Watching Arsenal win the title in 1989 with my Dad

I watched the 89 title winning match with my Dad. He died a couple of years ago. I still haven't got over it. I don't suppose I ever will totally. I was lucky to share many passions with my Dad: music, barbecues - food and drink in general really; we would have family lunches that lasted four or five hours and were full of laughter. He loved life. But where we spent most time together was watching Arsenal. Football would actually have been a fair way down my Dad's list of priorities. But for a decade, between 1987 and 1997, football was a huge part of our lives.

In fact, his passing was one of the main reasons I started writing this blog. I’ve always wanted to write about football and never got around to it, but many of the matches and moments I’ve ended up writing about, I shared with my Dad. It’s a good way of keeping some of those memories alive.
Bear with me - because this is going to sound like the plot of Fever Pitch - but my parents split up when I was about fifteen. Like Nick Hornby, I lived in the suburbs, and like Nick Hornby’s Dad, I think my Dad ‘used’ football - and Arsenal specifically - as a way of us staying close. I’m sure I did the same, even though I didn’t really think of it like that at the time.
The first Arsenal match he took me to was at Coventry in 1984. I was 11 and I’m surprised we stuck with it. The game was remarkable, with three goals in the last few minutes, but my memories are all about the violence, both inside and outside the stadium. In the hundreds of games I attended, I never saw anything remotely like it again.

We started to go to a handful of matches a season, with my Dad’s best friend and his two sons, and I was hooked. My first really big game was the 1987 Littlewoods Cup Final, and we later got season tickets at Highbury.

Back to 1989. My Dad had planned a holiday (before the Hillsborough tragedy had extended the season) in late May, so we (my Dad, sister and little brother) found ourselves in a static caravan in Cornwall on the 26th May. I was nervous the whole day and unable to enjoy the usual holiday stuff, so my Dad took us for a couple of early evening drinks at the clubhouse on the campsite. I was sixteen and no stranger to the odd beer here and there, but it’s the first time I remember having ‘a couple’ of pints with my Dad.

All the media talk around the game was that an Arsenal victory by the required two goals was an impossible task, but as an optimistic sixteen year old I was full of … not confidence … but definitely hope. As the game went on, I became less and less hopeful, but what I really remember is that my Dad kept saying things like ‘we can do it’ and ‘there’s still time’ and I remember my precocious teenage self really clearly thinking that he was doing that, not through natural optimism (though he was a sunny, optimistic man), but because he didn’t understand football as deeply as I did. (Yes, I was an idiot. My only defence is I was 16).
When Michael Thomas scored, I remember jumping up and down and the caravan bouncing, but I honestly don’t remember the reactions of the others. My Dad, my sister and my brother were there obviously. But all I remember at that point is the elation, then the agony of those last couple of minutes, which felt like a lifetime. At the end, my Dad just gave it a laconic “told ya.”

Arsenal dominated my life for the next few years. I went to every home game with my Dad and his friend and sons. I struck up a lifelong friendship with the only other Arsenal fan in my school, and we travelled the country watching Arsenal. When it came to looking at universities and polytechnics, I only looked at London options, as I wasn’t prepared to give up my season ticket (and of course that meant I got to see my Dad at least every two weeks).

Not long after my Dad died, I was given the 89 film as a present. I had promised to watch it with my Father-in-Law (also a Gooner) but as soon as I looked at the cover I knew I would have to watch it by myself. I’m not a big crier (and never at movies!), but don’t mind admitting I wept throughout. I’m currently trying to work up the courage to watch it again.