I have had some super guest writers on my site of late and the common thread has been the passion, particularly from @yorkshiregunner and @MadRuskiGunner, Andy and Anna. I love reading passionate blogs and and the feedback strongly suggests that you do as well. The title of this blog has already told you the subject matter and given the place in the history of our great club of 26th May 1989 you will know the passion and emotion are guaranteed.
Amanda Schiavi, known to those on twitter as @Goonergirl1969 has followed the growth of ‘1nildown2oneup’ and a while back asked me if she could write something when she felt ready and when she had thought of a subject. My response was instantly affirmative and I told her that the subject was in her twitter profile:
“Arsenal since I’ve been born, best night of my life was Anfield in May 1989 – Love life, most people and all Gooners!”
Amanda with a hugely receptive audience it is over to you……
Dave, thank you for asking me to write a piece on Anfield ’89. As I’ve explained I’ve never written a piece before and if I was to ever write about our wonderful football club it would be about that season and that night…
I will just give you a bit of background about myself. I’m 43 and married with a 9 year old boy and my other family are, of course, Arsenal Football Club. This love affair has been going on since I’ve been born, thanks to my Dad, who I would say is the biggest Gooner on the planet, having impressed on me the importance of being a red. Apparently, at the age of 3, I was citing the names of the double team of ’71 in front of friends and family. When I went to Highbury in those days, I used to sit on my Dad’s lap and I took it all in, from a very early age.
Fast Forward over 35 years and here I am a season ticket holder at the Emirates, after leaving my beloved 2nd home, Highbury. It’s been a roller coaster of a love affair, sometimes I wonder how my life would have turned out, if, during my teenage years, I would have been shopping with friends, instead of travelling up the various motorways heading towards an away ground where the possibility of freezing and losing were always a reality. I have to be honest if I had my time again, I wouldn’t change a bloody thing. I feel blessed (maybe not always) to have Arsenal in my life.
Now let’s go on to the reason I am writing about this, the most wonderful day of my life, any true Gooner’s life
Anfield: May 26th 1989….
I have to be honest I can’t remember much of the ’88 part of that season, I remember the early part of ’89. I remember thinking will anyone ever topple Liverpool. Liverpool during the ’80’s were just awesome I used to look up to them in an admiring and respectful way, never in an angry way, which is the way I used to look at UTD in the ’90’s
I was 19 at the time, and winning the league was like a dream, a dream that would never happen. I was brought up in the days of Terry Neil and Don Howe, so when George Graham was brought in, it was like a breath of fresh air, Charlie Nicholas’s winner at Wembley, against Liverpool, in 87′ was my first final, and my first ever experience of watching the Captain of my club walk up the stairs and collect a trophy. Obviously, we were at the old Wembley and for some reason we had the most amazing tickets, I was on the aisle seat by the stairs where the players walked up and as Charlie Nicholas walked up I gave him my hat and scarf and he took it and wore it as he danced around the pitch, with the rest of the team, celebrating the win. I was also there against Luton in ’88 but I won’t be discussing that one, for obvious reasons all I will say is we certainly weren’t hailing Caesar that day!
So we come to early spring ’89 and being that I was a season ticket holder I never missed a home game, unless I was literally dying! The 0-0 at home to Millwall and the 2-2 at home to Charlton started me thinking, again, this wasn’t our year!
During this time Liverpool were winning too and it was a 2 horse race. I remember travelling back from Highbury, after we played and won against Newcastle, on April 15th, and hearing the most horrific news on the radio that Liverpool, who were playing in a cup match at Hillsborough, their fans had been injured and, at that time, no one understood how or why. I have never felt so sad at hearing news about football fans in my life, I had grown up with every emotion football can bring, but this was on a different scale, I was devastated.
If I remember correctly we were due to play Liverpool the following Saturday and due to this awful tragedy, the game was cancelled. I remember writing a letter of condolence to Liverpool FC; I was devastated for the 96 and their families, because it could have been any football supporter that suffered this, so obviously this was even closer to my heart.
