By Chris Harris

Did Alan Smith get a touch? Was it offside? Was it a foul? Twenty years after taking charge of the most famous game in Arsenal's history, Dave Hutchinson is still not sure why Liverpool's players protested so strongly about the Gunners' first goal.

Michael Thomas' last-gasp strike gets all the attention when Arsenal fans go all misty-eyed about Anfield '89 but, without Smith's header early in the second half, that stoppage-time strike would have been mere consolation on a night Arsenal had to win by two clear goals to claim the title.

As commentator Brian Moore put it, Smith's goal "lit the blue touchpaper" and set up that grandstand finish. And Hutchinson was right in the thick of the action.

With 52 minutes on the clock and the deadlock unbroken, Ronnie Whelan was penalised for a foul on David Rocastle. Nigel Winterburn swung in the free-kick and Smith glanced the ball past Bruce Grobbelaar and into the corner. As the celebrations kicked off in the away end, a throng of Liverpool players surrounded Hutchinson, urging him to disallow the goal.

To the relief of Arsenal fans across the globe - millions of whom were watching on television - Hutchinson kept his head while all around him were losing theirs. The former referee takes up the story.

"I gave an indirect free-kick and I always put my hand up immediately to indicate it was an indirect free-kick," recalled Hutchinson. "It might come down during the organising of the wall but before the kick is taken my arm would be raised again. I was pretty certain in my mind that I had done that because that was my routine.

"The free-kick came across and I was right down there among the players. I was convinced in my own mind that Smithy had just nudged it in. I couldn't see a foul, I couldn't see an offside, I looked across to my linesman [Geoff Banwell] and he was making his way back towards the halfway line because he was satisfied it was a goal. At no time did the linesman put his flag up which I believe some people suggested he did. I'd almost be prepared to bet my pension that he didn't!

I said (to the linesman) 'was it a foul?' - he said 'no'. I said 'is there any reason why it shouldn't be a goal?' He said 'no'. So we gave a goal and the Liverpool players backed off straight away.

Referee David Hutchinson

"What were Liverpool's players appealing for? I don't know! I think they were surprised that they had been caught out. They surrounded me and they wanted me to go and talk to my linesman. I thought the best way to avoid a mass confrontation was to do what they want. I was pretty certain what the answers were going to be but if man-management dictated that this was the best way to manage the situation then that's what I did. I asked the Liverpool players to stay where they were and leave me alone while I went to talk to my linesman. 

"It wasn't intimidating at all, it was sheer frustration on their part as far as I could see. There was no foul language being bandied about, it was just 'go and talk to your linesman, go and talk to your linesman'. But nobody said whether it was offside, whether the ball had gone in direct [from the free-kick] or whether there was a foul, they just wanted me to talk to him.

"So I spoke to Geoff and I just asked him whether my arm was clearly raised after I gave the indirect free-kick. He said 'yes'. I said 'was it offside?' - he said 'no'. I said 'was it a foul?' - he said 'no'. I said 'is there any reason why it shouldn't be a goal?' He said 'no'. So we gave a goal and the Liverpool players backed off straight away.

"I saw [former Liverpool player] Ray Houghton a while later and asked him what the protest was about. He said none of them really knew what they were protesting about - they were just taken aback that they had conceded the goal."

May 26, 1989 is a date that resonates with Arsenal fans and Hutchinson will always be a key member of the Anfield cast. After all it was his final, long blast on the whistle which sparked frenzied celebrations among the travelling support and across the red half of North London. Not that any of those Arsenal fans would recognise the former referee if they saw him on the street.

"Do I get recognised by Arsenal fans? No, and I never get recognised by the Arsenal players either!" said Hutchinson. "We did a pilot radio programme about a year after the Anfield game to celebrate great moments of sporting history. They had a panel of Liverpool and Arsenal players and backroom staff - including Perry Groves - and I was smuggled into Broadcasting House as a mystery guest. When I was announced there was a stunned silence! There was no instant sign of recognition when I walked in.

"But the game is a very pleasant memory to be quite honest. When the second goal went in I suppose I was the only person who knew that Liverpool wouldn't be champions because I knew exactly how much longer we had. That was just about enough time to spot the ball and get down to the Arsenal goal.

"The restart was really just to indicate to the crowd that the goal had been allowed rather than just saying it had been a goal and blowing the final whistle. We restarted and it was just a matter of eight or nine seconds as I recall it."

Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source
26 May 2009