Category Archives: Arsenal

hillsborough-disaster

The death of football: 25 years later

It was, individual acts of heroism apart, a tragedy without any redeeming feature. It was a professional event, organised by professionals. And it was the most awful, dislocated, deadly botch. If you look for an image to remember it by, think of the inert bodies carried to ambulances on advertising hoardings, because no one had enough stretchers.

The Guardian 17.04.89

The 15th of April 1989 for Arsenal fans started like any other Saturday. I personally was still working in an agricultural merchants in Cornwall. Being a fan of just 10 years standing, the last few years had been very exciting. From 1980 to 1986 we were quite honestly, a piss poor team, who occasionally came to life for the big games. Worst still in the period Spurs had won 3 cups and were often better than us. Under George Graham though things had started to change. After beating Spurs in the semi of the League cup we had beaten Liverpool in the Final:-

The following season we again made the final and lost to Luton Town. By 1988-1989 though Arsenal had begun to look like a championship side (something we hadn’t seen for 18 years).By march we had lost 3-1 at home to Nottingham Forest, but were still ahead of Norwich and Millwall, whilst the previous years champions Liverpool were 13 points behind with 3 games in hand. Surely we were going to win the league this year? George Graham said in the excellent It’s up for grabs now, that we had started to splutter towards the finishing line.

By April 15th Liverpool had gone top on goal difference from us. On the saturday of the 15th Arsenal were playing at home to Newcastle United. If we won, we would go top as Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest in the F.A cup semi-final. Not only would we go top, but one of Arsenal’s favourite sons would be returning with his new team, Kenny Sansom.

25 years from that date, for younger readers and fans its hard to fathom what football was like. Attendance had been down increasingly during the 1980’s, mainly due to soccer hooliganism. For example, even with Arsenal going for the title, attendances fluctuated from a high of 45,129 against Spurs to a low of 28,449 against Norwich on a Bank Holiday Monday. Also, F.A cup games (excluding the final) were not televised live and played at the same time on a neutral ground (underlining both the importance of the cup back then and the power television over football). Also and very obviously, there was NO internet. No facebook. No twitter. Information on the team was either through Newspapers  (usually just a mere 3 or 4 pages on the broadsheets on a Saturday) or some new fangled idea called fanzines such as the Gooner or Highbury high for us fans (though you’d have to be at the stadium to buy them, as buying them via post was at best difficult).

As for fans not at the stadium, forget Sky sports (that was still 3 years away from starting). Forget BBC1 and ITV giving rolling updates. It was horse racing and Wrestling, interspersed some results and half and full time scores. Radio? Lets not forget there was no Talksport [that was a good thing] until 1995. As for Radio 5? That started a year earlier in 1994. So how did you keep up to date with your team’? Well, you’d have to go Radio 2 (693 or 909 medium wave). Radio 2 long wave would maybe have 3 games on a week and report games. No call in or anything like that. It was game, result, good bye. Want to listen to a whole league game on the radio? You’ve got to be kidding. Radio stations would be allowed to report only the 2nd half of league games. No first half. Jon Spurling has described this as the ‘transistor era’ of football. Without a radio you wouldn’t hear results until either the news on one of 4 channels or the Sunday papers the next day (or teletext if you were lucky and had a good television). Time and patience getting 693 or 909 to tune in was painful.

Anyhow, like most Arsenal fans, I had started with high ambitions at the beginning of Christmas and seen them slowly see Arsenal decline into mediocrity. At least some things don’t change then.

Anyhow, as Arsenal could go top and Liverpool were playing Forests in the semi, I think most Arsenal fans wanted a win at home and Liverpool either to draw and have a replay (no penalty shoot outs back then in the semi) or lose. Let me make this very clear. If you were fan back in the 1970’s or 1980’s Liverpool won everything (though funnily enough not the FA cup having won it a mere 3 times up to 1989). They were arrogant. They were like Manchester United of the last 20 years. Hated. Liverpool were also ‘disliked’ because English clubs were banned from playing football in Europe by UEFA after the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985. If you want to see how grim it was in 80’s Liverpool, just watch the trailer below for Away Day  (its a crap movie though) which is set in Liverpool:-

As usual, that day I’d need a good 10 minutes to get a signal. As it was cup semi final day, the match chosen was Nottingham Forest versus Liverpool. Although I’d have to listen to the game in the second half, I would be able to keep up with the score from Highbury. If you were a foreign fan you might get the last twenty minutes on world service.

