Following on from this morning’s post, another instalment of the brief history of Arsenal in the United States of America.
The Zenith Data Systems Challenge Trophy. Not to be confused with the Zenith Data Systems Cup, a trophy the Football League conceived whilst English clubs were banned from Europe as a result of the Heysel Tragedy. To their credit, the Arsenal board declined the invitation to participate in that competition during the seven seasons it ran, no matter what guise it appeared under. Chelsea meanwhile list their two triumphs as domestic honours which is stretching the description to breaking point. It isn’t as bad as Tottenham whose delusions of being a big club are snapped by listing the Norwich Hospital Charity Cup, Ipswich Hospital Charity Cup and Costa Del Sol Tournaments in their silverware section.
And yes, I did check the “Honours” section of Arsenal’s site just to make sure…
Arsenal’s last visit to the USA was for one game only, facing Independiente the Argentine champions in the Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami. The press dubbed it the “Unofficial World Club Championship“; Little England was alive and kicking in world football.
For Arsenal it was a welcome experience. FIFA had rescinded their ban on English clubs playing friendlies against foreign teams in December 1985. One by-product of FIFAs ban was that Glenn Hoddle’s testimonial against Aberdeen was cancelled and Arsenal stepped in as a late replacement. Yes, that’s Aberdeen in Scotland, not one of the other similarly named towns or cities from around the world. Yes, that’s Scotland, the bit appended to the north of England.
Crockett and Tubbs were nowhere to be seen when Arsenal flew in during early August 1989 and the sparseness of the crowd suggested that everybody else had left town as well. The official attendance of 10,042 was absolutely lost in the stadium with its capacity of around 75,000. ITV beamed the match back to the UK and with the pedestrian pace of the game affected by the kick-off at the height of the day. During the build-up, George Graham observed that “(Americans) have a mere five years to wake up before the rest of the world watches them at the World Cup.” It wasn’t just the fans but the reporting as well as the pre- and post- match coverage locally seemed entirely underwhelmed by it all.
It was anything but a friendly though, two players sent off along with Arsenal physio, Gary Lewin. It seems inconceivable that a physiotherapist would be dismissed in the modern game – my age betrays me in classing 1989 outside of that – yet it happened with fifteen minutes to go. The reports below call the referee’s style “idiosyncratic“; most of us who saw the game recall thinking the middle six letters could have been dispensed with.
Tony Adams was pivotal in both goals as AFC Guildford‘s videos show; David Rocastle netted them both. It’s still hard to believe he is gone.
The match must have been lucrative for the club. Arguably their tour to Scandinavia (two wins and a draw) along with retaining the Makita Trophy following single-goal victories over Porto and Liverpool, left them in good shape for the coming season. It didn’t get off to the best of starts with defeat in the Charity Shield against Liverpool six days after this game before the horrendous defeat at Old Trafford, complete with Michael Knighton’s ball juggling antics in front of the Stretford End. The much talked of power shift from Merseyside to London never materialised that season. Despite briefly flirting with the top of the table, they fell out of contention at Christmas, ending the campaign in a disappointing fourth place
Had UEFA not banned competitive games, Arsenal would have been England’s entrants in the European Cup, for the first time since 1971/72 season. That would have to wait for another two seasons but I always thought that this Graham side might have fared better than the 1991/92 campaign. The squad had not been particularly strengthened in the summer yet a win in the first round would have oozed confidence throughout such was their relatively youthful exuberance.
It was Arsenal’s first meeting with an Argentinian side. In 1968, Estudientes were ordered to pull out of a friendly against Arsenal by the country’s President, Juan Carlos Ongania. They had been on the receiving end of attacks from the Old Trafford faithful following their players assaults on the Manchester United side. Both legs of the Intercontinental Cup continued a trend of violence in the fixtures, culminating in Estudientes own supporters treating the AC Milan similarly twelve months later. European clubs were about to join their Brazilian counterparts in boycotting the matches until FIFA stepped in to organise them.
Bob Wall, then Arsenal club secretary, notes (see article below right) that Arsenal had lost around £4.4k in terms of ticket sales, the equivalent of £160k in today’s money. It was a lucrative one-off fixture to miss out on especially as the club was not regularly involved in European club competitions at this time. A later article carried by The Guardian on the disproportionate cost of insurance for football clubs suggested that Arsenal could have insured against such eventualities but were already paying £11k (£400k) per annum in premiums so were unlikely to have done so.
Wall’s suggestion that litigation was not practical backs that up. At the time of writing his book, Arsenal From The Heart! Wall substantiated that Arsenal did submit their claim to FIFA for £25k (£900k) as the newspaper reports suggest. The outcome of the claim remains as much of a mystery as the outcome of the cancellation of Arsenal’s tour to the USA in 1930. Certainly, the newspaper reports at the time showed that the ill-will from Sir Alf Ramsey’s intemperate comments during the 1966 World Cup showed now signs of abating at the time. Wall didn’t hold out much hope of a successful resolution, noting that the club rejected a later offer of a summer match instead on the basis that Estudientes would be less of a box office draw. Football then, as now, is nothing but an extension of the entertainment industry.