come, for the Blackburn game was the start of four consecutive defeats during the course of which Arsenal let in 19 goals. So after our first win of the season, how come we lost this match so heavily? A look at the team sheet tells us nothing much – we put out the same team as the week before.
But we do know that in 1909 Arsenal were in severe financial difficulty. The club’s benefactor was unable to continue, the munitions factories were shedding staff, and the policy change which had involved selling off the best players, was not working.
So here we have Arsenal languishing just one place above the relegation zone, having played 6, won 1 and drawn 1. Blackburn on the other hand, were a force to be reckoned with, having finished fourth the previous season, and on track to go one better this season.
It was a report in the Blackburn Times that revealed what really went wrong for Arsenal in this game however. The paper starts its report by pointing out that in the previous weeks’ game against Chelsea the goal keeper, Hugh MacDonald, had sustained a severe injury to his knee.
Now we would today expect to have the second keeper turn up for the following week’s game – knee injuries then and now take a while to heel. But manager George Morrell would clearly have none of it. We had a substitute keeper (G Fisher) but he was untried and the manager clearly wanted the main man, and so the main man was what he got.
As the Blackburn paper says, “…when he [Macdonald] limped on to the field for the beginning of the match it was patent that he was unfit to play. With the game in progress it was apparent that he could not bend quickly enough to stop low shots, and he seemed afraid to jump in the air for the high ones, the obvious result being that he allowed shots to count that should never have gone through. Not for one moment is it inferred that a sound and skilful keeper would have averted defeat. The Rovers were too clever, thrusting, and determined for a single man to stave off disaster, with the best of custodians they would have won by at least four goals. Whatever they may be away, they are a great team on their own ground this season.”
It must have been dispiriting for both Macdonald and his defence. Hobbling out at the start, and with no chance of doing all the things keepers did in those days (which was quite a lot more than now, since they were allowed to handle the ball all the way up to the half way line).
But I retain my interest in this one game, not because of any ill-feeling towards George Morrell (although he was the only man who relegated Arsenal) nor to anyone else. My point is that such an event wouldn’t even happen in the Conference North today (and I know because occasionally I go and watch my local team, Corby Town, play in just that division). Yet here it was, happening in the first division, in front of 10,000 people.
However despite this disaster, Woolwich Arsenal did pick themselves up a bit as the season went on, and finally won 11 and drew 9 of their 38 games, avoiding relegation by two points. Amazingly they only let in 67 goals (1.76 a game) and the table shows four teams who had worse defences than Arsenal.
As for Macdonald, he did miss the next two games (both of which Arsenal lost) but returned to play in goal for the rest of the season. In all he played 103 times for Arsenal in three separate spells with the club.
But there is still more, because during the process of writing “Making the Arsenal” I received this email:
Hugh MacDonald was my grandfather. I never knew him as he died in 1920 after suffering the effects of poison gas in the trenches during the First World War. Apart from the fact that he had a pub in London (Where my father was born) I know very little else about him but would be keen to find out more.
Our Favourite Match (#7): Liverpool v Arsenal, 1989
“We’ll win cos we’re the arsenal!“; eternal optimists or deluded fools?
Not sure which camp I fell into as we boarded the coaches on the Avenell road and that chant went up; I was still cockahoop at a workmate selling me his ticket, £12 including the coach! A couple of days before this remarkable Friday, I was at the game against Wimbledon when most believed our title dream had gone. Even if it was to most gooners, as far as I was concerned, if it was mathematically possible, I was gonna see us give it a go. Anyway, I’d failed Maths ‘O’level a couple of years previous so stick me in the deluded camp.
