Ahead of last night’s premiere of the new 89 documentary, produced by journalist Amy Lawrence and former Gunner Lee Dixon, there was a short and very amusing question and answer session hosted by comedian and actor Alan Davies.
Joining the aforementioned trio on stag was George Graham, the architect of Arsenal’s famous 1989 title-winning season, Tony ‘Mr Arsenal’ Adams and Michael Thomas, the scorer of the most dramatic goal in English football.
Not a bad line-up…here’s how it went down. Enjoy!
Alan Davies: What comes across so well in the film, as you’ll see, is the extraordinary team spirit between everybody. Where did that come from?
George Graham: It comes from hard work every day in training and it carries on from there. They were quite difficult to work with at first. [cue laughter].
Michael Thomas: That was just me I think. [laughter]
Lee Dixon: You were difficult in the end…
GG: Their attitude in training, I was fortunate in a way, because I had a couple of new trainee players, a few from the lower divisions and there was a great youth policy at the club. The youth policy was top class, so I was getting hungry people from three different directions. It was easy for me coaching them, it was a piece of cake. I had nothing but admiration for the players.
AD: It’s been pointed out to me by my good friend [comedian] Ian Stone, that we wouldn’t be here tonight if you hadn’t ballsed it up against Wimbledon and Derby, the two home games [before Anfield]. Can you tell me, as the manager, who was responsible for those results?
GG: That was done on purpose [cue laughter], it was done on purpose so we’d get the finale at Anfield.
AD: Hmm…I don’t believe that. Tony, if I come to you, I just wonder…
Tony Adams [looking in Graham’s direction]: Talking to him is hard work, isn’t it? Cor, just the relief [I’m feeling] not to have to work for that man anymore. [Cue laughter]. I’m sitting here thinking ‘thank God’, he was so hard work, day in, fucking day out. [More laughter]. I feel so brave today.
AD: Are there any memories that have come up for you in this process [of making the film], this reunion, something that you’d vaguely forgotten from ’89?
TA: I was trying to piece it together, I was just saying to Bouldy. I remember a bit of the Friday night [after the win] and punching all the ceilings [in the Anfield dressing room]. They had those ceilings, like my mum and dad, those false ceilings, remember those? We were punching them all in while we drunk Champagne. I can’t remember what happened on the Saturday…I’m still trying to puzzle pieces together. I think I slept at the stadium Saturday night into Sunday morning waiting for the bus to parade the cup. So if anyone knows [what I was doing], please let me know! [Cue laughter]
AD: Now Lee Dixon, I spoke to you in 2002 after Arsenal went to Old Trafford and won the league and you said, it’s a great feeling to go up there and not be frightened. You said there had been games at Old Trafford in the past where it had been intimidating, where they had a strong team and the ref gets intimidated. I want to know, going up to Anfield and you played them five times that season (three times in the League Cup + twice in the league)…why weren’t you frightened? Did the ‘This is Anfield’ sign not scare you?
LD: It did [scare me], yeah. I think the boss put together a team that was confident in what they were doing and that came from him. I know he’s sitting two seats down from me…but there was certainly a belief, and I can only talk for myself, although I got the sense the others felt the same, but you [Graham] instilled a belief in me. I tried to explain it earlier to some journalists. It was kinda in my chest. It was a deep feeling if self belief that what we were doing was right. We could hear George in our ear constantly telling us, ‘if you do this…if you do this…if you work this hard…it’s a Monday, we’ll do the same training session we did last Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday…if you do all of that then you’ll get results and we’ll end up winning things.’ We all bought into that because we’d basically get hit on the leg with a stick otherwise, literally not metaphorically! So you end up doing the same thing and that belief was sitting in the middle of my chest. And when you go to places like Old Trafford and certainly Anfield and you see the opposition touching that sign, if you go into your head and think ‘we’ve got to win here 2-0’ it’s quite easy to go they’re Liverpool, they’re touching that sign, Hillsborough, all of the things that engaged us [at the time] in that respect, then it’s quite easy to stay in your head and not be able to perform. What I tended to do was when I was in my head, I’d then flip back in my chest and think ‘it’s ok, because George told me it’s going to be alright.’ That’s how I got through those moments.
AD: Michael, when you went through one-on-one [with Bruce Grobbelaar] were you afraid in that moment?
MT: Definitely, definitely.
