1989 BP (Before Premier League) – Memories of the 26th May 1989

1989 BP (Before Premier League)

SkySports won’t talk about because it’s pre-Premier League and therefore didn’t actually happen. But for us Gooners, 26th May 1989 was the most traumatic, dramatic and euphoric 90 minutes of our lives.

With the release of the documentary ’89’ on 20th November (29th for us in Australia 😟)

I thought I’d do the rounds of some Gooners see what their memories of that joyous night were. Many talk about being there, but as with the Stones Roses gig at Spike Island and the Pistol’s gigs at Lesser Free Trade Hall and The 100 Club, if they were all there, there were about 100,000 Gooners in Anfield that night. Certain characters, on certain YouTube channels, you know who you are.

So I spoke to Gunners Town crew to get their truthful view of the night’s events:


@Goonerdave66, the famous author (😁) started the ball rolling;

“On the 26th August 1988, my heavily pregnant girlfriend and I moved into a crappy two bed flat in Dartford. We had no money, I was on a commission only and on the 29th August, (Bank Holiday Monday) our daughter Lindsay was born. Suffice to say it was not a season I was able to attend Highbury with any regularity as I barely had two pennies to rub together, after baby, food, mortgage and bills.

The lack of money also explains why I ultimately watched the final Friday of the season show down at Anfield, at home in my ill-furnished flat, with my partner, and Evertonian,  on a 12″ portable colour TV with an internal aerial. 

However, before that I did get to a few games and much like our two hapless heroes in the film of Fever Pitch I was on the North Bank, when it seemed we had thrown the Title away losing to a Dean Saunders and Peter Shilton inspired Derby County. It was the 13th of May and I had put my wife and daughter on a train to Liverpool at Euston that morning. She was off to see her family and go to a wedding and I said we could not afford for both of us to go. I was of course lying, as I then went straight to the pub and on to the match. I can honestly say, I have never seen a goalkeeper make more world class saves in a single match than Peter Shilton did to defy Arsenal that day.

The anxiety and frustration of that day turned to despair when the next match saw us drop two point at home to Wimbledon, who we had thrashed on the opening day. The nerves and Arsenal’s relative inexperience seemed to have got to us, as the all-conquering Liverpool had closed the gap and overhauled us, leaving us with the final day mountain to climb. 

The stage was set and the whole country watched with interest as the build up to an unprecedented live final game of the Division 1 season approached. Many neutral may well have been with Liverpool after the awful tragedy at Hillsborough, but a small part of North London and crucially one man named George Graham believed.

George Knew

On the day, I placed a £5 bet at lunchtime for Arsenal to win the league at 7-1, certainly no bookies believed. I got home with a few tins and watched the build up with presenter Elton Welsby, with my partner and with our tiny TV. As an Everton fan she was with me and we watched the events unfold before our eyes, culminating in a one inch Michael Thomas, charging through the midfield. Can you actually imagine watching a game of that importance on a screen that small? We both jumped high in the air and then hugged when the ball lifted over Grobelaar into the net. I think we woke Lindsay our daughter in our celebrations. Can I honestly say I believed during the match, looking back – probably not? I may have bet on it out of loyalty and hope, but is that not why we love the game so much? The unexpected can happen, but in all my days there has not been a night more unexpected than that one.”


@Marblehallstv, shared his thoughts;

“I was 9 at the time of Anfield 89, and l was in awe at the excitement. I had never experienced such an exciting finish to a season before, and against Liverpool, the boss team of the era. Especially with great players like Barnes, Nicol, Hansen, and Grobbelaar. 

Arsenal has always stood out both on and off the pitch and this is one of many examples why the still do.”


@OldManGooner recounted his evening;

“Unfortunately I wasn’t one of the 150,000 Arsenal supporters to have a ticket for the game, so I had to watch it in my local pub.

Living in North Wales I knew I would be the only Arsenal supporter in the pub but I always went out for a beer on a Friday night so I thought sod it. My mate picked me up in his car as we drank in the village where he lived which was about three miles from me.

