Me and Martin with the quality silverware
It was an honour and a privilege last night to once again compere the Dover Gooners Annual Legends Dinner. Our guest of honour was former Arsenal star, and leading goalscorer from 1986-87 - a hero of Anfield 89, Martin Hayes. There were around 150 Gooners in attendance once again from Dover, the wider Kent area, London, Italy and Bulgaria, and even a pre-historic guest too. It turned out to be another truly memorable evening, mostly thanks to the efforts of Gary (our club secretary and organiser of the event this year) and to Arsenal Football Club (more of which below), as well as Martin Hayes himself.
The purpose of our event is to bring together as many club members as possible for one evening in the year to celebrate our support of The Arsenal. More importantly we do it to raise money for Bob Wilson's Willow Foundation and last night we made £1500 for the charity via the raffle. The prizes included a signed shirt from the first-team squad, a number of exclusive Arsenal themed prints from Willow, other signed photos of ex-players, donated gifts from some of Arsenal's main sponsors, and also prizes donated by Arsenal FC - the most impressive being a giant framed print of the commemorative Nike shirt that was produced to mark the end of their association with Arsenal. The help we receive from Arsenal can not be received more gratefully. Mark Brindle has moved seamlessly in to the considerable shoes of Jill Smith (both she and Mark were there last night) as supporters liaison officer. Without Jill there would not have been a Dover Gooners, and without Mark taking on her role we would not be getting the help we still do. Among the fine gestures of the club was the loaning to us, once again, of the FA Cup and the Charity Shield. You can not begin to imagine how special it is to have dinner with the FA Cup glinting just a few feet away!
I never tire of seeing these trophies
My role on the evening was largely involved with introducing, and then interviewing, Martin Hayes. What a truly nice man Martin is. The main thing that comes across, as it has from all the Arsenal legends we've had in Dover over the years, is that he deeply loves our Club. Having come through the youth team he is steeped in the values of Arsenal and he told us that the team of the late 80's, containing other youth products like Tony Adams, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Niall Quinn, Paul Davis, Paul Merson, Gus Caesar and himself all understood what it meant to the supporters. They had a personal ambition to do well for Arsenal as it was here that they had grown up. We got an insight in to how George Graham went about his business - a method that nearly cost Martin his Arsenal career before it had really begun. I know plenty of us found ourselves comparing the reaction of Martin to nearly being sold to how some of the youngsters these days would react in the same circumstances. Suffice it to say that Martin chose to stay in order to try and fight for his Arsenal place and it was a decision that was to pay off within a couple of months.
I had to ask him to talk us through the semi-final from 1987 at Tottenham. He spoke of the fighting spirit of the players to come back and then he confirmed the oft-told story of Tottenham announcing the ticket details for the final. Martin told us that it was a lesson in how to motivate your opponents as they sat there listening to the announcements and then "Ossie's On His Way To Wembley" blaring over the tannoy. We all know what happened thereafter. We also got to hear how George Graham stopped him taking the penalties after he missed in the semi-final second-leg against Everton the following year - if he'd taken the one against Luton then maybe we wouldn't have been regretting Nigel Winterburn's miss some 27 years later.
It was clear that Martin is, quite rightly, proud of the fact that he got a crucial winning goal the following season at Middlesbrough. By his own admission he struggled that season to get in the team and to produce the goods (though he does rate his goal against France that season as one of his best - watch it on Youtube, it's a corker). Having "not contributed" he felt really good about getting a crucial winning goal to keep us in the hunt. It was, in it's own way, as crucial as Mickey's winner at Anfield.
As I was talking to Martin we had the DVD of the Liverpool game playing on screens behind us. He told us what it was like that night, and how he nearly got Michael Thomas' boot in his face as he went to celebrate with him, totally forgetting his somersault celebration. He also told us, more than a little tongue in cheek, that he wouldn't have minded the ball to have come back off the post as he was right there ready to knock in the rebound! The passion and excitement in his voice as he recalled the events of that night spoke volumes of what it meant to him. As I said at the top, Martin is a real Arsenal Man. Those in the hall enjoyed watching the winning goal too.
Always the star of any Arsenal show
The final guest to appear on the night was Gunnersaurus. My youngest son followed him around the room for the whole time he was there. I was asked by one member (and my brother said he had four asking him the same question) if it was the "real" Gunnersaurus! I am amused that people might think there is more than one giant green dinosaur cavorting around in an Arsenal kit. The adults seemed to enjoy having him there even more than the children and there was a long queue for photos with him - longer than the one for pictures with the FA Cup! Gunnersaurus was leading the sing-song towards the end of the evening and we are indebted to Jerry Quy (another Arsenal stalwart) for "accompanying" Gunnersaurus to Dover.
It was a wonderful evening and the event for next year is already being planned. If it's as good as last night you won't want to miss it.