26th May 1989, is a date firmly etched in the memory of every Arsenal fan, despite what Sky would have you believe, it’s the greatest conclusion to a football season ever witnessed. So great a night and achievement that the book and later the film Fever Pitch were written and released to critical acclaim, albeit, by an Arsenal fan Nick Hornby.
For the younger fans, the story behind what happened that evening and quite what The Arsenal achieved that night wouldn’t be realised until they were older. Those of you a few years older understood exactly the task we had that evening.
Every kid at school where I grew up (Essex), bar a couple, supported Liverpool. They were the team to beat in the 70’s and 80’s.
Leading up to the 1988-89 season Liverpool had won 5 of the last 7 championships and their 4th European cup just 4 years previous. They were an English and European powerhouse.
The Arsenal on the other hand had won just one league cup 2 years prior, back when teams fielded a strong line up and took it seriously. You had to go back 10 years for our last major trophy according to modern day football.
We were top at the end of the year and at one point in the new year held an eleven point lead over Liverpool with a game in hand, a first league title in 18 years seemed inevitable. However, a sticky period between the middle of February and April the 2nd saw us pick up just 10 points from 24.
We dropped points at QPR and Coventry, 2 draws against Millwall and Charlton, and a 3-1 defeat at Home by Forest. This meant the lead had been whittled down to 2 points by the time we drew at Home to Man U on April 2nd.
A run of 4 wins on the trot restored confidence until we pretty much chucked it away (or so we all thought) with a draw against Derby and a defeat to Wimbledon, both games at home.
Liverpool on the other hand had won 17 out of 18 in all competitions including the FA Cup final leading up to the title decider at Anfield and were undoubtably massive favourites despite the backlogged fixtures due to the Hillsborough tragedy.
That famous night has been created into a film titled 89. She wore were lucky enough to be invited to the world premiere attended by some of the players from that amazing team along with guests of Arsenal Football Club notably (in my opinion) our future captain, should he stay fit / sign a contract…..
Reflecting back on the evening it’s difficult to summarise in words as it was that memorable, but I’ll try.
It started off with a 10-15 minute Q&A with Alan Davies as the compere/host, Lee Dixon, Micky Thomas, George Graham, Amy Lawrence and Tony Adams taking questions. These ranged from emotions of that special night, the team bond to Tony Adams wanting to know what he did on the Saturday night, so if anyone can assist he’d be grateful…
The film, everything I’d hoped it would be but more. As I’ve said above it’s difficult to put into words. But there are plenty of stand out points for me.
The respect the players had for George and the confidence and belief he instilled in the team. This will no doubt be obvious to the older generation that grew up watching his teams but for the younger it will be an eye opener.
George, rightly or wrongly is often compared to Arsene Wenger. The majority of the older generation still class him as Arsenal’s greatest manager in the modern era. You don’t have to agree with that but once you watch it you’ll realise how much of a part he played in making Arsenal great again, It might sound daft as he’s the manager and you’d expect it, but the respect the players had for him is huge. We won that title because the team believed in him and themselves and George knew…
It’s funny, very funny. It shows a side to some players not seen before, we know Merse and Perry are renown for their wit, but the so called quieter players shine too, Lukic, Smudge and Nige. The unity amongst this set of players, the camaraderie, it was a group, a real team which no one was bigger than and that’s reflected.
Tragedy, Hillsborough plays a big part as you’d imagine and there are some harrowing images, it shows the emotions of the players and expresses how difficult it was for them at the time. The film also notably pays its respects to the 96 fans that sadly lost their lives.
I could go into so much more detail on the above but I don’t want to spoil it, we all know the result and outcome but what Amy Lawrence, Lee Dixon and the rest of the production team have produced is excellent. It’s also dedicated to Rocky, whose family were present, a wonderful touch. A truly magical film. Congratulations to all that were involved.