I was travelling alone. Mmost of the mates I knocked about with at the time weren’t really into football, more acid house, the stone roses, ecstasy, raves and failing to chat up girls from what I remember. I was too but Arsenal was “my thing”; always was, always will be. In my 18 years, I’d only seen us lift an FA cup and a League cup. The mood going up to Liverpool on the coach was helped along with some fierce drinking and singalongs; my Irish genes helped me put a good performance in on both counts. I do remember as we closed in on our date with destiny that the driver told us it was touch & go whether we’d make kick off. In fact, when the boys in yellow & blue ran on the pitch before kick off with the flowers for the Liverpool fans still mourning their 96 brothers and sisters who had died weeks earlier at Hillsborough just because they went to a game (this of course is why this fixture had been postponed and resheduled to the Friday night after the cup final which tonights opponents had won), we were watching it on the coach’s portable tv until the Merseyside Constabulary decided to give us a fast track escort to the ground.
As we poured off the coach that chant went up and for the first time I genuinely thought we’d do it, nothing to do with the drink you understand,I just fancied us. Told you I was deluded. Once inside, tucked into a corner I found myself wedged up alongside a Demis Roussos lookalike (look him up kids), anyone that’s been to a massively important game and tells you they remember everything is a liar, the first half was gone in a flash but my new best mate Demis assured me that nil-nil after 45 is good and George’s plan was working. I do remember thinking Liverpool were subdued and there for the taking. Arsenal were “at it”, especially Rocky and Richardson which was not surprising really. Rocastle was truly one of us and Richardson used to tackle people with his face if he had too!
We weren’t going down without a fight that was for sure. Seven minutes into the second half we got our goal, an Alan Smith header that despite the Liverpool players insisting he hadn’t touched it. The linesman agreed with the 4,000 behind him that Smith had. Of course he had, game on! With about 15 minutes left we looked like we’d get another, Michael Thomas through one-on-one with Grobbelar but he scuffed it straight at him. “Don’t worry we’ll get one more clear cut chance“, the portly Greek Love God next to me whispered.
I had my doubts though.
Neither side were creating that many chances but without hope and all that, eh? As the minutes ticked by that hope was strangling us in our corner but then, in the last minute, it happened. He was there again, Thomas coolly lifted the ball over Grobbelar and pandemonium was unleashed. Magical doesn’t do it justice. After the initial going-mental bit, I remember Demis taking me in his arms, we embraced like grown men only did in at funerals and New Years Eve’s parties. He could have held me, “Forever and Ever” – I told you, look him up! There were grown men around us in tears; remember this was before the days of some blokes letting us down by wearing Ugg boots and applying fake tan but it was beautiful nonetheless.
The players and the trophy bit after was a bit of a haze, we were all still congratulating each other but I do remember Rocastle, his face lit up and his eyes dancing. You see, he was our bloke on the pitch despite Mickey Thomas getting the goal, Rocky’s medal was ours as well and when he smiled, we smiled.
One last bear hug from Demis and soon I was back on the coach. There wasn’t a lot of noise at first, just exhausted gooners with stupid, great grins on their faces not believing what we’d just witnessed. As soon as the first miles to London sign appeared the celebrations commenced. Not sure I’ve ever seen drinking like it! All the while, I was thinking, “How did we just do that? How?”
Our Favourite Match (#6): Arsenal v Aston Villa, 2001
I have been an Arsenal supporter since the age of eight. Not hailing from London, I spent many a Saturday during the mid-eighties sat in front of a teletext screen “refreshing” the page every 90 seconds for a full 90 minutes. Which today seems pretty mental but there you have it. As I entered adulthood, my professional life ensured me a nomadic existence; I have lived all over Europe, moving every three years or so. This has pro’s and con’s much like anything else. But the biggest “con” is that the possibility of attending Arsenal matches depends very much on my current geographical location.
In November 2001, I had lived in Germany for four years. Whilst I managed to make quite a few trips to Highbury, I was getting itchy feet for another fix. Tickets, hotels and ferries were booked; cash saved, essential as my wife was also coming to the Aston Villa match in December. Trip to London+Wife=Expensive. Our season was one to which we are all now accustomed; great promise, capable of the exquisite yet frustrated all too often. The previous season had been so far but yet so close, with a FA Cup final appearance which still scars my soul. I still hate Cardiff for this reason alone.
