As Good As It Gets …….. 26th May 1989

What with the lockdown because of Covid19 and the media frenzy that has accompanied it I thought it would be nice to share my story of possibly the greatest evening in Arsenal’s history.

As most will know the football season in 1988/89 was interrupted by the Hillsborough disaster. That day I was in the North Bank watching Arsenal beat Newcastle on a sunny afternoon. As news trickled through on the terraces the assumption was there had been rioting at Hillsborough. News didn’t travel as fast those days. As the disaster unfolded it became clear that football would be put on hold while people were laid to rest.

The football started again, as it always does, with Arsenal in pole position for the league. Things changed: Liverpool had a new purpose to their season and Arsenal started to fold. The Liverpool v Arsenal game at Anfield was due to take place on 23rd April 1989 (I’ve still got the ticket stub) but was cancelled as it was a week after Hillsborough. Instead the league season was extended and the game was moved to become the final match of the season on 26th May 1989. As far as I know it’s the only time the top two teams have faced each other in the final game with both having the chance to win the league. Of course Arsenal needed to win by two!

I had a ticket for the original game, but I was going to struggle to get up to the rescheduled game. It was on a Friday night and I was doing exams at school at the time. Luckily a friend of my Mum knew somebody who was taking a minibus to the game and had a couple of spare seats for me and my mate. Also I didn’t have an exam that day. I’m sure my poor marks in GCSE biology haven’t altered the course of my life too much since!

The chances of Arsenal getting a win let alone a 2 goal victory were remote. Liverpool at the time were virtually unbeatable at Anfield, had won the league many times in the 80’s and had a fantastic side. Arsenal  were more industrial under George Graham and hadn’t won the league for 18 years. We went to the game with hope on our side, not much else.

The Friday of the game was a glorious sunny day. The guys with the van wanted to head off early to avoid potential traffic issues on the M1/M6 (wise move) so we set off late morning from Waltham Abbey for the evening kick off. The blokes in the minibus were a nice bunch ranging in age from their 40s to us teenagers. There was plenty of booze doing the rounds and one guy smoked Ganja for the whole journey. We had a kick-about at one of the service stations and then we hit an almighty traffic jam on the M6. As we’d left so much time to get to the game we didn’t miss kick off, but the vast majority of the 3000 travelling Gooners did.

We got to Liverpool and parked up in Stanley Park. The local Scallywags were charging £1 to make sure the tyres weren’t punctured. Real entrepreneurs that lot. Anyway we made it into the away end at Anfield without any bother. When we got onto the visitors terrace there were only a handful of Arsenal fans there, the rest were stuck somewhere down the M6. The visiting supporters at Anfield were given a small corner terrace and some seats next to it in the corner of the Anfield Road end. As with all grounds at the time the fans were crowbarred into a small space with little regard for their welfare. The Kop at the other end was packed with Liverpool fans swaying backward and forward singing away. It was a very intimidating atmosphere.

Before the game the Arsenal players ran out with bouquets of flowers to honour the dead at Hillsborough. This was an amazing touch. Whoever thought that up was a genius. It went down really well with the Liverpool fans, lightened the atmosphere and maybe gave Arsenal something that wasn’t there before. 

The game was a blur at the start. Liverpool really had us on the back foot and surely it was only a matter of time before they would score? Somehow Arsenal held it together with some amazing defensive play. We didn’t have much to grasp at that first half apart from holding the Champions to zero goals: an achievement in itself.

At half time the majority of the Arsenal fans arrived and squeezed into the terrace we were on. We went from having a space to sit down on to being uncomfortably squashed into a spot where it was hard to raise your hands from your sides. All terraces at the time were the same for big matches – downright dangerous.

The 2nd half started with the Liverpool fans to our left singing about how they were going to ‘do the double again’ (turns out Arsenal were the first team to win the double twice in ’98). The atmosphere was bubbling, but we didn’t think we had a goal in us until…Smith scored from a free-kick. The Liverpool players surrounded the linesman right near our corner and pressured him to give offside. I think he was turning but the referee was having none of it and awarded the goal – game on!

