By EAMON DUFFY
We got the call from Sue in the Junior Gunners office at Highbury in early December 1991 – our son Cillian Duffy a member of the Junior Gunners from Drogheda, Co. Louth in Ireland, had been selected to be Arsenal’s mascot for the away FA Cup 3rd round match at Wrexham on January the 4th 1992 (twenty years ago today).
This was to be the greatest Christmas present of all time for the Gooner mad Duffy family. Cillian, at the time 9-years-old, was already a regular at Highbury. He was following in his Dad’s footsteps, I’d been a fan since watching Arsenal lose 1-0 to Everton in 1966.
To get to Wales required us driving and then getting on the ferry to Wales. We spent the night before the game in Chester and I remember the excitement being too much not just for Cillian but also me and his mum Alma. The now famous ‘bruised banana’ Arsenal strip had been received in the post from the Arsenal shop and he was walking on air at the thought of wearing it for the match.
We arrived at 10am at Wrexham’s Racecourse ground on January 4th, a good three hours earlier than needed. We had wanted to savour the atmosphere in the build-up, but we were probably the first to arrive aside from the groundsman! Eventually we ventured to the meeting point for the allocated time and Cillian was led off sporting his full kit, including boots, shinpads…the whole nine yards.
Alma and I took our seats early in the stand at the Arsenal end of the ground, meanwhile Cillian, under the guidance of Sue, was meeting his heroes in the away dressing room.
At 2.45 the Racecourse Ground was jumping, the home fans buoyed by the excitement of playing the reigning First Division champions just months having finished bottom of the Football League. That they were allowed to stay up because their replacement didn’t have a ground which met the required standard was just the start of an amazing season which also saw them reach this stage of the FA Cup.
The Arsenal end was now in full voice. In those days the mascot came out early with the players for a kick-about at the away end. Cillian was exchanging passes with his idol Paul Merson and all his Arsenal teammates – it’s hard to convey quite how I felt watching these events unfold from the stands right before my very eyes.
Soon after the PA announced the teams and welcomed the away Arsenal mascot “Cillian Duffy from Ireland.” Wow! All of a sudden the travelling Gunners chanted in complete unison “Arsenal mascot, Arsenal mascot, Hello, Hello…” I cried tears of joy like never before; this was on par with the moment Cillian was born in the Lourdes Hospital , Drogheda in 1982. It was unreal.
Twenty years later all Cillian has to say to consolidate his credentials with fellow Gooners is “I was the Arsenal mascot in Wrexham.” The 2-1 defeat has gone down in folklore. Late goals from Mickey Thomas and Steve Watkin saw the Welsh side cancel out Alan Smith’s opener and history was made.
Despite the awful result, no doubt one of the worst in the club’s history, we still cherish the memories of the day. In particular we recall with fondness how nice Paul Merson was to Cillian, how brilliant the fans were singing his name, meeting the likes of David Seaman and the cup-tied Ian Wright and Tony Adams holding his hand as he led the team out onto the pitch. We have the video, we have a tape of Match of the Day where Cillian was featured and we have all the official photographs.
Yes we lost, and yes Cillian cried on the way home, but as the years have passed by we now realise it is a game that Gooners will never forget – a poor performance, a shock result with a scorching 30 yard goal scored by a Wrexham player who was as old as myself at the time. It’s hard to believe, but it happened!
Twenty years on and my son is as big an Arsenal fan as ever. He travels several times a season from Ireland to the Emirates and it’s fair to say his love for the club will never die. The Arsenal mascot at Wrexham is a true Gooner.