In Henry, Pires, Bergkamp and Vieira we had four players with a genuine claim to be the best in the world in their respective positions at that time. We also had Sol Campbell at the back who was a rock and a free scoring winger in Freddie Ljungberg who had an almost telepathic understanding with Bergkamp developing. We were undoubtedly, a very good team.
After a horrendously long journey to the UK and a few days kicking about, match day arrived. I loved the walk from Finsbury Park to the ground; the smells, the atmosphere and the way the Arsenal Stadium appeared from the gritty surroundings of the housing. It really couldn’t be beaten. I had tickets for the Clock End, which was nice as after years of going to games I had never actually been in that part of the ground. In 2001 Villa were a half decent side, not the shambles they are now. Apart from Steve Stone of course. It isn’t a name designed for a footballer, more akin to somebody who packs rubber gloves into cardboard boxes for a living, if you ask me
The first half flew by, Villa dealt with us very well. They were organised at the back and unexpectedly took the lead through an exquisite Paul Merson finish after about twenty minutes. The game continued in the same pattern until just before half time when Steve Stone (I know, I know) doubled Villa’s lead. The ground seemed shell shocked as the half-time whistle blew. We were in fourth position in the league going into the game and there was a very real feeling that despite a poor November, we were in with a very good chance of winning the league.
Arsène made some changes at half time, which for him, was (and still is) pretty unusual. Keown came on for Upson and Wiltord came on for the subdued Ljungberg. We were a different beast in the second half. Wiltord reduced the deficit almost immediately after the re-start, and once we had a foothold in the game I don’t think there was one person in the whole ground who thought we would not win the game. The players had the bit between their teeth and there was only going to be one outcome in this game. A large rotund man in front of me spent the whole of the second half goading the Villa keeper “Schmeichel….you ****”. It was constant. When somebody pointed out that Schmeichel was not actual in goal as it was Peter Enkelman, the rotund fella didn’t break stride in continuing “Enkelman, you Schmeichel looking ****”.
After Vieira had robbed J Lloyd Samuel and fed Henry to equalise, it was a matter of when we would score the winner. And we did, in injury time. Henry again, after a delightful ball by Pires and it was one of “those” Henry finishes. Although we would lose a game to Newcastle in the coming weeks, the Villa game is the one that sticks out during the 2001/02 season. It displayed a no nonsense refusal to be beaten and highlighted the almost arrogant mentality that our players knew how good they were. Until Pires’s season was cut short by a crutiate ligament injury, I don’t think I have ever witnessed such a graceful and technically perfect footballer in motion. Apart from Dennis Bergkamp. Henry was on his way to being the most feared striker in Europe and Vieira was dominating midfields with ease. As we all now know, this culminated in us winning the league and FA Cup double. We won every league game we played from February 10th 2002. Amazing.
I returned to Germany and watched the rest of our season in a grubby little bar in Dusseldorf that showed all the Saturday 3pm kick-offs, eating Bratwurst and drinking Pils. My next trip to a live game on UK soil was a return to Cardiff for yet another FA Cup final. Did I tell you how much I like Cardiff…
Our Favourite Match (#5): Arsenal v Liverpool, 1987
I recently posted that the 5-1 victory over Inter Milan was the one game which kept popping into my head when I tried to pin down which was my favorite. Although there were many that I could think of, this particular game just seemed to stand out for some reason. However, having had some time to mull it over, I have found myself going a bit further back in The Arsenal’s history (and mine too) to a game that, at the time, I had no idea would prove to be of such significance.
