The memories flooded back after that 1-0 win against Stoke. The last 1-0 home win against them that I can remember happened nearly 40 years ago. And that was the start of something very special.
Not that that week had started off well. A Monday night kick off and a train trip up to Leeds, learning the niceties of card games that can cost you money. Three pounds down, nothing to drink on the train, police escort to the ground, nothing to drink at the ground (more for fear of getting away from the comfort zone of the travelling Gooners than anything else), and, how new is this?, re-learning the niceties of bad decisions that can cost you points.
Oh we had a great one…in the last minute, an offside Jackie Charlton scored the winner. Players and fans went doolally to no avail. The goal stood and once more Arsenal seemed fated not to deliver the Championship. Surely full points from our last two games was too much to ask for if Leeds as expected, beat the lowly Notts Forest? Stoke at home and the Spuds away to come for us…could we do it?
That was the debate on the miserable trip home. Escorted to the station by what appeared to be the entire Yorkshire constabulary, nothing to drink on the train, learn another way to lose a couple of quid and eventually get off at King’s Cross with fellow gooners in full voice. Revie, Charlton, Bremner, Giles all had their parentage questioned and Mr Burtenshaw’s mother would have recommended his immediate relinquishing of the whistle had she heard the vitriol passed his way. This is a full, and as far as I can remember it, a fair recap on that game:
And so it was Stoke. They’d given us one hell of a fight in the Cup semi-final. Not too much love lost as a result. The game was no advertisement for the silkier skills. Time after time Stoke kept us out with Gordon Banks, arguably the finest keeper in the world doing nothing to help our cause. Tempus was fugiting far too fast but ironically, the loss of Peter Story, our pitbull, to an injury led to substitute Eddie Kelly on the pitch and totally unmarked to slam the winner past Banks. Cue pandemonium and after the match pints where the realities and needs of our last game were discussed long into the night.
The realities. Another Monday evening kick off when a win or a 0-0 draw would get us the championship. A score draw or defeat, lost it. Such were the complications arising from goal average as opposed to goal difference. Leeds had finished their campaign and the table was: p/w/d/l/f/a/points/g.a
Leeds United 42 27 10 5 72 30 64 2.40
Arsenal 41 28 7 6 70 29 63 2.41
A win for the spuds would give them 3rd place and talent money. Far worse…a defeat for them left us with the chance of doing the double…the one thing they had to boast about as the only side to have done it in the 20th century. So White Hart Lane would be no place for the faint-hearted.
To this day, I wonder what made me think I could see Michael Caine in Get Carter at an afternoon screening , catch a bus through Ally Pally, a short walk to the spuds and then get in with no problem. No all ticket game this. Queue and pay at the turnstile.
Half an hour before kick off I did exactly that. Estimates were that 52 000 were locked out. Lucky was not the word for it. As was the fact that I was a long way from the mass of Gooners and surrounded by spuds. But these were spuds who cared about good football and had no interest in using me as a punch bag. Could it be done today? Have my doubts.
The game itself was terrifying for any gooner. Knowing that one goal against us could mean disaster, just the sight of the ball in our half caused palpitations. Near our area was heart attack country. We survived. Far worse was to come. Ray Kennedy leaped like a salmon and headed us one in front. This was the bad time. An equaliser was more frightening than if the spuds had gone ahead…we just had too little time to do much about it. Their talent money, their exclusive double, the fact that it was Us, made them fight the last few minutes as though their lives were at stake…those minutes were the most nerve wracking in my history of following the gooners. Worse even than the night at Liverpool eighteen years later.
At last the whistle went. We’d done it. Down the terraces, up onto the pitch celebrating with about 4000 other gooners…the only real negative I heard all night from a spud was “Look at those bastards dancing on our grave.” As one of them, I felt a souvenir of White Hart Lane was called for. Up came a 2 sq. inch of pitch that in the morning was planted where the dogs did their business. That was , eventually, a very happy, if somewhat over-indulged, night. Fortunately both voice and hangover were repaired by the time of Saturday’s Cup Final.
Cup Final. Our first for 21 years after 10 man Arsenal lost so bravely to Newcastle. Liverpool the side we’d beaten in 1950 surely shouldn’t be too much trouble? Well there was our friend Burtenshaw to consider. One ref whistling two of our most important games of the year. What’s changed? In many ways it was the fore-runner of the 2000 final when Liverpool undeservedly lifted the cup. We made chance after chance, hit the woodwork, hit defenders…indeed we hit everything bar the bloody net. And we were into extra time…..
….and they took the lead. Heighway’s shot, had the net not got in the way, may well of hit me. My seat was not the best in the house. There were others as bad, all on the corner, all as low down as you could get…and I watched the ball all the way from Heighway’s boot, inside Bob’s near post and came very close to tears. Frankie McLintock raced around behind the goal (and bear in mind he’d played in 4 losing finals before Arsenal) and revved us all. Then he went to the other side and revved them. What a skipper.
Our equaliser followed…a really hotch potch goal from Eddie Kelly though Stroller Graham did his best to claim it, and then to the scene of one of Arsenal’s most famous photos….Charlie George flat on his back celebrating a brutal 20 yard shot that put us ahead and into the record books. What a fortnight.