28 August 2012

Arsenal - Barclays League Division One review (VHS), 1989

A warm welcome to Rich Nelson, the man behind the wonderful Nelson's Column and designer of Kits 5 and 6 on our League of Blogs 2012 wallchart. He's discovered a VHS tape that covers one of the major high points in Arsenal's history...

Not quite from the Football Attic, this is a treasure from the Football Garage (aka Nelson’s Column). The video was a present for being so brave…

My first experience of travel sickness on the way to a school trip to Suffolk in July 1989, the nine-year-old Rich N survived, and returned home to be greeted by happy parents and a shiny shrink-wrapped purchase from the Islington Woolworths. I couldn't claim to be any sort of connoisseur of production values with my collection, mostly of Transformers and various editions of The Big Match (unknowingly recorded over with Coronation Street), but just pressing 'Play' on the video player was like I'd become a true sophisticate. Flowing titles, a saxophone-heavy soundtrack and the dulcet tones of Jim Rosenthal were in place, and it was time to remember the finest end to a season ever, far closer than its poor relation, May 2012.


The video opens like all good stories - with the ending. We see the glorious champions deep in the bowels at Anfield, drowning in champagne and enjoying their new found trophies (in the days when the sponsors had their own cup). Do we even need to sit and watch the rest? Of course we do. Like a shiny Ceefax, we're provided with the pre-season odds of 16-1, and a review of the transfers in and out. The games themselves are commentated on by a young Martin Tyler, summing up the goals with his usual excitement, despite the fact that he clearly was doing it from the comfort of a studio. We're treated to a jazzy solo to tell us about Paul Davis breaking the jaw of Glenn Cockerill, with a slow mo replay of Davis getting to his feat prior to the incident (which isn't included - the video is rated E, after all).

The first match of the 1988/89 season kicked off on Saturday 27 August. Who says players didn't get a huge rest after the exertions of England in West Germany that summer?  It included the only pre-match amble, and there was no time to acquaint ourselves with the surroundings. You'll have to be happy with a quick pan of the car park in Plough Lane and be done with it. We weren't even lucky to get any highlights of the Mercantile Credit Centenary Trophy which Arsenal would win; not a single goal from the three matches played. There are also no highlights from the FA Cup, and only one goal from the Littlewoods Cup, a stunner from Rocastle at Anfield. Even then, the cups weren't even considered filler material. Try telling that to Arsenal in 1993 and 1994, or even today...

Tyler takes us along at a steady pace, marvelling at the goalscoring exploits of Alan Smith, and then to the biggest travesty of all. You know someone's made a big enough error that they own up straight away, drawing attention to the mistake. The front cover of the video says ALL THE GOALS in a rather large font. The small print on the back says differently: "Due to technical difficulties, we are unable to include highlights of Gary Megson's goal for Sheffield Wednesday".

They also didn't include a saved penalty, or even mention who the culprit was. Would we stand for it today? No! There isn't a clip of the goal on YouTube, and I can only imagine Gary Megson today trying to prove his worth by talking about that goal, one of twenty-five in over two hundred matches for The Owls. The goal was missed and the boast on the cover was wrong – a big dropping of the ball there.

We were even treated to the occasional Big Match commentary by Brian Moore - complete with ITV graphics, impending advert break box in the corner, and numerous mentions of a camera in the back of the goal. In a game at Nottingham Forest, the camera was perfectly positioned to see Forest keeper Steve Sutton save a penalty. Unfortunately the camera position didn't allow the viewing of the kick being taken in the first place... We got the same treatment of Liverpool's visit to Highbury, along with some extreme close ups of John Barnes slapping his own thighs after hitting the bar with a free kick.

With Arsenal flying into February at the top of the league, we're met with a slightly strange caption. The next five games are listed - Coventry (a), Luton (h), Millwall (h), Nottingham Forest (h) and Charlton (h), yet the title is for Winter Wobbles, yet the Charlton game was on March 21st - hardly winter. Spring Stutter? Balls-ups against teams that aren't in the top division anymore? By this time the title odds are revisited and Arsenal are evens! No mention of which bookies were giving these odds, and certainly no mention if any were paying out yet.

The final few matches are treated as a pure head-to-head, albeit with Liverpool's games in hand after Hillsborough. The table is cut to two teams, and only shown prior to the Arsenal matches. We even come across a young(er) Alan Parry, declaring almost every goal as a Goal of the Season contender.

But we're left with the title decider - Liverpool v Arsenal, 26 May 1989, immortalised in print and film. Extended highlights are featured, but we don't need to go into them too much. The coverage was ITV's, Brian Moore was the commentator. They include the famous shot of Steve McMahon saying "one minute left" to everyone in earshot, the occasional backpass… The clock in the corner counting past ninety minutes, before the regular on-screen graphics were used as a matter of course. The famous goal was scored, the trophy was lifted, and Jim described it as the greatest finish to a season of all time.

The tape has finished, it needs rewinding… I fancy watching it again!

Our grateful thanks to Rich Nelson for writing this wonderful guest post. If you love football nostalgia and have something you'd like to write for us, get in touch - email admin [at] thefootballattic [dot] com and tell us all about it...

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