Tag Archives: 1991

30 Year Anniversary – Class of 91

Almost Invincible.

Thirty years ago, Arsenal, George Graham and his multi-talented but miniscule squad began a campaign that should be ranked amongst our finest achievements.

The end result was the First Division Championship – but the sheer scale and number of obstacles put in the path of this ‘Class of 91’ adds a deeper lustre to this particular achievement.

As it’s the 30th anniversary of this amazing side, my publisher and I thought it would be good to re-release the book – with some extra content and some new content and info from members of the team themselves – to commemorate it.

You can order this Special Anniversary Edition here.

True, football was vastly different to the sport as we know it today. From the contrasting levels of physicality within matches to fitness regimens, diets and everything in between, football back in 1990 presented different challenges to nowadays.

It doesn’t lessen what the Class of 91 managed though.

There were still 38 opportunities for failure – and for Arsenal to avoid this 37 times out of that 38 is on a level with The Invincibles team.

Does that sole loss really create a gulf between the two incarnations of Arsenal? Is the fact that the Class of 91 succumbed to a ridiculously unlucky loss a telltale sign that Wenger’s team of 2004 was markedly better? Because the rest of the numbers points to Graham’s men as the superior team.

More goals scored, less conceded. A far smaller squad to navigate the season with. These are big indicators regarding the merits of that side that came so close to achieving the immortality that The Invincibles now enjoy.

Thirty years is a long time, but it isn’t the length of time that has dimmed the spotlight that should always be focused on this side. It is that one little ‘l’ that stops the Class of 91 being talked about in the same vein as The Invincibles.

That loss was inflicted on a mire of a pitch, with our skipper incarcerated at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. It was given to us with a shockingly brutal tackle on Steve Bould, which then forced George Graham to call upon a fresh-faced David Hillier (a midfielder) to act as a band-aid in the centre of defence in the absence of the injured Bould. This loss was thrust upon Arsenal by an offside goal and a flood of fixtures beforehand that left this threadbare squad exhausted.

This side overcame a points deduction too, after the infamous Battle of Old Trafford.

It is tough to find another championship-winning side that has had to overcome more – and was victorious in such a comprehensive manner. You could even argue that the competition in 1990-91 was far more competitive than in 2003-04, when there were only two other contenders. Thirty years ago, Liverpool were the all-conquering champions and had dominated the last twenty years or so. The First Division also had an exciting Crystal Palace side with a forward line to send fear into any defence. Manchester United were assembling something that resembled a challenge and even Tottenham had true class in their side thanks to Gazza and Gary Lineker.

There were more thrills and spills on the way of course, but I don’t want to spoil the book for you.

So, Almost Invincible – the 30th Anniversary of the Class of 91 – is out now. New cover, new content – but the story will still tell you all about this amazing journey Arsenal had that year and how they overcame insurmountable odds to earn the title – and what should be a permanent place in footballing history.

http://bit.ly/ArsenalClassOf91

Waxing Lyrical About Wrighty

Can words do justice?

When a search for fitting superlatives leaves you exhausted, does that mean that a tribute would be a bad idea?

In terms of an Arsenal figurative Hall of Fame, any who deservedly roam this imaginary building – bedecked with marble of course – can transform a blogger into a gibbering wreck. How on earth can you surmise a player’s career when it affected so many people’s lives in a positive way?

Any attempt would be foolish – but isn’t it important to remind ourselves (even if it doesn’t do them justice) how good they really were?

Some names instantly conjure up memories. Such was their impact, a mere mention of their moniker and fans begin to wax lyrical about a specific moment or goal.

Ian Wright  is one of those players.

So good we named him thrice, Wrighty joined Arsenal after forming a destructive partnership with Mark Bright at Crystal Palace. The Eagles were not expected to pull up any trees, but their attacking might – aided by Geoff Thomas in midfield – ripped up the rulebook and made clubs take notice.

Luckily enough, Arsenal was to be Wrighty’s destination – and he started how he finished as a Gunner.

With a goal.

The occasion was pretty low-profile; a 2nd round Rumbelows Cup game against Leicester City. Wrighty wasn’t even expected to start the game, but Alan Smith’s ankle didn’t pass a fitness test. Our new striker had only signed that very week and he was instantly thrust into the eleven.

No pressure then. Well, it never showed on our star striker anyway. He grabbed the goal that gave us the initiative for the second leg and Graham cooed about his latest acquisition in the papers. The Scot mentioned Wrighty’s pace and his ability to make something from nothing. These talents were always on display in our red and white, and they made him a nightmare to defend against.

Wrighty has spoke about his energy levels as a youth and how they never really dipped as he got older. It meant that not only was he a delight to interview – as well as magnificently candid – but it required opposing defenders to maintain their concentration for the whole of the ninety minutes.

One slip, one lackadaisical jog back to hold the line?

Wrighty will get you.

His pace has been mentioned, but the reason that Wrighty was able to ensure his name amongst the pantheon of greats not only at Arsenal, but of the Premier League, was because his talents were the perfect storm.

His energy levels, his pace. They meant that defenders had to keep an eye on him constantly. But his positioning was chief among reasons why he was always in place to capitalise on a sublime pass or a fault by an opposing man.

