BY SIMON RICH / @Cornholio73
Back in the day I used to travel with my brother Greg up and down the country to home and away games no matter how important they were. Whether it was a League Cup 2nd round game away from home, or a crunch game at Highbury, we were there. One particularly memorable trip began on a Saturday morning in October 1990…
Things were looking good for The Arsenal, unbeaten in the league and playing attractive football we were in with a shout of the title. It all added to the usual excitement of travelling to an away game at Old Trafford, even though I’d never seen us win there. I was 17 at the time and had seen us lose the previous year 4-1 and watched us draw 1-1 in the 88/89 championship season.
Instead of making the journey with the official travel club as usual we opted to travel in style in my brothers not so luxurious maroon Ford Orion. As you might expect, I don't remember much of the journey, but I do know we got caught in traffic near Manchester and were pretty worried we might not make it to the stadium in time for kick off. Eventually we parked up as close as we could and started jogging to the away end mindfully hiding our Arsenal shirts from view.
I new we’d been spotted when I heard shouts behind us, but I didn’t expect what happened next. I turned around to see my brother being thrown backwards over a dwarf wall and then getting threatened by United supporters with London accents. Not only did they inform us that they were the ‘Cockney Reds’, but that we were also on their manor. If we weren’t careful my brother was warned he’d get a chisel to his face.
As funny as a chisel sounds, as a choice of weapon, looking back it could have been nasty; luckily the chisel never appeared. The police saw what was going on and we were left to leg it to the rest of the Arsenal fans. Just as we were crossing a road a local United supporter approached us (rare I know) and apologised for what happened. He quickly made clear only real Mancs had the right to beat us up!!!
The game itself has passed into Arsenal folklore. A scrappy and tense game of few chances it exploded into life in the second half when 21 players became embroiled in a massive brawl.
It started with Nigel Winterburn going in hard against Brian McClair. The two players had a history of going for each other since ‘Nutty’ had mocked the Scot for missing a last minute penalty two years earlier at Highbury in a cup game which we ended up winning 2-1.
McClair obviously hadn't forgotten this and, helped by Dennis Irwin, proceeded to kick the shit out of Winterburn who was still on the floor. As you’d expect; cue handbags, pushing, shoving and a rather nifty right hook by little Anders Limpar on McClair’s cheek. While Tony Adams and Michael Thomas appeared to be pushing the feisty United striker away from the fight, acting as peacemakers, in truth they looked like they were trying to throttle him.
The ref finally regained control after several minutes before flashing his yellow card a million times and resuming the game. Quite how McClair, Irwin and Limpar didn’t get red cards I’ll never know, instead The FA took matters into their own hands. Arsenal were eventually docked two points, while United had a solitary point taken from the.
It looks as though the authorities chose to come down harder on George Graham’s men, despite United being the aggressors, as the Highbury boys were already on a warning after a massive punch-up with Norwich City the season before. With a £75,000 fine to boot it was a big punishment and to this day, as far as I can recall, no other side has been sentenced so heavily. It’s an amazing situation given these things happen week in, week out; a definite sign of an anti-Arsenal bias if you ask me.
Anyway…back to the game. Before the fight had begun we’d started to take hold of the game and in one of our few opportunities we snatched the lead. From an impossibly tight angle Anders Limpar, pretty much standing on the goal line, curled the ball home at the near post. The reaction from the travelling army of 4,000 was the craziest I’ve ever experienced.
One of my brother’s mates, a United fan who was sitting above us, said he’d never seen any away fans go so crazy for so long. When the final whistle blew, we were still unbeaten and of course went on to win the league in style. Despite one defeat to Chelsea and the two deducted points nobody could stop us.
As for the journey back to my brother’s maroon Orion? Well let’s just say we never saw Mr Chisel, as he came to be known, ever again. We jumped into the car in one piece and three points better off.