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  1. 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. John Aldridge was scoring goals for fun 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. Until 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. And so was John Barnes 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. But we had Michael Thomas 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. Liverpool Arsenal GK 1 Bruce Grobbelaar CB 2 Gary Ablett RB 4 Steve Nicol CB 6 Alan Hansen LB 3 Steve Staunton RM 7 Ray Houghton CM 5 Ronnie Whelan (c) CM 11 Steve McMahon LM 10 John Barnes CF 8 John Aldridge CF 9 Ian Rush 32' Substitutes: DF 14 Barry Venison FW 12 Peter Beardsley 32' Manager: Kenny Dalglish GK 1 John Lukic SW 5 David O'Leary RB 2 Lee Dixon CB 6 Tony Adams (c) CB 10 Steve Bould 76' LB 3 Nigel Winterburn MF 4 Michael Thomas MF 7 David Rocastle MF 8 Kevin Richardson MF 11 Paul Merson 73' CF 9 Alan Smith Substitutes: MF 12 Perry Groves 76' MF 14 Martin Hayes 73' Manager: George Graham
  2. Happy birthday Ascb, happy birthday to you 20 years, eh? Where has it all gone? Well, let me tell you. It has gone to creating the best supporters club in Bulgaria and credit must go to all the luminaries who have had an active part in building, attracting and creating a gathering of like minds to yes, push for the Arsenal, but also show a side of Bulgaria that few outside probably ever see. This is the joy, the respect, the fun, the friendships, the looking after each other - and that connection that binds all Bulgarians, that they are the plucky underdogs who can do it when it really matters. Alan forges a background at the Sports Academy Never was this more emphasised than on our weekend programme to welcome the legendary Alan Smith. On Friday night in the Sports Academy in Dianabad there was an ambitious schedule of events including a quiz that was worked on intensively by several members but that was discarded in favour of a party to celebrate us coming together from all parts of Bulgaria. A good time is what matters. One nil to the Alan Smith But then on the Saturday night the carnival switched focus to our star guest, Alan Smith, and a superb celebration of his football life was the centrepiece of the night. Questions were fired at him and he responded articulately and well, and it was rounded off by a video soupçon of his best moments to which the crowd roared, sang and cheered and added to the party atmosphere. It was raucous but always fun. And did I mention that Alan scored the critical first goal against Liverpool in 1989 and the only goal against Parma in the European Cup Winners Cup? Great cheers erupted as the goals sailed in. A huge crowd had a fantastic night If Friday was the party, Saturday was the culmination of a massive amount of organisation in which so many things happened and all worked out effortlessly. Bulgarians can do it, you know. From the initial birthday celebrations to the Alan Smith spectacle and onto the birthday cake (very tasty) and the raffles of which the biggest cheer came when our chairman Georgi Stoyanov won the main prize. Cries of Mafia rang around the hall good-humouredly but Joro laughed in good-hearted embarrassment. Alan dealt with everything put in front of him with a smile There was lots of kids and families there, most wearing Arsenal colours and dancing and shaking their bodies at a night we will recall forever. My attempt at an Bulgarian iconic style Alan Smith A huge amount of credit must go to Alan Smith. He turned up both nights where he stood for selfies and chatted and signed everything that was put in front of him. A very decent man, very willing to do his bit to make everything a time to remember. We will never forget his grace, poise and good humour, and he has now become a Bulgarian icon as well. Maybe we should do a picture of him in that famous Bulgarian iconic style as a commemoration? The best supporters club anywhere It is an enormous undertaking to persuade a football star to come to Bulgaria. The money involved including flights and accommodation is difficult to secure considering the money that they can get from events in their own home patch, but I suspect that Alan and his bubbly wife Penny had a great time as well, as I know they were surprised by the level of support in Bulgaria for the Arsenal by the knowledge, sheer passion, and enthusiasm shown, and, along with the level of fun and respect presented may make it easier in future to entice others to come. I will certainly try to get him to persuade others to give Bulgaria a go. They won’t forget it. The voice has come alive I have a confession to make, when I wrote the text for the programme I made an assumption that a lot of our fans would have little knowledge of Alan Smith considering he retired almost thirty years ago. But I underestimated the power of gaming. His many years with EA Sports Fifa has made his voice his calling card among the youth. All the younger people there knew him for his voice as he co-commented with Martin Tyler for all their epic tilts at titles as they tried to manipulate themselves to the top. Alan Smith was with them for endless hours as they pushed their teams to win long into the night. They knew who he was alright. The voice is real I suspect meeting the real person behind that voice must be an even bigger thrill than meeting him as I know him as a footballer and critic/commentator. There are lots of footballers, pundits and commentators but only two were with you in your bedroom as you battled your teams to the trophy. My partner in crime on this blog Dani Georgiev with some random footballer It all means that ASCB got it right with Alan Smith. He is a link to our second coming under George Graham, he was there almost from the start as the Sky revolution of football kicked off which brought with it football 24/7, technology at every corner, and the Premier League beamed to every round of the globe. And, of course, he had a personal foot and head in many of our greatest days. The Bulgarian way is best ASCB got the person right and they got the weekend right. It was done the Bulgarian way, with a cock-up included (but maybe that quiz will happen another night?) however they pulled off a truly great time for everyone and that is what matters. Lots of the culprits who have made ASCB what it is I give thanks in extremis to all involved, too numerous to mention, but we have set a benchmark now and I can’t wait for the day we pull off the biggest coup of all in Arsene Wenger. We can do anything, we are ASCB. So thanks very much, Alan Smith, you are our football star, our commentating expert, and to the younger crew, the voice that accompanied them through their formative years. And you are always welcome.
