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One room, lots of lessons


The first game I really remember is the FA Cup final of 1979. I watched it with my Dad that Saturday afternoon in our sitting room. He wasn't an Arsenal fan. He has a vague allegiance to Fulham having spent time working in that part of London when he left Dublin in the 1950s. In fact, my first ever football memories are of watching my Dad play for his local side on muddy pitches when we lived in Yorkshire.

That day though, May 12th 1979, I spent in front of the telly wearing the Arsenal away kit. I remember it being given to me as a present, laid out in full on my parents’ bed. Shirt (made from strange, vaguely towely material), shorts (ultra nylon) and socks (socks). I think seeing it that day, the gorgeous yellow - blue - yellow, coloured, no pun intended, my view of Arsenal away kits since. The blue shirts just don't come anywhere near the simple beauty of that combo.

So, the game. Arsenal 2-0 up and cruising towards the trophy. Then United scored twice in two minutes to make it 2-2. I looked to my father for some kind of reassurance. This couldn't actually be happening, could it? I mean, how could these Arsenal players, to a man heroes to an 8-year-old boy (it's only when you get older your critical faculties develop, you know), manage to concede two goals to this Man United team, to a man monstrous, ugly brutes to an 8-year-old boy? I have a recurring nightmare about losing my front teeth and I am convinced that it was the sight of Joe Jordan in that game that did that to me.

I remember standing up, looking around for something, somebody, anybody, anything, to console me, to make it better, to make it stop, because whatever this was, I didn't like it. I liked being 2-0 up. I liked the idea that being 2-0 up with less than five minutes to go was pretty much an assurance that you were going to win the game. Clearly I didn't know football very well at all.

I didn't know how it could transport you from elation to misery in less time than it takes to boil a kettle. I didn't know that you could be happy and carefree then sick to your stomach seconds later. I didn't know that something I was watching on television from hundreds of miles away could reduce me to panic. What if they scored again? What if it went to extra time? Although I don't recall, I'm sure the commentators said something about how it would be United with the wind at their backs, boosted by the late comeback. And how could they not be? And how could Arsenal not be anything other than deflated?

I also didn't know how quickly football can move you from happy to miserable and back to happy again. Before I even had the chance to get into a full blown tizzy about what I'd just seen Liam Brady, socks around his ankles, took the ball from kick off, played it with the outside of his boot to Graham Rix who crossed it for Alan Sunderland who made it 3-2 and this time there was no way they could come back. I didn't know much about football but I knew that.

In that very same room, almost to the day one year later, I sat listening to the radio as Arsenal played the Cup Winners Cup Final against Valencia in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. We had one of those 'stereo' units that looked like a piece of furniture, lift up the lid on one side and you had the record player and the radio, on the other the tape deck.

It was 0-0 at full time. 0-0 after extra time. Then there were penalties. Liam Brady, my hero of all heroes, missed the first. At 4-5 Graham Rix had to score to keep Arsenal in it. He missed. I cried. It came just four days after Arsenal had lost the FA Cup Final to 2nd division West Ham. Trevor Brooking made me hate the phrase 'stooping header' for years.

Losing two cup finals in four days is tough going for any team and any fan. The year previously I had absolute faith that Arsenal would prevail because, well, it was the Arsenal. I supported them, clearly they were the best team and all others were second rate.  The following year I came to realise that despite my belief in them football didn't work quite like that. What I wanted or what I thought or believed was irrelevant. I realised that football has the power to lift you up and then drop you right back down, and then give you a sneaky kick in the bollocks for good measure.

But that room, that TV and that 'stereogram' are as indelible in my memory as Brady's socks, as Sunderland wheeling away in triumph, and the crackling medium wave commentary I listened to as we lost that European final to Valencia. I still don't claim to understand everything about football, but that's where I learned that winning and losing, ups and downs, happiness and heartbreak, are intrinsically linked and you just can't have one without the other.

Especially as an Arsenal fan.

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Reader Comments (28)

great piece arseblog....takes me back !

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPR67

Great Piece Andrew, brought back many memories. Very true about the emotions we go through watching our club.

Sunderland wheeling away screaming "You Bastard, You Bastard" will be my enduring memory of that game. I am I the only one who remembers that?

Thanks mate,

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBren

Lovely. That Sunderland goal was the moment my own love affair with the mighty AFC began. I remember it very well, beautiful summers day.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames Cherkoff

Very nice Arseblogger - all sounds very familiar. That beautiful yellow shirt plays a big part in my Memory Bank submission, coming soon!

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGary Davies

It was the Ipswich FAC Final loss that made me a Gooner.
No other real reason.
But this ManUre game cemented my Goonerism.
And caused me to move to London years later. And enjoy Doubles and all the rest.......

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDublinGooner

I was there. I can still remember the roller coaster of the afternoon and the completely unreal feeling of us having rescued ourselves after almost throwing it away for the second year running. Remember that in those days the FA Cup was every bit as important - maybe even more important - than winning the League. Sounds hard to believe but it's true. What I remember really well was that at half time, with us 2-0 up and well on top, while heading down the tunnel in front of where we were all standing, Pat Rice raised his fists over his head and punched the air, as if to say 'We've won', and I remember thinking 'Oh shit'. You don't do that. When I see the goal now I still think Gary Bailey's going to catch it every time!

