Tag Archives: Gary Lineker

Highbury Classics Vol 2 – The Arsenal Vs Southampton May 1992

ARSENAL v SOUTHAMPTON – MAY 1992

Great game to end an era

It’s not often that you walk away from a 5-1 victory with a feeling of sadness to go with the joy. But for thousands of Arsenal fans a sense of loss dominated a wonderful final game of the 1991-92 season. It was the last ever game of the beloved North Bank terrace which had been a place to stand and watch football for decades. The Taylor Report was soon to dictate law and top flight clubs would have to replace the standing areas with seats. After the game, a few thousand fans stayed behind for a couple of hours to remain in the old terrace for a little bit longer. Fight Sing where ever you may be – we are the North Bank Highbury was the chant heard two hours after the game, as the last fans left the stadium after a solemn sit in.

As for the match itself, there were two main focuses of attention. Firstly a win was necessary so that the old North Bank could go out in style. Secondly, there was a chance that Ian Wright could end up the league’s top goal scorer. At the start of the day he was one goal behind Tottenham’s Gary Lineker and Spurs were playing away at Old Trafford. If Lineker were to get just one goal, then Wright would need a repeat of the hat trick that he’d at scored against the Saints earlier in the season.

At Highbury in May 1992 the first half of Arsenal-Southampton was quiet and goalless, with the main highlight being a disallowed goal from Wright which looked like a harsh decision. The second half however, was symbolic of the final third of the season. Up to February, Arsenal had been inconsistent and had put up a weak defence of the title. Then everything came together with a 7-1 thrashing of a strong Sheffield Wednesday side; six of the goals coming in the space of just 20 minutes. From that point onwards Arsenal would remain unbeaten and put in a late challenge to finish third and gain a European spot. It may have been too late to get back in the title picture but Arsenal’s rampage on the final three months of the season was thrilling. In contradiction to reputation, George Graham’s team were capable of playing free flowing entertaining football, with Limpar, Merson, Wright, Rocastle, Campbell and Smith providing a formidable attacking force. If there was a fault with the 1991-92 team then it was the leaky defence. Overall they conceded 46 league goals, whereas the season before only 18 goals went past one of the meanest defences in English football history.

The walloping of Southampton began when Kevin Campbell scored from a header for his 14th goal of the season. A few minutes later and was back to square one – Glenn Cockerel scored from a Le Tissier cross to put the Saints level. Arsenal reacted quickly and Paul Merson made a run into the box and was brought down to earn a penalty. Lee Dixon would normally have taken the kick, but Wright was after the Golden boot and allowed to step up and score his 27th league goal of the season. Just like Kevin Campbell had done with the opener, Alan Smith also scored a header from a corner to for his 17th goal of the season. 3-1. Smith and Campbell had combined brilliantly as a striking partnership the previous year to help Arsenal win the league title for a tenth time. In 1990-91, Smith would earn the second golden boot of his career, but on this afternoon with the clock ticking down, it looked unlikely that his team mate Wright would achieve the same honour. With 90 minutes gone, Wrighty was still one goal behind Lineker who had managed to score for Spurs at Old

Trafford. Wright’s chances of becoming top goal league scorer in his debut Arsenal season depended on two goals in injury time. It was a farfetched dream, but for the last ever game of the North Bank terrace a miracle happened. David Seaman leaped to catch an incoming cross and fed the ball to the deadly striker. From deep in his own half Wrighty ran on goal, beat a couple of defenders and smashed the ball into the bottom corner of the Saints goal. Seaman said afterwards that he normally would have just let the ball go out for a goal kick, but in the last split second he decided to catch it and keep the ball in play. Wright was level with Lineker, but the icing on the cake hadn’t been spread just yet. A minute later, Alan Smith and Kevin Campbell made a surge into the penalty box. The ball found its way to Wright who scuffed it with his shin to make it 5-1. Of all Wright’s 29 league goals that season, it was by far the luckiest and the worst – but also the most satisfying. The North Bank went truly ballistic. Campbell lifted Wright on his shoulders in a joyous celebration that was as messy as the goal. Not only did Ian Wright win the golden boot, but Arsenal would also be the league’s top scorers. Incredibly, despite being the most lethal and exciting striker in the country, Ian Wright was not picked by Graham Taylor for the England squad that went to Euro 92. In three lacklustre games in Euro 92 England would score just the one goal which was in contrast to the Arsenal attacking force of the 1991-92 campaign. It may not have been a trophy winning season, and in the end we didn’t even achieve a European spot. But the North Bank terrace was more important than any piece of silver wear – and the attacking performances and great goals in the final games of the season were a wonderful send off. Arsenal-Southampton was a perfect conclusion to a beloved era of history. The old North Bank had seen some great moments over the decades and this Highbury classic was up there with some of the best.