As the game approached the final whistle we had a great chance with Thomas, but he fluffed his lines. We thought it was game over as time was slipping away. As we know Thomas was just practising his finishing and deep in injury time flicked the ball over Grobbelaar into the net. There was bedlam in the Arsenal end for the next 30 minutes. I remember the guy next to me on the terrace thanking his God for the victory.

We saw the League Trophy presented and it then dawned on us that we had to make our way back to the minibus and get out of Liverpool with our lives intact. The first hurdle was past the mounted police who were meant to be protecting us. One of the coppers looked at me and said “you’re going to get your heads kicked in” as they trotted off into the night leaving us to our own devices. The scousers approached us but instead of giving us a beating they shook our hands and congratulated us. After Hillsborough I think the Liverpool fans had seen enough and maybe the gesture of the Arsenal players laying the flowers had helped.

Things got hairier once we were heading home in the minibus. A group of youths started throwing things at us when we were at a red light in Toxteth. Without a thought the red light was ignored and we were on our way again. A car tried to run us off the road on the M62, but that was the last problem we encountered.

There was an impromptu party at a small service station somewhere on the M62 where about 100 Gooners gathered and we all did a Conga around the forecourt. I remember somebody taking photos of the event. I’d pay good money to see those. We got back home at about 4 in the morning and my Mum had recorded the match, so I watched the last 10 minutes before heading to bed.

We met up with some of the blokes from the minibus a few times, but fell out of contact with all of them pretty quickly. There was a guy called Richard who arranged the minibus; the driver was a big ginger haired bloke; an Indian lad with long hair; Paul with the big ears; little Graham; a lad with a Celtic top and a few others I think.

At the time I thought I was hugely lucky to have been present for possibly the greatest night in Arsenal’s history. I haven’t changed my opinion over 30 years later.

What a day out that was. One I will never forget!

Pete the Thirst

25 Responses to As Good As It Gets …….. 26th May 1989

  1. Nostalgia is the best medicine isn’t it!!!! Reading about this game always makes me cry with pride. Thank you Pete for telling your story.

  2. LBG says:

    Thanks Pete. Certainly in my opinion the greatest night in Arsenal’s mighty history.
    Not there myself, of course, and my story pales into insignificance compared to your marvellous experience.
    I had an argument with she who must be obeyed on the day of the game and, to spite, she insisted she wanted to watch something on our main tele, so told my eight year old son and myself we would have to watch it on the very small portable up in the bedroom.
    When the Thomas goal went in, we rushed down stairs, changed channel and told her we were watching the rest down there!
    My son still remembers my cliche, ” Matt, you will never see this again in your whole life”!

    PS.43 years married. My beloved, understands a little clearer now, OUR passion but still says “Not more football!”

  3. RA says:

    A really great story Thirsty Pete, what a great memory. 😁

    As a general observation, it seems to me that the vast majority of fans (of all clubs – at least those I have come into contact with) are decent people driven by a love for their particular team, sometimes a little boisterously, but there are always some who are rather unpleasant.

    I think we have all had some problems (even at Highbury, in my case) when mainly London clubs’ fans have ‘raided’ innocent Gooners at other end of games, mainly in and around the North bank

    So, I guess you and your friends were lucky at the end of that marvellous game, when the Scousers reacted so well to Arsenal winning the title from them in the last knockings at Anfield.

    Credit to them.

    Thanks, again, for that Pete.

  4. thepeterspencer says:

    Check out the now sadly defunct but original Gooner site arseweb for a few more anfield89 memories; the first one is mine and I still haven’t given up yet on finding photographic proof some day – http://arseweb.com/other/anfield89stories.html

  5. LB says:

    A superbly told story, thank you for sharing.

  6. LBG says:

    Brilliant Pete Spencer, a legendary experience.

