The Greatest Match Ever
Note for my Bulgarian friends
Scouse is a type of stew, typically made from chunks of meat, usually beef or lamb, potatoes and onion. It is particularly associated with the port of Liverpool, which is why the inhabitants of that city are often referred to as "scousers".
Eating Scouse for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner?
We played Liverpool in 3 competitions in 1988-89. The League Cup, The Centenary Cup and the 1st Division. The first one was the Centenary Cup to celebrate the 100 years of the Football League. So breakfast was this trophy. The top 8 teams from the previous season were chosen to participate so we had QPR in the first round, also the quarterfinals. 2-0 to the Arsenal was good enough to see did we like the taste of Scouse in the semi’s. Liverpool were down some players although they still lined up strong enough even if Kenny Dalglish popped up himself towards the end. The wonderful Perry Groves knocked in the first, then Steve Staunton, one of 3 Irishmen on the pitch for Liverpool, got the equaliser, but Brian Marwood signalled that breakfast was served with a super volley. George had got his taste of Scouse. He liked it. He decided he also liked Hotpot as we gobbled up Man Utd in an exciting final 2-1. A trophy for the Arsenal early in the season putting 2 big Northern clubs in their place.
Next up, lunch and the League Cup
It wasn’t easy eating Scouse for lunch. They gave us indigestion. 1-1 in the first match at Anfield although they had still had players out. A strong side though with echoes of Arsenal in the late 70’s and plenty of Irish players. We had only English. John Barnes and David Rocastle scored. A replay at Highbury and 0-0. Then 2-1 Liverpool at Villa Park for the next replay. Steve McMahon and John Aldridge scoring with Paul Merson getting our lone goal.
The League Title for dinner?
Could we swallow them down in the League? Two matches to play. The first at Highbury on 4th December. As I mentioned last time, Norwich were the supposed danger all season. We were 3 points behind them with a game in hand and 3 points above Liverpool and we had a game in hand on them. Bizarrely, we were sandwiched between Norwich and George Graham’s ex, Millwall who had come up and were doing very well. Liverpool were 4th. Beat them and we go top on goal difference. We, and George, were not stupid, though. Liverpool were the benchmark. Only an idiot would think otherwise. At Highbury we also needed to beat them to lay down a marker that we were Arsenal and we were coming for them. We beat them in the Centenary Cup and they beat us in the League Cup so now in the league, at home, we should show them we eat Scouse straight down the throat.
However, we didn’t. It was 1-1. It was a good match, lots of chances, maybe more for Liverpool. They had a strong side with 4 Irishmen, Whelan, Staunton, Houghton and Aldridge. John Barnes and Peter Beardsley would terrify any defence in the world. But our players were coming into form. We caused them problems. Alan Smith (2), Rocastle and Winterburn had good chances and couldn’t put them away. 0-0 at half time. Second half and John Barnes scores a superb individual goal to show us that they wanted to give us indigestion again. Maybe we weren’t good enough after all? But chances kept happening at both ends, the bumpy December pitch throwing up chances. Till finally Rocastle lobbed the ball towards Smith and this time nothing was going to stop him scoring, it took him 3 touches in a scramble but in it went. Now we chased the winner but it wasn’t to be. We were second. And second best? We had hope.
The Big Match
So, the business end. We had beaten Norwich on May 1st to kill their chances. Liverpool had gone top in April but this was the year of the Hillsborough disaster. That is a blog for another day but it was perhaps the worst ever tragedy in English football. Liverpool stopped playing for a while and they had games in hand on other teams. We would have to eat a big Scouse dinner as they just kept winning matches when they restarted playing. In their final few matches Aldridge and Barnes were frightening, throwing the ball into the net time after time.
We became ropey, nervous. Middlesbrough were dispatched 1-0 but then we were beaten by Derby and drew against Wimbledon to hand the league to Liverpool. We made it impossible. We had to go to Anfield against probably the greatest team ever in English football to that point and beat them 2-0. They had done it again. No Scouse dinner for us.
It was televised worldwide. Obviously, people believed that an upset was possible. A Liverpool win and they win the league by 6 points, just another year for them. Even a draw and they win by 3. But I have spoken to people from all over the world who watched that match and the tension was – could it be done? Arsenal, who hadn’t won the league or really contended in a long time, could go and cause an upset? At the most scary fortress in world football? People tuned in, in huge numbers, all the same. It was certainly not just Arsenal and Liverpool supporters.
The Finest of Dining
We had played them 5 times already, and only a 2-1 win in the Centenary Cup to show for it and that against a weakened team. They had that 2-1 in the League Cup. But they had momentum, we were stuttering, and they had the emotional tide of the Hillsborough disaster to win it for their supporters.
You are mostly Arsenal supporters, reading this, you know what happened, but for me, watching, most of the game I felt like I wasn’t watching normally, but somewhere in the sky, looking down. It seemed surreal, time was passing slowly, things were happening on the pitch but it was like things were not happening on the pitch. Alan Smith scores a clever header on 52 minutes and I sorta think, it’s too early to score, we need two late goals to have a chance. Now, we have woken them up, they will show us that Scouse is not for the likes of us, and we certainly won’t dine on it.
There were chances, for both sides, but it was painful to watch. It just went on and on, inevitably towards a Liverpool title. We didn’t really seem likely to score and nor did they. John Barnes got the ball on 91 minutes, with all their fans whistling at the ref, and ran at Arsenal. Maybe he had that Liverpool instinct to win, not only the title, but not to lose the match. He went on a typical Barnes mazy run, but was dispossessed by Kieran Richardson, who slipped it to Lukic, who overarmed it to Dixon, who passed it on to Smith, who knocked it on to Thomas, who went on a run to be faced with Steve Nicol blocking his path. He tried to hook it over him, made a mess of it but it bounced off him perfectly for Thomas to be left one v one against Grobelaar. I was frozen, up in the sky watching, but he dinked it in. It didn’t make any sense to me. We can’t possibly win. Reports can say it was the last kick of the game but it certainly wasn’t. Liverpool mounted another attack and I was certain, in that hour it took from Michael Thomas beating Grobelaar, that they would score. We could not do it. But we did! We were Arsenal and we sent them home crying. Scouse was our favourite dish and we had eaten all of it. We had our greatest night ever, and all that the Liverpool legends could do was lie down on the floor, stunned, bewildered, and shellshocked.