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My Life as a Gooner part 26
Augustine Worth posted an article in London CallingWhy couldn’t we win all our matches? 1990-91 Invincible? It was considered unachievable in the modern game, because English football was so competitive. Every year low teams beat top teams, not to mention that you had to beat the top teams as well. Of course you could draw, but if you drew every match you are flirting with relegation. Once 3 points for a win came in in 1981, they became they only real currency to trade in. George Graham never made any bold prediction like Arsene Wenger did, but if you examine what Wenger actually said was that no top manager ever plans to draw and no manager ever plans to lose. He said he aims to win every match. I am sure Ferguson, Dalglish, Clough and others felt the same. I have no doubt George Graham was the same. So I left you last time with us unbeaten in October with a fairly lucky win at Old Trafford. 6 wins and 3 draws and behind Liverpool. At that stage Liverpool had one of their best spells ever, winning match after match. It was hard to see us being champions. Last season we were 4th, a distant 17 points away from Liverpool. It is hard to imagine nowadays what you had to do to beat them. These days so many fans are dreaming of billionaire owners coming in to the clubs and buying them success. Chelsea were the first such, in England. Man City popped up later, Leicester now as well. The traditional big clubs, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal, who had hoovered up in their existence a huge chunk of all trophies ever won in England, also succumbed to the allure of the billionaires. Everton and Spurs also, who were the next layer of top level clubs, are now part of the rich clubs and can believe they can compete. It was better for the smaller teams Tradition at that time meant you could attract the top players, yes, but unlike nowadays, once the first 11 was set, it was hard to get a game. So top players went elsewhere meaning that late developers, or players who found a nice groove at a new club, or those who kept improving with age and experience, could strengthen lower clubs and they could challenge. Aston Villa, Notts Forest, Derby and others were proof of this. But it is undeniable that Liverpool, Man U and Arsenal had an advantage in terms of attracting players, revenue and expectations. Liverpool the more so as succeeding there guaranteed trophies. But still they could only put 11 on the pitch and all supporters could rattle off the starting 11’s of most teams. Try doing that now? George Graham only thought of winning George Graham, I believe, wanted to win all matches and that is pretty much what we did after beating Man Utd on Oct 20th. 6 wins and a draw ending with a win 3-0 over Liverpool at Highbury to end their unbeaten run on Dec 2nd. Merson, Dixon and Smith rattled in the 3 goals to announce that we are Arsenal, we send even the greatest home to Liverpool crying all the way. Kenny Dalglish was feeling the pressure and wasn’t looking very happy but they were still the target and ahead. It took us until well into January to go top with a win over Everton on Jan 19th. We were still unbeaten. A Car Crash to crash our Season? But there was a huge dark cloud hanging over us. Our talisman, our leader, Tony Adams, was a man who loved to drink. He got banged up in jail on December 19th not long after beating Liverpool. Excessive drink driving and a car crash left him behind bars for 2 months. He was disgraced and our club was thrown into shock. We still had top centrebacks in O’Leary and Bould, and Andy Linighan had been signed. But we were beaten 2-1 by Chelsea on 2nd February to end our invincible run. Of course we didn’t know it then but we were not to be beaten again in the league that season. Oh My God, Tony! What have you done? We would go on to be out of sight, the 2 points deducted at Man Utd sunk into irrelevance as we showed the world that we could do it again. Twice champions in 3 seasons. Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish seemed mesmerized by us. We beat them again 1-0 at Anfield on 3rd March to emphasise our superiority. Dalglish had just quit a few days before that match and it really did feel like Liverpool were no longer the team of old. The end of a Red Empire signals the start of a different Red era? We didn’t know it then, but the Ancien Régime had crumbled. The empire was led into darkness by Graeme Souness and it was a long time before they troubled the top of the table again. But as I say, we didn’t know that then. They had tradition, finances, expectations, and the ability to attract the top players. Certainly in those days, that did not mean guaranteed success. You needed that extra spark and we had it in George Graham. Now we were ready, now we were Arsenal. We were the boys to beat. Even the great Kenny Dalglish walked away from the fight. Looking at the table, Palace were 3rd and Leeds were 4th but a long way back from our 83 points. I really felt now we could dominate. I looked at the rest and said, we can beat them. I had never felt that before. None frightened me. Not like when we had won the double and I definitely felt Liverpool and Leeds were better. Now, there was no one better. We were the champs. We just needed to bite down on the others and show them who was boss. Graham showed Wenger the way One defeat by Chelsea. One time our concentration had slipped. Arsene Wenger would have been saying I want to emulate George Graham instead of being laughed at. It was a great season, though, and maybe the only time as an Arsenal fan that I truly felt we were better than the rest, because even in the superb Wenger days, Ferguson kept coming back off the floor to knock us out. We never quite managed to dominate them. But back then we had Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Adams, O’Leary, Bould, Linighan, Rocastle, Thomas, Davis, Merson, Smith and Limpar and others who could walk into most teams. I couldn’t see anyone to frighten us. We were the best and almost the invincibles. Win all our matches? Surely that was the aim of George Graham? Oh, and by the way, we knocked 6 past Man U in the League Cup, 6 against Coventry in the League, 5 against Villa, and 4 against Palace and Chelsea alongside several 3 goal matches. Boring, boring Arsenal, I don’t think so. And only six 1-0 to the Arsenal all season in all competitions. Next season was to be looked forward to. Back in the European Cup, could we win that as well? We were good, very good. The Invincible`49 !!! Our 1990-91 team were almost Invincible before this great team !!! And maybe this team was better !? 61 Max points total Well, Everton did it to us. Our last real hope of qualifying for Europe via the league is most likely gone. It is all or nothing in the Europa league. Can we do it? Yes, we can. C’mon Arsenal.
My life as a gooner part 23
Augustine Worth posted an article in London CallingThe 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 them 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. 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