As many Arsenal supporters will know supporting our club, or any football club, is like a roller coaster of emotions and one of those matches was Derby at home on 13th May. All I will say is Dean Saunders/ 2 goals and we were all left shell shocked. On paper we should have walked it. We didn’t, and I remember feeling so distraught I rang up a London radio station and said that’s it, give it to Liverpool now! I was so fed up, I remember, I didn’t even go out that night! I didn’t think it could get any worse until we played Wimbledon on 21st May. We drew 2-2, for me the game was over give the championship to Liverpool they didn’t even need to beat us to win it, they could have drawn with us or even lost one nil, due to the goal difference, which I have to say, even to this day, my Dad still goes on about goal difference every season. I felt flat,Liverpoo lhad just beaten Everton in the FA Cup final and they were buzzing, the Scousers could feel the double coming on.
To secure the tickets for trip to Merseyside was a struggle. Even though we were season ticket holders they were like gold dust. A miracle happened a player and his father had walked in to my Dad’s office, who at the time was in our first team, my Dad joked and said any chance of any tickets, the next day he was told he had 3, he nearly fainted and I went ballistic, I was actually going to Anfield to watch the final match of the ’89 season. We also acquired three other tickets through another source at the club; there we were, as if we were winning the golden tickets for Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory!!
I remember I was working in a Solicitors in London and they were not really into football and when I told my boss, that I had to have the day off to go to Liverpool, he said ‘No way,’ it’s too short notice’, and before I resigned and was handed my P45 he said ‘Go, but I hope you lose’.
Now if anyone reading this knows my Dad, he had it planned like a military operation. I think it was a 7.30pm kick off so a reasonable time to leave would be about 1pm which would normally be fine, We left at 10.30am as my Dad lives in the ‘what if’ world…Well I have to tell you he was right! We started off by having breakfast in the garden, as it was a gorgeous sunny day and there were six of us travelling up including my brother and my cousin (whom I still go to football with) and we were all so excited. I had never been to Liverpool let alone Anfield before and to dream of possibly seeing Arsenal win the Championship was the dream of all dreams for me.
We took 2 cars and made our journey up the M1 and then onto the M6, where there was heavy traffic, we were lucky, due to my Dad’s military style operation, but later on this was to be a nightmare for Gooners travelling as many arrived late. We stopped off at a service station just outside Liverpool and food was dire, but nothing could dampen our mood, we were just happy to have the chance to watch this game live.
We arrived at Anfield and we parked in Stanley Park and made our way to the ground. As we approached the ground, I could feel the atmosphere, it was just surreal, more about that later. We were approached by a TV company who asked us if we would be interviewed for a news programme in London. There weren’t many Gooners there at this stage due to the road works. Anyway, they wanted to take us on to the pitch to be interviewed I was speechless, we were going on the hallowed turf of Anfield, I thought I was going to faint! Unfortunately, the TV researchers changed their mind and we were interviewed outside the stadium with Liverpool supporters in the background. They wanted our views on the game and the outcome, all I really remember is my Dad ending the interview, saying ‘Kelvin, Live at Anfield, for ITV News.’ We all just laughed hysterically.
I can’t put into words, the excitement I felt, making my way to the ground. I got to my seat and saw that I was behind the goal, I’ve always sat East Upper at Highbury, and now the Emirates, but never behind the goal. Little did I know how important that goal was going to be. The players were out warming up and I was just soaking up the atmosphere, and incredible was the word. So, the game was to begin, out came the players and all 11 had a bouquets of flowers to mark respect for the Hillsborough tragedy. I was, and until this day, honoured because I got the late great David Rocastle’s (RIP) flowers which a man in front caught and passed them to me. I always felt blessed that they were Rocky’s flowers.