TA: “Which one? Which one?” [a reference to Thomas having an earlier chance that he missed].
MT: I missed a chance, yes, I know. At that time I thought, I didn’t have the chance to shoot…I had more time. The second one, I just knew that I’d get another chance to finish it off. I had a gut feeling.
LD: I wish you’d told us about 20 minutes before! [Laughter] We could have relaxed then.
AD: George, a lot is made these days about Arsenal’s state of the art training ground, the immaculate pitch. You trained at the University College London pitches, you couldn’t go in the afternoon, Highbury was a mud bath. Why were you so much better than the current side?
GG: Is that a serious question?
AD: But really, the facilities were nothing like they are today, the pitches were nothing like they are today, there was something about that team which produced a great season…
GG: I think I answered that with the first question…the three avenues of players, who were good players by the way. I remember going to watch Lee at Stoke City and I picked up Stevie Bould. I saw Steve…a big centre-half, that’ll do me. Kevin Richardson from Watford, Nigel [Winterburn] from Wimbledon. They weren’t big, sensational signings. And then I had the wonderful youth players, David Rocastle, Mickey, Tony, and Tony again…
AD: Did you know, when you came from Millwall, was the word out in football that Arsenal had an amazing bunch of young players?
GG: I thought so. I didn’t know many people in the First Division at the time but I soon found out on joining the club, just how good the kids were. Martin Keown as well, Tony coming through, Stuart Robson, Martin Hayes…
MT: Gus [Caesar], your pet…
GG: It was obvious, I had hungry players. They had a desire in them. They were players with passion. I thought, if I can get these together and treat everybody the same, and I was very, very strict with that, well…everybody, apart from Tony…[Laughter]…there was only one way we were going, and that was up. Those three sorts of players combined together, they were fantastic. At the training ground, I was falling in love with coaching at the time from Millwall. And then to manage to get these boys, who were good players, we developed a very good side.
LD: George, you know that coaching book you had, was there only one page in it?
GG: I was a great fan of AC Milan and they were one of the best teams around. They played offside better than us and that’s something.
AD: Tony ain’t buying that.
GG: They were fantastic, but what they did was, they then employed three of the best forwards in the world, all Dutch [Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard]. I thought to myself, I’ll let the forwards do what they want, I’ll work with the defenders. And that’s what I did, I worked non-stop with the defenders.
MT: Famous last words, you once said to us players, ‘Defenders, you’ll play 35-40, midfielders, you’ll be burnt out by 25 running around after everybody else.
GG: That’s true.
AD: Amy Lawrence, you’re responsible for this reunion. You’re the person who brought everybody together, it’s already been a special evening. You were on the terraces that night as an Arsenal fan, I’ve seen the film, and you’ve done something special here, you’ve really captured the real emotion of that night. The emotion before the game, the kick-off was delayed, there was the giving away of the flowers, there was an intense atmosphere and the last half an hour when it was one-nil was the most emotional half an hour of any of our lives. Do you feel proud of what you’ve achieved, I think you should…
Amy Lawrence: Thank you, but it’s not really my achievement, it’s their achievement. None of this happens without what they did back then, for which all of us, particularly me, are very grateful. I regard it as a seminal moment in my life. That sounds silly, I was 17-years-old you think you know everything, but you don’t know anything. But something happened that everybody thought was impossible and there I was, just a fan, seeing this thing unfold that showed me, there is no such thing as impossible, even when people tell you there is. And that you can do things that aren’t supposed to happen. It’s interesting when you talk about the emotion of that night because it was an extraordinary period for football. One of the things about this film is, well obviously the climax, the finish is what makes it so riveting, so exciting but there was a huge emotional hit that was going on at the time. It was 41 days after the Hillsborough disaster that this game took place. If you were a football fan at the time, or involved in football at the time, it was a unique moment. We were all trying to come to terms somehow with something that was unimaginable and then to have this match on top of that, with the team going for it that thought they’d lost it [Arsenal] and the great Liverpool side who were going through this incredible trauma. That night there was an intensity in the stadium, the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else.
AD: It was an amazing time and in many ways, it was the end of something and the beginning of something. Live on television, it was what sport can be and how great football can be. It’s been very well captured…
89 can be viewed at OurScreen cinemas and will be out on DVD and Blu-ray and available as a Digital Download from 20 November.
— 89 The Film (@89thefilm) October 11, 2017