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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 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
  2. Trying to see light in the darkness. Season 1981-82 continued our lack of ambition. 3 points for a win was brought in but we had got a taste for selling and didn’t care about that. Frank Stapleton was sold to Manchester United for the then large sum of £900,000. So last year our best player was sold, Liam Brady, and now again our best player was flogged. Stapleton had been our leading goalscorer every year since SuperMac got injured and retired. Man Utd had ambition, as always, and were never afraid to splash the cash. Stapleton, being homegrown, was on a lower wage than some brought in on transfers. Again, I don’t remember much anger directed at Stapleton. He had been playing for several years with only one FA Cup to show for it. Our best player, playing for Man U, definitely not what we wanted The Irish connection was dwindling, only Pat Jennings, David O’Leary and John Devine were left. Dubliner Paul Gorman was trying to come through but he never made it and went down through the divisions in his career. Although I still liked Terry Neill, it seemed like no-one high up at Arsenal had ambition. Yes we finished 3rd in 1981 and qualified for the UEFA Cup but was that it? We’re ok. Keep our money in our pockets. They didn’t seem to care that Villa won the League and Ipswich came second, both teams that were smaller than us but with bigger ambition. We were letting the light go out Well, it didn’t go well for them. This season Liverpool would win. Ipswich, again second, then Man U with our top goalscorer, and then? I don’t even want to say who were next. The Spuds! Playing attractive football, full of big names, buying top players and not selling their best. This was the pattern for the teams around us. They didn’t sell their best. Only Arsenal. Yes, I guess 5th was ok. We were ok. We were not Arsenal but we were ok. Would we ever get our Arsenal back? And so the Spuds? Laughing at us. Beat us 3-1 at Highbury and drew 2-2 at White Hart Lane. Sent us home crying in the 3rd round of the FA Cup 1-0. Despite the fact that the league position was better than the dark days of the 70’s, this felt worse. The flair had gone, we were flat. But at least we now had no top player to sell. Don’t get me too wrong, we still had good players, Jennings, Sansom, O’Leary, Rix, Sunderland and others were top players, but our goalscorer and our creator were gone. All because of a lack of ambition. A feeling that ok was enough. Liverpool knocked us out of the League Cup in the 4th round 3-0 after extra time and a replay. We started the league with 2 losses and 2 draws out of our first five so we knew early on we would never really challenge. We were beaten by Fc Winterslag, now Genk, from Belgium in the UEFA Cup on November 3 and they celebrated wildly thinking they had beaten a crack English team. So in early January when the Spuds knocked us out of the FA Cup that was it for the season. I suppose the board were looking around to see if there was anyone else we could sell. Could the light come from people with dark skin? But were there green shoots? Well, yes there was. Paul Davis and Chris Whyte came into the team as regulars. Davis, a combative midfielder, was to become an Arsenal stalwart and win many trophies later on. Whyte formed a partnership with David O’Leary, replacing Willie Young. What was good about that aside from being good footballers? They were black and it started Arsenal’s association with black players. Brendan Batson had been there mid seventies but never made a regular slot. Many started to appear over the next years, Viv Anderson, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, later on came the Arsenal Fan Club of Bulgaria’s favourite, Ian Wright, and many others were to become club legends. Paul Davis had a great career at Arsenal, if a little under appreciated For me it was, and still is a great thing, to hear, every single time I have been at Arsenal stadiums, the chant for Rocky, because he’s one of our own. Himself and Ian Wright were childhood friends and he pushed Wrighty into believing in himself, despite being a few years younger, he told him he could make it as a professional. Rocky was right about Wright. Now, you cannot have a list of the best Arsenal players ever without plenty of black players high on the list. We love this guy at ASCB They shined their light on English football But what was it like for black players in England? At that time, virtually none had played for England. They got subjected to terrible abuse amid suspicions that they were soft (hah, tell that to Sol Campbell). Fans thought nothing of raining down all sorts of horrible insults every time they came near the ball. Sport should be about fairness, equality, a meritocracy. You are striving to be the best and that is all that should matter. But imagine having your family there, with you having achieved your only dream, to play football at the highest level, and all they hear are the disgusting names they call you. If it was me, I would have been crying inside for the whole match and humiliated that my family heard that. And if it was my kid, I would be heartbroken for them. Chris Whyte formed a solid partnership with David O'Leary Luckily those Arsenal pioneers were made of sterner stuff. Without them the glory days wouldn’t have appeared. But black players still face discrimination and abuse. As I have said, the world should be a meritocracy, where the only thing that matters is how well you can do something. The 80’s were a period of fan hooliganism, of non-white faces appearing on sports pitches, of unspeakable tragedies, but without the courage, the resilience and the inner strength of the black players, and, I believe, the overall fairness and goodness of the majority of sports fans, the joy and triumphs they brought to so many teams would never have happened. And gave us our best days Michael Thomas threw our hearts up in the air in 1989 when we beat Liverpool at Anfield, Ian Wright’s goal in the 1993 FA Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday, the magical Henry goals, the rarer Viera goals, and so many others contributed to great nights for us Arsenal fans. And all the top teams can say the same. Those idiots who, even to this day think it is ok to chant racist abuse, are wrong. You are not Arsenal if you do it. It is not ok to be racist. Kids are entitled to appear on a football pitch, with their family there, and everyone has the best day of their lives. And if I can get back to Arsenal and 1982, it was not ok to be ok and going nowhere. Would 1983 be any better? I certainly didn’t think so.
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