In a somewhat hazy trip down memory lane, I found myself at what was really the beginning of my fascination with all things Arsenal. The year was 1987 and I was all of 11 years young. And already sick of all the Liverpool and Man Utd fans that I called my friends and family. Neither team ever attracted me for a variety of reasons and with the accumulated wisdom of my 11 years and a few months, I endeavored to both annoy my GrandDad (a Man U fan) and endure the ridicule of my Uncles Gerard and Joe (Liverpool fans) by declaring for The Arsenal, once and for all. Why them? David O’Leary might seem the obvious answer to a young lad from Dublin opting to follow The Arsenal back then but it was not that simple. Well actually, the answer is simple but initially had nothing to do with The Arsenal, or even football, for that matter.
In 1983, a few years prior to my joining the ranks of the Gooners, I was 7 years old and off to see the All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship Final. (Say that three times fast!) It was a game I was fiercely passionate about and still am; my home county Dublin were in the Finals. Not only that but my uncle Seán had great seats, even hinted I might get to meet the players after the game. In time-honoured Dublin and (I would later realize) Arsenal fashion, we lost a game we should have won. Although disappointed, I was greatly cheered when Uncle Seán stayed true to his word and brought me into the Dublin dressing rooms. I met the team, talked to several of the players but one in particular made a striking impression. Kneeling on one knee, this young man (he was 16 at the time) made time for me and my annoying questions, even offered some simple advice on how to play the game but above all to “Enjoy it, win or lose” he said. That young man was Niall Quinn and 4 years later he would score the equalizing goal against Tottenham in the second leg of the League Cup semi-finals. It led to a replay which we won 2-1 and set us up for a final against Liverpool. And this is the game that I am referring to.
The 80’s was Liverpool’s decade, anyone who disagrees with that obviously did not follow English football. Well, the first half of the decade. Although English clubs were then banned from competing in Europe, at home it seemed that Liverpool were invincible. Not a year went by that they did not add to their collection of silverware. But that changed in 1986 when The Arsenal, led by former player George Graham, won the League Cup. Charlie Nicholas scored both Arsenal goals to lead us to a 2-1 victory after Ian Rush had given Liverpool the lead.
What is really amazing is that I have never had the opportunity to actually watch this match. At the time I was off on vacation somewhere in the wilds of Ireland with the family and it was only upon my return to Dublin that I was brought up to speed by my childhood friends. The Man Utd fans reveling in the fact that Liverpool had been beaten, while the Liverpool fans for the most part just shrugged, so confident were they that they would win again the following season. Chelsea fans did not exist in Dublin back then, ah the good old days!
It was my first summer as a victorious Gooner and I have to admit, it felt good to be able to sit down with my mates and talk football, knowing my team had won something. There’s nothing like the swagger of a self-important 11 year old, now is there? Liverpool’s seemingly unbreakable hold on domestic trophies was broken and has more or less remained so to date. The Arsenal were on the rise and if it were not for the ban in Europe, who knows what could have been? Although the following year was not one to remember, I had been hooked and have been ever since. Over the following years, I would make numerous trips to Highbury and later The Emirates, always sitting in different seats and meeting different people but all living and breathing The Arsenal.
It may seem strange that I should single out this game in particular, especially as I have never actually seen it but that victory over Liverpool was not just the catalyst for the George Graham era but it was also the catalyst for a young lad in Dublin to set out on a journey that to this day has yet to end. Like an old friend The Arsenal is always there, sometimes in victorious glory, oft times in heartbreaking misery but always there.
I know many look back at the game the way it was years back and claim it has been ruined by money, greed and so on but I for one do not hold such a view. Memories are either bitter and best forgotten, left undisturbed less they diminish our present or remembered so they can be brought out and polished in their retelling, until they shine anew and are repeated, the telling of them is seen as imparting some form of wistful wisdom on the listener. I personally have no time for melancholy, I would much rather spend my time reminiscing about the good times than depressing myself and those who would listen with stories best left untold. That does not mean there is not a lot wrong with football and those who are involved in the game, be they players, managers or agents but when it comes down to it, is there really anything more enjoyable than watching The Arsenal beating the likes of Barca, Milan, Bayern etc? And what’s more, doing so with friends and family, especially when said family and friends all support Man Utd and Liverpool 🙂
Our Favourite Match (#4): Tottenham v Arsenal, 1987
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.
