BY JAMIE DALTON / @JAMIEDALTON82
I spent a good 30 minutes reading all the entries that people have contributed to “The Memory Bank” and it creates a unique sensation to know that there are people all over the world who understand what it is to be a fan of our great club; supporters who appreciate the little moments watching Arsenal, the instances which may seem trivial to others, but are massive to us.
Unlike many of the previous contributors, I have no wonderful stories about how generations of my family have been born within a stone’s throw of Highbury, I haven’t had the matchday tradition passed down to me and nor did my parents meet on the North Bank. However, the way I look at it, I’m starting that journey now. The generations of Arsenal fans start with me and I think others in my situation, wherever you are, should look at it in the same way.
One of my favourite memories which I hope to recount to any future Daltons centres on Stefan Schwarz, a man whose Arsenal career started and ended like an X-Factor contestant. He was up like a rocket and down like a stone, but without him, one of Arsenal greatest European victories away from Highbury would never have come to fruition. Let me take you back to April 1995 and an evening in Genoa, Northern Italy...
Drawn against Sampdoria in the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final of 1995, Arsenal had successfully overcome their Italian opponents in the home-leg and travelled, thanks to a brace from Steve Bould and an effort from Ian Wright, with a 3-2 lead to the Stadio Luigis Ferraris. Nevertheless, despite the win two away goals from Vladimir Jugovic meant the Serie A side were the bookies’ favourites to progress to the final in Paris.
After only 13 minutes of the return match the magnitude of reaching a second successive European final became apparent. Roberto Mancini ran onto a through-ball and lofted over David Seaman. One-nil and Sampdoria as a consequence were in poll position to go through on away goals. On the hour mark, Arsenal battled back to get an equaliser. Ian Wright (of course) slotting home from close range after the ball had pinged around the box.
Recognising a need to win the game outright, Sampdoria threw on striker Claudio Belluci for Michel Ferri on 74 minutes and inside 11 minutes the sub scored twice to put his side 3-1 up on the night and 5-4 up on aggregate. It looked all over for Arsenal, until in the last minute the Gunners were awarded a free-kick 30 yards out. The centre-backs made their way up expecting the ball to be played into the box...but this was time for Stefan Schwarz to make his mark.
Signed from Benfica at the start of the 1994/95 season, the cultured midfielder had first caught the eye of George Graham playing for Roy Hodgson’s Malmo side which also included the likes of Martin Dahlin and Patrik Andersson. He was a tough-tackling, but calm presence in midfield and had demonstrated his pedigree at World Cup 1994 helping his nation to third place in the United States. However, despite the interest from Arsenal, it was not his preferred destination in the aftermath of FIFA’s showpiece tournament. As the story goes, Schwarz was all set to join Bayern Munich until the German club insisted that he disregarded his Swedish Passport and take German citizenship (Schwarz has a German father). He refused to bow to such demands and the rest is as they say, history...
As Schwarz lined up the free-kick in Genoa, there wasn’t an Arsenal fan who didn’t have their heart in their mouth. To borrow Brian Moore’s famous quote “This was surely our last attack” and our Swede appeared to know it...
Running up to hit the ball, he crashed a low shot which skidded through the box and beyond Walter Zenga into the back of the Sampdoria net. Cue ecstasy from the Arsenal players and travelling fans. The game was taken to extra-time and subsequently penalties. Having held out despite a barrage of pressure it was David Seaman’s heroics that eventually sealed the win in the shootout. Unfortunately, we all know what happened in the final, but at that moment it felt like we’d won the competition and Schwarz had played a major part.
Rather sadly, he left Arsenal at the culmination of that season opting to join Fiorentina after passport complications had again prevented a move to the Bundesliga. He did return to England in 1999 and spent four full seasons with Sunderland, but his exploits in those twelve months in North London will always mark him down as a cult hero.