As three o’clock struck though, news came through from Hillsborough where the game was being abandoned. The reporters made it sounded like the Scousers were creating trouble. Then radio two started reporting fatalities:-

;

Its weird. To be honest, all I cared about was the Arsenal score and looking back on it I must look pretty shallow, but 25 years ago, football disturbances were so frequent you became immune to them.

At Highbury, Arsenal were being run close on a crap pitch at home by a Newcastle side that would be relegated at the end of the season. Arsenal’s Brian Marwood recalls the game :-

‘As we went into the game, I was in good spirits, because I felt I was starting to play well again after a series of niggling injuries. There was some good banter with the crowd before the game too. I was with the mascot, who was taking pot shots at John Lukic, and every single one of them was pinging into the back of the net. The crowd gave him a rousing reception. “We all agree, mascot is better than Marwood,” they were singing. The crowd also started going through each player’s name and shouting – in my case – “Marwood, Marwood, do the twist”. And unless you wiggled your bum at the North Bank, you’d get booed. There was no option. I thought that my winner put the icing on the cake that day, and the crowd went bananas. Everyone knows that title winning sides need to win their fair share of games 1–0. But then I sensed that the crowd seemed a bit distracted in the last few minutes. There was a strange buzz, and it was clear something wasn’t quite right.’

Kenny Sansom said of the reception he received at the game:-

My mum was in bits and, for the first time in my entire career, she purposely stayed away from north London. ‘If you think I’m coming to Highbury to hear those lovely fans boo you, Kenny, you’re very mistaken. Not a chance.’ I tried to persuade her, but, typically of Mum, she was having none of it. She didn’t watch it on the television, and didn’t even listen to the radio. She was that afraid of the booing she felt certain was to come my way. Wild horses, on the other hand, couldn’t keep Elaine away. If ever she heard someone slagging me off in the crowd, she’d turn on them: ‘I suppose you think you can do better do you – muppet.’ Her fiery side knows no bounds. And this day was to be no different. I can’t tell you how fast and hard my heart was beating in the tunnel as I waited to emerge into the sunshine for my day of reckoning. With every step, I could feel my legs turning to jelly. My new teammates picked up on my apprehension and were brilliant. My ex-teammates took the piss. Bastards! When I ran out onto the pitch my whole being was on fire. Every emotion possible was running through my veins – but fear was the uppermost. Within seconds these fears dissolved into thin air as I heard the Gooners chanting, ‘King Kenny, King Kenny!’ and clapping. I can’t tell you the relief. And ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you, ‘This was Kenny Sansom’s finest moment at Highbury.’ The fact the fans still loved me meant the world to my family and me. Elaine was jumping for joy and my mum kicked herself for not having come to the match. As for me, I played out of my skin in my old arena. You should have heard the gasp from both crowds of supporters when I shocked them all by blasting a shot against the post. I only bloody scored! But it was disallowed. ‘Offside,’ ruled the referee. ‘Offside my backside!’ I yelled back. But the referee wasn’t listening. Do you realise that, had my goal stood, Arsenal wouldn’t have won the League that season?

But Kenny said he felt the crowd’s discomfort.

As for the fans, Jason Cowley in his excellent book The Last Game: Love, Death and Football on Arsenal in the 1980’s with special reference to the season of 1988-89 wrote of the crowd that day:-

Not long into the game at Highbury it was announced over the public address that the match at Hillsborough had been abandoned because of ‘crowd trouble’. The reply from the Highbury crowd was instantaneous ‘we hate Scousers/ We hate Scousers’. A chant which I idiotically joined in. The announcer responded : there had been ‘fatalities’ at the game. This time there was no response from Highbury; only sudden silence then ripples of unease.