Our Favourite Match (#3): Arsenal v Chelsea, 1971
The thing is, when you have watched Arsenal over a few decades, in glory and mediocrity, in wet, sunny and bloody freezing weather; when you have travelled by tube so many times, walked the same streets and drunk in, oh so many pubs, that specific matches don’t stand out that much. I wasn’t at the Lane in ’71 or Anfield in ’89, those would surely stand proud in the mind. No, my Arsenal watching comes down to a melange of memories of goals, people, pubs, players and people I went with. Friends and my father. A couple of Cup Finals. A bit like memories of childhood, without the drinking, of course.
Time and place then. That’s what has defined my main joy as an Arsenal supporter and for a lad, there could have been no better season that 1970/71. I’d been watching the team for a few years on trips to London but this was the first season that I attended more games than I missed, it must have cost my parents a fortune. Almost any game from that season would tell a story but I’ve picked the home fixture against Chelsea. Saturday, 3rd April, 1971. We were second in the league; they were third, four points behind. Leeds were six points ahead of us with ten games to play but we had three games in hand.
I’d been at the reverse fixture back in the previous August when we had suffered our first defeat of the season on a lovely summer’s day. For this match, the weather wasn’t so good but at least it was dry and the crowd kept us warm. Over 62000 were packed into Highbury. In the corner between the North Bank and the West Stand we seemed to be standing at an angle of 60 degrees. As my father later said, “Half of those 62000 were on my back, Bert!” Comfortable it wasn’t but a brilliant atmosphere. We were all still high on the drama of the previous Saturday when we had come back from 2 – 0 down against Stoke in the FA Cup semi final against Stoke with an equalizing penalty put away by Peter Storey in injury time against Gordon Banks. I’d actually been at Argyle that day with my ear glued to my transistor radio which I was on the verge of throwing over the back of the stand when the day was so dramatically saved.
As for Chelsea, they had done us a favour with a win over Leeds Utd the previous Saturday but as the programme pointed out, ‘today…They have got their own sights fixed on second place.”
The Arsenal side that day was:
Bob Wilson, Pat Rice, Bob McNab, Peter Storey, Frank McLintock, Peter Simpson, George Graham, , John Radford, Ray Kennedy, Charlie George.
The Chelsea side was:
John Phillips, Ron Harris, Eddie McCready, John Hollins, John Dempsey, David Webb, Tommy Baldwin, Alan Hudson, Peter Osgood, Charlie Cooke, Peter Houseman.
The match itself was typical of home games of that season, in my memory at least. Some good football from both teams, Chelsea had a very talented footballing side with a steely centre. We were more direct and hard working with the flair coming from Charlie and George Graham. I remember my heart being in my mouth a few times as they pressed. We came close a few times as well but halftime arrived goalless. No chance to nip off for a pint, even if I’d been old enough, no chance to even go to the gents, so crammed in we were.
The second half saw two excellent goals, both scored by a young Ray Kennedy with a massive contribution from Charlie George as I recall. He certainly claimed the applause of the crowd, but that was Charlie’s way. The victory was of course important. We were to go on and overhaul Leeds by dint of that famous victory at Spurs. A midweek game that was and I was doing my ‘0’ Levels that year so a couple of minutes of blurry TV relayed the news to us I don’t even think it was on the radio. The Saturday after saw us win the FA Cup against Liverpool for our first double.
Time and place. It seemed to me that we were on the verge of great things. A pivotal moment with a strong experienced team sprinkled with young talent. Surely more success would follow? History tells us otherwise. That team were broken up and the talent never fully matured; Kennedy and George would both leave Arsenal. This was as good as it got for that team. Not bad though!
