Bobby sends Spurs crashing
As it's FA Cup semi-final week it's not inappropriate for a little bit of a retrospective piece. I hope you enjoy it.
Thirteen years ago today a lot of us travelled to Old Trafford for a North London Derby. The setting in Manchester was nothing short of a joke from the FA. Of course Wembley was out of commission but they used their insatiable desire for money, and their apparent wish to ensure Man Utd got their cut of that money, to avoid putting the game on at Stamford Bridge and sent us all north for a lunch time kick-off in Salford.
Our group decided the best (safest) way to get to the game would be to get on the Travel Club coaches from Finsbury Park. As a result we were on our way out of Dover in the early hours of that Sunday morning. Two car loads wended their way to the meeting point, all the while listening to Naseem Hamed getting a boxing lesson off Marco Antonio Barrera. As a result the day had started well, albeit far too early for sane people. The coach journey itself was fairly uneventful. We were entertained with Minder On The Orient Express, a feature length episode of the legendary TV show which includes reference to the Arsenal 1971 Double squad. Those of us at the back of the coach (extra leg room from the middle seat there) were fairly awestruck by the bloke a few rows in front who had downed at least four cans of Redbull by the time we reached Watford Gap.
By virtue of our buses heading up the M1 and then cutting across the Pennines we were in place outside the ground with plenty of time to spare. We met up with the men and girl (I hope you're reading this in Australia Andy Gibbons!) from Peterborough who had caused a stir on their way up to Manchester by dragging a stuffed toy cockerel on a rope from the back of their minibus. There were some Tottenham fans from Dover who stopped by to say hello (and talk about how this was their time and all the usual rubbish you associate with them) and some good natured abuse for Pat Jennings who got off the Spurs staff bus in his Tottenham blazer. All fairly inoffensive stuff, if more than a little tense.
When the game got going (our seats were in the lower tier, about eight rows back, in what is now the Alex Ferguson Stand) it was obvious our players were up for it. Lauren and Vieira were dominating the middle of midfield while Ray Parlour tore them a new one down our right. Somehow they scored first after a great save from Seaman was turned in on the rebound by one of their numpties. This was Glenn Hoddle's first proper match in charge after being appointed as their new boss. It being the FA Cup and all that "year ending in one" nonsense added up to us not being meant to win. However, they had also rushed Sol Campbell back from injury to play in the match. It was Parlour's dominance and Campbell's injury that would put us back on top. Big Sol dived in to foul Ray out on the touchline. It was his last involvement as he went off injured. As he was limping away I remember shouting "Sign for us in the Summer Sol". This was his last ever game for Tottenham. It had nothing do with my shouting at him. The next time any of us saw Sol Campbell he was being announced as an Arsenal player. From the free-kick Patrick Vieira planted a superb header past Sullivan.
What followed was 60 minutes of the most one-sided FA Cup semi-final you might ever wish to see. Arsenal just didn't stop creating chances. The trouble was that we kept missing them. Time and time and time again we looked like we'd get the goal, but it just wouldn't go in the net. Then Vieira decided he'd had enough. Pat won the ball in midfield, strode forward and then played a lovely ball to put Wiltord clear. From there the ball was passed across goal where Robert Pires slammed in his second goal to win a Derby in eight days, right in front of us. Absolute pandemonium. There were still 17 minutes to go but we weren't troubled in the slightest. It was comprehensive. An utter thrashing. Five or six goals would not have flattered Arsenal on that day.
At the final whistle our end erupted. Their end simply emptied. There was a magnificent rendition of "Forty years, forty years" from us travelling Gooners as the fire drill continued in the Stretford End (it's now 53 years!). The concourse outside Old Trafford was a sea of celebrating Gooners. In the car-park the coaches were absolutely rocking. None of us anticipated the near nine hour journey that lay ahead of us. For some reason we ALL headed back on the M6. As we were leaving Old Trafford the coach was still full of noise until we drove past a closed garage, outside of which were a group of about 25 blokes looking less than pleased. Everyone shut-up and sat down. Until we'd gone past them. It was a party down the motorway with the other Gooners in their cars giving it all they had as they overtook the convoys in the never ending traffic jam to London.
The absolute highlight of the day, aside from the Arsenal goals, came in that slow moving traffic. My brother, sat nearest the window, became aware of an old Land Rover full of Spurs fans giving all sorts of abuse out of their car. Naturally we started giving it back. I swear the coach lurched dangerously as everyone on board headed over to the one side to see what was going on. We had these blokes alongside us in the traffic for a good two or three miles (or fifteen minutes!) and the "banter" kept going all the way. The bloke in the passenger seat was getting more and more irate, kissing his Spurs badge and calling us scum and generally being a bit of a c**k. Then he did it. He took off his shoe and hurled it at our coach. We all creased up and so did his mates in the car with him. I think even they knew he'd made an absolute pillock of himself.
It was well gone midnight when we got off the bus back at Finsbury Park. By the time we got back to Dover we'd been on the road for over 24 hours. We'd only been to bleeding Manchester and back. It was all worth it, but how much hell would it have been to have lost? I suppose the bloke with the shoe tells you how bad it would have been. We'll not talk about the Final that season. Here are the highlights from the game.