I remember just hearing fatalities go up from 3, then 7 and by the end of the day 40. Ironically, even callously I still listened out for the Arsenal score only.  By the following Monday 95 had died at Hillsborough.

But Hillsborough had been a tragedy waiting to happen. Many an Arsenal fan will tell you that Hillsborough semi’s were a nightmare. The cup semi final of 1973 against Sunderland for example. Another fan remembers at Highbury the crowding problems saying:-

Chelsea back in 1973, when over 60,000 turned up. They were queuing right down the road to get in. It was so tight on the North Bank. Your arms were pinned to your sides throughout the match, and there were blokes around me who had their coats pulled off by the pressure of rubbing up against others. But because you couldn’t actually raise your arms, you couldn’t get your clothes back. At the Chelsea match, I got into a crush, and through sheer force, my shoes were pulled off. Can you believe that? There was no way of getting them back, so I had to walk home barefoot.’

It seems ironic looking back at the game back then. Being a fan was a rarity and often despised (my step grandparents never talked about football to me as it was an uncouth game, followed by plebs). This was the normal view of football fans. Lets not forget people like Ken Bates wanted electric fences at stadium to keep the ‘animals’ away from the pitch and each other. Bates was reflecting a Tory party he supported [he backed John Major in 1990 for the Tory leadership] that hated the game with  Margaret Thatcher’s feelings towards football being:-

Her pet project, driven by the then Luton Town chairman and backbench Tory MP David Evans, to deal with hooliganism by introducing a membership card scheme for all football fans, with draconian penalties for those who were not in possession of one and overseen by a new body with the power effectively to control their movements, was hated by those it threatened to police. It was eventually, reluctantly dropped only when Lord Justice Taylor’s report in the wake of Hillsborough dismissed it as counter-productive.

Politicians back then weren’t playing keepy uppy with a premiership manager:-

Or watching a Chelsea vs Bayern final like in 2012.

Football had yet to be ‘gentrified’ by Gazza’s tears in Italy (that was a year away), football journalism would not be truly regarded as a ‘profession’ until Peter Davies’ All played Out came out the following year and Nick Hornby’s Feverpitch on a Arsenal love of football wouldn’t come out until 1992. Football had been ‘the English problem’. Most importantly, Sky was still 3 years away from taking over television rights for football. The game would no longer belong to the fans (if it ever did) but to the television companies and committee men at your club and F.A.

Hillsborough though changed everything. Mostly for the better, but a lot has come at a price. Obviously, since Hillsborough there never has been a return to those fatalities or violence so that is good.

You can’t imagine how much we (as fans) were hated and therefore that was often the reason it was relatively cheap to go to a match. Ian Castle in his book Arsenal: The Agony & The Ecstasy made an interesting point that up to 1988 you could go to Highbury in the summer, help with the decorating and upkeep of the stadium and get a season ticket for doing that. Imagine that in comparison to £1300 now for a Gold membership?

As I look back now over 25 years and you see the Liverpool fans still fighting for justice, I look back as a 45 year old fan, and realise that 79 of the 96 dead were under 30 and would roughly be my age. They went to a match and never came back. Never had kids. Never had a chance. In many ways, I look back and as a human being think ‘wouldn’t it be great if Liverpool won the title for those 96 people that died’ 25 years ago. But then, as a fan, I remember Jon Spurling words on that season and our after Christmas decline in the league saying of the media:-

This delighted the anti-Arsenal tabloids (that’s all of them, by the way), who as we all know, had their heads shoved far up Liverpool nether region’s.

But to those fans too young to remember, if you get a chance, remember those poor souls that went to a game to cheer their team and never came back. Justice for the 96.

Man at the match, Chary: Fabianski ushers Arsenal into the FA Cup final

A helter skelter match ended on penalties after full time and extra time couldn’t separate the Arsenal from the conquerors of Manchester City in the previous round, when Fabianski held his nerve to save the first two of five penalties so that four successful spot kicks from the good guys were enough to book a return trip to Wembley in May.