  3. So who is Alan Smith? Alan Smith was recently announced as our star guest at our 20th anniversary celebrations and I have been asked to contribute an accolade for our programme of the event. This is a shortened version to enable many of you to appreciate who he was and why he is such a big figure for ASCB to capture for this crucial event. Without Alan's goal at Liverpool we would not have won the league He was involved in many years of success and made possible the dethroning of the Monsters Liverpool as Kings of English football. Nowadays it is hard for most of the younger fans to appreciate what Liverpool were, from the mid-1970s to the end of the 1980’s, but they were like the modern Manchester City plus Premium. They won everything, including in Europe, and had global superstars in every position until George Graham’s Arsenal, with Alan Smith as the spearhead and main goalscorer, came to knock them off their perch in 1989 and 1991. Arsenal dethroned Liverpool not Alex Ferguson Arsenal had already done that before Alex Ferguson came along to claim the same when he started to dominate the Premier League. Sorry Alex, that feat was the Arsenal’s and our striker was Alan Smith. He won 8 major trophies with the Arsenal. Let’s hope some of our current players can say the same. And without his goal against Parma we would not have won the European Cup Winners Cup He is 27th on the fans list of greatest Arsenal players but let’s look at his achievements which maybe should have put him higher. He won the Golden Boot twice, both times when George Graham’s team won the league. I argue that those achievements would not be in our history without him. He also scored the first goal in the famous clinching match at Anfield without which Michael Thomas’s goal would have been superfluous. He was also Arsenal’s Player of the Season that year, voted by the fans, so he was well appreciated at the time. Without Alan Smith our trophies would be less He scored the only goal when we won our second European trophy, the European Cup-Winners Cup in 1994, so we owe him that as well. Two titles and a European trophy that may not have been achieved without Alan Smith being our player. We owe him a lot. Excelsior, Alan. The commentator and the footballer with Leicester and Arsenal I saw him playing live a few times, most notably when we played Portsmouth in 1987 and we won 6-0, with Alan notching up his first goals for Arsenal with a hat trick. I was also there for the infamous war at Old Trafford in 1991 when virtually all players got involved in lots of pushing and histrionics. We won 1-0 though and were docked two points. It didn’t stop us winning the league. His book is the most authentic I have read so far A heartbreaking injury took him at his peak Regrettably, his career was abruptly ended at the age of 32 due to a knee complication that failed to heal. This was his first significant injury, and it had a profound impact on him, especially the abrupt separation from the players, the staff, and everyone at Highbury. Suddenly, he was no longer a part of the team; the very thing that had been central to his life vanished, and he had no backup plan. Fortunately, he had a friend in Geoff Shreeves who offered him an opportunity to join the Sky project, which had invented football a couple of years before A commentator, writer and critic par excellence He never looked back after that as he found his new niche, being an integral part of football but no longer a part of what he knew as football, inside the dressingroom. The Daily Telegraph newspaper signed him up as a regular contributor as well. One thing I have noticed from living in Bulgaria is that many fans prefer to watch with English commentary. And of course the computer football games use English commentators, prominent among them Alan Smith. It gives these games authenticity. Alan and Martin Tyler enjoying life commentating for FIFA 12 A major contributor to the multi-layered modern world of football Truth be told, Alan Smith carved out a longer second career than he did his first. He joined quite a long list of Arsenal stars to have their careers curtailed early. His at just 32 years old. He refers to it several times in different sections of his book “Heads Up” and it hit him hard. He had had a career almost injury free and the first real injury knocked him out of football. Sky had only just invented football a couple of years before so the big money had yet to appear. His wife Penny, and his two girls, had an unemployed husband and dad. Geoff Shreeves offer came at just the right time. Alan explaining the complexities of football to Geoff Shreeves Alan Smith is a genuine superstar at the Arsenal, a dapper, very young looking man who has played a huge role in making Arsenal what it is today, but also, through his enduring work as commentator, writer and analyst, a major contributor to the modern day world of football, with its inexhaustible array of perspectives, pundits, technology, and angles which leads to endless debate about areas he or I would never have dreamed possible when we were kids growing up in the '60's. All hail Alan Smith and thanks for everything. Update to the Table of Doom Table of Doom Fixtures Current points Max Arsenal 83 89 Man City Spurs (a) 82 91 And so Man City have only one of the old top five left to play when I started the Table Of Doom this year in the hapless Spuds. I feel that Spurs have lost their shape and I cannot see them doing us any favours. West Ham have just lost their manager so we only have Fulham, playing for nothing, although Marco Silva may feel a win over City will put him in contention for one of the bigger jobs out there. That is the thread we are hanging onto now. Marco Silva is our only chance left? Yikes! If we beat Man United and Everton we will have 89 points which would have given us the title most seasons since Sky invented football. Those of you who have followed the Table of Doom from the start will know that I posited 86 points as the minimum needed this time. That I got right as I am now certain that less will not get the title. It also probably won’t get the title. I hope at the least though that we beat Man Utd to make for a nervy last day for City. If Arteta manages the two wins he will have got 25 from our last ten matches with the Villa loss and the City draw, a big improvement from his previous efforts. Lose them and he will have 19, one worse than his best in 2021. So the jury is still out on whether Arteta can have the strong finish required to win the league. I believe we can win them and set ourselves up for an exciting finish. And I believe that Arteta will set us up to being Arsenal again. C’mon the Arse!
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