89  – the film everyone’s talking about!

….and amazingly Micky Thomas put the chance away and Arsenal won the league, against all odds!

That is my first memory of hearing about Anfield 89. Being born about a year earlier, I wasn’t old enough to experience it first hand and even when I heard the story at the age of seven or eight, I thought to myself, was it really ‘against all odds?’ Every team can go away from home and win a game – it happens all the time.

It wasn’t until a few years later when I learnt more about the achievement and the story behind it.

Anniversary of the game – every year on 26 May, I understood more about the game but also the season in general. I learnt more about the players, the manager and other games during the season that were decisive and slowly but surely, I started to see how amazing that achievement was. While learning about 89 (and 91), 1998 happened and I got to experience winning the title (and cup) for myself and even saw us come back from 12 or so points behind to win at Old Trafford and eventually take the league title.

Hillsborough – As a football fan, you learn about the Hillsborough tragedy quite quickly and you learn the basis of what happened. You feel sadness for the families of those football fans that went to a live match but never returned. For a few years, Anfield 89 was irrelevant to the Hillsborough disaster and I thought about them as two completely separate incidents that were not connected whatsoever.  My thoughts were always with the fans involved in the incident and as a young lad starting to go and watch Arsenal play live; Hillsborough was always something that was going to stay with me.

It was only really in the early 00s when I started to make the connection – why was Arsenal’s trip to Liverpool on the last day of the season? Why was it a Friday? Why was it the only game being played? When did all the others play? All those questions popped up and it was only then when I saw the relevance of the Hillsborough disaster and the postponement of football fixtures during that period which resulted in the Liverpool Vs Arsenal game being pushed back to the end of the season.

I started to piece together the rarity of having the two best teams in the country, first vs. second play each other on the final day of the season in a straight shoot out for the league. It’s not like a cup final where whoever wins at the end of 90 / 120 minutes or pens wins the cup, here there was a twist. Arsenal had to win by two goals away from home against the best team in the country – this all started to make sense to me as to why people talk about it with such amazement and pride. Paul Merson says in the 89 film that this type of finish will never happen again and you see why – when will first play second again on the last day of the season with either scenario possible?

The final piece of the story was when I looked at the fixtures and results of the entire season – being some points away from top place, then going on a run and being in pole position to win the league only to looking like we’ve lost it by losing and drawing two home games prior to going to Anfield. Alan Smith recalled it by saying the players were thinking ‘it was all over; we did our lap at the end of our last home game thinking we’ve blown it and went around with a sense of sorrow and we wanted to apologise to fans’.

The final pieces of the jigsaw were put together and I understood what the 89 season really meant to people and despite being to young to be there or even understand what was going on, I now put it up there with one of the greatest nights that I didn’t experience – sounds strange to say but after hearing all the stories from fans, ex players and the media, it feels like I was there, or at least experienced some of it. After all, you can’t help when you’re born but as a supporter of a football club, you owe it to yourself and your club to do your research about historic nights and milestones and 89 was certainly one!

I spoke to Amy Lawrence the sports writer and person who really made the film happen who said ‘the night changed her life and it was the best football experience she has ever encountered’ and listening to Lee Dixon talk to our girls on the Gooner Ramble Podcast, the excitement for the film has been in over drive for months!  Everyone wants a piece of the film and the excitement and in a strange way want to experience the night again and they do, through the film!

The film goes deep and you really get an insight onto what the players, manager and even fans were thinking. I asked David O’Leary who was present with Alan Smith in a round table prior to the premiere of the Anfield 89 film as I was intrigued to know if anyone within the squad actually believed Arsenal could pull this off – ‘George. That’s probably it’. Nigel Winterburn talks in the film about how amazing it was to have someone who knew exactly what was going to happen.

A few of the players talk in the film about how they came in at half time a little disappointed that they hadn’t scored or even had the chances but George Graham, who was part of a Q&A prior to the screening said he was ‘extremely happy’ and a clean sheet was paramount and he knew that if Arsenal scored once, Liverpool would get nervous and the second would come – amazing!  

What I did find amusing was that neither Alan Smith nor David O’Leary actually knew where the idea came from; they both got a call from Amy but aside from that, had just agreed to take part.

If you haven’t watched the film, you really must do and without giving away any spoilers, a certain Ian Wright does feature. Speaking to Lee Dixon on the night of the premiere, it was obvious Wright was quite reluctant to appear at first but Lee Dixon was determined to get him on because of the pride he speaks about Arsenal but also David Rocastle, who he grew up with and was such a good friend of. Lee visibly got emotional just thinking about what Wright said in the film and after seeing the film, I can confirm there was a touching moment at the end.

All in all, the film is a must see for all Arsenal fans – young and old. Older fans can reminisce about how they watched the game and where and younger fans can get a feel of such a historic night for the club they love.

89 is in cinemas from 11th November and on DVD and Digital Download from 20th November.



Akhil Vyas

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