After the game, I’m sure that we joined the queue outside Arsenal tube station for the long ride back on the Piccadilly Line to Hounslow East and a bus onto Feltham where we were staying with my sister. The pubs, the friends and the pints came later. It was always just me and my Dad that year.
It was a very different time. There was no advertising at all at Highbury, Just a fence around the pitch and of course there was the Metropolitan Police Band whose pre match entertainment included, ‘Salute to Wales’, and ‘The Cuckoo & the Bumble Bee’ while the ‘Pop Parade Selection’ included ‘All the Things You Are’, sung by Constable Alex Morgan. Of course, the band leader tossed his baton into the air, as always, to the cheers of the North Bank, as always, as the band marched around the pitch.
Glorious days of youth. Bloody brilliant.
Our Favourite Match (#2): Maidenhead United v Arsenal, 2009
by Yogi’s Warrior
Football has always been a source of conflict in our house. Not because my wife supports another team, she just does not see the fascination. Nor does she understand the tribal culture which is surprising given that her family hail from Barcelona. It’s a strange mix of Catalan pride on their part since they have a long history of supporting Espanyol but anything goes when their noisy neighbours are winning things. And she does not like the antagonism that the mere mention of one of that city’s professional clubs brings out.
And she definitely didn’t appreciate being dragged along to a friendly between Maidenhead United and Arsenal in the summer of 2009. As I explained to her, a rite of passage was taking place; our youngest son would be witnessing an Arsenal match of the first time.
Our oldest son defected to the dark side when Thierry Henry signed for them. Despite having had his photo taken with the first team squad in 2005/06, sitting between Henry and Bergkamp, there was no surprise when he bowed to his grandmother’s pressure and supported Barcelona.
A Faustian pact emerged; she could have the oldest, the youngest was Arsenal’s. It didn’t last though; we had our fingers crossed behind our backs when we made that deal and via a circuitous route, he’s come home this season.
And so to Maidenhead United on a balmy summer’s eve in 2009. Youngsters waited in vain for a close look at their Premier League heroes, oblivious to the fact that they were in Austria for the pre-season training camp. “Is that Arsène Wenger?”, they wondered as a well-dressed gentleman strode purposefully by. Did he hear? Has he lived for the moment with kudos so mistakenly bestowed?
York Road was well-filled, a typical non-league ground with terracing for this rite of passage. It is something that all youngsters should experience at least once in the early stages of their football careers. As for the parents, well, I for one was more than a little misty-eyed as Junior moved to the front, leaning against the advertising hoardings. It was, I am sure, sentimentality but he had the stance, the look of someone who had arrived at the time they were meant to be, the place they had been looking for; his moment in time.
It didn’t matter that this was essentially the Arsenal reserves and youth; it was billed as Maidenhead United v Arsenal XI. It was his first match. My wife turned and observed that there were seats there, we should move. The inference became insistence; I could not accede to such a request, this was a special occasion. Fortunately a neighbour wanted to sit as well, the pair went to discuss the latest playground gossip.
The first half passed, Maidenhead took the lead leaving a six year old boy suffering the initial torments that chasing a game brings. There was the unmistakable banter, the teases, the taunts, delivered in a soprano by his peers, peppered with the staccato machine gun fire of his older sibling’s ill-intentioned bravado about what Barcelona would be doing to the Thames Valley had they been here. Probably wondering what they were doing there is the answer.
Obligingly Arsenal could not let matters rest. An equaliser shortly after half-time settled the banter, within fifteen minutes of that goal two, three and four had turned bragging rights on their head. By the time Chuks Aneke rounded off the scoring with five minutes to go, the ascendency to top dog was assured for the two weeks left before the season proper started.