After a gap of over fourteen years between my last visit to Wembley to see Arsenal play and today I was hoping to see a victory for the Arsenal and although the build up to the game in the media and the Arsenal blogosphere ensured nerves kicked in a few pints at Mannion’s pub near the south entrance to Wembley helped settle those nerves.

Also plenty of Arsenal songs, not fit for a family blog, ensured a degree of alcohol induced bravado stayed with me till I took my seat in the upper tier behind the south goal, to the right of the managers dug outs.

As expected Wigan failed to sell their quota of tickets and many pockets/blocks of empty seats were visible in the Wigan end

In (some of) the blue corner - Wigan

In (some of) the blue corner – Wigan

Before kick off was the moments silence, although I heard applause also, to commemorate the tragic loss of life at an FA Cup semi final 25 years ago at Hillsboro, with 96 seats(to remember the 96 fatalities that day) kept empty.

Hillsborough 96 remembered

Hillsborough 96 remembered

The line up changes that were most significant were the addition of Rambo and Monreal (with the latter stepping in for Gibbs who was only fit enough for a bench place) and the replacement of Sanogo for Giroud, as seems to be the case for the FA Cup team selection with Fabianski the designated cup goalie.

From the start it was clear that Wigan’s form was on the up and Arsenal’s spluttering with no Arsenal player really catching the eye in the first half, except for flashes of Rambo’s tenacious drive with the ball when surging through the midfield. It was obvious the team have badly missed his forward motion in the midfield as without him it all looks very pedestrian, as several moans about our slow paced attacking attested to amongst the Arsenal supporters.

Something that did come across was that moaning about the team is not an age related thing or the preserve of the “I want it now” generation of youngsters. A pensioner next to me was totally negative all the way through the game and had decided we’d lose after seeing only ten minutes of the game; needless to say not one word of encouragement or singing for the team left his lips all the way through the game.

While Arsenal did create chances in the first half not too many clear cut chances were made, except for the cross that led to Sagna’s sliced shot over the bar, Wigan themselves looked hard working but not especially dangerous.

At the start of the second half as usual the boys in red and white upped the tempo and more free kicks corners accrued from the Ox who was growing in confidence or Santi who had seemed subdued in the first half.
It started to look like it could be one of “those days” when either the woodwork or a bit of good goal keeping was bound to keep the shots out when Arsenal appeared certain to score.

Inevitably a bit of controversy arrived to gift Wigan a goal, a foul on Monreal was not given and with the Arsenal players expecting a stop in play Wigan took advantage of the hesitancy to push into the penalty box and lead to the BFG making a penalty kick worthy challenge.

Indignation swept through the red end of Wembley due to frustration at the referee for not blowing for the foul or the injury and also slight annoyance at Wigan for not having kicked the ball out.
Monreal was taken off injured to be replaced by Gibbs and then eventually Gomez took a virtually unstoppable penalty, which Fabianski came close to keeping out, 1 nil to the Championship team.

As seems to be the case nowadays the Arsenal support is schizophrenic in that anger and dejection at the penalty was replaced by cheers at the restart trying to pick up the spirits of the players. However the jeers quickly returned when the Pod was subbed off when everyone thought the exasperating Sanogo would make way. The Pod had a quiet game while Sanogo seemed to show touches of skill which made you think “Where did that come from?” and then clumsy touches that would be maddening.

Olly came on and was greeted with, to the tune of the Van Judas “She said..” song:

“She said yes Giroud, she said yes”

While it’s hard to say he’s a top line striker it was immediately obvious Olly was better than Sanogo and his hold up play and flicks was leading to more and more dangerous attacks, including a header off the crossbar.

Finally a ball launched into the Wigan penalty area was diverted towards the BFG who bundled the ball into the net and atoned for his earlier penalty kick inducing mistake.

The relief was such that even the moaning pensioner stopped cursing he team although what he thought of my “F**k you Wigan” chant while the BFG celebrated in the goal in front of me, I’d rather not know.

Wigan heads dropped and they held on till full time despite Arsenal pushing for the winner in normal time, the Ox hitting the post and an acrobatic mid air goal line clearance from a Wigan defender when the red end were about to cheer the Gunner’s second goal.

