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Tuesday
Nov222011

What Counts is The Memory

BY @darrenarsenal1

“I can’t believe we did that…we’ve blown it.” That was the general sentiment doing the rounds in the original Arsenal Café after failing to beat both Derby and Wimbledon in consecutive home games. We’d hoped for the best, expected the worst and delivered on the latter. It meant winning at Anfield.

May 1989, the new summer of love, the Roses and the Hacienda ruled, and I hadn’t missed a home or away game all season. Now it came down to this, beating Liverpool. I was leaving Highbury after the Wimbledon game, upset, but still of an age where I thought we could pull it out of the fire…and then I bumped into Michael Thomas who was crying in Highbury’s Marble Halls. His face told a thousand words - I KNEW we had blown it.

Somebody, somewhere decreed the game would be on a Friday, a Bank Holiday weekend from memory, and I decided I would go with the Arsenal Travel Club to Liverpool. A 1pm departure from Highbury would allow plenty of time to mingle with fellow fans before the game, or so we thought. Alas, by 4pm we’d only reached Birmingham and solid traffic meant that nerves on the bus were starting to fray. I remember briefly sitting next to Amy Lawrence on the bus (before she became a face) and also vividly recall a Salman Rushdie song being repeatedly sung, although to this day I still can’t recall why!

By 5.30pm we had only reached Stoke and at this point people were starting to get really concerned about missing kick-off. I walked the coach and did a whip round for the driver in the hope of bribing him to leave the motorway and drive cross-country as fast as he could. We raised £30 and he set off like Evil Knievil on side roads all the way to Liverpool.

The coach neared Anfield at 7.40pm and all around us we were surrounded by people waving flags. Twenty minutes later, still crawling along we just told the driver to pull over. There was no way we were going to miss kick-off. People jumped off the bus and legged it like Carl Lewis to get into the ground. It had taken seven hours, but we were in. Just as I walked in, the game started. All I remember of the first 45 minutes is being near to Perry Groves and Niall Quinn, who chose to stand near the fans, and knowing we were still in with a chance when the ref blew for half-time. I spotted one of Arsenal’s most well-known fans, Denton, and stood in front of him.

I’m of an age where I remember the cup finals of the late seventies, I tasted the bitterness of the Neill years and experienced the dross under Don Howe. But this was a new era, we’d beaten Spurs in the ’87 League cup semi at White Hart Lane, we’d won and lost at Wembley, we were creeping towards the Holy Grail. We could feel it. We’d come too far. Please don’t blow it. Please don’t blow it.

Smith made it one-nil. Please don’t fall at the last. Don’t do this to us. Mickey’s through on goal, go on, go on…aaargh for fuck’s sake, he’s missed. That’s it, we’ve blown it, they’ll play keep ball now. Come on John, get the ball up the field, go on, go on…he’s through…

“YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I went one way, Denton jumped on me. My glasses flew off and there was pandemonium everywhere. It’s not over, it’s not over. Hang on, where are my glasses? Deinton’s broken them. It’s not over, it’s not over, it’s OVER!!! People were going nuts, crying, singing, throwing scarves onto the pitch - it was and still remains the single greatest moment of Arsenal elation I’ve ever experienced.

I always hear how the Anfield crowd stayed, applauded and watched the presentation, but my memory is of the ground emptying and only a few thousand remaining. I keep wondering what it was like having watched in on TV, because every time I see Fever Pitch I get goosebumps watching the reaction of those who did.

As I climbed back onto the coach, I encountered one of the saddest and funniest stories I have ever come across. Sitting in the back row was a man in his thirties and he was balling his eyes out. I asked him why he was so upset. He revealed he’d waited so long to see Arsenal win the league, that he couldn’t face seeing the players crying at the final whistle and had chosen to leave just before the clock hit 90 minutes. He’d missed it, he had missed the moment that we had all dreamed about. This guy was so happy, but so upset at the same time. That image of him has stayed with me forever. I often wonder if the poor guy ever told anyone about what he did.

The drive home was amazing. The coach drivers battling like Formula One drivers back down the motorway. My mate @danielarsenal1 must have passed about times on the way back to North London. Arriving in N5 at 2am there were still hundreds of people outside Highbury. They were all totally drunk and as we got off the coach we were greeted by screams of, “You were there!” We just yelled back, “I know!”

I have the shirt, the ticket, the programme, the newspapers and the photos of that night, but they are just trinkets. What counts is the memory, the memory that we didn’t give up, the memory that we did it the hard way, the memory that the press had written us off, and the memory that we did it THE Arsenal way.

Some things never change !

Reader Comments (5)

Thank you so much for sharing this. Reading it from someone who was actually there is very precious. I had goosebumps. What a marvellous story!

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMadRuskiGunner

I just cried. Watching it on tv and Fever Pitch issue wonderful feeling. Watching the actual match in flesh must be surreal. Thank you for sharing :)

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Thanks for sharing Darren, an amazing story beautifully told. I was just too young to remember this - my Arsenal supporting days began properly in 1991 but the image of Thomas breaking through the midfield and slotting home is forever burnt in my memory thanks to Fever Pitch and countless re-runs on TV.

Your first-hand account has made that memory seem just a little bit more real.

Thanks.

@RussJefferys

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRuss Jefferys

Great story, a personal side of a match famous to every Arsenal fan. Even if I wasn't really following football at the time this is such an amazing achievement.

I've seen Fever pitch quite a few times, including last May at the Emirates. I was sitting on the pitch, close to the right corner of the penalty box at the Clock end. When Michael Thomas scored THAT goal, in THAT over 20 year old movie... I cried. For the first time in years I had believed in our season so heartily that I just couldn't believe we didn't win anything.

And that guy on the bus... would teach us never to give up before the final whistle!

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter@ElfaBSig

Brilliant!! We didn't have much coverage those days in Malaysia so articles like yours, of Gooners who were actually there on that night to experience Anfield '89 is always a special one.

Thank you for sharing.

May 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKamilioKLGooner
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