We parked the car outside his house and walked up to the pub. We walked in and it was packed, it seemed every Liverpool fan in the village was out. The landlord even was a Liverpool fan. We got our beers and sat down as near as we could to the TV. The banter started straight away with Liverpool supporters who were in no doubt I was wasting my time hoping for an Arsenal win. I must admit, I was watching the game more in hope than expectation. I remember the Arsenal players coming onto the field with bouquets of flowers for the Liverpool supporters which everyone in the pub thought was a great gesture. 

1 Nil

I may as well fast forward into the game now. With every passing minute it seemed unlikely we’d get the 2-0 win we needed to become champions. Then Arsenal got a free kick and Alan Smith scored, I went berserk but was then bought down to earth by being told the goal had been disallowed I looked at the TV to see the referee in discussion with the linesman but then the euphoria returned as the goal was given.

The euphoria lasted for about 5 minutes as the reality set in. I’m the most pessimistic of supporters and I knew we would now end up winning but not by the two goals we needed.

I watched the clock tick down and I almost got to the point where I wanted Liverpool to equalise, I couldn’t bear the thought of us winning but not being champions. The clock ticked down to the last couple of minutes and the Liverpool fans started celebrating. I couldn’t bear it anymore and went outside of the pub. 

After a couple of minutes there was a cheer from inside the pub and my first thought was the game was over and Liverpool were champions. All of a sudden the pub door opened and one of the lads screamed at me that Thomas had scored and we were winning 2-0. I thought he was joking so went gingerly into the pub to see a sea of glum faces. I looked at the TV and saw it was 2-0, there were seconds to go but after what seemed hours the final whistle went. I danced and screamed with joy and fair play the Liverpool lads congratulated me I’d waited 18 years for this moment and I was going to enjoy it. Eventually it was time to go home. I went into the house singing at the top of my voice and was told by my wife to shut up in case I woke our four year old daughter up, I went to bed, I felt I was floating, I fell asleep but was awoken by the alarm at 6-30am. I realised I didn’t had to be in work at 7-30, it was the first day of the Whit shutdown, but as a maintenance fitter I had to work. I went into work with the hangover from hell, but I didn’t care and my work colleagues didn’t seem bothered with my slovenliness that morning, especially the ones who disliked Liverpool 

I don’t think I’ll ever see another night like that and I am just thankful I saw that one.”


@JPMc99 contributed the following;


“My Mum, Dad and I were driving up from Eastbourne where we lived to Lincolnshire to visit my Great Great Nan. We left in plenty of time so Dad and I could be there to watch the game, but our car broke down somewhere not far from Cambridge. As time passed, we were getting livid, we had missed the first half and by the time we had got to Cambridge train station, the second half had started. Luckily, the guard in the office had it on some crappy TV. Dad told us we weren’t getting a train until it was over so we could watch the rest of the game and we went berserk on the platform when Thomas scored. God knows what time we eventually got to Lincoln, but we were just so happy to have seen it, because missing it would’ve been too heart-breaking! 

Well that’s what my dad said happened, I was only six weeks old at the time!!”

Baby Joe


@garythegooner56 chipped in with;

“I wasn’t one of the half a million Arsenal fans that claim to have been at Anfield that glorious night in May 1989. The match was originally scheduled to be played a week after the Hillsborough disaster so by the time the game was eventually played I think all the tickets had long been sold.

I thought we’d well and truly blown it. By losing at home to Derby County then only picking up a point against Wimbledon. Everyone I think thought the same as we trudged out of Highbury that night. Then after Liverpool hammered West Ham 5-1 up at Anfield. It was going to take a miracle to win by 2-0 up there. But miracles do happen!

I watched the game on TV at my brother’s house. We went to White Hart Lane together in 1971 to watch us win our last title eighteen earlier so it seemed fitting to be to watch this match together as well. It was unusual to see a game played on a Friday night and the match gripped the public’s imagination as thirteen million people in Britain watched the match, compared to the one million average that watches a Premier League today.