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMacca Of The East Lower

As a 13 yo United fan this was horribly painfull. As I'm Irish I eventually forgived Brady, though I laughed hard when Valencia won on penalties.....just desserts I thought at the time

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrendan Smith

i was 11 and cried when man u got the second, a minute later my dad picked me up and we danced and cried tears of joy when sunderland got the winner, and today still proud to be a gooner.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrebel gooner

79 Cup FInal. It was the day AFC won me over too.....The sheer excitement, surprise and elation. I would have said "football...f*cking hell" but I was only 6 so I didn't know that word. And that fantastic yellow kit. I had a number 9 on the back of mine for Frank Stapleton - pity he was such a judas in the end.

I should have learnt then though that Arsenal rarely do it the easy way....But that is what makes the victories great when they come.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCheshire Gooner

Having been to a few games starting on new years day 1988, my first really memorable one was the league cup final loss to Luton, where I learnt many of the same lessons, as well as with my combination of £4 clock end tickets and capital gold sport the following season with the ultimate reward of anfield 89 on my dad's sofa a few months after my parents split up and I was living with my with sky sports and the Internet and £40 tickets, formative gooner experiences are quite different!

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Wade

it was the UEFA Champions leager final against barca that made me a fan....... Even though we lost, the beauty if the style AFC played that game touched me! And I havent looked back since! Great piece of work dude..... And I Love Arseblog to, im a regular reader!

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMakd DJ GUNNER

My brother (a Fulham fan!) decided to hold his son's Barmitzvah on Cup Final Day!! I had tickets for Wembley, but was threatened with all kinds of hell, if I didn't go to the Barmitzvah. So I attended it (I sold my tickets at a profit,haha!), and had to watch the highlights later. Luckily, nobody knew the score, so I was allowed to scream in my brother's front room, as we went 2-0 up, then 2-2, then Alan Sunderland's winner!! When Fulham were relegated to Division 4, I told my bro it was divine Gooner retribution!! By the way, I had been an Arsenal fan since we won the League in 1947, and I have been a Gooner through thick & thin ever since. I still think Anfield '89 was the greatest moment, but Wembley '79 runs it close, along with WHL '71 & OT 2002.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermikedej

Thanks for a wonderful recapitulation of one of life's great moments. That was truly an emotional rollercoaster ending in ecstasy. You can't beat it for an experience. As you observe, highs and lows are inextricably linked in football and indeed provide a more extreme range of these emotions than almost anything else in modern life.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbathgooner

Sweet & sour memories there Blogs, and Trevor Brooking was a formative part of my childhood too. The git.
I love the blue & yellow kit, and actually had one back then, complete with huge flappy blue collar. If I ran fast enough I could get airborne....

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBob

Well written Andrew. Brought back some good memories...especially our poor cat six feet in the air (I'd slid onto the floor in disbelief as MFU equalised) and the cat decided to come over and commiserate. I gave her sardines that night as compensation.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGf50

I was there too. I'd suffered the shame of the 1978 match against Ipswich at Wembley and I never thought I'd get another chance to go to an FA Cup Final. But I was wrong. And the following is a true story.

During the week leading up to May 12th 1979 I was resigned to watching the game at home on the TV. Then one night I dreamt that I was there, watching Arsenal v Man Utd at Wembley. And I dreamt that we went in front, then they came back to draw, and then we scored again to win the game 3-2. The dream didn't tell me who would score, but it told me the result. But on waking I thought "that's bollocks, because I won't be at the game".

However, later the next day I got a message from my Dad saying that his best mate (who was a full league referee) had a ticket going spare if I wanted it. Did I want it? No question! Two of my mates had saved enough programme tokens to get tickets, and now I was able to go with them.

So suddenly I was going to Wembley to see a game that I didn't expect to go to. The dream had started to come true. My mate's Dad drove us to the station, and on the way, because he was a betting man and I wasn't, I asked him if he'd put a pound (a whole pound - how confident was I?) on Arsenal to win the game 3-2.

The match itself was a real rollercoaster ride, as we all know. When United got the equaliser I sat down on the terrace. Around me grown men (I was only 24) were in tears. But I stood up just in time to see Alan Sunderland stretch to snatch the winner, and our end of the stadium erupted. I have never felt such elation (until 1994 in Copenhagen or 2002 at Old Trafford, but they're other stories).

We did it. We'd won 3-2. I'd forgotten about the bet. I was too busy celebrating an FA Cup win. But when we eventually got home (or rather to the pub - I don't remember getting home) I found out that my tiny bet had come in at 33-1! I was a winner all round!

£33 in those days was a decent amount of money. I recall that it covered the cost of my ticket, my travel, my food, copious amounts of beer and I still had a bit left over.

