By Mel O'Reilly

“We’ll win 'cos we’re the Arsenal!"; eternal optimists or deluded fools?

Not sure which camp I fell into as we boarded the coaches on the Avenell Road and that chant went up; I was still cock-a-hoop at a workmate selling me his ticket, £12 including the coach! A couple of days before this remarkable Friday, I was at the game against Wimbledon when most believed our title dream had gone. Even if it was to most Gooners, as far as I was concerned if it was mathematically possible I was gonna see us give it a go. Anyway, I’d failed maths O Level a couple of years previous so stick me in the deluded camp.

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This article first appeared on A Cultured Left Foot in April 2013

I was travelling alone. Most of the mates I knocked about with at the time weren’t really into football, more acid house, the Stone Roses, raves and failing to chat up girls from what I remember. I was too, but Arsenal was “my thing”; always was, always will be. In my 18 years, I’d only seen us lift an FA Cup and a League Cup.

The mood going up to Liverpool on the coach was helped along with some fierce drinking and singalongs; my Irish genes helped me put a good performance in on both counts. I do remember as we closed in on our date with destiny that the driver told us it was touch and go whether we’d make kick off. In fact, when the boys in yellow and blue ran on the pitch before kick off with the flowers for the Liverpool fans still mourning their 96 brothers and sisters who had died weeks earlier at Hillsborough, we were watching it on the coach’s portable TV until the Merseyside Constabulary decided to give us a fast track escort to the ground.

As we poured off the coach that chant went up and for the first time I genuinely thought we’d do it, nothing to do with the drink you understand, I just fancied us. Told you I was deluded. Once inside, tucked into a corner I found myself wedged up alongside a Demis Roussos lookalike (look him up kids). Anyone that’s been to a massively important game and tells you they remember everything is a liar, the first half was gone in a flash but my new best mate Demis assured me that 0-0 after 45 is good and George’s plan was working. I do remember thinking Liverpool were subdued and there for the taking. Arsenal were “at it”, especially Rocky and Richardson which was not surprising really. Rocastle was truly one of us and Richardson used to tackle people with his face if he had to!

I do remember thinking Liverpool were subdued and there for the taking. Arsenal were “at it”, especially Rocky and Richardson. Rocastle was truly one of us and Richardson used to tackle people with his face if he had to!

We weren’t going down without a fight that was for sure. Seven minutes into the second half we got our goal, an Alan Smith header - despite the Liverpool players insisting he hadn’t touched it. The linesman agreed with the 4,000 behind him that Smith had. Of course he had, game on! With about 15 minutes left we looked like we’d get another, Michael Thomas through one-on-one with Grobbelar but he scuffed it straight at him. “Don’t worry we’ll get one more clear-cut chance“, the portly Greek Love God next to me whispered.

I had my doubts though.

Neither side were creating that many chances but without hope and all that, eh? As the minutes ticked by that hope was strangling us in our corner but then, in the last minute, it happened. He was there again, Thomas coolly lifted the ball over Grobbelar and pandemonium was unleashed. Magical doesn’t do it justice. After the initial going-mental bit, I remember Demis taking me in his arms, we embraced like grown men only did at funerals and New Year's Eve parties. He could have held me, “Forever and Ever” - I told you, look him up! There were grown men around us in tears; remember this was before the days of some blokes letting us down by wearing Ugg boots and applying fake tan but it was beautiful nonetheless.

The players and the trophy bit after was a bit of a haze, we were all still congratulating each other but I do remember Rocastle, his face lit up and his eyes dancing. You see, he was our bloke on the pitch despite Mickey Thomas getting the goal, Rocky’s medal was ours as well and when he smiled, we smiled.

One last bear hug from Demis and soon I was back on the coach. There wasn’t a lot of noise at first, just exhausted Gooners with stupid, great grins on their faces not believing what we’d just witnessed. As soon as the first miles to London sign appeared the celebrations commenced. Not sure I’ve ever seen drinking like it! All the while, I was thinking, “How did we just do that? How?”

‘Cos we’re The Arsenal that’s how.

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26 May 2014