Remembering '91 and all that schoolboys own stuff
1991. April 14th. Wembley.
Not the type of game you'll ever forget, more so if you lived and breathed the entirety of that day. Even if it was 19 years ago, I still remember my journey to the Twin Towers via Walthamstow (my not so posh residence at the time). I remember how ominous the build up to the game was. Before that day nobody really gave us a chance. Not underplaying that in any way. Gascoigne's fitness was questionable and leading up to the semi-final most believed he wouldn't make it having played an hour or so of football in around 4-5 weeks prior to the semi-final. Gazza was imperative to us and had arguably inspired our cup run with some majestic performances. But just how fit was he to play a key part?
Arsenal were favourites, a side that hardly conceded and hardly lost (one game in fact), running away with the title - the double in their sights. Their cup final song already recorded, was the whisper which was not true sadly but it was a wonderful urban legend at the time in an age where In The Know's converged in pubs and not internet message boards. Such was the expectancy that they would brush us aside.
At the NLD earlier that season, I stood in the East Stand lower in the corner near the away end and remember the scum waving sterling at us, lapping up the misery of our financial leprosy. Game finished 0-0, and if I recall correctly, Gascoigne came close to scoring. An own goal.
Our money problems at the time deemed the semi-final one where a miracle was required. Winning the FA Cup was perceived by many as the only way to save the club. If ever there was a do or die game, this was it.
My journey in however was not one of nerves and fear. There seemed to be an air of understated confidence. Belief. Okay, so everyone who went to the game will probably have a different story to tell. Mine is simply that the singing and the bravado was all Lilywhite. It was a proper 'fuck it, what will be will be' attitude that had our lot smiling and singing. The gooners were far more subdued, tentative. More to lose perhaps? In their eyes, no doubt. In our eyes it was far far more vital to win the derby and the day.
"If we lose, I'll hang myself from a tree on the Seven Sisters Road" - joked one Arsenal fan on the tube to his mates, not a residue of humour to be found in his stern words.
"There once was a donkey named Adams, who played for Arsenal FC, they feed him on nothing but carrots, hee-haw hee-haw hee-haw-ee…" - sang one very drunk Spurs supporter, holding a massive massive can of beer (monstrous sized can) wrapped in a brown paper bag whilst other fans looked on. Some laughing, others giving daggers.
At the stadium, I was standing there hurling verbals towards the Arsenal coach that slowly drove through the crowd as the Arsenal players looked out of the windows smiling and waving. Me and several hundred other fans. All in good jest. Rude not to say hello.
Sitting high in the upper regions of the stand opposite the end we attacked in the first half, for the first time that day I began to brick it. This was it. Boring boring Arsenal against a team that lined-up up with Vinny Samways in midfield. Oh, and that Geordie who wasn't too shabby with his feet. This surely would be the most nerve-wrecking inducing game of football ever played, one that would shatter heartbeats leaving me gagging for air. The pressure tenfold. There is no possible way such a game can be enjoyed. No more understated confidence.
What followed was schoolboys own stuff. Fantasy football. The type of high impact tempo that must have played out in all our dreams the night before. What did I say about no way this game could be enjoyed?
The free-kick. That free-kick. The delirium was ridiculous. Before we had time to recover and pull ourselves down from the heavens, it was 2-0. This was now borderline orgasmic. Lineker with the second. Five minutes separating his poke from Gazza's 30-yarder. Arsenal pulling a goal back just before the break. We had them rattled but in no way was this done and dusted. Not yet. And conceding a goal just before half-time left us in a far less comfortable position than a 2-0.
Samways (yes Samways) alongside Gascoigne were both in wonderful form, and Howells (also just returned from injury) was having a good one along with one of the true heroes of '91, Steve Sedgley. There was some proper fully-charged effort, spirit and passion out there.
But the goons were not about to give up and got themselves back into the possession stakes in the second half. Gazza went off, replaced by Nayim, after and hour or so - shattered, but his work done.
Next goal, Spurs or Arsenal, match defining.
78 minutes. Samways combo with Mabbs, releasing Lineker who's shot squeezed itself through David Seaman's hands. 3-1. More delirium. To be relived countless times later in the evening on VHS with additional praise for Barry Davies and his timeless commentary.
Journey home was akin to a musical with a cast of thousands, singing and dancing in the streets and the trains back towards the north of London. No double for Arsenal. A life-line for Spurs. And an 8th FA Cup in memorable final.
I remember a chant of 'You've lost that double feeling…' to which one Arsenal fan screamed back abuse about us going broke. Not quite. Thanks to the victory over Forest. And Venables. Although what was to follow in the years to come dragged us backwards rather than forwards, stagnating whilst our enemy pushed forwards with an astute appointment and Sky Sports birthing the rise and rise of the monopoly.
But regardless, these types of days out are forever written into history. A game of biblical significance and importance. One that won't be forgotten.
This Sunday, another cup semi at Wembley. Pompey the team in financial trouble, the ones seeking a miracle. Us, the overwhelming favourites. Not that I'm comparing this semi with that one back in '91. But let's not take anything for granted.
And following the Cup match, we've got Arsenal in the NLD at the Lane. On the 14th. Of April.