What a day, what a week! I've never been as lucky with a bet since. I've had no more prophetic dreams either. But I'll never forget that one.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMartinwo

Classic Arseblog .I too was at the '79 Final and one memory from it was how quiet it was in the AFC end when Man U equalised.You could have heard a pin drop.My greatest moment was Anfield 89' but watching live it was WHL 71when I managed to get in more by luck than judgement and celebrated along with 75% of the stadium.Been a Gooner since 1962 Wolves @ home 5-4!!

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMadGooner51

pubs still shut at 3 then,so it was round a mates house with more beers.all i remember is 6 of them (all millwall fans) jumping on me screaming and laughing when the equalizer went in and how quickly they shut up when alan got that winner.Keep the faith

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfrank stroud

Charlie George = Yellow,Blue,Yellow
Alan Sunderland = Yellow,Blue,Yellow
Mickey Thomas = Yellow,Blue,Yellow
There seems to be something magic in those colours.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeregrinner

I was at thi cup final with my eight year old son - his first season. I got him out of school early and drove to Wembley where we sat just outside the turnstiles on the steps and had our sandwiches. As soon as the turnstile opened we rushed in and positioned ourselves in front of one of the steel barriers. We sat him up on the barrier and he watched most of the game from there although he did spend some time crawling around picking up discarded tickets which he thought were valuable.
He was in position to see all five goals. We've been going to Arsenal together ever since. It's been an amazing bond.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenkinson

I was a Man U fan (sorry) back in the days when Liverpool dominated as I hoped for the underdog. So I sat down to watch that FA cup semi-final (Giggs etc. sorry again) as a Man U fan. But something strange happened in the middle of the game. Arsenal played with such honour and beauty that I found myself a life long Arsenal fan by the end of the game.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike Hogan

Nowadays we search in the net looking for streams.

Back then if we'd be tuning into radio 2, LBC or Capital Gold hoping that there would be live second half commentary of the Arsenal game.

When Arsenal win silverware again, which they will one day, lets hope that the memory will be as precious 79

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter80s Gooner

Wonderful piece Mr. Bloggs.. outstanding memories of that day, relief: that we were able to get it on irish tv, pride: back at Wembley after the 78' agony: Unreal excitement as we went 2 goals up, Devestated: as Manure braught it back to 2.2 Extacy: when Sundey got the winner... and.. you.. with the perfect 1979 away kit to wear for the occasion, lucky bastard.. Gooners forever.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Cantillon

No doubt there was some embellishment with the retelling, but the story goes Brady asked the ref how many minutes left, felt the panic and decided to do something about it. Brady was a bit of a style icon in the socks department, allied to that faintly langourous method of passing a ball. And a big shout out to the bubble perm/tache combo - never bettered and sadly missed.

That game crystallises for me all that was glorious in the FA cup - sunny day, BIG DAY OUT, the hours of television building up to the main event itself. I think there was a floppy vinyl disc issued which contained Brian Moore's commentary leading up to Sunderland's winner. Old times.

October 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRC

I was at the game. Myself and a mate were over from Australia on a 12 month backpacking holiday of the UK and Europe. Courtesy of 'The Big Match' I had been an Arsenal fan since I was a kid.

Went to quite a few games at Highbury and tried hard to get tickets for the Cup Final. No luck, so we had decided to turn up on match day and try our luck with the touts... and then about 3 days before the final we were visiting some English relatives of my mate, mentioned we were trying to get tickets and found out they had a neighbour who had a couple of tickets he was looking to offload. We got 2 tickets (standing at the Man U end !!!) at face value 2.50 each.

Fantastic day. Nervous, excited. Great occasion. Everything was going to plan until that last 4 minutes.
Fortunately the time between 2-2 and 3-2 was so short the shock had little time to affect me.

Got very very drunk that night.

October 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Very well written, @arseblog. As a United fan ever since the FA Cup final in 1976, I do remember that Saturday afternoon back in '79. Only 3 days short of my 11th birthday. I was devastated by the longest leg in football history, and will never forgive Mr. Sunderland for that. But, your description of highs and lows in watching a game of football, the way from happiness to misery (or vice versa) within nano seconds, does bring back memories (and I have to live with them). Thank you for sharing.

I remember the sequence of events like this:-

Watching on my own while my mum is outside doing the gardening
I'm happy as we're 2-0 up and there's only 5 minutes to go
McQueen scores
My sister comes home and I tell her it's 2-1 but it's ok as there's only a few minutes to go
My Mum enters the room
McIilroy scores
"Oh!" cries my mum in a display of tactless excitment I find hard to believe
I'm on the verge of a mental breakdown and I sense my mother and sister beginning to panick at the thought of how big my tantrum is going to be
Sunderland scores
Relief, 13 year old temper tantrum averted
My mum and sister leave the room quickly to stop Man U scoring again,allowing me to watch Pat Rice lift the cup in pease
Why is Frank Stapleton wearing a Man U shirt?

November 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

When United equalised my younger sister was in tears and I recall someone in front of us banking their head repeatedly on a crush barrier whilst swearing. United fans had already been seen leaving Wembley Stadium. Never had there been such a one sided final which should have been known forever as the 'Brady Final'. That third goal though was a classic, in fact an Arsenal classic Classic and as big a high as you could ever get using the very best chemicals known to mankind.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Dawes
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