Matthew Bazell

Matthew Bazell is the author of Theatre of Silence: The Lost Soul of Football

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Old North Bank

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HIGHBURY CLASSICS – VOLUME 1 ARSENAL v NORWICH – NOVEMBER 1989

Not since 1934-35 have Arsenal successfully defended the league title and the 1989-90 effort didn’t come close to changing that stat. By May we had fallen well short to the eventual winners Liverpool; a club who nobody at the time would have possibly imagined would go at least 24 years without repeating that success.
Worst of all about 1989-90 was that we would end up in 4th, one place behind a Tottenham side who had improved since the signing of Gary Lineker (though it’s worth noting that we still finished nine places above Manchester United).
Despite not being a vintage season, there were still some good times such as Tony Adams’s volley into the corner of the net that beat Tottenham 1-0 at Highbury. There was also the 2-1 victory against Glasgow Rangers at Ibrox in the Battle of Britain ‘friendly’ (we of course could not play in the European Cup because of the five year ban on English clubs).

If one match stood out as the most dramatic of the season then it was ‘Fireworks Day’ against Norwich City in November 1989. Proceedings started off on polite and civil terms as David O’Leary came on to the pitch and was applauded by both sets of players. He was making his 622nd appearance for the club which was, and still is, a record breaker.
At the tail end of the previous season Arsenal had put five in against Norwich without reply on route to being crowned champions. It was one of many severe beatings handed out over the years which contradicted the myth that Arsenal played negative football. This time in the November to Remember, City would not go down so easy and by halftime they were 2-0 up.Malcom Allen had scored a close range header from a corner and then Phillips doubled the lead with a great free kick from 25 yards. Before the free kick had been taken, tensions and tempers had flared up that would come to a boiling point by the end of the game. Malcom Allen who had won the free kick, was dragged along the ground and then roughly picked up by an angrier than normal O’Leary, who accused him of going down easy (Allen did indeed go down easy – O’Leary easily hacked his legs and sent him flying).

The game changed in the second half when Niall Quinn scored from close range after a Kevin Richardson free kick was saved by Brian Gunn. Then we were awarded a penalty when future Gunner Andy Linighan handled inside the box. Surprisingly, Lee Dixon stepped up to take the kick. This was a first and most unexpected – Lee Dixon our first choice penalty taker – since when?
In a decisive and confident fashion Dixon put the ball straight down the middle and we were level. Disaster – Norwich went 3-2 ahead. Lukic saved a long range header from Linighan only for Tim Sherwood to put the rebound into the top of the net.
A loss would have overshadowed a day of celebration for an Arsenal legend. O’Leary was a class act in defence and was talented enough to have moved on and represented more successful European sides during the early to mid 1980s when Arsenal were mediocre. He had shown us loyalty and stayed because he loved the club, and on his record appearance O’Leary scored a rare goal to make it 3-3. A cross was put in the box by Winterburn and the Irishman headed past Brian Gunn in front of the North Bank.
That was the icing on the cake – the man of the day O’ Leary had saved us from defeat and we would go home happy. More icing – in the dying seconds, Michael Thomas was brought down in the box by Butterworth and another penalty was given by referee George Tyson. Dixon stepped up again to take the kick. I can’t speak for the rest of the crowd, but I remember not being at all confident that our right back would score two penalties in one game. Dixon shot and missed – but in a day of rebounded goals he managed to stud the ball past Gunn and it slowly crossed the line. We went ballistic as did the players – both sets of players as it turned out. A fight broke out in the goal net: as Alan Smith followed the ball passed the line he was jumped on by three yellow shirts. Smith being the one player in the red and white who couldn’t and never did want a row was set upon. But he was in a team that wouldn’t allow such liberties to go unopposed. Rocky Rocastle once said of the squad “We didn’t start fights but we finished them.” Within seconds, players from both sides were involved in a confrontation that would go on to dominate the back pages for the next week.

Not one punch was thrown, just a bit of pushing and shoving along with one kick from a Norwich player. And despite having not been the side to start the ‘brawl’ the media hacks laid into Arsenal and we were labelled the villains. In 1989 Saint and Greasvie were TV’s most prominent pundits and were a bit more pragmatic over what had happened. Coming from a rougher era, they noted that the incident was no worse than “scuffles in the January sales” but they did criticize the referee for handing out two controversial penalties which they blamed for starting the row.
In general, there was mass hysteria and the back pages carried headlines such as ‘Fireworks’ and ‘disgrace’. It’s important to remember that earlier in 1989; the media’s hatred for Arsenal resulted in one prominent Tabloid’s back page carrying the image of Tony Adams with donkey ears in what was a needless insult. Back then, rival fans and the tabloid media despised Arsenal far more than now. But that was all good fun as it bought a sense of togetherness among the fans and the players. We didn’t care about what they thought, but we would be made to pay the price. The result of such press fury would go on to cost us two points the following season. And that’s another story….

Matthew Bazell

Matthew Bazell is the author of Theatre of Silence: The Lost Soul of Football

TOS