I’ve found it difficult to start this blog. I’m not writing about a certain player, or infuriating media bias or even emotionally fuelled nonsense, which is a speciality. The subject of this piece is something that a churlish, phlegmatic approach is not respectful enough, nay, wouldn’t be fit enough to lace Mickey Thomas’s boots. I need to don the white gloves, lower the harsh, fluorescent lights and type in hushed taps. This event deserves revered glances, the best seats in the house. If it were a celebrity it would undoubtedly have a ‘ An Audience With ‘ show on PrimeTime TV, the crowd filled with the Hoi-Palloi of acting talent.
So, as I mentioned, I have struggled to kick things off ( pardon the pun ) with this blog.
What I want to portray, is the sheer magnitude of the task Arsenal faced on that famous day in May 1989. I want to be the portent of the sheer difficulty they faced, I want to be the harbinger of the emotions that not only the players attempted to subdue, but what the fans endured. On the topic of emotions, I will begin with my own.
I’m jealous of every fan that was there for that pivotal, historic, salient, ground-breaking, epoch-making, paramount match. What a story to tell your offspring. Screw that, what a yarn to unwind with every single person you meet. If I was there ( seeing as I’ve watched the DVD so many times my wife groans when I watch it ) I would wax lyrical about the day, the whole day. A lovely lady I know from Twitter, Amanda, was lucky enough to be present for possibly the greatest ending to a season ever, and she wrote a blog describing events from start to glorious, golden finish. As I read hungrily, devouring the words and fervour that sprung from every syllable, I thought to the images, the iconic, unforgettable effigies that stand sentry-like whenever the Gunner memory files are opened. The shirts, the delirious, fantastically voiced fans, Nigel Winterburn’s free kick that Smudger glanced in. That glance, like an Angels Sigh.
The most symbolic though, even surpassing Mickey Thomas and his goal celebration where he gave in completely to delirium, was Steve McMahon, holding one gnarled, expectant finger, sending out a message to the rest of his Scouser Cadre that they only had to withstand the Arsenal onslaught for one, more, minute. Not only did that make it all the sweeter, but he was wrong as there were three minutes added due to Kevin Richardsons injury. Egg on his face I don’t think even begins to cover how he felt at the final whistle.
Normally I’d apologise for digressing somewhat but is there anything better sometimes to submit to nostalgia? Aren’t memories the currency we use in later life, that always guarantee happiness even in the face of duress? I will not acknowledge guilt for pulling up a plush armchair in my mind, in front of a roaring fire, and indulging myself with the best movie you will ever have the the good fortune to witness.
As an Arsenal fan, one of our token phrases is ‘ We never do it the easy way ‘. Never truer words spoken when it came to the ’88 – ’89 season. 15pts clear at the start of the year, the League Table before the match gave a now notorious situation: Arsenal 3pts behind, need a win by two clear goals to claim their first title since 1971.
I’ve spoken to a few fans who attended that day, or were riveted to a TV in the local. A lot said that only a smidgen of their grey matter allowed any sliver of hope to permeate through the grey blanket of rationale. The grey blanket was weaved by the odds stacked against the boys in yellow and blue. Even a national newspaper had the headline ” You haven’t got a prayer Arsenal “. It wasn’t the Daily Mail funnily enough.
The plain harsh facts were Anfield was beyond a Fortress. The last time they were beaten there by two clear goals, Ian Rush’s moustache was but a sparkle in his dads eye. The Liverpool team of the ’80’s was all conquering. Merciless. The press expected nothing less than yet another Scouse League win. Isn’t that what makes the best scripts for the movies you watch repeatedly? Triumph in the face of overwhelming adversity?
I am going to put an opinion out there in cyberspace. It’s contentious, but I fully stand by it. @ me if you must.
I think that match is the most dramatic conclusion to a sporting event in recent memory. I’d like to think my narrative above would rekindle the passionate fire that burns in your memory banks, that my prose enabled the ghosts to flood with colour and sensation once more, but if not, I’ll have a crack at outlining why I’ve made such a bold statement.
In all cataclysmic sporting events, there is normally a David and a Goliath. There needs to be extraordinary circumstances and odds involved to sear an indellible mark into your psyche. There aren’t many events that even the sports layman can recall, but I’d hazard a guess at Utd Vs Bayern in ’99, Dennis Taylor Vs Steve Davis in ’85 and The Miracle of Medinah Ryder Cup in 2012, to name three. These events, if shown on a highlights reel even in a Primark on Saturday, would return a high percentage of recollection, in my humble opinion.
There are those moments that are paired permanently with a phrase, which is ” Where were you when? ” which is normally reserved for disasters or tragedies. These titanic tussles also have this idiom latched to the side of them as they are endlessly shown on TV, referred to in conversation etc. They changed the sport for the better. Utd Vs Bayern didn’t quite have the odds stacked against one team or the other, but the ending, the curtain call, was on a par with Anfield. Taylor Vs Davis reached a standard that will never be reached again for snooker. The Medinah Ryder Cup had the greatest comeback in history for the hotly contested golf tournament.
There are other sporting moments that shine brighter than others. The reason I listed the ones above along with Anfield ’89 is because of the sheer drama that wasn’t extinguished until the very last drop of excitement had been wrung out, not until the final seconds did you know where victory’s head would rest.
In all the events aforementioned, the prize that was dangled above the competitors as they fought with every fibre of their being was ‘Up for grabs’ ( sorry, couldn’t resist that one ) until the fat lady had warmed up her vocal chords and had emitted the first note of her song of finality. Fans who had this level of tension inflicted upon their suffering tickers by the unfolding events were unsure to watch or comically put their hands over their eyes. In all these match-ups, the angst, drama, white knuckle ride was significant enough to lull non-watchers into its web of agitation. Everyone of all persuasions could view them and enjoy the suspense.
Anfield ’89 had every ingredient needed to concoct the perfect broth for the audience. The travelling fans, the pub-going fans, the TV viewing fans, all experienced the full spectrum of feelings that only a labour of love can bring. Once in generations will a game come even remotely close to recreating how finely balanced the trophy was, even until the last minute. How glory rested on a precipice the width of a shaved ant.
How lucky we are to have this happen to our club. To end the iron-grip holding the League, to win it in such mitigating circumstances. All variables that eventually pointed to distinction for the Gunners. As I mentioned previously, it is a daubing in the halls of your mind in permanent marker, something you can never rid yourself of, a memory that will always make other incidents, once the flames of passion have dulled to embers, pale into comparison.
To be fair, I don’t think my innards could take watching a match of those parameters. My aorta is already screaming blue murder every time I scoff more cooked animal carcass. I also know this as whenever I hear Brian Moore nigh-on SCREAM those immortal words, my heart skips a beat. I don’t want another title decider like this. It deserves its place as head of historic, dramatic conclusions. Plus, not many other sporting events have warranted a film surrounding its happenings.
It seems it is past the time to wrap this up. Time to watch Fever Pitch for the umpteenth time. I do hope you have enjoyed this tour down Nostalgia Avenue, where the tickets are free and you always win the prize. I look forward to your feedback.