The first FA Cup Final I attended was in 1993. I was two weeks old when Alan Sunderland “beat the f*****g b******s” at Wembley in 1979 and was still considered a little too young attend the following year when Terry Neill’s men succumbed to West Ham towards the end of the longest season ever. I’d already been to Wembley with Arsenal in 1988 to see us throw away the Littlewoods Cup against Luton, then again that August for a 4-0 pre-season win over Spurs and the Charity Shield defeat to Liverpool a year later. Tickets were too hard to come by for me to attend the Tottenham defeat in 1991, but I’d already been to the old place twice already in ’93 for the FA Cup semi-final and League Cup Final wins. By the time we got there again for the FA Cup Final I think Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday were sick of the sight of one another, though how anyone could ever tire of going to Wembley I could never imagine.
Wrighty celebrates his Saturday goal
The first thing that sticks in my mind from that Saturday, as with the League Cup Final, was the way we were outnumbered by the Wednesday fans when we went down to their end to see the team bus arrive. With them having to travel from Yorkshire the vast majority of their supporters were there early, whereas the Gooners were mostly jumping on the Tube or whatever to get there. Our vantage point was great to see the decorated cars arriving in the Wembley car-park (ours was also decorated, but parked on a well-off housing estate somewhere behind Brent Town Hall). Our coach was the second to arrive so most of the Yorkshire types had dispersed leaving us to welcome George Graham’s boys at pretty close quarters. The contrast of our red and white flags and shirts against their blue and white has always stuck with me, and I always think it looks great on the video from that day.
We had seats at the front of what might have been termed the “upper” part of the old Wembley terracing, with a wall separating us from those in the seats in front of us. We were directly behind the goal that both goals were scored in that day. I can still remember the reaction to Ian Wright’s opener and the deafening Wembley noise that greeted it. The goal itself is fuzzy to say the least. In truth it was a poor game. Wednesday equalised and there really wasn’t much else of note. I remember a bloke (who sat near us in the East Stand and always seemed a bit of a clown if I’m honest) spending extra-time reading his programme such was the excitement on offer. Pat Rice had taken to the pitch before extra-time began to try and whip up some noise from our end, but it was all to no avail and we had to come back the following Thursday which meant an early start for my Dad (I think on the Monday morning) to get to Highbury and queue for the tickets for the replay (being a replay the “FA Family” weren’t invited which meant 40,000+ Gooners would be in attendance).
The Thursday was a pretty grim and wet day. A quick change of clothes after school and we were on our way to Wembley for the fourth time in six weeks. When we got there my Dad went to get the programme and there had been some cretin pushing and shoving in the (small) queue. Dad came back to where me and my two brothers were and this same idiot, some short fat little t****r with milk bottle glasses, stood close by. He eye-balled the Old Man who indicated that perhaps he ought to behave. The fat boy moved in to square up and my eldest brother simply moved across him, so chubby moved away. As we turned our backs he launched himself at Dad and my brother with fists pumping. It was a very glancing blow, but as the mug ran for it my other brother caught him one hell of a crack with a kick to the back of his leg. Just as we launched our pursuit a slew of coppers appeared telling us to “calm down”. They weren’t interested in the fact that two of us had been assaulted. We walked all round Wembley trying to find this little runt, but without luck. We never knew if he was Arsenal or Wednesday. If you’re reading this, you little fool, I hope you were a Wednesday fan who went home with a horrible bruise and the thought that you’d had another wasted trip to London.
My memory tells me that kick-off might have been delayed as the Sheffield fans were stuck in traffic on the M1. As it was they hadn’t sold most of the tickets in their end. Quite simply people from up there couldn’t afford another trip to Wembley, but it served them right for insisting on their semi-final with Sheffield United being played there.
Our seats were much better for the replay, just about in line with the penalty area at the Arsenal end of the ground, on the same side as the Royal Box (I would sit in almost the very same seat when we played our second season of Champions League fixtures at Wembley six years later). From up there, however, you couldn’t see that Mark Bright had elbowed Andy Linighan. I remember quite vividly John Jensen totalling Chris Waddle early on. These days it would be a clear red card and was clearly a deliberately orchestrated move to put Waddle out of the proceedings. I can see Wrighty’s goal as I write this and the reaction to it in our end. The question was whether we could hold on this time.
