By Chris Johnston
Friday, May 26, 1989.
The day started out much as any other, I woke up, grabbed a coffee and read the newspaper. Looking at the back page, I noticed quite a lengthy article about the evening’s game at Anfield. There was a slight panic as I checked for the millionth time that my ticket was still in my wallet.
Arsenal had been due to play Liverpool earlier in the season, but events at Hillsborough saw the game postponed, and rearranged as the very last game of the season, and although not planned when the game was rearranged, it was now the title decider. That ticket in my wallet was priceless, and I assured myself that I was keeping it regardless of how much I would inevitably get offered for it outside the ground. On went my Arsenal shirt, I grabbed my Arsenal scarf, and a thin jacket and headed off to the train station.
I lost count of the amount of times I checked on the train to see if the ticket was still there. I had worked out my entrance point, and the approximate position I would take up on the terrace in the corner of the ground. My train pulled into Liverpool Lime Street at almost the same time as a London connection, and suddenly there were hundreds of Arsenal supporters everywhere.
It was not long after midday, and kick-off was not until 8.05pm, so what better thing to do, other than to head in the direction of the ground and take some refreshments on board! Arsenal supporters seemed to swamp every pub within a couple of miles radius of the ground. Several hundred of us bought cans from an off-licence and headed to Stanley Park, where we created one hell of an atmosphere. We were singing, dancing and being generally very merry until about 6.30pm or so, when quite a number of us peeled off and headed to Anfield.
The general opinion among the supporters was a positive one. Even though Liverpool had to be beaten by at least two goals, and bearing in mind that it was in excess of four years since they had last shipped more than one goal at home. Outside the gates to the ground, it was electric, with such a massive buzz from The Arsenal fraternity. I bought a programme, read it from cover to cover while waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the turnstiles to open. Suddenly, there was a rush, and a mad scramble to get through the recently opened turnstiles to get to our preferred positions. I chose a crush barrier fairly close to the back. I can only presume that The Kop had been opened quite a while before we were allowed in, because there was quite a lot of noise coming from the other side of the ground. Within minutes we were filling up the terraces, and the chanting began.
The players were coming out one by one to start warming up, and each player had his own song back then, which was repeated and repeated until the next player came out. I remember the players heading back in to get ready for kick-off, and presumably a pre-game pep talk from George Graham. The terraces were still filling, and we were really packed in over in that corner. The songs indicated that we were a good mix of North Bank and Clock Enders, and the relevant chants kept going until the players emerged from the tunnel.
As Arsenal came out in their yellow shirts, each player handed a large bouquet of flowers to Liverpool supporters commemorate the passing of fans at Hillsborough a month before. A ripple of applause passed over the whole crowd, it was a touching moment. From this point, we turned up the volume, and the dancing began on the terraces. I am quite certain we outsung Liverpool for 89 of the 90 minutes.
The first half was goalless, but still the air of optimism remained. There was a kind of certainty that we could score twice in the second half. Early into the second half our optimism was rewarded, as a free-kick was glanced in by Alan Smith. Cue the celebrations. We went absolutely potty, crazy and any other phrase that could fit. It was one-nil to The Arsenal, and there was plenty of time to grab the second goal. We were louder than ever, and the party was in full swing. Time though flew by.
There was a silence as Kevin Richardson was down, the 90 minutes were all but up, and it was only 1-0. We needed a second, but there was nothing happening. The Kop turned their own volume up as our players looked more and more tired. Players were going down everywhere with cramp.
In the crowd we were all nervously looking at watches, our own, the guy next to us, the watch of the guy in front... we were holding our breath. John Barnes went on one of those runs, and although I didn't see what actually happened, there was a sudden surge down the terraces, and John Lukic had the ball in his hands. I remember looking at the referee, who was staring at his watch.
What happened next can only be described as the longest build-up in history, yet the clock ticked at what seemed like a minute for every actual second. I was aware of a break from Arsenal, the ball bobbling about, then everything went into slow motion. Liverpool’s defence seemed to have everything covered, then there it was, that net was bulging, and the ball was nestled at the foot of it.
My feet did not touch the floor all the way down the terraces as we exploded into rapture. To this day, I have no idea whether the game kicked off again, no-one cared, the party had started, and we were champions!
Against all the odds, we had gone to Liverpool and beaten them, and claimed that precious trophy, last held by us in 1971. Eighteen years of wait were over, and the mood among our supporters reflected it.
I am vaguely aware of the players coming over to the corner where we were banked up. Tony Adams lifting the trophy aloft was fairly blurred from where I was standing, but I would say that the loudest cheer of the night was when he lifted it.
My dream had come true, Arsenal were champions, and so the planning to go to see the homecoming began.