Steve Bould and his Arsenal side will take to the Anfield pitch tonight against Liverpool in search of a trophy, precisely twenty years to the day when Bould and his teammates claimed the most dramatic and historic of Arsenal’s titles at the same Merseyside stadium.
Arsenal’s young Gunners play in the FA Youth Cup Final tonight, their first in the competition since 2001. And while a win would help to end their own period without such silverware, it’s a stretch of years much shorter than the league drought seen by the North London club through most of the 1970s and 1980s that ended on this day a couple of decades ago.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of May 26, 1989, when Arsenal snatched the league trophy away from Liverpool with a stunning 2-0 win, thanks to a stoppage-time goal from Michael Thomas that sent Gooners everywhere into wild celebration.
Needing to win by two goals on the road on that final night of the season (in England’s First Division), the Gunners weren’t given much of a chance to claim the title against a Liverpool team that very rarely conceded more than one goal a game.
The Anfield side were the dominant club of the 1980s, and a 24-match unbeaten streak to end the ’89 season had overtaken Arsenal in the league’s final weeks. Liverpool were aiming to pair the league crown with a recent FA Cup Final win over Everton to help its supporters overcome the Hillsborough tragedy of that season.
After a scoreless first half, a glancing header from Alan Smith in minute 52 found the net and put Arsenal into the lead. But as the game wore on, the Gunners had few chances at a second goal until Thomas flicked one past Liverpool keeper Bruce Grobbelaar in the game’s 93rd minute.
Like most Arsenal supporters, Bould still remembers the historic night. But he didn’t think “any of us really went there expecting to win – not least 2-0,” said the former defender who now manages the Under-18 side for Arsenal. “We had a belief in the team we could do OK. There was a strange atmosphere – completely different to any game I have played in before or since.
“The Hillsborough effect on the game was massive and it was a balmy red-hot night — a fantastic atmosphere but a really strange occasion,” added Bould, whose header on goal was cleared off the line by Liverpool defender Steve Nicol in the opening half.
Arsenal manager George Graham had “told us before the game that if it was 0-0 at half-time, we would win 2-0. We sort of laughed it off,” said Bould, who was substituted in the second half and on the bench when the dramatic second goal was scored.
“I didn’t see much of the goal at the end,” he noted, “as there was police all in front, chaos going on.” The goal came at the stadium end holding the bulk of Arsenal’s travelling supporters, who erupted once the ball had crossed the line.
In a coincidence relating to that most historic of moments for Arsenal, Bould will be on the Anfield pitch on this 20th anniversary of that special night, yet the task at hand for Arsenal will be much simpler this time around.
The young Gunners hold a three-goal advantage going into the match, after dominating Liverpool 4-1 in the Final’s first leg at the Emirates on Friday. Gilles Sunu, Jack Wilshere, Sanchez Watt and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas all scored for Arsenal, who can afford to lose by two clear goals but still claim the FA Youth Cup trophy.
But, manager Bould is not taking his side’s advantage for granted, telling arsenal.com’s Declan Taylor that “the problem now is it’s ours to lose. That creates different pressures and different things to handle. We have to guard against that and do it properly because the game isn’t won.
“But we have got a great start and we would have taken that win all day long before the game,” he added. The thing that pleased me the most was the performance. I thought the kids were all fabulous.
“With the watching public, the manager, and 33,000 in the crowd I thought they performed at as high a level as we could have asked.”