As I am typing this I can still feel the excitement that I felt that evening. I was happy with the formation that George Graham had put out and all we could hope for that we didn’t concede first half and we were in with a fighting chance. The first half came and went, both teams were apprehensive you could see it and feel it, and it was still goal less. I started to feel more positive I don’t know why, all I know is we had to win by 2 clear goals. The match kicked off and you could now sense the attitude was that we had nothing to lose so we had to go for it. We got an indirect free kick and I think Nigel Winterburn curled it in. Smudger got the faintest of touches and as it went in we went crazy, I won’t use the word I want to use, I will leave that for later, but needless to say we went barmy! All I could see were the Liverpool players surrounding the ref and I was pulling my Dad over to show him. Why were they doing this? He wasn’t offside, what the hell was going on? We later found what their argument was. Thankfully the ref didn’t listen and awarded us the goal. I remember thinking one more goal, one more goal. We were singing our hearts out we wanted that one goal so desperately anyway, I remember Mickey Thomas going through and messing up his shot and I thought that’s it, our last chance had gone!
I remember Steve MacMahon putting one finger up to indicate one minute and I felt sick! sick! sick! We were so close; we needed one goal, one bloody goal! ONE BLOODY GOAL! Then, Lukic collects the ball, passes it to Dixon, who releases the ball to Smudger, he then passed it forward but it deflects off Stevie Nichol into the path of Mickey Thomas ‘It’s up for grabs now’ said the late Brian Moore I heard afterwards, and then Thomas who surges through buries into the left hand corner of Grobbelar’s goal and the rest is history.
I can’t even begin to tell you how it felt he scores and we are 2-0 up in the 90 minute. Now I will use that word, we went BALLISTIC; people were hugging, screaming, crying and kissing!! Yes I got kissed, I have no idea by who, all I know is I remember Nick Hornby saying it was better than Sex and Orgasms I couldn’t possibly comment, all I know is that I will never experience that feeling again. I remember Hayes trying to stop Thomas doing a forward roll and they fell on the floor, right in front of me, I actually think I went onto another planet I couldn’t digest what had happened.
The final whistle goes and the rest is history, even typing this today I still feel that buzz, the buzz of winning the Championship at Anfield, the home of the mighty Liverpool. The most incredible experience for a Gooner ever!!!
So, we are presented with the trophy, and I have to be honest I can’t remember much, it was like I was punch drunk, all over the place, I had a few tears I remember that.
The Liverpool end emptied quickly, and I just remember a few fans left with a flag saying something about the 96 that had died. I remember that and it’s etched into my memory. We made our way out to the car park and all I could see were Gooners every where, hugging, jumping and singing and my Dad kissed an Everton fan, who happened to be a Policewoman, she was, just slightly happy, not that my Dad had kissed her, but because we had won, for obvious reasons.
We made our way back stopping at the services again, we bumped into GG’s Son and Daughter and we ended up chatting to them and singing….We hit the M25 at some unearthly hour and we were alongside the coach with the team in it, I can’t describe the feeling, all I remember is seeing Nigel Winterburn going mad! They waved we waved and the night that was to live for forever in Arsenal and football folklore was over was over.
I don’t remember anything after, except the next day going to Highbury and having a party with everyone, as it was a Saturday. Then the parade, from which I got some great pictures of the boys with the cup.
In my living room I have the picture of Mickey Thomas striking the ball that scored the wining goal.
All I can say is, What ever happens in the future of our club that night, will always be the most incredible ever! For me, it was the most exciting ending to a football season I’ve ever known.
When I meet new people, depending on their age, when they say they support Arsenal, my first question always is, “Do you know about May 26th 1989?” If they say yes they’re a proper Goner if they say no, then for me, they’re not.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experience, one that I am oh so grateful for.
Thanks so much Amanda for sharing your wonderful story and experience – It’s been emotional. I was on the North Bank when Saunders scored twice and Shilton made save after save in the home defeat to Derby. Like the characters in the Feverpitch film, you Amanda and the whole of the media thought after 18 years waiting and being so close, we had thrown it away. How wrong we were. I am sure there is a lesson in there somewhere for when things look bleak.
For those who are in the mood for more this video will allow you to relive it all over again……..
Until next time thanks for reading.
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