My most exciting game (outside of championship deciders and cup finals).
Isn’t it strange that when you cast your mind back over literally hundreds of games that really got you going, drenched with sweat, hoarse, really exhausted as though you’d covered every blade of grass on the pitch yourself, that a lost game is the most memorable?
After all there are 1-0 wins that were so against the run of play but so exciting (as we, the fans, literally tried to blow the ball away from our danger area) that they live in the mind far longer than eminently satisfactory but easy 6-2 wins. Even some 1-1 draws have done that.
So why choose a loss? Simple. It was a game that not only lives; it also showed what Gooners could do when they believed in themselves (something that our recent sides have done so well) and it also had me crying but a few days later.
There was a day in 1958 when “Manchester United” was simply that…..not MFU or any other other acronym for cheatin’, lucky, dirty bastards.
They were footballing Gods, blessed with skills so far from the norm that they resembled our Invincibles. (Even so they never managed a season unbeaten which goes to show just how good we were.)
We all knew that our side was just there to act as the sacrificial lamb, but in those days watching football played at such a level was no hardship. So they’ve put 14 goals past us in the last 3 games? And, they’ll put 3 or 4 past us again today, so what? Miss this game and you miss out on seeing real skill….and football as it can be played.
Whatever time the kick off, probably 1pm in those archaic days of no floodlights and no substitutes, you got to the ground a good 3 hours before hand for a game like this. Establish your viewing position, programme and a paper to read, big bag of peanuts to hand and then start the ‘how big a crowd?’ game; do the raffle for first person to score….”please let me pull Tommy Taylor!” No, get Denis Evans instead but at least that left you with a chance of just maybe the Arse will get a penalty….if of course we ever get into their area!
At last the game starts. Look at them strut. Colman, Edwards, Byrne…Charlton , a mere 3 years older than me and playing in this side. And the lucky raffle winner is….Duncan Edwards. They tore us apart, Charlton getting a goal of such frightening power that “maybe”, we thought, “he hits a ball as hard as big Cliff”, and, as we expected they were 3-0 up at half time. We started wondering what was the worst ever Arsenal defeat at Highbury. Horrible as the score was, we were watching a truly great side and there was a sigh almost of contentment as they trooped off. We were lucky enough to have seen greatness in action.
What may have gone into the Gooners tea at half time is a matter of conjecture….within about 10 minutes the crowd was ecstatic. Not only had we scored against these non- mortals, we’d equalised and had them on the run. David Herd and Jimmy Bloomfield (twice) had done the, what seemed, impossible. Our side was level.
Even a crowd as passionate as that can only keep up such a noise level for so long. An injury, treated as usual with a sponge loaded with iced water, two wild clearances into the stands and a bit of other time wasting, left all of us, players and supporters, shorn of adrenaline and realising that there wasn’t much left in the tank.
Had we shot our collective bolts? It would seem so. Another 10 minutes and we were 2 goals behind again. Violett and Taylor for the second time doing the damage. But the lads had realised by now that they could also play. Up went the sleeves, up again went the tempo and Derek Tapscott got our fourth. We were all berserk as the equaliser refused to come, but we were watching a game where the Arse was taking a better side almost to the cleaners. Almost but not quite and, as usual, the clock decided enough is enough.
We had lost but lost gloriously. Any fan having a voice left, even those up in the directors’ box, might be assumed to be sub normal. Mine for sure was some 3 days getting back to normal…..in time to wail “Oh shit” as I saw the headline of the first newspaper I was supposed to deliver on my 6a.m. morning paper delivery round.
It was the first and only time I ever cried for Manchester United.