OK, here we go: that passage of play embedded in Arsenal folklore. The most famous moment in English club football history? Well, I think so. Tell me of another that tops this goal for spine-tingling drama. People talk about Sergio Agüero’s last-gasp effort for Manchester City, the goal that won the title in 2012. Of course, it was sensational, the Premier League’s standout moment, but that came against QPR, fighting relegation, not the champions of England in a straight shoot-out when everyone else had packed up and gone home. Because of those unique circumstances, there really is no contest. Agüero’s winner doesn’t even come close.
Lukey says he was shattered, lacking the strength to punt the ball upfield, so threw it out to Dicko, who didn’t want it either. But with the ball at his feet, Lee couldn’t understand why I showed for his pass, rather than spinning for a big hoof. But show I did, out of habit more than anything, knowing Lee would try and hit me, as he always did. And what a pass it was, fizzed in at pace. As it flew my way, I knew I simply had to take a chance by trying to turn first-time, otherwise run the risk of getting crowded out in a congested midfield. Luckily, this was one of those nights when everything came off, my ball control as good as it had ever been. As one Liverpool player flatteringly put it later, ‘If they’d have fired a cannonball at Smith that night he would have brought it down first time.’ Well, this wasn’t a cannonball but it was a tricky pass all right. Thankfully, my first touch worked out perfectly, allowing me to swivel in one movement thirty-five yards out. A flash of yellow reared up in my peripheral vision. All I could do was try and find this shirt that, as it turned out, belonged to Mickey, making a run, going for broke. An instinctive poke fell into his path as Steve Nicol rushed across to cut it out. But a fortunate break of the ball saw it rebound right where he wanted.
‘It was actually a crap touch by me,’ Mickey told me years later. ‘I knew Steve Nicol was the last man so I tried to dink it over his head and run round the other side. But I didn’t get it right and the ball hit him.’
I know it sounds corny but everything, at this point, seemed to go into slow motion. I jogged helplessly behind, praying for Mickey to shoot, as Ray Houghton sprinted up from behind, unbearably close to making a tackle. I could see the whole picture and it didn’t look pretty. Our last chance of glory was about to be smothered. We all knew what Mickey was like. As stubborn as they came. Never did anything in a hurry if it didn’t suit and that trait to his character looked like costing us dearly.
Alan Smith is the unsung hero from that night at Anfield.
Whilst everyone remembers the winning goal, Thomas charging through the midfield leading to one of the most famous goals, commentaries and moments in sporting history, none of it would have been possible without Alan Smith heading in a 52nd minute goal to take Arsenal 1-0 up.
Having joined Arsenal in 1987 from Leicester City, Smith scored 115 goals in 347, winning the Golden boot in Arsenal’s title winning seasons of 1989 and 1991.
Smith’s greatest moment in his Arsenal career came when he struck the sole goal in Arsenal’s 1994 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final victory against Parma.
Legend is thrown around too quickly in the modern era.
Anfield ’89. Copenhagen ’94. Two of Arsenal’s greatest triumphs in the modern era. Both matches defined by the goal-scoring prowess of one man – Alan ‘Smudger’ Smith.
He is an Arsenal legend.
The memoir of former Leicester, Arsenal and England footballer, Alan Smith is available to buy now.