Seven goals in his first match was, as he put it, the best night of his life. “It’s only Maidenhead” opined his older brother. It meant nothing. It didn’t matter; his club had delivered. It set him up for a lifetime of disappointments but at least he will know that when the highs come, they are worth it.
An indelible mark was left on him, reinforced by a scrapbook put together for him, a permanent memory of my first game. It led to bigger things. His debut at The Emirates has been and gone. Hearing him describe the smells, sights and sounds took me back to my youth. No matter what may be said, there is something unique about the smell of a burger at football. Culinary delight is not something for which the game is noted – nor should it be – but aromas never change, not food nor the stench of an overflowing toilet. A 21st Century rewind to the 1970s.
His first match led to the second, to the number where you lose count. Or stop bothering to count as it becomes a ritual. Little steps, we always tell them, when confronted by something that instils trepidation. Little steps lead to tube station steps to The Emirates steps. And now he can shout, “Stand up if you hate Tottenham“, with the best of them.
Our Favourite Match (#1) Arsenal v Coventry City, October 1983
by Paulie Walnuts
Not for me a Championship decider, Cup Final, champagne football or even stuffing the Spuds Gordon Ramsey style. No siree. My favourite Arsenal game occurred on the 15th of October 1983. A one-nil home defeat to Coventry City in front of 20,290 hardy souls.
It was a game I attended with my late father. Poppa Walnuts refused to join me on my favoured North Bank & duly bought a couple of tickets in `the seats`. West Stand, lower. He also borrowed Big Dave`s Ford Escort for the trip that day, to ensure the whole event was as poshed up as possible.
Now, although Arsenal could fill Highbury for the big games in those days, we struggled to even half fill it for the likes of perennial Midlands dullards like Coventry – so myself & Poppa sat in lone isolation until the very second our gladiators arrived on the pitch. It was at that moment that my mood darkened like the clouds overhead. Despite the banks of empty seats around us a pair of rather large gentleman appeared & sat in the two seats directly in front of us. At first I thought the fella in front of me was in the Coldstream Guards… but then I realised he actually had the biggest permed mullet I`d ever seen. A kind of cross between Kevin Keegan & Ian Botham, for sports fans of that era.
In actual fact Botham did me a favour, particularly in the first half when we attacked the Clock End. Now, Arsenal`s side at this time was capable of occasional brilliance but was generally extremely mediocre despite the midfield promptings of that all time great, Stewart Robson. We also had those famous admirers of the fairer sex Charlie Nick, Graham Rix & Lee Chapman playing that day. Yet Arsenal struggled to create anything much & Coventry`s centre back, a certain Sam Allardyce, quite literally swallowed everything we threw at them.
The first half drizzle turned heavier during the second period & sure enough we conceded a goal banged in by the legendary Paolo Rossi at the far post. Or it could have been journeyman forward Dave Bamber. One or the other.
As pressure built on the visitors defence & Charlie tried in vain to keep his hair fashionable it became obvious that we were never, ever, EVER going to equalise. I suppose this tale would have benefitted from that scenario but alas it just wasn`t to be. Even Botham & his portly mate ran out of steam towards full time, but you can only abuse so many people in a couple of hours, I suppose.
The merciful end arrived to a (small) chorus of boos & we made our way out of the ground & back to Big Dave`s dream machine. By this time the rain was absolutely torrential but obviously a football fan with an umbrella in those days would either be classed as `girly` or wanting to use it as a weapon of choice. So we got VERY wet. The kind of wet when you realise you can`t get any wetter.
The final chapter was inevitable as the dream machine failed to start. So myself & Poppa Walnuts spent half an hour pushing the thing up & down the roads of Finsbury park , jumping in & out of the by now steamed up & soaking car , screaming & shouting at each other & on the verge of man tears. Eventually an angel came down from heaven & gave us a `jump start`. We were homeward bound.
So what does this tale tell me & why is it still my all time favourite Arsenal match? The reason is simple really. After that, things could only get better.
And they did.