Arsenal piling on the second half  pressure

Arsenal piling on the second half pressure

Annoyingly the referee blew for full time just when Olly was through and appeared to be held back by a Wigan defender which, if it had been an arsenal player doing the holding back, would have been a red for a professional foul.
Nonetheless the momentum was still with Arsenal and for both halves of injury time it was mainly Arsenal attacking, with Källström almost scoring with his first touch.

As with his appearance against Swansea Kim seems to have something about him that showed today also, a strength and precision in midfield that is probably what we need right now when, Flamini aside, our midfield is a tad lightweight and powder puff.

Wigan held on and the spectre of penalties came, the news that they would be taken in front of the Wigan end(the majority of photographers had been stationed at my end as it was the end Arsenal attacked and they scurried round the pitch to get to the other end) were greeted with moans of:

“We can’t even win the toss for the penalties!”

Beneath the raging tension in me I felt deep down there was a smidgen of hope in the calmness and authority Fabianski had shown in the game so far; an inkling that he could be the hero of the moment.

Fabianski psyching out Caldwell

Fabianski psyching out Caldwell

The Championship side took the first penalty and although I was not a great penalty it still had to be saved, the Wigan player sinking to the ground in defeat, something even I could see from the other end of the stadium.

First up for the good guys was Arteta, who was coolness personified with a regulation, text book penalty.
Wigan again tried to score in the shoot out and failed again, a slightly better Fabianski save this time and the Arsenal support dared to hope again.

Källström converted our second penalty with the minimum of fuss and pressure was back on Wigan who finally managed to notch a successful spot kick.

Even though Olly’s successful spot kick was preceded by a second successful Wigan kick all it needed was for Arsenal’s fourth penalty to go in and it would be all over

Up stepped Santi, he scored then scurried to the corner to celebrate with the team, out of relief more than anything and only then could Arsenal supporters in Wembley breathe again.

Santi celebrates deciding pk

Santi celebrates deciding pk

An incredibly hard fought game ended with the Gunners victorious and a date at Wembley in May meant we can now sing the following in earnest:

“What did she wear ?
She wore, she wore,
She wore a yellow ribbon,
She wore a yellow ribbon,
In the merry month of May!
And when, I asked,
Oh why she wore that ribbon,
She said it’s for The Arsenal,
And we’re going to Wembley!
Wembley,Wembley,
We’re the famous Arsenal,
And we’re going to Wembley!”

By 17th of May with more injured players returning, especially Özzy, and Rambo getting back to his best we can expect a better performance than today with confidence also returning bit by bit.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

Arsenal v. Wigan: preview

I was sitting in the hotel bar the night before Arsenal’s League Cup final against Birmingham and two Blues supporters sitting next to me were talking about the game the next day. The one who looked remarkably like Mr. Rat was loudly talking up his team’s chances whilst the one who looked like Mr. Mole sat quietly looking rather nervously around the room to make sure no 6’4″ Arsenal supporter came over and smashed their faces in. Mr. Rat then proclaimed “these Arsenal supporters are all the same, they talk big about how they are going to do us but you offer one a bet and watch them melt. Because they know, we have a real chance. I think we will win.”

I sat there snorting into my drink at each proclamation and thought to myself that I should go over and take this guy up on his bet. Why not? I was full of confidence, we were the much better team, and we had beaten them just a few games prior. But instead of confronting the braggart and taking the bet, I finished my whiskey and went off to bed.

Seeing how Arsenal lost that match and I didn’t take his bet I guess he was right on both counts.

A similar, if amplified, mood pervades today’s FA Cup semi-final between Wigan and Arsenal and it’s quite understandable why: Arsenal are once again over-dogs, Arsenal are once again on the brink of winning their first trophy in years, Arsenal are missing a number of key players, the manager’s position is being questioned from all quarters (including Tim Stillman), Arsenal have a recent history of stumbling in big games against small opponents, and that 6-0 loss to Chelsea on the occasion of Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game seemed to cause many of us to join the other lemmings going over the cliff at full pace.

