“It’s Up For Grabs Now…”
Memories of Anfield ’89 – by Nick Callow, who was there
LEE DIXON helped introduce ITV’s recent Lockdown broadcast of the final match of the 1988-89 season, to try and explain the significance of Arsenal’s trip to Liverpool for the uninitiated.
“It is the one and only medal for me,” the former Arsenal and England defender said, his voice fresh with wonder even 31 years later.
“Never say never, but it will NEVER happen again like that. It will never happen where the two teams who can win the title are playing each other in the last game of the season – two weeks after the season had effectively ended.
“People talk about the Aguero goal in 2012? I’m a City fan. The Aguero moment was sensational and younger people will try to draw comparisons and say Aguero was better. No! Come on! We are not even debating that!”
Your correspondent is biased, but Dixon is right.
What follows is a personal account of the aftermath of that famous Friday.
First, the cold facts.
Over 41,000 packed into Anfield on 26 May 1989 – a fixture rearranged following Hillsborough. Kenny Dalglish’s in-form side was the best in Europe and had dominated for some years.
Few gave anxious Arsenal a chance to do what was necessary – to win by two clear goals and lift their first title in 18 years, and thus prevent Liverpool winning the Double.
Goalless at half-time the closest title race before or since was won by Arsenal when Alan Smith’s 52nd minute header was followed by an injury-time winner by Michael Thomas.
The match also marked the end of my first season as a reporter (office tea boy at Hayters, to be precise).
Fast forward nearly 30 years and former Hayters man John Cross broke a story in The Mirror under the headline “Arsenal going Hollywood” as a US studio decided to make new movie of their astonishing 1989 title triumph.
By now I was inside the ropes and covered Arsenal v Burnley that weekend when I bumped into the renowned Observer writer Amy Lawrence. Turned out she was a producer on the film and after convincing her the premature publicity could only be positive she asked where I had been that night.
“Er. I took the day off work, sat behind the goal where Thomas scored and ended up at the party with the players and the trophy when we got back to London,”
I smiled. I must have told her before. I tell everyone!
Needless to say it took little encouragement from Amy to get some of the Anfield gang back together and reminisce in front of the cameras.
Luckily, for my coachload of 20 or so, one of our band owned Winners, a club in Southgate popular with some of the Arsenal squad.
We had to sneak in the back and hide while they cleared out some late night drinkers on our return to London around 2.30AM before we could finally have a celebratory drink.
And it was not until the entire Arsenal team – minus Dixon who was stuck up north with family – entered the bar with trophy in hand, that we believed Tony’s pledge that he was to host the party if ‘we’ won. How we sang and danced.
Much to our further joy and amazement, some of our tales made the cut (what a brilliant editor Sam Billinge is!) so imagine the thrill when our voices and faces appeared on the Holloway Road Odeon’s big screen for the premiere in front of the players and a packed theatre.
Doing some DJ-ing at the after party in Upper Street and another late night with the players – including many who had not played such as David Seaman and Ian Wright – is another story. The referee was there too and, yes, Steve Bould still has hollow legs.
It was nearly 7am by the time we crawled on to a sunny Southgate street – just in time to get to work and get sent home as I had lost my voice chanting ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ and couldn’t answer the phone.
The goalscoring hero himself – a boyhood Tottenham fan would you believe – is modest to a fault and now dedicates that victory and season to his childhood friend and Arsenal team-mate David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle, who was taken from all of us who loved him by cancer aged only 33.
And that is why Arsenal folk celebrate St Michael’s Day.
You can see the drama unfold here: