The other day I was talking to a group of kids at an Islington School. Taking questions at the end, I tackled fairly standard themes: favourite player, best goal, that sort of thing. And, of course, the old favourite - how much money did you earn a week at Arsenal? Never fails to come up, that one.

Once the giggling had died down, a lad at the back took a slightly different tack. 'How do you think the Arsenal team you played in would get on against this present side?' he asked. Mmm, good question. Very difficult to tell.

Having said that, I've no doubt that Arsène Wenger's record-busting concoction is the most formidable side that Highbury's ever produced. On that basis, it would beat every previous line-up, not only ours.

And though that schoolboy didn't know it, we're on topical ground here given that May 26 marks the 15th anniversary of arguably the most famous moment in Arsenal's entire history.

Anfield '89, that epic night on Merseyside when George Graham's battlers, of which I was a part, beat Liverpool 2-0 to clinch the championship in the most dramatic circumstances imaginable. 15 years, eh? Where the heck did they go?

That said, I remember it very clearly. The rest of the league programme had finished. This was the only game left, having been earlier postponed due to the Hillsborough disaster. We needed to win by two clear goals at English football's most intimidating stronghold. Talk about tall orders. Talk about tension.

I don't think you'll ever get a more breathtaking finale than when Michael Thomas raced through in the dying seconds. 'It's up for grabs now!' screamed the commentator, Brian Moore.

And it was. It most certainly was. The title returned to N5 for the first time in 18 years. Spine-tingling stuff, never to be repeated.

It's hard to imagine now but the most continental aspect of that team, the nearest thing we got to an exotic foreigner was David O'Leary from Dublin. And he was born in Stoke Newington! Every other member was a bonafide Englishman.

From John Lukic in goal, through Tony Adams and Steve Bould, Kevin Richardson and Dave Rocastle, to Paul Merson and yours truly. The nearest thing to a foreign accent was Kevin's haway-the-lads Geordie!

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying our exploits 15 years ago were any more admirable just because they were built on home-grown talent. I'm not saying it was a bigger achievement to win the league then than to do it now with world class players from eight or nine different countries. Not at all. Different eras, different circumstances. You simply can't compare.

Mind you, whether it's made up of French, Brazilian, Dutch, German or just plain English lads, every team can catch a dose of the colly-wobbles. We certainly did in '89, to let a healthy lead slip with near calamitous results, just as Arsène's lads faltered towards the end of last season to allow Manchester United a costly sight of the spoils.

Everyone's human, we can safely say that.

In '89, one measly point from our final two home games turned the end-of-season lap of honour into a humble apology. 'Sorry folks, we blew it. Not quite good enough this time.' Nobody could envisage what lay just round the corner, just as Arsène surely couldn't back in August last year.

Going through an entire league campaign unbeaten is a different sort of achievement from our last gasp extravaganza.

From vastly different origins maybe, but we're talking about two teams with plenty in common: togetherness and team spirit, a fierce desire to succeed. On the outside as different as brie and black pudding, they are, on the inside, exactly the same.



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26 May 2004