Thursday, 9 November 2017

89 The Film

As a 13-year-old Arsenal fan watching the 1988/89 Liverpool-Arsenal title decider at home with my dad, I think I knew at the time that nothing would ever beat the explosion of elation and joy that I experienced when Michael Thomas calmly slotted home past Bruce Grobbelaar, on May 26, 1989.

So, when I first started writing this blog a little over five years ago, I made a pact with myself; Arsenal winning the title at Anfield would be the last ever piece I compiled before hanging my keyboard up.

I don't want you to think that I have gone back on my word. One day, I will try my best to write about the greatest football match ever. But on Wednesday November 8, I was lucky enough to be invited to the World Premiere of a new film that takes a look back at the story behind "the most dramatic finish, maybe in the history of the Football League", to borrow the words of the excellent Brian Moore.

My hopes were high that this film would be a fitting tribute to that memorable season, and I was not disappointed. Produced by Amy Lawrence, who was lucky enough to be at Anfield, I knew the film was in safe hands. Starting with Arsenal in the 1980s pre-Graham, I was whizzed back to my childhood, as the mediocrity of the club that my dad had pushed me towards was accurately portrayed. Defeats against the likes of Walsall and York made supporting The Arsenal a difficult experience; playground banter was rife.

But then along came George, and things would never be the same again. One of the favourite parts of the film for me was how Graham's 88/89 team was assembled; a combination of brilliant youth talent, such as Adams, Thomas, Rocastle and Merson, was bolstered with experienced players in Richardson, Marwood, and Smith. Add in hungry players from lower down the league ladder in Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, and Groves, along with players already at Arsenal, in Lukic, O'Leary, and Davis, and you had a recipe for success.

The respect, and in a few cases, fear for Graham comes through well. Devoid of star players, Graham moulded a hard-working team, that in the early days was far from the Boring, Boring Arsenal many would have you believe; we shouldn't forget, that they would win the 88/89 title due to goals scored. Dotted throughout the story are a number of anecdotes that stress how much character existed within the squad. It makes Arsene Wenger's talk of mental strength in his current side sound very hollow.

There are a number of tear-jerking moments. Nigel Winterburn's description of the Hillsborough disaster sent my top lip all a quiver, and this delicate subject is handled with sensitivity. Dixon talks about the irrelevance of football in comparison to the tragedy in Sheffield, although when the League programme did resume after a two week break, he also revealed how it provided escapism from the horror of April 15, 1989.

Naturally, everything gravitates towards that night at Anfield. From supporters' tales of the nightmare journey on the M6, to key interviews with a set of players that thought Graham had lost the plot by playing three centre backs in a match that they needed to win by two clear goals. Graham's team talk has gone down in Arsenal folklore, and this is covered extensively. The old 'George Knows' banner at Highbury was spot-on.

Referee David Hutchinson adds useful information about his role in the events of May 26; how he stayed strong when Liverpool's players tried to have Smith's opener ruled out. And of course, the focus shifts eventually towards that Michael Thomas moment, the rest of the Arsenal squad emphasising the coolness of a man who never did anything in a hurry - Paul Merson: "He could fall asleep on a clothes line" - as the impossible had now been achieved.

Moving on to the celebrations - the party on the M6, players ending up in a club called Winners and drinking with supporters, and the open top bus parade - the film draws to an end. However, there is still room for Ian Wright's tribute to Rocky Rocastle, that quite frankly had me blubbing most of the way back to the tube station. If you're an Arsenal fan, then be prepared to go on an emotional roller coaster; one minute you're laughing, the next you may have something in your eye.

I left the cinema buzzing. The film was everything that I had hoped for, and if you cannot get to any of the open screenings in your local area, then make sure you either buy the DVD when it is released or put it on your Christmas list. A must see for Arsenal fans, in fact, I would recommend it to any sports lovers. A warm love letter from Amy Lawrence to a team that gave so many of us a great deal of happiness, and simply brilliant from beginning to the glorious end.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you enjoyed the film. I always feel sorry for Liverpool's players that night, after the nightmare they had been through in the month beforehand. I am a Liverpool fan, though. I think it gets slightly forgotten in the dramatic ending to the match that this was the Hillsborough season, but sounds as if the film addresses it. And Liverpool played so negatively that night that they left themselves open to being pickpocketed, which Graham's tactics achieved superbly.