Ah, the good old days of European trophies . . . and last minute defeats to flukey goals by ex-Spuds. These appeared in The Gooner in issues 123 and 129 in 2002.
4 May 1994
Arsenal 1 (Smith) Parma 0
European Cup Winners’ Cup Final, Parken Stadium Copenhagen.
This was the first time I’d been to a European match away from Highbury, and the excitement was building from the moment I collected my ticket. An actual European final. In view of the trouble and expense of a midweek trip to Copenhagen I spent some time persuading myself that the important thing was being there and enjoying the whole experience, and who really cares if we won or lost? This attitude was helped by the fact that Parma were a pretty hot team and we were definite underdogs.
The ‘don’t care’ illusion worked for some time. It worked through the early Stansted departure, the flight, the afternoon drinking in the sun. In fact it worked right up to the point when I got into the Parken stadium and stepped out at the top of the stand into the floodlit crowd and the building atmosphere. Then suddenly and much to my own surprise my attitude changed: this instantly became the most important football match I’d ever been to. I couldn’t help it. We had to win.
The game kicked off and it became painfully apparent why Parma were favourites. With Ian Wright missing and our celebrated midfield of Morrow, Hillier and Selley we looked fragile, while the Italians played the sort of passing game we had to wait another five years for. When Paul Merson gets replaced by Eddie McGoldrick you have to wonder about the quality of the squad. Fortunately the Back Five were up to the task and luck was also on our side. There were plenty of near misses and my nerves and fingernails were soon shredded. This made it even more of a surprise when Alan Smith rifled a shot into the corner to give us the lead. It was probably our one good chance.
The rest of the game seemed to last several decades, with Parma relentlessly piling on the pressure. I still have nightmare flashbacks of the ball looping over Seaman and appearing to be going in before ending up on the roof of the net. The still slimline (and really rather good) Tomas Brolin probably had half a dozen great chances on his own. They also had Zola and Tino Asprilla up front. We had Kevin Campbell. How we held on to the lead I’ll never know.
After the game the Danish police had the brilliant idea of making us drive a huge distance to a tiny airport in the sticks to catch the charter home. This scarcely dampened the mood, and actually did us a favour: when we arrived back at Stansted we were closely followed by the flight the team was on. We got the chance to personally congratulate the players as they collected their luggage, listened as a smiling George Graham was interviewed by TV reporters in the arrivals hall while clutching the trophy and chuckled at the way Lee Dixon had a bandanna tied round his neck like Lee Van Cleef. You don’t get too many days like that.
10 May 1995
Arsenal 1 (Hartson) Real Zaragoza 2 (Esnaider, Nayim)
European Cup Winners’ Cup Final
Parc des Princes, Paris.
1994-95 was not a vintage season for Arsenal. The fag end of the George Graham era, followed by months of uncertainty, and a team with only Ian Wright to provide any excitement. How we reached our second consecutive European final I’m still not sure. The team was stale, underperforming and in need of new talent.
I’d been going to Highbury with my mate Emma that season, but she hadn’t got a ticket for the final. We reckoned we’d get one there easily enough though, so we set off by car and ferry, arriving in Paris the day before the game. That evening we went to view the ground and without even looking we were offered tickets together for about eighty quid. This seemed steep, so on the basis of rumours that several thousand more were going on sale the next day we declined.
The following day the previously empty streets around the stadium were thronged with Gooners, most of whom seemed to be ticketless. Needless to say the earlier rumours proved unfounded: no tickets went on sale and we gave up hope of getting two together then selling mine. Instead Emma had to pay eighty quid for one on the opposite side of the ground to me.
The game itself was not one to live in the memory. If someone had told me then that five years later we’d have a team stuffed with world-class players it would have seemed like a fantasy. Instead it was the likes of Hillier and Morrow – a midfield with all the imagination of a caravan site. Well, as Graham kept saying, the players he wanted simply weren’t available!
Most of the match is now a blur of scrappy play and occasional half-chances, with little real excitement. Zaragoza eventually broke the deadlock after 68 dull minutes, but John Hartson scrambled an equaliser eight minutes later. The Spanish didn’t seem bothered about going for a winner and we didn’t seem capable. The 90 minutes ended and as extra time juddered seemingly inevitably towards penalties I thought, ‘Oh well, we won it last year and when we lose the shoot-out it’s still better than losing last year and not being here.’
And then the winning goal. Has any keeper ever been caught off his line quite so embarrassingly as David Seaman? Mohamed Ali Amar, alias Nayim, sent a hopeful punt skywards from the touchline 40 yards away and Seaman stumbled backwards, arms flailing like a toddler on ice skates. He fell backwards into the goal as the ball sailed in to join him. I expected to lose on penalties anyway, but this was much worse. Beaten by an ex-Tottenham midget with the biggest fluke of all time.
It was a sickening way to lose. But irritating as it is that Spurs fans still go on about this game, I suppose it’s a consolation that their biggest cause for celebration in the last decade is a goal scored by someone who’d left them two years before.