In truth the replay was a really good game, despite what the reports from the time might have you believe. We had Jensen and Paul Davis in midfield and they dominated that area for most of the game. Where we had a problem was that Wrighty wasn’t fit and Paul Merson put in one of the worst performances of his Arsenal career – he squandered a couple of great chances and continually gave the ball away all night. At the back Tony Adams and Big Andy were immense, despite the broken nose and the threat of Bright and David Hirst, as well as Waddle and Sheridan.
Their equaliser is also etched on my mind. From where we were it seemed to go through David Seaman. Everyone around us saw the same thing – Seaman had let one go through his hands on the big occasion again. For the next five or ten minutes we were convinced he was all over the place, his confidence completely shot to pieces. Of course, watching the game on video the following day you realised their equaliser was deflected, and that’s why Seaman looked so awkward as the ball went in to the net. Within minutes Bright missed a sitter that would have seen us lose the game.
Chances for both sides came and went in the rest of the game and during extra-time – Merson missed when clean through by hitting it straight at Woods, and then Bright was about an inch away from heading in past Seaman. I think everyone was resigned to penalties as we made slow progress down our left. I recall us having at least two throw-ins as we got up there end and then John Jensen hit a shot that we were right behind. There is no doubt in my mind that the ball was going in the top corner until it was deflected away for a corner. At this point we all seemed to rouse ourselves. One last effort. Up went the determined “Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal” chant (you can hear it clearly on the film of the game) as the centre-halves trooped up one more time (I’d only ever heard that chant once before at that time and it had been at Anfield in 1989). Again, sitting here typing this, I can see the header flying towards goal. I can see Woods parry it, and I can see the defender hoofing it in to the roof of the net. My God it was pandemonium. I had never, ever, experienced a moment like that. The noise, the colour, the jumping around uncontrollably, the sight of 40-odd thousand Arsenal fans going completely mental. You can’t recreate that kind of moment in time. You can’t buy that feeling of happiness, relief, joy – there aren’t enough adjectives to describe it. Quite simply, that moment when Andy Linighan scored is the reason we do this whole going to football thing. It wasn’t until after the final whistle I realised it wasn’t Tony Adams that had scored – the penny dropped when TA6 escorted Linighan towards the Arsenal fans pointing at him to get his moment of adoration after the game had finished. I don’t know why I had thought it was Tony. I didn’t care, really, just as long as somebody had done it.
Not long afterwards, of course, it was all over. John Jensen cleared a corner at the near-post and the whistle went. More jumping around. Incredible scenes. I suppose the last minute nature of the win adds to the release in that sort of situation. Having half a stadium full of your own makes that moment as well – maybe The FA should take note.
Tony presents the hero to the Arsenal fans
Tony lifted the Cup towards us all and we went mad once more. The lap of honour seemed to last for ages and the players really milked it that night. Most of the attention of the fans was on Linighan, but even more so for David O’Leary whose name was sung long and loud after his last ever game for us. The song that really sticks with me, probably because it’s a bit corny, was “ee-aye-addio we won the cup”. I suppose it had been 14 years at that stage since Arsenal supporters had last sung it and, let’s be honest, it’s pretty catchy once it gets going.
Leaving the ground was something else. Weirdly, right outside our exit was a payphone and we called home to speak to my Mum and our 9 year-old sister who had been entrusted with recording the game on BBC1. When we finally got outside the concourse around the stadium was a sea of red and white with people dancing and singing. We cut across one of the banks and down the steps to try and get across the throng close to where we needed to go to get back to the car without joining the crowds on Wembley Way. Out on the high-street there was more singing. There is (or was) a petrol station just down from Wembley Park Underground that had seen its forecourt taken over by the massed celebrating Gooners who were no doubt seriously worrying the police sitting inside the van that was there. All these things are clear to me, all these years on.
The boys celebrate with the FA Cup
Many Gooners will be familiar with Mad Mickey who was also known, in those days, as “George”. He was a character who went home and away, a guy with dreadlocks and an Adidas Arsenal coat, always carrying an Arsenal flag. We saw him as joined the queue for the tube, and then we saw him again, just down from Highbury Corner as we drove back through North London. Even as we headed towards the turning for the A2 there was a bloke and his little boy with their Wembley flags heading in to a mini-cab office, everyone acknowledging the red and white ribbons on the car. The last “bonus” of the night came in the shape of a terrible traffic jam at the Blackwall Tunnel – getting home at about 2.30am meant no school the following morning!