Dickie Felton

I write about music and football

By Dickie Felton 

The Arsenal supporter danced on the Anfield turf and hurtled towards me in a trance-like trajectory.

I feared the worst. But his intentions were more friend than foe. He just put his arms around me and said: “Chin-up Scouser.”

Moments earlier I’d had a grandstand view of one of the most important and unlikely goals in football history.

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A new film telling the story of the mad night Michael Thomas broke Anfield hearts has just been released.

Told entirely from an Arsenal perspective, 89 is a dramatic documentary about a football miracle.

Friday 26th May 1989 goes down in Arsenal folklore as the night they won the league in the dying seconds of the season.

All of this at the expense of my beloved Liverpool who had been favourites for the title.

I’m not sure 89 will have too many buyers in Merseyside.

When I tried to pitch it to fellow Liverpool supporters the consensus was that they wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.

Amazingly, nearly three decades on, memories of the night we threw it away, still hurt.

In 1989 I was 15 and a season ticket holder in the Anfield Road End.

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My team of Barnes, Beardsley, Rush, Aldridge, McMahon usually won everything.

Not that we weren’t susceptible to the odd shock defeat. At the end of 1988 we’d been at Wembley to witness Wimbledon produce one of the biggest FA Cup upsets.

At the start of the 88/89 season bookmakers had Kenny Dalglish's men at evens to win the top crown once again.

The film 89 takes us back to an era of Kop domination, dance music, TV’s Big Match and Thatcher's Britain.

Adamski's Killer opens the documentary and we are treated to top tunes from Fine Young Cannibals, Roachford, and Pump up the Jam by Technotronic.

There’s not a selfie stick in sight as we relive the days of pay-on-the-gate footy, standing terraces, noise, colour and passion.

It’s worth watching 89 to remind ourselves what top flight football was like before Sky.

And to inform our children that the sport did exist before 1992.

The footage in this documentary is fantastic - especially of fans at the season finale.

And Liverpool fans should watch it - to spot themselves - and to remind ourselves of Dr Fun - who is pictured on the Spion Kop with his puppet monkeys and swaying mass behind.

89 tells the story of how an underperforming side did the impossible.

George Graham re-built a team with the likes of Alan Smith from Leicester and Lee Dixon from Stoke.

The proverbial underachievers would go on to topple the Red Machine.

Arsenal skipper Tony Adams sums up the simple team ethic: “We liked winning better than losing.”

The documentary details disciplinarian Graham’s approach to tactics, man-management and life.

If players were late for training they’d get a 10% cut in their wages. Can you imagine Alexis Sanchez standing for that today?

Lee Dixon admits of Graham: “I was scared of him.”

While 89 details a more innocent pre-millionaires era in football, it also covers the Hillsborough disaster. The darkest day in British football in which 96 Liverpool fans died, crushed in cages during the FA Cup semi final.

Young Player of the Year Paul Merson: “I’d won the best award you can win as a youngster but I didn't want it. Football had gone out of the window. I don't want to talk about it. It’s so sad.”

Lee Dixon: “I just thought the season is over. It won’t carry on. Why would it? That was my initial thought. Football was irrelevant.”

The physical and mental toll on Liverpool players, management and supporters during this period was immense. Football was suspended for two weeks. Liverpool players spent their time attending funerals.

I sometimes wonder how any of the team came back to play football at all…

When football did resume Liverpool faced ridiculous league fixture congestion and an FA Cup Final in-between.

The Friday night end-of-season decider was live on TV, it was first versus second, it was almost like a final itself.

Rather than get to Liverpool the day before, Arsenal travelled up from London to Merseyside on the day of the game. Unheard of today.

Even Merson concedes: “That’s a bit weird.”

Graham’s strategy was to get in and out as quickly as possible.

There’s some great photographs of the Arsenal supporters - on their 26 coaches - leaving Highbury for Anfield.

TV commentator Brian Moore sets the scene: “This is a game of chilling simplicity. Arsenal need to win by two clear goals.”

The film offers a fascinating insight into the Arsenal mentality - and the previously unseen footage from the Anfield match is wonderful.

The outstanding bond between the set of Arsenal players is special. 

As we all know Alan Smith headed Arsenal in front seven minutes after the break before Michael Thomas makes history in the closing seconds.

Although it makes for difficult viewing from a Liverpool perspective, 89 is a wonderfully directed documentary about a footballing miracle.

The people behind the film have done a grand job. And the tributes to the 96 - and David Rocastle - are poignant.

There’s some life lessons in 89. It's about team, it's about friendship, dreams and mortality.

Amy Lawrence, journalist, producer of the film, and an Arsenal fan who was there, claims the night taught her: "that anything is possible.”

Amy, and the 3000 gooners present that night, treasure their memories forever.

For both Liverpool and Arsenal fans alike, re-living that era is emotional.

I wonder what ever happened to that Arsenal supporter who put his arm around me as I sat despondent at the front of the Annie Road end.

And whether he still follows his team in the multi-billion-pound-pantomime that is the Premiership in 2018?

Or, like me, did he walk away when football became more about money and a fourth-placed finish, than winning cups on a Friday night in May?

I’ve watched 89 twice now. 

And when Michael Thomas bursts through on goal, I still think he's going to miss.

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89 is available on DVD, Blue-Ray and Digital download. 

If you were at the match and have memories please leave a comment below.

Or if you were the Arsenal fan who consoled me please get in touch! 

I think you had a white shirt on!

Twitter: @DickieCharming 

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