League Cup memories: Charlie’s double, Caesar’s wobble and Morrow slam dunked

So we’re off to Wemberlee – and the desperate struggle for tickets can now begin. Remarkably, it will be our first Wembley final since winning the FA Cup in 1998 against Newcastle. Of course, between then and now we have enjoyed something of a cup final spree (record in Wales: five finals, 60% success rate). But the new one has been graced by our presence just once, in 2009, when an Arshavin-less Arsenal succumbed to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final. Remember how much opprobrium was poured on Wenger for not starting that game with the pocket Russian? As it happened, he went on to score that monstrous quadruple at Anfield three days later, of which I said:

“So let me get this straight: the man deemed surplus in the FA Cup semi-final scores with both feet, from all distances, and has the ability to hook and slice his shots as if he was on a fairway. Absolutely superb stuff.”

Oh for a return to that kind of fearsome reputation. Come back, Andrei, come back!

I obviously remember the League Cup final of 1987, when Champagne Charlie Nicholas scored twice to sink Liverpool. It was a big moment for Arsenal and Graham – it really did kick things off – and also the first game Liverpool had ever lost in which Ian Rush had scored. But the next year, against Luton, is seared more strongly into my memory by dint of being the first cup final I had ever been to. In those days, those of us who weren’t season ticket holders had to collect and cut out cup tokens from the back of the programme and stick them in an application form, and those with the most tokens were given preference. It couldn’t have been more pre-digital. Glue for the application form! The stalls selling programmes around Highbury would do a roaring trade in the run up as you can imagine. There wasn’t a tube of Pritt Stick to be had within 4 miles of the ground.

At any rate, I got a ticket somehow, and my first memory of the day was standing on the train platform in my little corner of Hertfordshire, only to be confronted by a train that had been re-routed via…. Luton. I couldn’t have been more conspicuous in my scarf, hat and with my cup final flag but seeing I was the only one in a sea of yellow and white in my carriage, I was given a remarkably abuse-free ride.

Maybe they knew what was about to come. I recall the superb atmosphere on the huge Wembley terrace (there were 96,000 there), I remember the faint whiff of bodily fluids as they trickled down beneath our feet and I remember Winterburn missing a penalty that would have made it 3-1. And of course I remember Gus Caesar.

I suspect poor Gus wanted nothing more than to dig himself a hole and dive into it that day – I know how he felt.

Still, I haven’t got a rap named after me and he has.

Since then of course we have won it just once – in 1993 when Steve Morrow (now back at the club) scored the winner against Sheffield Wednesday and Tony Adams broke his arm during the celebrations. I could only have happened to TA, to be fair.

So yeah, I’ve cut out my tokens, glued them in and ferried the form in person to the box office in the marble halls. Fingers crossed.

More on the League Cup from the Arsenal.com archive

Meantime, it’s the second of the three Wembley-ending competitions on Sunday. Diaby and the Squill are back, bringing us up to an almost full complement. Safe to say on a sliding scale of changes where 1 is one and, er, 11 is eleven, I suspect we might be edging towards the latter.

More on that, I hope, over the weekend.

My Arsenal silver jubilee

My first home game

No no, I’m not old enough to be waxing lyrical about Ted Drake scoring all seven goals in a 7-1 drubbing of Aston Villa on 14th December 1935, but cast yourselves forward fifty years to something far more monumental for me – the first Arsenal game I ever attended.

Yes, today is my Arsenal silver jubilee, so I wanted to share it with you. And with any luck, pointless filler though it clearly is, it might just take your minds off yesterday.

I have clear memories of FA Cup final day in 1980 being the first Arsenal game I cared about, and I have even clearer memories four days later of blubbing uncontrollably when my Dad woke me up for the Cup Winners’ Cup final penalty shoot-out against Valencia (damn you Graham Rix), so clearly something was building.

But it wasn’t until 1985 that I got to go to Highbury, with my Dad and my brother (the latter now season ticket holder next to me – I take all the credit for making him support the Arsenal), and I remember the day as clearly as you can remember anything that happened 25 years and thousands of pints ago. The clearest memory is not of arriving at the ground, or the bustle of the crowd outside – I don’t remember that at all – but of me emerging into the sunlit uplands of the West Stand upper tier. I was confronted by the vastness of Highbury, and I was looking down at it from the gods. I have a picture of it in my head now, just as it was then, and if some clever swine could create an app for that, I’d show you.

For this teenage boy it was a snapshot of sheer and utter brilliance. I remember the Clock End (no roof) filling up and I remember the spine-tingling noise of the crowd. I loved it from the off. I was hooked.

What else do I recall? Well I remember Charlie Nicholas, mulleted superstar, scoring the first – he got a lot fewer goals than he should have – and I remember Niall Quinn, all nine foot seventeen of him and also sporting a mandatory 80s mullet, bagging a goal on his Arsenal debut.

The attendance was a shade over 35,000, a good crowd for Arsenal at a time when we were averaging much less and hadn’t sniffed a trophy for five years (bells ringing?) But above all, it was a victory by a fairly nondescript Arsenal side against the very best side in the land and, coupled with a win at Old Trafford (either straight before or after, I forget), it was a sign that the club was stirring. Little could we know what might come next of course. Don Howe would not last much longer and George Graham, his successor, kicked Arsenal onto the next level where by and large we have remained.

The image at the top of the blog is from the official programme but if you’re not bored yet, there’s more. I’ve scanned some of the other pages from the programme to give you a flavour (link below). My favourite bits are the ‘Young Guns’ report on up-and-coming Paul Merson, my own pencilled and badly spelt amendments to the line-up, Don Howe’s snooker-fuelled programme notes and the quality goods on offer in the club shop. It really was a different era but even now I’d pay good money for that Centenary Holdall (Vinyl). A snip at £7.50p, I’m sure you will concur.

Programme highlights (pdf, 2.38MB)

I can’t believe it was 25 years ago.