I remember the game vividly. The touch of class as the Arsenal team ran out carrying bunches of flowers and running over to distribute them to the Liverpool fans. The early missed header from Bouldy. The first goal from Smudger and the Liverpool players converging on the referee and me and my brother screaming abuse at them on the TV to f*** off and leave him alone. The relief as the goal was given. Then thinking we’d missed our chance to win it when Micky Thomas missed his first chance to score.

The sheer euphoria when time seemed to stand still as Micky went through and Brian Moore uttering those immortal words “It’s up for grabs now” and millions of Arsenal fans up and down the country screaming at their TV’s for Micky to shoot, before after what seemed an eternity, cool as a cucumber he waited for the perfect moment before slotting it past Bruce Grobbelaar into the net to send every Arsenal fan into ecstasy. We then made our way to the pub to celebrate.

Immortal Brain Moore commentary

I remember going up to see the team parade the trophy on the Sunday morning with my brother-in-law and it was heaving with fans outside Islington Town Hall. My brother-in-law, who worked for British Telecom, had been working at the town hall a few weeks previously and as luck would have it we bumped into a bloke outside who worked at the town hall that my-brother-law knew from his time working there. The man gave us two free passes to go inside the town hall to meet George and the players and it was a privilege to thank them personally for what they’d achieved for Arsenal Football Club and shake their hands to round off an unforgettable weekend. I still have my free pass after all these years!”

@A96oaye started adding his memories;

“I was born seven years after….”

I stopped the conversation there 😉



And finally, me @wellmington;

I was born and raised in Weymouth, Dorset. A sleepy Victorian seaside town on the south coast, that was only alive for 6 weeks of the year when the grockels (tourists) came to spend their two weeks holiday, in a caravan, eating whelks, watching Punch and Judy and a town where everyone supported Liverpool.

You see, with no decent (pro) football clubs for miles around, everyone my age (19 at the time) were glory hunters, except me. I was the only Gooner in my family, at my college, in fact I was the only Gooner I knew. It made my bi-monthly train excursions to North London lonely, but after a few beers and an afternoon watching The Arsenal, the world was right.

So on 26th May, at 7pm, I ventured into my mates dad’s pub (The Wyke Smugglers) and proudly, with my bright yellow Arsenal shirt on, sat in the bar, drinking my pint of Newquay Steam Beer, watching the game unfold, whilst being generally abused and pelted by pork scratchings.

Smudger scored in the 52nd minute. I keep a lid on my emotions, as more bar snacks rained down on me. 

In the 89th minute Steve McMahon did this 

Still laughing

And it will always make me laugh.

Then in the 90th minute, Sir Michael Thomas, waited and waited and waited, dinked the ball over Grobbelaar, did the worst goal celebration ever and Gooners everywhere got the party started.

Me, I don’t remember much, I jumped up onto the pool table, bounced around like a screaming banshee in apoplectic joy, got about a gallon of cider and black thrown at me, got dragged out the pub by the landlord and banned for life.

But what the hell, it was worth it!


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2 Responses to 1989 BP (Before Premier League) – Memories of the 26th May 1989

  1. Victor Thompson October 16, 2017 at 10:22 am #

    What an experience Steve, I wish I could have been thrown out of a pub for the same reason.

    Looking back at those times puts me in mind of an old Jacobean song ” Will ye no come back again, will ye no come back again? Better loved ye couldna be; will ye no come back again”?

  2. Mike Walsh October 16, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

    I was one of the privileged few who attended the match that night. Three of us drove north up the motorway only to experience gridlock conditions, we made a decision to get off the motorway and to attempt to reach the Anfield using A-Roads which was a mistake. We reached the ground at half-time and entered via the only turnstile left open. The rest is history although a mention that we went into a pub not far from Anfield to “celebrate in silence ” after a couple of pints ( ordered by one of us who was Irish and could get away with it) we were asked to leave by the landlord who had clocked us!
    My greatest, proudest moment in 60 years of following the Arsenal

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