  7. LB says:

    Am I the only one who finds it funny that Liverpool may not end up being league winners this season?

  8. Pete the Thirst says:

    Great story @thepeterspencer. There must be a photo of that somewhere, surely?

    Looking through the other Anfield ’89 stories on Arseweb the last one by Richard Roberts looks very similar to mine. He could have well been the guy that organised the minbus. He was definitely Richard.

    It sounds like he has photos of post victory celebrations on the service station forecourt. I would love to see them!

  9. LBG says:

    Juve already trying to offload Ramsey as part of Pogba deal. You made your money Aaron but didnt improve your team winning chances!

  10. LB says:

    This made me laugh, Benzema referring to Giroud.

    Benzema said: “You can’t confuse an F1 car with a go-kart and I’m being kind.”

  11. fred1266 says:

    Am sure sue also finds it funny LB

    I still want to know what they waiting on to cancel the season

  12. fred1266 says:

    Does that mean Aaron going to United

    That would really pissed me off

  13. fred1266 says:

    All giroud need to do is show benzema his WC trophy and goal of the year trophy

  14. LB says:

    Very true Fred, very true.

  15. Mike M says:

    Brilliant night, Great article to make us smile at a difficult time. i still get goosebumps when he scores. “Nicol’s on his knees, Barnes is on his knees, Dalglish just stands there ….” – immortal words – that’s when it dawned on me that we’d actually won it. There was still a bit of time left but we were never going to give a goal away, not that team. I admit in being a somewhat non-believer – I couldn’t bring myself to go. I decided that after West Ham had mailed it in and lost 5-1 at Anfield a few days before which made the 2 goal win a requirement. It all seemed to be going for them and everyone seemed compliant.
    What that team did under those circumstances was truly phenomenal. Shout out to the ref too who refused to bend under immense pressure on the first goal. No VAR in those days but he got it right. I also remember throwing a (mostly empty) can of beer at the tv because I KNEW he was going to disallow it. Gary Ablett and McMahon were particularly disgusting but none of them exactly covered themselves in glory. However, he didn’t and the rest is history.
    What a night. Extremely jealous of you Pete but good man for going. Not sure I could’ve got a ticket anyway but that’s not the reason I didn’t go as I said. Guess I missed out on the greatest football night ever for a Gooner of our era.

  16. Mike M says:

    Actually it was McMahon’s on his knees – not Barnes. I’ve listened to it enough to know better !!!!!!!! Barnes is later.

  17. LB says:

    McMahon on his knees……..happy days

  18. RC78 says:

    Everyone ok? Keep safe all
    Belgium is the 3rd country (behind Italy and Spain) in terms of infection and death rates 😢

  19. RC78 says:

    Willian may leave Chelski for free this summer. He wants to stay in England. Edu should bring him over to the one and only London club. He ll give us options and proper competition for Pepe.

    Leno – Hakimi, Koulibaly, Luiz, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka – Willian, Ozil, Saka – Auba

    Martinez – Bello, Holding, Saliba, Kola – Torreira, Douzi – Nelson, Pepe, Martinelli – Laca

    Wouldn’t be too shabby?

  20. Le Coq Monster says:

    Breaking News: It transpires Tottenham Hotspur’s Cup Polisher – Ernie from Stoke Newington has been on Furlough since 1991 !!!!!

    Dont forget tonight at 8PM……………..if you all hate Totnumb………………………….

  21. LB says:

    I wonder what Arsenal masks would look like (red and white I suppose) and would they sell them in the Armoury?
    Maybe there will be a freebee with next season’s ticket renewal?

  22. LB says:

    Good to see the golden rule is being followed Le Coq, that being, of course, there is never a bad time to take a dig at spuds.

  23. fred1266 says:

    RC sorry to hear Belgium has some high rate of the virus, think we have had 8 death thus far with about 109 cases

    football related why u even want willian in out club Nelson is perfect backup for pepe

%d bloggers like this: