BY STEVE COOPER / @SJC1951
You certainly won’t need me to tell you that if Arsenal finish this season empty-handed it will be nine years since we last won a trophy.
But believe me, things have been worse.
In 1970 I was 18 years old and yet to taste glory as a Gooner. Our last piece of silverware had come 17 long years before when we pipped Preston to the title on goal average in 1953. I was only a year old at the time so I think I can be forgiven for allowing it to pass me by somewhat.
The sixties had not been a great time to be an Arsenal fan, but things began to pick up as the decade came to a close and we made the League Cup Final in 1968 and 1969.
I managed to get tickets to both finals and was absolutely heartbroken when we lost both to Swindon and Leeds respectively. In my darkest moments, I began to wonder if I would ever experience the elation of watching the boys lift some silverware…
The following year, Arsenal qualified for the Fairs Cup and when we made it through to the two-legged final against Belgian outfit Anderlecht, I approached the game with the trepidation of someone who'd been waiting for over a decade to see us win something. I had learned the hard way that hope was a dangerous thing, yet as the match drew close, visions of what might swamped my thoughts.
My trepidation proved well placed when Arsenal quickly raced into a three-goal deficit in the first leg, but a Ray Kennedy goal in the closing stages was just the lifeline we needed. If we could just win by two clear goals at Highbury the following week the club would win its first ever European honour. But it would be a tall order. Anderlecht had knocked out a very strong Inter Milan side in the semi-finals and looked well worth their lead from the first leg.
One oft-forgotten fact is that after intense pressure from Arsenal, UEFA had accepted that if we won the second leg 2-0, we would win the tie due to our away goal, a law which had not been in the rules at the start of the competition. For six days, every single possibility ran through my mind.
At the time I was working in Spitalfields Market in my family’s West Indian import business (during my time there I also met David Dein who was a fellow importer before he joined the club!) and on the day of the game my working hours were 3:30am to 2pm. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep the night before.
When I got to work, everyone was talking about the game as the market was full of Gooners and as soon as my shift was over I went home to my place in the West End, changed and got the tube to the stadium at about 5pm. You had to be early or you didn’t get in back then as there were no advance tickets and I wasn't taking any chances! Once on the North Bank, I soon found my mates (I always stood with the same group of lads in the middle of the terrace) and realised that like myself, they were shitting themselves.
I had never seen the North Bank so tense and we all just sort of nodded at each other rather than actually speaking, but as kick-off approached the atmosphere became electric. I spent several decades watching the boys from the North Bank but I can't remember an atmosphere to rival that. All that anxiety, energy and hope was being transformed into a wall of noise which I'll never forget. I remember not being able speak for a couple of days afterwards!
Arsenal were clearly as up for it as we were and when Eddie Kelly blasted us in front from the edge of the area after half an hour you could feel the stadium willing the boys forward. Belief had replaced hope. One more goal.
The second half was all Arsenal. Wave after wave of attack pounded against a resolute Anderlecht defence yet with 18 minutes left the moment arrived. A fine cross from Bob McNab was met John Radford and his header found the corner of the net. The North Bank surged but before we had a chance to catch our breath Arsenal were on the attack again. Charlie George’s cross field ball found John Sammels and he rammed the ball past the Belgian keeper. Cue delerium.
After waiting for 17 years, Arsenal had turned it all around in less than two minutes. I remember thinking my heart was going to explode amid the euphoria as people went crazy, jumping and hugging each other, perfect strangers brought together in one marvellous moment.
I don’t mind admitting it was one of the finest memories of my life but the realisation that there was still over 10 minutes to go soon hit us. An Anderlecht goal would take us into extra-time and the last five minutes felt like five hours.
When the whistle finally went the crowd invaded the pitch but I just sat on the terrace and cried with happiness. I was not alone.
They say your first is always the best and in 56 seasons of watching Arsenal, for me that was the most overwhelming. It was magical.