Bit pushed for time today so here’s an updated version of an article I wrote for The Gooner earlier this season.
Thanks to The Gooner, I have been able to re-live my fifteen minutes of fame by re-reading Issue 30 from 1991 which contained what could loosely be described as a eulogy to Gus Caesar – for those who had the misfortune not to witness his unique skills, think of a slower, less talented version of Pascal Cygan. But the one thing that struck me about the whole of that issue was the fact that almost fourteen years further on and the problems in and around The Marble Halls are remarkably similar, indeed those facing football in general. Can it really be that we have not actually progressed that much during this period?
The period 1989 – 1992 was the end of the era of dominance by Liverpool who won their last title in 1989 / 90, neatly sandwiched between two titles that came to London, N5. The similarities between the end of the Liverpool era and the end of the Stretford Disney Glazerbacks dominance of the Premiership are extremely uncanny. In both cases, the season that broke their stranglehold was one of brilliance from Arsenal – 1990 / 91 and 2003 / 04. For a season that is now criminally overlooked because it didn’t belong to the Premiership, it was an incredible achievement to win the league with only one defeat, ironically suffered at the hands of Chelsea. It seems strange to remember that from the mid – 1970’s to the early 1990’s that there was little point in traipsing across to that particularly effluent borough in London as we won there so rarely. The pitch would have then and still does now, shame many a Sunday Park’s team and the matches were so generally bad that it bordered on masochism to watch them. I’m sure my memory is playing tricks but it seems that the day we went to The Bridge was always the coldest and wettest of the year which some would say is character building but most recall standing on the crumbling away terrace that had no roof with a complete absence of fond memories.
Liverpool never recovered from the 1990 – 91 season and went into decline from that point onwards, something that is just about showing signs of ending with last seasons European triumph. From seemingly always finishing in the top two for a period of fifteen years, they have never reached such heights again on a regular basis. The same abyss is staring Sir Alex Ferguson’s team although the saving grace for them this time is the lack of quality in the Premiership. Since the inception of the Premier League, this is the longest spell that the Home Counties best supported team have failed to trouble the Engravers of the Premiership trophy and this season shows no signs of being any different.
And what of the Arsenal teams that ended the dominance? The 1990 / 91 squad never reached the heights of that season again. Despite the Cup double of 1993 and Cup Winners Cup victory over Parma twelve months later, the nucleus of that squad went on to finish twelfth as George Graham’s reign at Highbury reached it’s nadir. Without wanting to be a prophet of doom, it is difficult to ignore the indications that the 2003 / 04 team are in danger of failing to capitalise on their extremely strong base. Indeed, the lack of summer signings and the acknowledged lack of strength in depth in the current squad make an uneasy parallel with their predecessors. There is no doubt that Wenger is better at rebuilding and replacing squads but in both cases, it should have been an evolution rather than requiring a revolution.
Off the pitch there are similar problems besetting the club. In 1991 we were apprehensively awaiting the then new North Bank Stand, which had been partially funded by the ill-conceived Bond. Fast forward to the Ashburton Grove and similar issues regarding the funding of a new stadium. A key point in both cases was the impact of the investment upon funding for squad improvements and ticket prices after the building works were completed. A major difference is the impact upon attendances – a letter in that October issue bemoaned the fact that the capacity would drop from 47,000 to 38,000 and how would the club prosper with losing a generation who could not attend the games. Another correspondent rather pointedly criticised ticket prices given that they had outstripped inflation. The bone of contention being that it would most definitely cost more than the £4 the previous season’s match day ticket price for the North Bank.
The 1991 Bond was a PR disaster for the club. Like most fans at the time, I disliked the way that this was handled as it successfully deflated the euphoria of the Championship win. The new Stadium proved that the lessons of the past have been learnt with most, if not all, fans recognising the need for a larger ground and the fact that Highbury could not expand to meet the requirements. Obtaining the funding required for both cases was another example of the club learning the lessons of the past. There can be little criticism of the way in which the Board have managed the process of building Ashburton Grove to the extent that the media non-story about the club being in a parlous financial state were simply not true. This years accounts show a net debt of £150m and have barely received more than a passing mention in the media. Remembering the field day that the burghers of Wapping had twelve months previously, this is a remarkable testament to the Board’s financial policies in recent times.
At the same time, the issue of large cash influxes into the top clubs was looming large on the horizon. In the case of the soon – to – be formed Premier League, the cause for concern was more to do with how those left behind under the leadership of the Football League would fare – as expected, pretty badly – whereas now most concern is about the distortion to the competition that one obscenely wealthy benefactor is having. Quite how Chelsea will fare if something were to happen to this seemingly bottomless pit of cash cannot be calculated. Needless to say, there would be a fire-sale of epic proportions – buy a John Terry for £2m and get a Makele thrown in free! A Lampard sir? That’s £4m and todays’ special includes a Robben and a Duff gratis. If he were to stay in that scenario and still win the League then maybe we would have to genuinely believe Mourinho was the special one. Never mind 4,000 people voting for him in the Portuguese Elections, there would be a strong case for the Vatican to investigate whether or not Jesus had returned in the shape of a football manager rather than a carpenter.
Fan of the Week in Issue 30 was Baso, he of the half and half kit. Whilst it may not be cool to admit this but I could use his embroidery skills right now as I look at the pair of jeans that needs the legs taking up by about an inch. The one thing he hated about football at that time was “Gazzamania”. Fast forward to the current day and I’m sure that “Roomania” vexes as much. Whether the current version of the semi – literate Northern Yob learns from his predecessor is the subject for much debate but if Rooney plays his part in an England success story then he’ll probably be given the grudging admiration that Gascoigne had at that time. On the subject of semi – literate yobs from the Old Trafford Glazerdome, perennial North Bank favourite Brian McClair was lampooned on the back cover in 1991 in a Rambo pose which is one that could easily be applied to perennial North Bank favourite Roy Keane. Ironically enough Ian Wright graces the cover of both issue 30 and 158 some fourteen years later.
And for my own part, I would like to think that I played some small part in inspiring Gus Caesar onto new heights. Having left Bristol City he went onto Airdrie and Colchester before I believe, breaking into an acting career. The “Caesar Crumple” may yet be seen on a screen near you soon. As for my relationship with the club, it’s no different. It still makes or breaks my weekend as far as the results go – I still pay my cash to them and they receive. Whether it is as gratefully received is not certain – for sure they are less dependant on it. With the next generation of Stratford’s to brainwash into supporting Arsenal as opposed to their Grandfathers’ preference of Swindon, it is imperative that a sensible pricing policy for tickets is drawn up. His dream of seeing top flight football in Wiltshire is unliekly to happen again – well, not in the foreseeable future – thereby robbing my sons of the chance to gloat as I did at his expense on leaving the County Ground at Christmas in 1993 – “Four Nil! We didn’t deserve to lose four nil!” “No Pops – it should have been eight. You’ll be down by Easter.”
Today tunes – as I’m feeling all nostalgic – two live tracks from The Buzzcocks at The Longhorn Bar, Minneapolis in September 1979