It is more 30 years since Anfield '89, but the drama of that unforgettable night will live forever in Arsenal history.
In an extract from Amy Lawrence's new book, 89, some of the key figures discuss the build-up to the match, their gameplan, the mood in the dressing room and the emotions of handing out bouquets to the home fans beforehand.
In the dressing room, George was philosophical. He was determined that he wanted to go out to win it. He talked about the game. How he wanted the game to go. He didn’t normally do that. He didn’t normally go, 'this is how I want it to go', planning each part of the game. So, I think he had a vision in his head about the best way to try and beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield.
If they scored a goal first, in the first half, which they normally did, then we had to score three goals at Anfield. It’s never been heard of. Especially with that team at that time. So, I said to the boys we’ve got to keep it 0-0. We mustn’t go out there thinking we’ve got to attack. Because the papers were full of it: Arsenal have got to win 2-0. They’ve got to go out there and have a go at Liverpool. Hello! I don’t think so.
Managers always look at your own team, your own structure, the way you play and the way the opposition play. You know, what are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? You try to exploit their weaknesses and you try and force your strengths on to them and that’s the way most coaches sort the game out before the game. I had it all organised to play Liverpool and even though they won 5-1 in their previous game and were clear favourites, I still think it was the right way to play.
Do you know it was 16/1 on the last day to win 2-0? There’s one for you. It was 16/1 to win the league in pre-season and we were 16/1 to win 2-0 at Anfield. Thirty-seven games later. Ha ha ha! I just couldn’t see it. I remember his team talk. I remember sitting there like, what? I was thinking as long as we don’t start getting beat three and four that’s alright. I was thinking he’s on what I’m on, isn’t he?!
The mood in the dressing room would have a pattern. George was centre stage. Theo Foley would do his bit individually going around making sure we were okay. Feeling alright. Feeling confident. Tony would do what Tony did, the shouting bit and in those five to 10 minutes he’d be getting louder and louder as kick-off approached. I think it’s as much to get himself wound up as anybody. Everybody has different methods before a match. I’d quite often disappear to the toilet and read the programme. People are banging on the door. 'Smudge are you finished yet?'
Playing with the back five was a major risk. We had done it as a sort of one-game special. But in those circumstances, having to win 2-0 away against such a great Liverpool team, it was brave. Had it gone wrong, there’d have been major questions asked.
In the minutes leading up to kick off it was a fantastic team talk from George. I think he freed your mind. 'Concentrate on your individual jobs. You might never be in this situation again. Don’t waste it. Just go out there and do it. You’ve worked so hard this season. Do it for yourselves. Do it for your families. Don’t pass up the opportunity.' After the speech he had given us in the hotel, this was a bit more ramped up, with more passion. It was one of those where we went, ‘Phew, that was good’. He shook all our hands on the way out, which he never did. He was stood by the door. ‘All the best’. We got our bouquets of flowers each.
Ken Friar told me, ‘George we’re going to get the players to walk out with a bouquet of flowers each and take them into the Kop and the Liverpool supporters and give them to the crowd.’ I thought it was a fantastic gesture by the club.
It was a great idea and it was the way Arsenal used to do things in those days. I think we had our finger on the pulse with compassion and with empathy and we knew how to respect other people as well as ourselves. Given the pain that the Liverpool people had gone through, it was important.
Obviously, we’d been watching the Liverpool lads and Kenny Dalglish attending funerals. It was very emotional and you could feel that in the ground.
It was a very strong, very emotive touch. It’s the football fraternity. Liverpool obviously suffered more than anybody else but I think all football suffered and we just wanted to show compassion. I think gestures sometimes do fall by the wayside but I think that one hit home with a lot of people. By the time all the lads had run off, the only spot that wasn’t catered for was down at the Kop end and I had to run all the way down to the Kop and run all the way back up again and that’s the furthest I’d ever run in my life so I was knackered by the time I got back! That moves the moment on into the game and the reason that you’re there and what you have to do on the night. It’s the flick of the switch.
Talk about emotions. In the pit of your stomach knowing that you probably should have won the league title two or three games before is pretty annoying and everybody is writing you off and saying it’s a fitting end to the season that with the Hillsborough disaster Liverpool are going to do the double. You realise that if you can pull it off, you’re going to upset a lot of people. The flowers still stick in my mind. I knew exactly where I was going when I went out on that pitch before the game. I was going to take those flowers down behind the goal. Then you’ve got to switch that off. You’ve got a game of football to play in. It’s difficult.
Click here to get your copy of '89'
I’ve always had that feeling about the Kop being a really special place. As a kid I was a Man City fan and my friend was a big Liverpool fan and his Dad took us to Anfield. City were playing Liverpool at Anfield and we went and stood on the Kop and I had a blue and white City scarf on, a bobble hat. All the Liverpool fans were taking the mickey out of this little cocky Mancunian with his bobble hat on and holding me on to their shoulders. Passing me down the front. Like the old stories. It was brilliant. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had at a football ground. So when we were taking the flowers out I really wanted to give my flowers to someone on the Kop.
My superstition was always to go out on the pitch third behind the captain, Tony Adams, the goalkeeper, John Lukic and then me. Arsenal’s tradition was to line up on the halfway line and salute the away fans before we went and did our warm up. So, we were all lined up with this flowers and when we’d done our wave and I remember sprinting off to the Kop end. There was a lady near the corner flag and I ran over and gave them. I remember the emotion of actually passing the flowers over. The minute I let go of the flowers it was like I had this flood of ‘Right!' My game face came on immediately. I sprinted back to my position before kick-off and I was full of energy. Ready to go. It was almost like a handing over of emotion. It was right we’ve done that. Now we’ll go and play the game and that was the first time I can remember thinking we can win this. We’re going to win this.
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