Book review: 89 by Amy Lawrence

The Arsenal team celebrating their 1989 title win

Every Arsenal fan of a certain age knows where they were on 26th May 1989. This excellent book brings together first-hand recollections from players, staff, fans and journalists of that famous night at Anfield.

I thought I had heard it all before to be honest – I’ve read pretty much every book on the subject, read all of the Arsenal players’ autobiographies, and of course seen the 89 film, which Amy Lawrence co-produced with Lee Dixon. Quite a few of the player’s accounts of the match are very familiar, but there were enough other lovely insights - in particular from Arsenal club staff, and fans of both Arsenal and Liverpool, to keep me turning the pages.

89 starts with a moving and quite personal introduction, which recognises the uncomfortable truth that this match wouldn’t have had the same significance if it wasn’t for the tragic events at Hillsborough just weeks before. Lawrence returns to this theme several times during the book, always with sensitivity and empathy.

It’s not just all about the 26th May. Several chapters set the scene, including a look at George Graham’s impact at Arsenal and his policy of blending young talent with incoming players scouted from the lower leagues. There is also a reminder for those who were there of what is was like to be a football fan in the 1980s, and of Liverpool’s absolute dominance of English football at the time.

The Club Secretary, David Miles, recalls that young players including David Rocastle, Michael Thomas and Paul Merson were required to do work experience in the box office as part of their apprenticeship. It’s hard to imagine this now, but these players would sometimes choose to hang out in the office with club staff after training - it’s a cliché, but it is very clear that players and staff really were like a family.

The players offer interesting observations on their teammates. For example, the different approaches to preparing for a match in the dressing room. While Tony Adams would be shouting encouragement, progressively turning up the volume as kick off approached, Alan Smith reveals that: “I’d quite often disappear to the toilet and read the programme." Classic Smudger.

Lee Dixon meanwhile, says rather poignantly of Adams: "I read his book and it's a fascinating insight into him. I thought I knew him and realised I didn't know him at all."

When it came to the chapters that describe the match itself - well, I was prepared to skim read it - the events are already so vividly etched in my mind. The players’ detailed recollections of both the events, and their emotions, are nicely interweaved with excerpts from the legendary Brian Moore’s commentary. As I read, I was transported right back to that day, tensed up, and turning the pages as if I didn’t know how it all ended.

This book is essential reading for Arsenal fans of a certain vintage, and I’d recommend it to younger fans too, as a fascinating snapshot of football in the late 1980s.

89 is also available as an audiobook narrated by Alan Davies and you can get it free with a trial of Audible.


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