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A Night Legends Were Born

BY @DarrenArsenal1

Some of you may wonder why former Tottenham striker Clive Allen hates Arsenal so much. Well, aside from being signed by the Gunners in the summer of 1980 and getting swapped for a full-back before he’d even played a competitive minute, it all dates back to 1987. You see in that year with Allen in tremendous goalscoring form, Spurs were close to being a great team. The thing is, as all football fans will recognise, close calls and nearly men are nothing but footnotes in the grand scheme of things.

The Lilywhites’ form in the mid-eighties was in stark contrast to events at the other end of the Seven Sisters Road where The Arsenal were constantly rebuilding. Fan pressure and poor results saw Terry Neill and Don Howe leave before George Graham was charged with restoring the glory days at Highbury.

Appointed in May 1986 it was obvious from the outset that we were making progression under George. Indeed we even topped the table at Christmas as the club celebrated its centenary – a real rarity! New brooms and all that ensured some of the old guard were cleared out and young, local lads - often childhood Gooners - were promoted from the Youth team.

We could see something was happening with the likes of Tony Adams, Paul Davis, David Rocastle and Michael Thomas (players who 25 years later are now considered legends) all making waves. As is so often the case in football credit is given to the face of success, but achievement by a team goes much deeper than that. At the time the likes of head scout Steve Burtenshaw and Youth manager Terry Burton were laying down strong foundations for the future signing a slew of great talent. Men like them were the backbone of the club in the same way that Steve Rowley, David Court et al are today.

If further proof were needed that we were making positive strides we had also made it to the semi-final of the League Cup, then known as the Littlewoods Cup. I could attempt a run down on how we got there, but honestly I don’t remember. What I do remember was listening nervously on the radio as the draw for the last four was made, “Number 1 Arsenal, will play Number 4 Tottenham Hotspur.” Nooooooo! Now don’t get me wrong, we’d improved but we were still definitely underdogs.

If you want to know how much football has changed since 1987 it was still the days when you collected vouchers from the matchday programme and sent off coupons from the season ticket book. It all seems so antiquated now, but it was what it was!

The first-leg at home is a bit of a blur. I remember our old friend Clive Allen scoring the only goal of the game in a Spurs win. It meant we’d have to go to White Hart lane and get a result to stay in with a chance of making Wembley. Of course, as is a timeless tradition with our neighbours, their players were spouting all kinds of rubbish saying they owed us for past pain etc. We all knew if they beat us we wouldn’t live it down.

I was penned in with the other away fans behind the goal for the second-leg at the Lane. Allen again gave Spurs the lead on the night, putting us 2-0 down on aggregate as we reached half time. We were miserable in the stands, but somehow Graham rallied the troops and second half goals from Viv Anderson and Niall Quinn in the second half saw us stun the home fans and level the game. It was to be a replay with the venue decided by a coin toss. Spurs won. Three days later we returned to White Hart Lane.

Again Clive Allen gave Spurs the lead – it was his 12th goal of the competition – while at the back their keeper Ray Clemence was in supreme form. At half time it felt like we were struggling to stem the Spurs tide. To be honest, we looked done for. And then we heard it; in fact everybody heard it. "We would like to remind all season ticket holders that applications for Wembley Final tickets will be accepted from tomorrow onwards." The announcement, which was lapped up by the cocky home fans, did not just provoke us travelling Gooners, but most importantly was heard by George Graham.

The accepted wisdom is that the manager didn’t need a team talk, he just told the players what he’d heard over the tannoy and sent them out again. The second half of the game was the most glorious 45 minutes of raining on someone else’s parade I’ve ever experienced and a defining page in the history of modern Arsenal.

As time ebbed away an injured Charlie Nicholas was replaced by Ian Allinson. Minutes later as the ball flew across the box, legs sprawling everywhere, the substitute equalised!

The home fans were stunned into silence as we away fans went bananas. You could tell they were now nervous. Again the ball found it’s way into the Spurs box. Rocky was there. GOAL!!!!!!

“Oh Rocky, Rocky…Rocky, Rocky, Rocky Rocastle.”

We’re winning. We’re winning! WE’VE WON!!!!!!

The home fans drained from the ground at the exact instant modern Arsenal was born. It was a victory against the odds, achieved by a manager and players ready and willing to achieve so much.

Before Gooners re-worked the words to “Go West” by singing “One-nil to the The Arsenal,” we chanted with pride “One-nil down, Two-one up we knocked Tottenham out the Cup” – it was a song born of a single moment, which led to a much-loved fanzine (whatever happened to Tony Willis) and remains a wonderful reminder of one of the greatest night’s in the club’s history. It was the start of an era – a night where legends were born.

As for Clive Allen, despite scoring 49 goals that season and winning both the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year he didn’t win a single piece of top level silverware – either that year or in his entire career. Knocked out by us in the League Cup, he suffered defeat in the FA Cup final at the hands of Coventry and had to settle for third in the League. You start to realise why he holds a grudge! 

Reader Comments (2)

Nice one.

There can't be enough reminders out in the blogosphere reminding them that they are Forever In Our Shadow.

RIP Rocky.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterzicoinexile

Good read!

January 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter@mikeymike2711
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