A Tale of Two Cities part 2
Liverpool has always been intertwined with Arsenal. Probably our greatest ever match was beating them at Anfield 2-0 in 1989 to win the league. But that is a story for another day. In 1979-80 we played Liverpool teams (there is a blue team as well) 9 times. How did we get on? Well read on.
As I said last time, Liverpool beat us 3-1 in the Charity Shield. As I also mentioned last time, they were consistently the best team in Europe for a long time, before and after this season. They sent us home crying, telling us we weren’t Arsenal. Could we get revenge against the best team in Europe? Well read on.
In November, we played Everton at Highbury and beat them 2-0 and set down a marker to the city. Next week we played Liverpool, also at Highbury, and drew 0-0. With the logic of home advantage, that meant Liverpool were marginally better, but we were getting closer to them, I felt.
At the end of March, we played at Goodison and won 1-0. Another warning for Liverpool.
An Oliver Twist in the Cup
We were the Cup holders, could we do it again? 2nd division Cardiff, surely was easy in the 3rd round? Ah, I don’t think so. 0-0 and then 2-1, another replay. Then Brighton, as I mentioned last time 2-0 and they must have hated us by then. Then Bolton, who liked kicking people, 1-1, again a replay but we at least beat them 3-0 to go through against 2nd division Watford, surely this time an easy match. A struggle 2-1 and then we come up against Liverpool in the semi’s.
They had never done the double in the 20th century, only teams from London. Us and the Spuds. They were very hungry to do so, and us beating Everton twice meant nothing to them. They were the kings. Everton were playing 2nd division West Ham in the other semi. They would surely win. They wanted to win the double by beating Everton like we had by beating the Spuds. Arsenal were never going to stop them.
But we were Arsenal, we like winning. We had 6 fighting Irish, we had Liam Brady and we had got a taste for the Cup last time against Man Utd. However, every time we came up against Liverpool in those days, I was nervous, I have to concede they were better than us. We went to Hillsborough hoping and got nothing 0-0. In the meantime we played them in the league and drew 1-1 at Anfield as well. So then across to Villa Park and 1-1 after extra time then again Villa Park and the same result. Then across to Coventry and finally Brian Talbot gets a header after a mistake by our old favourite Ray Kennedy. Hey, hey, hey, we had beaten them, the kings of everywhere. We were Arsenal. We were like a boxer finally getting on top late on in the fight. We were the better team. And we only had 2nd division West Ham to beat in the final. Easy peasy after beating the kings.
The twist came in the final. Trevor Brooking scored the only goal with his head, as he never stopped saying, and Arsenal were flat. Too many games, hard games, mental attitude, various things came into play, but we didn’t do it. West Ham should have scored a second and Willie Young should have been sent off for a cynical foul on Paul Allen, then the youngest player to play in a cup final, who was through on goal late on. But they won anyway to become kings of London that season.
The Old Curiosity country
We still had the Cup Winners Cup. A curious thing was the Germanic flavour of our campaign. First up was Fenerbahce from Turkey, who have a huge population in Germany. 2-0 at home and an intimidating 0-0 away saw us on to the next round. FC Magdeburg from Germany next which again was a struggle 2-1 at home and 2-2 away. Then IFK Gothenberg of Sweden where we finally had an easier time, beating them 5-1 at home, making the next leg a formality. A bit tenuous, but Sweden is a Germanic country. Then Juventus from Turin in the semi’s, and southern Italians refer to the northerners as Germans. A big club, at the same time as we were playing Liverpool 5 times. We were up against the big boys, with a tiny squad by todays standards. We drew 1-1 with them at Highbury in the first leg, they had the vital away goal and nobody had beaten them at home in European competition in a very long time. We played 3 times against Liverpool between first leg and second, tough draining matches, we had no hope of going to Juventus and winning. Watching the match in Allen’s pub that night, it felt like a formality, the noise from the Juventus crowd was deafening, and we huffed and puffed but were never going to win.
Terry Neill decided to throw on Paul Vaessen, an 18 year old striker (with a tragic story for another day), with 15 minutes to go. I heard afterwards that Don Howe had told him “Get on there and score for us”. The poor guy had said yes, but somehow he did, with a couple of minutes left, he was on the end of a cross from Rix and we had done it. I couldn’t believe it. Juventus fell silent. We had beaten Juventus and shortly after beat Liverpool, two of the biggest names in world football. We were Arsenal. We could do it.
Finals were a Bleak House for us
So the final and Valencia, then a top team from Spain. They had a superb German midfielder, Rainer Bonhof, who had won the World Cup in 1974. They also had the sublime Argentinian Mario Kempes, also a World Cup winner from 1978.They had the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano as manager, one of the greatest footballers of all time. We didn’t have that calibre but we had Liam Brady and the fighting Irish, seven if you include the manager. I wrote about it in a previous blog so I don’t really want to go too much over it again, but it was a tough slog of a match, coming towards the end of a 70 match season. It went to penalties and the 2 stars Brady and Kempes both missed first time. Bonhof slotted home the fifth and John Hollins ours. On to the players who don’t really want to take penalties. But Ricardo Arias whacked his home and Graham Rix, often the guy who provided a late assist for us, missed the sixth. Beaten in 2 finals. Heartbreaking. I find shootouts almost impossible to watch when it is Arsenal or Ireland. I keep expecting our players to miss.
Game 69 against Wolves and somehow we won 2-1. Then game 70 Middlesbrough and they destroyed us 5-0. I really believe we could have won the league that season as we dropped lots of points towards the end with so many tough matches against top teams and so many replays.
But next year surely was our year? We had beaten the big boys. Our young team was nearing its peak. The Irish team was going to make the next step. We were Arsenal and we were on our way. The 80’s would be Arsenal.