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100 Not Out

BY PAUL BIDDISS / @The_North_Bank

The Arsenal had started the 1994/1995 season in a desperate fashion. Despite winning the opening game of the season 3-0 against Manchester City at Highbury, they would not experience victory in the league until the end of September at West Ham. In need of points and a run of form, the Gunners welcomed a lowly Crystal Palace side to The Home of Football at the beginning of October.

When I was younger opportunities to watch The Arsenal were generally few and far between. This was in part due to the difficulty of getting tickets if you weren’t a member and also down to the fact I was totally reliant on my dad funding the day out. It therefore comes as little surprise that when I was handed tickets on my ninth birthday to watch the team from the North Bank I reacted with suitable childish enthusiasm.

I had only been to one game prior to the Palace game (Ipswich in 1993) and was buzzing about seeing my hero, Ian Wright. I had built an unhealthy obsession with Wrighty following his exploits in the FA Cup finals of 1993 (Linighan’s 120th minute header another classic early memory, but that’s for another day) and although the team had started the season poorly, Wrighty had been in fine form, scoring goals at home and in Europe. After netting a brace in Nicosia a couple of days beforehand, he was on 99 goals going into the Palace game. This statistic had neither escaped my mind, nor my brother’s as we arrived on Gillespie Road alongside our Dad.

The game itself did not go to plan. Despite starting brightly, Arsenal soon found themselves one-nil down courtesy of a John Salako tap in in the ninth minute and the same player then doubled the visitors’ advantage before half-time following an incisive breakaway. In the second half Arsenal started to dominate, spending almost the entire 45 minutes camped in an around the Palace box. I can remember we had a few chances to claw a goal back but there was an ever growing feeling that it wasn’t going to be our day. 

Restless regulars may have been tempted to leave early following another poor display, but I still had my hopes on Wrighty getting his 100th Arsenal goal at the North Bank. And in the 72nd minute he duly delivered: after a good cross from Kevin Campbell, Wrighty rose and headed into the top corner, celebrating within touching distance of where I was standing. He had his 100th goal, at Highbury, and I was there. Despite the best efforts of the team, The Arsenal would go on to lose the game 2-1 and the fans trudged out of the stadium disappointed after another bad result. 

I can remember the journey home very well. Part of me was obviously gutted that we had lost, but another part was euphoric that I’d seen Wright’s 100th goal for the club. I thought ‘what were the chances of me, in only my second game of watching The Arsenal, witnessing the 100th goal of my hero, right in front of my eyes?’ I actually thought that that moment would be as good as it got for me supporting Arsenal; that it wouldn’t, and couldn’t, be topped. 

Obviously, I knew nothing of what was to come at Highbury. Since then, and the arrival of Arsene Wenger, the club has seen considerable success and has been transformed into one of the top sides in Europe. I have been fortunate enough to see quite remarkable talents such as Bergkamp, Henry, Vieira, Pires and Fabregas (to name but a few), but to me they weren’t quite Wrighty. 

He didn’t have the same natural technical ability or elegance as the aforementioned players and I didn’t have the pleasure to watch him play anywhere near as many times as those in more recent times. However, first childhood heroes are always hard to replace. He was the reason why I had to have the number 8 shirt when playing football, he was the reason why I chose to have a season ticket at the North Bank and he was the reason why I truly fell in love with The Arsenal.

As the saying goes - ‘Ian Wright Wright Wright: so good they named him thrice.’

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