Posted by RockyLives
Let me take you back, dear reader, to a late spring day in 1987. April the 5th, to be precise. Life was very different then – no internet, for one thing – so as I and 25,000 other Gooners made my way to Wembley Stadium for the League Cup Final there was a real party air.
We hadn’t won a sausage for nearly eight years, not even one of those little cocktail ones on a stick, and in all that time we had only once managed a top three finish in the League (or The First Division as we called it then). Worse, in three of the previous six seasons we had finished below the Tiny Totts. Suffice to say that if it was today we’d have been going to the old Twin Towers gripped with angst and, no doubt, with various internet idiots demanding we show our displeasure by baring our arses at the team before kick-off or walking out before we’d arrived.
But these were more innocent times. Acid House was all the rage, Dirty Dancing was on at the cinema and we were so relaxed as a nation that we even let an Aussie win Wimbledon. So we Arsenal supporters were happy, even though everyone told us we had no chance against our opponents – the greatest team of the age, the mighty Liverpool. For the Scousers it was set up to be an emotional day, as their talisman striker Ian Rush was going to be playing his last game for the club before heading off to Juventus. Liverpool had never lost a game in which Rushie had scored.
In due deference to the scriptwriters, Ian Rush opened the scoring. The Liverpool fans assumed that was that (as did the TV commentators, I was later told) but George Graham’s Arsenal were about to stick two fingers up to fate, karma and providence. Two goals from Champagne Charlie Nicholas turned the game on its head and we lifted our first trophy since the FA Cup in 1979. I don’t remember much of the day after that.
So, apart from being the ramblings of an old fart, does this have any relevance to us now? I believe it does. There are parallels between then and now.
We went into that final after a long period where success was a stranger. A few years earlier a ‘great’ Arsenal team had been broken up. Although they never won the league, the team of Brady, Stapleton, Jennings and company reached three FA Cup finals in successive years and narrowly missed out on the European Cup Winners Cup, losing on penalties. The Arsenal team that succeeded them was unable to maintain that standard. In the five seasons before 1987 we finished outside the top five every year:
1986 – 7th behind Liverpool, Everton, West Ham, Man Utd, Sheffield W, Chelsea.
1985 – 7th behind Everton, Liverpool, Spuds, Man Utd, Southampton, Chelsea.
1984 – 6th behind Liverpool, Southampton, Notts Forest, Man Utd, QPR.
1983 – 10th behind Liverpool, Watford, Man Utd, Spuds, Notts Forest, Aston Villa, Everton, West Ham, Ipswich.
1982 – 5th behind Liverpool, Ipswich, Man Utd, Spuds.
The main thing that strikes you on reading that (apart from: Southampton? Wtf?) is how ignominious some of those campaigns were – regularly finishing behind not just the Tiny Totts, but other London rivals like Chelsea and West Ham, even QPR for God’s sake.
Yet, as a fan in those days, I didn’t seethe with resentment about it all. It was part of the swings and roundabouts of football and, during those years, we were on the swing that didn’t work and tipped you into the dog poo when you tried to stand on it.
Anyway, back to the point. By the time of the 1987 League Cup final we had endured some very poor years following the break-up of a successful team. But the parallels don’t end there.
Although the Arsenal team that took the field that day at Wembley contained some seasoned veterans like Viv Anderson, Kenny Sansom and Steve Williams, it also relied on a core of very young players whose careers were just starting.
The following all played a part in that League Cup victory: Tony Adams, aged 20; David Rocastle, 19; Niall Quinn, 20; Martin Hayes, 21; Perry Groves, 21; Michael Thomas, 19. Which just shows that Arsene Wenger is not the first Arsenal manager to put his faith in youth.
We don’t know what would have happened if the omens had been obeyed that day and Rushie’s goal had won it for Liverpool. Maybe we would have gone on to win league titles and cups under GG anyway, but somehow I doubt it, or at least I doubt it would have happened so quickly. That win – that piece of silverware – imbued in our young players the idea that they were winners. How else to explain the extraordinary character they showed two years later at Anfield to win the title against all expectations on the last day of the season? It’s worth noting that eight of the players who featured in that game at Anfield had also featured in the League Cup win in 1987. The winning virus had been acquired and more silverware would follow in the years ahead.
Our current squad needs that winning virus too. They need to win a trophy. If they win something as a team it will carry them forward to new and greater successes. Other teams, players and fans won’t be able to say “show us yer medals” or sing “you always win f*ck all.”
That’s why I believe that in the coming season we should go all out to win BOTH of the domestic cups and not just aim for the big prizes of EPL and CL. Imagine watching Cesc walk up to lift a cup at Wembley! How great would that feel? (Please stay Cesc – it’s going to happen).
By all means we should use some of the younger players in the League Cup if it’s against lower division opposition, but let’s also sprinkle experience and quality throughout the team and on the bench. In the FA Cup, it should be our strongest team every time.
Let’s give this Arsenal team – which, to me, seems poised on a knife edge between greatness and failure – the taste of success. I believe once they get it, they won’t let it go.
For 1987, let’s read 2011.