Arsene Wenger seems to have learned a lesson from the harsh losses of the last few weeks and is vowing to get the team to focus more on defending and attacking as a unit. Arsenals defense has been fantastic when they play within themselves and have proven that time and again against Liverpool, Tottenham, and the comeback win over Everton in this same competition when I was there last month. In each of those matches, Arsenal were able to sit back and invite the opposition to attack and yet repel each attack with solid, organized defending.

Wigan will probably come out looking to hit Arsenal with the 1-2 punch like they did against Man City at the Etihad stadium. Once they went ahead, they defended as well as I have seen from any team at Man City’s ground.

This puts a lot of onus on Arsenal’s early game because Arsenal play the same way, early high pressing, and we could have a wide open free for all in the first 15 minutes. What has many Arsenal fans worried is that this is exactly how Arsenal have been undone in each of their huge losses this season. Each time Arsenal have lost big it has been because the opposition have adopted Arsenal’s exact same tactic.

Another concern is that Wigan employ a 3-5-2 combined with a high pressing game so that they play a lot like Liverpool. Arsenal did beat that system twice this season and both times were able to do so by not allowing the opposition to overload the Arsenal fullback areas. Everton and Chelsea played a similar tactic in that they invited the Arsenal fullbacks forward and reserved an attacking player in behind the Arsenal midfielders. Shurrle and Lukaku both played on the right (Arsenal’s left) cutting back in in those games (and Liverpool played Suarez there to do the same in their 5-1 win over Arsenal) and I’d put almost any amount of money on Wigan trying the same. Basically, if we see both Arsenal fullbacks in the Wigan final third, it’s time to panic.

Wenger himself acknowledged that Wigan is a team full of Premiership players who happen to be playing in the Championship. So, as much as we’d all like to say that this is a lower division team playing against an upper division side it is nice to hear the manager aware of the threat that these guys possess. Fortune (the Wigan forward and not every gambler’s harsh mistress) in particular is a real threat off the bench. But I’m hoping we get to the point where Wigan are looking to the bench for a little good Fortune.

Wigan are not a crap team, again a fact Wenger points out by mentioning their record getting to the FA Cup semi final. They are second in the Championship in shots taken per game (15.1) and 5th in shots conceded (12.5). Defensively they are 4th in tackles made per game and 5th in interceptions (14.1). They are also a real threat from set plays having scored a 3rd best 16 goals from that position and they love to cross the ball with a 3rd best 24 of those per game. Like Wenger has said, this may be a Championship side but they are full of Premiership players and they play like it. Wigan are a hard nosed defensive side who get in the faces of their opponents and get goals off set plays. They have had a bit of bad luck in the last few matches but their losing margins have been slim.

Still, despite missing a number of players, Arsenal have four crucial players available for tomorrow’s match: Ramsey, Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud.

Even though he missed much of the season with injury, Ramsey is still Arsenal’s best player statistically. He is fearless in midfield. He works tirelessly to get open for passes and never hides when the team needs an outlet. He is also an underrated tackler (leads Arsenal in per game tackles) and constantly presses to get the ball back high up the pitch. And is if that weren’t enough he is third overall in scoring and assists. Truly a stats stuffer and while people poo poo stats, they show that Ramsey is a player with tremendous heart and work rate.

Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud are all this competition’s best scorers remaining. Podolski and Giroud have 6 goals between them and Podolski’s goals have all been winners. Cazorla only has 8 goals and 5 assists but having been shunted off to the side and playing second trumpet to Özil has really limited his ability to contribute. Meanwhile Giroud is Arsenal’s leading scorer with 20 goals this season. He’s only scored once in his last six matches but he scored a double against Everton in the FA Cup match before this one.

I expect Arsene will start with Giroud up front, Podolski as second striker, Ramsey in midfield, Cazorla on the left, Ox on the right, Arteta as defensive mid and the back four picking itself (Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, and Gibbs/Monreal). Fabianski will be in goal.

I’m expecting a very tough game from Wigan but hopefully the Arsenal quality will shine through and Ramsey will get us an early goal which will allow Arsenal the chance to sit back and defend for a while.

Something they are very good at.

Qq