A Life Less Scary
"The interesting and varied life of Scary Duck, Genius, French Cabaret Chantoose and small bets placed."
"El 26 de Mayo"
Up for grabs
May 26th 1989 was a Friday. For most people it was just another ordinary day of work, school, winding down for the weekend. To me, to quote Mr Shankly, it was far more important than that. This day was also the last day of the English football season, a year marked by the horror of the Hillsborough disaster that in which over-crowding, poor stadiums and worse policing had combined to kill ninety-six Liverpool fans. It also marked the resurgence of Arsenal Football Club as a force in the sport, and had they not choked in the previous “easy” matches against Wimbledon and Derby County they would already have been champions by then.
Instead, Liverpool, going for the domestic league and cup double, crushed West Ham 5-0 in their penultimate home match to top the table. It all came down to the last match of the season, the all-conqueroring Liverpool against the young upstarts from North London for the crown. The maths were simple. Arsenal had to go to Anfield and win by two clear goals. The last time Arsenal had won on Liverpool’s home turf, Samuel Pepys wrote a celebratory remark about it in his diary. Eighteen years we had waited for this day, and to be honest, the general opinion was that we had blown it.
It was a game that you would sell your granny to get your hands on a ticket, and there it was in my hot, sweaty hands, granny sitting on a shelf in the pawn shop. Now there was just the small matter of getting time off work. Bollocks. I had just changed jobs, and was pretty confident of getting the day off as the new boss was a fellow footie fan. Fat fucking chance. The vindictive bastard supported Manchester United, and steadfastly refused on the grounds that a computer that hadn’t actually been switched on yet was rather more important. He prided himself on his loyalty despite living in that hotbed of ManYoo support - Southampton - and the fact that he was a shareholder (total holding: two shares currently valued at GBP 2.70, and the official shareholders’ tie which he wore every single bloody day). He made it absolutely clear, Friday off was a non-starter. I could either like it or lump it. Reluctantly, I sold my precious ticket to a mate, resigned to watching the game on television. And bloody hell, our trade union only went and called a lightning walk-out that day. I had sold my ticket, I had the day off. Thank you, God.
And would you bloody believe it? That particular Friday night also coincided with an “either you see me tonight or we split up” ultimatum from my fiancee. She was getting pissed off at my almost overwhelming obsession with the Gunners as they powered, tripped and faltered towards the title. She had had enough. The “see me tonight” ultimatum also involved various threats to my anatomy if I even mentioned The Beautiful Game. I loved my Arsenal. I still love my Mrs Scary. What was a man to do? Come kick-off time, I was sitting in the beer garden at the Old Bell in Grazeley on a lovely sunny spring evening, my video recorder watching the match for me. Around me were other equally crestfallen young men accompanied by knife-wielding girlfriends. I had never felt so bloody miserable in my entire life.
Driving, I nursed a single pint through the entire evening, and took Mrs Scary home at about 11pm, promising I would love her eternally, and yes, I meant it. Really. Then I drove home, unable to find mention of the match on my car radio because the tuning knob had snapped off in a rather passionate moment several weeks previously. Going through Cemetary Junction in Reading, I was almost forced off the road by a carload of idiots overtaking, flashing their lights and waving like maniacs at me. I had a “Go Go Gunners” sticker in the back window. Could it be? Naaaaah, they HAD to be Liverpool fans taking the piss. Had to.
I arrived home at the same time as my brother. There must have been a full moon or Planet Girlie was rising in Uranus or something, but he too had had an “either you see me or it’s off” night from his girlfriend, and had the scars to prove it. Mightily pissed off at the world, we rewound the video and watched the match from the start.
The game started thirty minutes late due to unprecedented traffic jams between London and Liverpool. I didn’t know it, but Ritchie and my ticket were well over a hundred miles from the ground at the time, now hoping beyond hope just to see the last thirty minutes.
The first half was tense. Both sides had chances to take the lead, but Arsenal rode their luck, along with a fair slice of brutal defending to go in at half-time 0-0. Then, a few minutes into the second, a free-kick was floated into the Liverpool box, and Alan Smith darted in to nod it home. All hell broke loose. Nige and I danced around the living room, while the Liverpool players surrounded the ref and linesman, convinced that Smudge hadn’t touched the indirect free-kick on the way in. We both knealt in front of the TV, praying for the goal.
“The bastards, the cheating, whining bastards! They’re not going to give the goal.”
Our hearts were in our mouths. The ref mouthed something to the lino. The lino nodded, and the ref pointed to the centre spot.
With one down one to go, Arsenal battered and battered at the Liverpool defence, but nothing looked like getting past ateam that had been caught out once, and were determined to cling on to what they had.
“Come on! COME ON!” we shouted oblivious to the fact that it was now past one in the morning and parents were trying to sleep upstairs.
Suddenly with a few minutes to go, Michael Thomas, one of the team’s young stars found himself in a few feet of space in front of goal. He shot... and he scuffed it. Grobelaar grateful scooped up the ball and that was that. Our one big chance. Fucked. The Kop was now in full voice, just minutes away from the precious double, and Brian Moore and the hated former Spurs manager David Pleat eulogised long and loud about this “great” Liverpool team that was going to win the title. With the clock running down, even the Liverpool players were in self-congratulatory moods, back-slapping, shaking hands, high fives. We just wanted it to end.
At this point, I’m told, Ritchie and Paul, were outside the ground in tears having witnessed the second half convinced that the team had blown it, and they just couldn’t face another Liverpool trophy. Then there was this mighty roar...
With the Kop baying for the final whistle deep, deep. deep into stoppage time, instead of the huge punt you’d expect in the circumstances, Johnny Lukic threw the ball upfield to Lee Dixon. Dicko nudged it to Smith, there’s a lucky ricochet, and all of a sudden he’s played the ball through to Michael Thomas with the goal at his mercy. Time. Stood. Still.
Just me, the television and Brian Moore: “It’s Michael Thomas, charging through the midfield... It’s up for grabs now!!!!!!”
The despairing tackle. The shot. Bruce Grobelaar wrong footed. The copper behind the goal turned away. The net bulged. An explosion of joy. 2-0. Oh my Christ. Nigel and I dance around the room, out into the garden and up and down the street. It was pushing two in the morning and we didn’t give a flying fuck.
We went back and watched the dying moments again. And again. And again. The goal, Tony Adams lifting the league trophy on enemy territory for the first time in eighteen years. If the pubs hadn’t been closed for three hours we would have gone straight out and got blathered. Instead, I played the posh kid, and dutifully went to bed; but for Nige, it was back into the car and a fifty mile dash up to London, just in time to meet the tired, celebrating masses arriving home from Liverpool to join an impromptu street party that had been going on all night.
On the night of the 27th, we all met down the pub in Kingston to swap stories and to get mind-bendingly drunk in the name of Arsenal Football Club. We had, to a man, missed the greatest event in the history of football, ever. And perversely, we wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
My boss got the sack soon after. Result.
While this story is based on actual events in the life of Scaryduck, certain identities and venues may have been changed to protect the innocent.