1988/89. What a season. For the first time since I’d started my love affair with Arsenal we were genuine title contenders. Liverpool were the pre-eminent team, but George’s mix of lower division buys and youth team graduates were the challengers that wouldn’t fall away.
I went to nearly all the games that season, but when it came to THE match I was sat at home watching it with a baby! When the game was originally scheduled, they made the mistake of playing it the same day as I was due to be best man at a wedding and there was no way I was going to be able to get out of it. At least I had the consolation that although it was a vital game, at least it wasn’t going to decide the championship, was it… Well, we all know why it was re-arranged, and there was I after over a decade of tramping up and down the country watching (often) dire performances, not able to get a ticket for the game that could bring us the title.
Well, thanks to the fact that ITV decided that this game was worthy of being broadcast live (a rare event in those days) at least I wouldn’t have to suffer following the match on the radio. It was over a week since we had walked out of Highbury after the draw against Wimbledon that meant us dropping 5 home points in 4 days, which was plenty of time for my confidence to return (mind you I was confident that we’d win the league at the start of every season Terry Neill was in charge – so maybe you shouldn’t read too much into that). Even when Liverpool spanked West Ham leaving us needing a 2 goal win at Anfield I still knew we could do it.
Although the game was being shown at my local, I wanted to watch the game at home. I don’t really know why, I guess the idea of watching Arsenal on a telly in a pub just seemed too strange for me. Mind you, I’d not watched Arsenal play live on TV at home since the 1972 final either. My partner had no interest in football, but knowing the importance of the match decided she wanted to be no where near me whilst the game was on, so she and our lodger decided to get their ‘glad-rags’ on and go out for the night which is how I was left with our 9 month old.
Being a good little chap he went to bed quietly about an hour before kick off. Excellent. Minutes before kick off he woke up and started crying. Not so excellent. Any parent out there knows the difference between the sobbing that means they’ll be asleep again in a minute, and the bawling that requires action, and this wasn’t the one where he was going back to sleep!
A lot of the first half is a bit of a blur, seeing as I was trying all the things known to parenthood to calm him down. I even considered taking him out for a drive at half time, but the Irish whiskey I was using to ‘calm my nerves’ made that a non-starter. Maybe I was more nervous that I thought and he could feel that, but he just wouldn’t settle.
As the second half started we’d seemingly reached an agreement where he’d be quiet and let me watch the football over his shoulder so long as I bounced him on my knee. Not ideal, and rather tiring, but the best on offer, so I took it. That is, until Smudger scored the first. Maybe the bouncing got a bit hectic whilst the ref and lino were chatting? Maybe I jumped up a bit too quick when they gave the goal? Maybe he just realised how relieved I was? I don’t really know which, but Jr. smiled up at me and suddenly looked ready for bed. Between the goal been given and the re-start he was there.
The remainder of the game involved me leaving the comfort of the sofa and edging closer and closer to the telly, as if my proximity to the pictures would have some bearing, and the players would respond to me imploring them to attack. Oh, and (too) regular topping up of my glass. Then with a few minutes left Mickey Thomas broke through the middle…and fluffed it. Mickey, please accept my apologies for all the names I called you at that moment.
By the time McMahon appeared on screen with a finger raised to show there was only 1 minute left (and we never let him forget that moment, did we!) even my confidence was starting to wane. Then the ball was sent forward again. As Mickey collected the ball and broke forward again I was transfixed. This was it….the last chance. And he slotted it! As Mickey was rolling around on the pitch at Anfield, I was doing the same in my front room. I even managed to knock over and rather kill a large plant the girlfriend was quite proud of, but that didn’t even register at the time (although it was pointed out the next day). Now I’m not the type who looks away when last minute penalties are given, but as Liverpool kicked off I couldn’t watch. I filled my glass and went and sat on the front doorstep. Surely we couldn’t blow it now. Surely. Please! And then I heard the final whistle. I jumped to my feet, screamed, and my glass disappeared into the sky.
Then I just felt so calm and elated. I went back in and watched the trophy being lifted and all the celebration with a strange detached calm. I remember there was a car ad at the time where the guy bet on everything 50/50 and lost, but at least had bought the right car. They’d managed to add a line in minutes saying ‘he bet on Liverpool, and Arsenal scored in the last minute’. That was cool. Then it was all over. We’d done it. For the first time I’d seen us win the title and even from miles away I felt part of it. At that moment it didn’t matter a bit that I wasn’t there. It didn’t matter I was on my own. They’d done it. We’d done it. We WERE the champions.
“Division 1, Liverpool (0) v Arsenal (2), 26-5-89, Anfield.
Michael Thomas shoots past Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar to score Arsenal’s 2nd goal in the last minute of the match.
This goal clinched the League Championship for Arsenal, despite finishing level on points with Liverpool, because the Londoners had scored more goals during the season than Liverpool.”