Once he got these opportunities though, he still had to finish.

Wrighty has spoken about his inherent ability to put one in the onion bag. I distinctly remember a comment about his finishing, where he declared that the secret was to shoot when the keeper isn’t expecting it. He regularly fired a shot towards goal far earlier than convention would dictate. Most would carry nearer to the goal, but Wrighty’s belief in his talents meant he would try his luck quickly.

It’s fair to say it worked.

He was much more than a predator though. His finishing deserves its place among the best, but in his own personal highlight reel we can see that he is no one-trick pony. If variety is the spice of life, then Wrighty’s collection of goals is like Scotch Bonnet chili.

Chips? He had more than a Glaswegian street on a Saturday night. Outside of the box? So many efforts filled with venom ripped into the net from distance. Then there were the little indicators that genius was at work. The improvisations, the flicks that left a defender looking around for the ball and the player.

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Image credit – Arsenal FC

 

Wrighty’s career is impossible to really visualise into words. His relationship with Gooners is infatuation on both sides and if the next statue outside The Emirates was of Wrighty, arms aloft with his trademark grin, would anyone object?

Not a chance. My words might not do him justice, but his legacy will live on through us and the club.

 

Thank you Wrighty.

Paul Davis – An Arsenal Warrior Bleeding Red and White

For fifteen years, Paul Vincent Davis was a Gunner.

From his debut in 1980 – in a derby no less – all the way to his injury hit last year in 1995, Davis embodied the drive, hunger and above all, class, that is synonymous with our club. The phrase, ‘The Arsenal Way’ could well be written within every DNA strand of the man.

Davis signed as an apprentice in 1977, and it didn’t take long for him to start pushing toward the first team. The central midfielder built a reputation for his patrolling of the centre of a pitch, and his Swiss Army Knife-like set of skills.

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You needed a pass? No problem. Tracking back? He’s got it covered. Tackling? Those telescopic legs were made for hooking the ball back. Davis had it all, and a player doesn’t become a mainstay of a top-flight club for such a long time without earning it.

No matter who he partnered, he moulded himself to fit the strengths of his other half in the centre. Most famously was perhaps his iconic duopoly with Mickey Thomas. Whereas Mickey had a great ability to ghost into the box to aid our attack, Davis knew when to stand sentry, and when to pivot. They dovetailed perfectly, and in 89, their partnership was the ideal platform for the most dramatic title triumph.

It was no coincidence that an injury to Davis coincided with a faltering of Arsenal’s title charge. Dropped points to QPR, Coventry, Millwall, Forest and Charlton saw Liverpool claw their way back, and upon Davis’ return – the draw versus the Addicks, we started to claw our way back from the brink.

Two title wins, four cups and earning more appearances than the majority of our past and current crops, Davis may have fought his fair share of injuries, but he was one of our own.

Not only that, but he was one of the flagbearers for racial equality within football – a battle that is still being fought. He, with a select few others, showed that Arsenal saw no colour, only talent, and Davis never let the bias get him down, as he steamrollered opponents no matter where or when.

He was a soldier for race and for Arsenal, and it was absolutely criminal that Davis never established himself on the England scene. Davis made 11 England Under-21 appearances, but not one cap for the full side. Davis would no doubt have added to England’s cause during his time at the top, and his pedigree of passing was difficult to match in the top-flight.

Davis continues to fight racism as an ambassador for ‘Give racism the red card’ and ‘Kick it out’ but it is his displays in our title winning teams of 89 and 91 that we will always hold dear and ensure Davis is and always will be, considered one of our Greatest Gunners.

Davis was a Gunner for fifteen years, helped bring glory to the club through silverware, and never let his standards drop throughout that time. He was a fine example to those younger than him of what it takes to make it. Tenacity, a thirst for betterment and a will to win that is never dampened throughout the years.

Can we say that Davis is one of our finest? Of course, there aren’t many in the modern era that can hold a candle, Vieira aside. Davis ticked all boxes.

Davis in non-Arsenal circles will always be remembered for punching Glenn Cockerill, but we will remember him for much more than that.

A bona-fide Arsenal legend, who bleeds red and white.

Book Signing Event!

By now, the majority of you are well aware that my book, Almost Invincible, is being released.

 

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It has been a labour of love for me. Writing my first book about a subject I feel so passionately about was a fantastic and frustrating experience. Fantastic because I got to relive every facet of the fantastic 1990/91 title winning side and share in the experiences of those that achieved it – and frustrating as I tried to make every single word as excellent as the displays on the pitch during that amazing campaign.

Now, the book will have a launch event.

 

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On the 12th of August, the day of our first game of the season against Man City, at 7pm, come along to The Gunners Pub, 204 Blackstock Rd. David Hillier, a member of the 90/91 squad, will be there to sign your books – as well as some special guests…

So, it’d be great to see you there. I speak to so many of you regularly through social media, so please come along so I can thank you in person for the support!

It is a dual event, with another Arsenal book – Royal Arsenal, Champions of the South – being launched too.  This is a fascinating window into Arsenal’s origins in the South of London, and well worth a read for any discerning Gooner.

It’ll be a blast, I hope you can all make what will be a memorable evening!

12 August, 7pm, The Gunners Pub.

Be there!