Arsenal 1989

Ground Highbury
Date Saturday 13th May 1989
League First Division
Result Arsenal








c. 42,000




Saunders 2

      I’m glad I went to Arsenal when I did. At the time I was only really doing Brighton games, but as the chances of us playing them were virtually nil in the league and very slim in the cups I’m glad I did it while I had the chance.
  I went to this game because, despite hating the expression, I’d call Arsenal my ‘second team’ at the time (I haven’t come across it much recently but some fans when asked who they support, reply with an English and Scottish side. Like – ‘Oh, I’m a Liverpool and Celtic fan’ or ‘I support Man Utd and Rangers’. Are these people’s Scottish choices just an arbitrary decision between one of the Old Firm or is there some logic behind it? I remember seeing before now dual bobble hats, one half Liverpool and one half Celtic. Somebody explain it to me! Having said that I did know someone at University who probably had the most obscure Anglo-Scottish double support ever. He was a Darlington/Partick Thistle fan, raised in Partick before his family moved to the North East when in his teens. He seemed genuinely passionate about both!)
This was not an affair though, it was purely platonic! I’ve always had a soft spot for Arsenal and particularly liked them this season. They had a charismatic bunch of players – Alan Smith, Paul Merson, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn – to name a few. They were exciting to watch, they were high scoring and you could sense the great camaraderie between the players just by seeing them on TV. I was desperately hoping they’d pip Liverpool to the title that season. I hated Liverpool. I freely admit that it was because they kept winning all the time. I, along with most other neutrals, were desperate for a change as long as it wasn’t Everton! 

It was nearing the end of the campaign and it was incredibly close at the top. I wanted to see the Gunners at least once this season live. Derby was a must win fixture, obviously. They couldn’t afford a slip at this time and in Derby I could see no reason for any points dropped.
  I got the train from Brighton and alighted at Victoria as is the norm. A short hop on the Victoria line brought me to Green Park where I changed for the Piccadilly Line. Highbury was about 9 stops away Northbound, the closest stop to the ground being, funnily enough, a station called Arsenal. Arsenal underground station brought me out straight into the football throng. The atmosphere was great – a mixture of tension and expectation. Within a few strides I was in amongst the proper Gooners heading for the turnstiles.
I got so caught up in this pre-match atmos that I bought an Arsenal scarf. I can only put it down to my susceptibility to rash decision making and my hopeless inability not to spend incredible amounts of cash at every away game I go to. I felt dirty as I draped the thick red scarf around my neck. Arsenal – Pride of London was the legend adorning my new purchase. This wasn’t right. I was being unfaithful! What if Brighton and Hove Albion found the scarf down the side of the sofa? 
Highbury nestled snugly in a built up area. For a big ground it feels small. The stands started virtually from the touchline making for a great close atmosphere like at the Baseball Ground or Upton Park. A two tier main stand made the most of the small space they had to work with. Overall it was impressive. It was cosy. Every nook and cranny was utilized, every space filled. This was how football grounds should be. This was the image evoked when asked to think of a typical English stadium.
On this day over 42,000 were crammed in. Every seat was occupied and it was a tight squeeze on the North Bank where I stood. The atmosphere was fantastic. The match just didn’t go to plan though. It wasn’t Arsenal’s day. Maybe it was because I was there – I do seem to have bogey qualities when watching other teams:(I went to watch Stoke recently, my teacher friend having procured two free tickets from one of his students for the McKewans stand, where they had their biggest home defeat for 134 years losing to Liverpool 8-0! A couple of years before that I went with my Northwich Victoria mad work colleague to Hednesford where they were 1-0 up at half time and having obviously been tipped off about my presence at the break managed to lose 7-1!)
Derby had a throw in mid way through the first half that came to Dean Saunders about 25 yards out. It was in the air and Deano was sideways to the goal but he twisted and half-volleyed a belter that arced over the Arsenal defence, hit bar then post, and went in.
The excitement around the ground was drifting away fast along with the game.
What started off as excitement amongst the crowd was fast turning to frustration. Saunders got another from the penalty spot mid way through the second half. Arsenal had blown it. They’d done Liverpool a massive favour. Alan Smith scored a soft goal off a corner in about the 88th but they lost 2-1. Alan Smith’s goal was met with barely a ‘Yeaaaa’ and just the faintest smattering of applause but as it turned out his goal that barely registered with the Arsenal faithful won them the Championship.
Now I know it was Michael Thomas who scored the now legendary second goal (‘….Dixon, finding Smith, to Thomas, Michael Thomas charging through the midfield, it’s up for grabs now…THOMASSSS!!!!!…right at the end.’) up at Anfield in the 92nd minute of the last game of the season making it 2-0 and inching above Liverpool on goal difference to clinch the title, but……..if Smith hadn’t knocked that consolation in against Derby the title would have been Liverpool’s.
 I know you could say that about any goal Arsenal scored that season but it’s that one that sticks in my mind when I think back to the 1989 Championship.
Before I leave Highbury there’s a stat I have to mention. Saunders’ spectacular effort was the third such beauty I’d seen him score but for three different teams and at three different grounds. I could take my pick of the scorchers he scored for the Albion in the mid eighties at the Goldstone Ground but I’d also seen him score a 40 yard lob for Oxford against the Albion at the Manor Ground and then this one at Highbury.


2 thoughts on “Arsenal 1989

  1. I was a very lucky lad that season and I was at both the games.
    The Liverpool game I spent the first half in the cop only being moved by a policeman at halftime down the Arsenal end.

    what a “GREAT” night.

  2. Just read your account of derby against arsenal 1989 at highbury, I was there and as a derby fan was one of my best memory’s as a footy fan. Don’t think you mentioned that the game completed a double for us over arsenal that season (2.1 derby at the baseball ground) Merson missing a sitter in injury time, so to say that derby didn’t look like a threat that day was probably the way the players where thinking!!!!

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