I only really got in to football at the age of seven/eight and with a mother and father not in to it (Dad was always more of a golf and cricket man to a lesser extent), I was late to the obsession compared to some of my school mates. So by the time Anfield 89 had happened I was seven and had only been kicking a ball in anger for a few months with my friends. What that meant was that I never really felt the unbridled joy of winning the league on the last day of the season against your biggest rivals for the title. It meant that I only learned about it after the fact and as with any game that is watched when you already know the score, it kind of took the fear – and as a result the extreme joy too – out of re-watching the stories of Anfield 89.
I bring this up mainly because of what I’ve been speaking to older friends about. Friends who did experience that, as well as the 87 League Cup final having spent so many years without any trophies. And i bring this up because when I speak to those same people about the team we have today, they talk about it like when George Graham first joined the club. He signed for us and began disassembling the existing squad of established players, then bringing in younger players as well as some of those from the academy. Adams, Rocastle, Davis, Thomas et al being brought through, then complimented by shrewd signings like Dixon and Winterburn, etc, etc. When I started to properly get obsessed with The Arsenal was probably around 90/91 when I was taken to my first game and by then those players were more established in the side and so were familiar faces, but I never ‘got in on the ground floor’ with George’s Arsenal, so to speak. I got in to The Arsenal when this team had already won things, they’d already built their mentality for winning things, they were already a polished unit.
So I often to defer to friends who remember the start of that Graham era. I ask them to regale me on what it felt like and I’ve had a few already – including a mate of mine Merv who you should follow – tell me that it felt a lot like what a lot of us are feeling right now. We’re hearing the players say things like “I’ve never felt a unity like I feel in the dressing room now” and fans having been saying for much of this season “there’s something happening here”, so maybe we are starting to feel it and see it and maybe there are some parallels to be drawn.
The parallels between the start of the Graham era, the way he built the team from the back, the young players that were promoted from the academy, coupled with shrewd signings who are starting to gel, all feels very familiar to what we’re all talking about right now. Merv and I were talking about this similarity recently when we had picked up that 0-0 at Anfield and had the second leg of the league cup ahead of us. It was through listening to Merv, hearing him talk of the similarities, that I found myself convinced by fate. If this really was to be history repeating itself, then we were going to overcome Liverpool, then do the same to Chelski, which would be the validation and kick start that this young team needs to go on and compete for major honours. That win in 1987 was – what many Arsenal fans who remember that era say – the catalyst for the subsequent successes in the League in 1989, 1991, as well as FA and League Cup in 1993, followed by Cup Winners Cup in 1994. The fires of success were forged from that initial League Cup spark and I convinced myself that the same fires were being forged in January.
So when we lost to Liverpool in January this year I think it dented my belief a little. Suddenly fate wasn’t falling how I wanted it to be. Could this just be another false dawn? These are the sort of things that run through my head when we face defeats like the won to them in January and it fuelled a rage in me that I directed towards Liverpool and their gaming of the system. It felt like a double blow; not only was this Graham-era Arsenal from 1987 not going to see history repeat itself, but the team that would go on to win the competition would effectively cheat the system to their advantage.
But perhaps I’ve been looking at it all wrong. After all whilst there may not be a shiny silver trinket at the end of the season if we somehow manage to get top four and secure Champions League football for next season, that doesn’t mean that a top four finish can’t act as the same catalyst for success that Graham’s 87 Arsenal had. Perhaps because of the financial consequences of finishing fourth and the way it will enable Arteta to build the team even quicker with that extra cash, it can act as a trophy of sort.
We’ve been told for years that top four isn’t a trophy. It certainly isn’t. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a catalyst.
Catch you all tomorrow.
Good Article. This feels very ’87 to me. I feel we will have a Luton along the way and I worry about that as there is more negativity about nowadays than there was then.