8 February 1987: Arsenal lose at Tottenham, but the announcer is premature

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Now before you turn away thinking I have totally lost the plot, let me assure you I haven’t.  Yes I am making a home defeat to Tottenham a featured event in this column, but there is a reason.

If you are of a certain vintage you’ll remember it.  If you are an Arsenal historian, you’ll know what’s coming.   But otherwise…. Believe me it is fun.

In 1979 Arsenal won the FA Cup against Man U as Alan Sunderland attained immortality to make the score 3-2, and Terry Neill’s tenure as manager got a cup to polish.

But then life went a bit downhill.

  • 1980: Losing finalists in the FA Cup
  • 1981: Third in the league
  • 1982: Fifth in the league
  • 1983: 10th in the league and two semi-finals
  • 1984: 6th in the league, and Terry Neill is replaced by Don Howe
  • 1985: 7th in the league
  • 1986: 7th in the league and Don Howe is replaced by Steve Burtenshaw
  • 1987: George Graham first season as manager.

The league programme did not start well for George Graham in his first season as manager as we only won two of the first eight games.

On the evening of October 27 1986, after a 0-1 defeat to top club Nottingham Forest, the table looked more like the end of the Mee era than anything of recent times…What was really awful was the goals tally – five for, five against.  Indeed in the four games up to and including the Forest match Arsenal had not scored a goal.  We were using Niall Quinn and Charlie Nicholas as the front two.  Wimbledon, our next opponents, were ninth, we were 15th.

The first casualty of the disastrous run was Stewart Robson who made it through the first five matches only.  Then out went Graham Rix and Charlie Nicholas, and in came Steve Williams, Perry Groves and Martin Hayes.

These changes didn’t happen all at once, but by match ten the new format was getting established as Arsenal went on a 17 match unbeaten run.

On 4 January 1987 Arsenal beat Tottenham away 2-1 with goals from Tony Adams and Paul Davis with just 37,723 in their stadium.  (Crowds were low at the time throughout football.  Only 17,561 turned up for the next match at Highbury against Coventry, while Wimbledon and Luton were each getting under 10,000 for their home games in the top division).

What was particularly exciting was that after that poor start, by the time of the Coventry game Arsenal had reached the top of the league.

But it couldn’t last, for the Coventry 0-0 draw was the start of 10 games within a win.  There was however recovery of sorts at the end of the season as Arsenal won five and lost three of the last eight to finish the league in fourth place and perhaps most tragically of all, one place behind Tottenham.

Meanwhile in the FA Cup we went out to Watford with a 1-3 home defeat in the sixth round on 14 March 1987.

Which left just one competition: the League Cup.  We beat Huddersfield, Manchester City, Charlton and Nottingham Forest to reach the semi-final where we were drawn against Tottenham.  The home leg came first and we lost 0-1 with 41,306 in the crowd.

Clive Allen scored that goal at Highbury and when the same player scored after 16 minutes in the return leg it made Tottenham 2-0 up.  At half time the announcer on the White Hart Lane PA relayed details of how Tottenham fans could order their cup final tickets.

That turned out to be a trifle premature as then Viv Anderson and Niall Quinn both scored.  There was extra time, and then a replay, convened on the toss of the coin, at Tottenham (there being no “away goals” rule in the league cup at the time.)

It was a replay in every sense of the word.  Allen scored, and there was just eight minutes to go when Ian Allinson equalised.  David Rocastle got the winner thereafter.  George Graham said, “I hope it’s just the start of a new era for this club.”

The Arsenal team was, John Lukic, Viv Anderson, Kenny Sansom, Michael Thomas (Ian Allinson), David O’Leary, Tony Adams, David Rocastle, Paul Davis, Niall Quinn, Charlie Nicholas, Martin Hayes.

The final couldn’t really live up to that excitement, and it looked like Arsenal would be out when Ian Rush scored, because “Liverpool never lose when Rush scores” as the media announced every 30 seconds or so.  I don’t know if that was actually true – or whether it was one of those things that everyone believed just because it was said over and over again by the press, but it certainly wasn’t true on this occasion.

Charlie Nicholas scored both our goals in reply.  Neither were magnificent but the sight of Bob Wilson going bonkers as the goals went in remains a memory and a half.

Because of the behaviour of Liverpool fans two years before, English clubs were banned from Europe, and so Arsenal did not get to test themselves against the continent’s top sides. Had we done so I don’t think we would have got too far, for this was just the beginning. But there was so much more to come.


For thoughts on Arsenal today please see Untold Arsenal


For details of the videos sorted by club, and videos in the order we published them, plus our 21 golden great videos please see here.


Just as the videos have been put in date order so we are now doing a day-by-day series of Arsenal events, looking to find one good story a day throughout the year.   This project started on 1 December, and we are adding to it each day.   The index is here.

The Arsenal History Society is part of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association – a body which gives positive support to the club, and has regular meetings with directors and senior officials of the club to represent the views of its members to the club.  You can read more about AISA on its website.

100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

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