The Best Matches Ever Part 2
This is match famous for so many reasons and is on of my fondest early moments supporting Arsenal. On May 2, 1992, deposed champions Arsenal played the final match of a campaign that promised so much. Having won the league at a canter in 1990/91, Arsenal flattered to deceive and their title challenge had fizzled out by Christmas. A humiliating Cup defeat to Fourth Division Wrexham put paid to our cup ambitions in the one of the most famous F.A Cup 3rd Round Ties in the competition's illustrious history. But after dishing out a 7-1 drubbing against Sheffield Wednesday (when, amazingly, the teams were tied at 1-1 with twenty minutes to go) had given Arsenal something of a renaissance. Spurred on by the flair of Merson, Limpar and Rocastle and the exuberence of new signing Ian Wright, the Gunners' finished the season strongly.
But May 2nd, 1992 started out as a melancholy occasion for Gunners' fans. With the Taylor Report ready to kick in, it was to be the last ever game in front of the North Bank terrace. Chants of 'you'll never take the North Bank' reverberated around the ground at sporadic intervals and a sit in protest was planned for after the game. But it was not only the old North Bank that would steal the headlines. For the entire season, Spurs talisman Gary Lineker and Arsenal's new star Ian Wright went toe to toe in a battle for the Golden boot. With sky sports, the Premier League and the Taylor Report on the horizon, the battle between Lineker and Wright would foreshadow the way in which the game would change forever. Lineker's boot sponsor Quasar and Wright's sponsors Nike became embroiled in a banter laiden publicity battle. It was also a tidy footnote to the Britpop battle of the bands between Oasis and Blur. The rough edged, gobby council estate kid versus the well coiffured and immaculately grammared gentleman. I remember being driven to football training as a child and seeing the billboards change every week, 'Gary Lineker, 48 goals for England. Ian who?' would soon see a tidy riposte in the wake of the Southampton fixture.
The first half saw a drab and goalless encounter, with a wistful crowd mourning the loss of the North Bank stand and with Arsenal having no silverware to go for. After 66 minutes, Kevin Campbell headed the Gunners' into a one goal lead. The goal raised little more than a muted cheer. Smith scrambled home a second before the Saints pulled one back. Anders Limpar went off with a bloodied face after forming the meat in a sandwich between two Southampton players and the corner flag. Wright's arch companion and the supplier of his ammunition had gone. Suddenly, news broke that Gary Lineker had scored at Old Trafford, putting him two goals ahead of Wright for the Golden Boot. Arsenal won a penalty and Wright grabbed the ball off of the appointed taker Dixon, smashing high into the roof of the net in front of the North Bank. News of Lineker's goal had obviously reached Wrighty. With two minutes left he dropped deep into the Arsenal half to collect the ball from Seaman's throw out. He embarked on a forty yard run, evading the sharpened studs of Terry Hurlock (who used to take the pitch with boxer's grease on his eyebrows), this was not a mazy of run of stepovers and silky skills, this was sheer bloody mindedness, refusing to fall under the coccophany of Saints' challenges, Wright slammed the ball past Tim Flowers to equal Lineker's benchmark.
Wright was not done yet, in injury time Kevin Campbell squared a low ball into the box which Wright unceremoniously shinned into the net to clinch the golden Boot. In what became an iconic celebration, Campbell hoisted Wright high in front of the North Bank Stand, allowing the old stand's wake to become something more akin to a celebration. Once Wright wrestled himself from Campbell's grip, he pointed defiantly at his boot, acclaiming his success. The moment was famously captured in a Nike commercial to the tune of A Tribe Called Quest's 'Can I Kick It?!' It was not only the fact the Wrighty had robbed a Spurs player of the golden boot in the dying seconds of the season, but being the showman he was (and still is), he had picked his moment with all the finesse of a Hollywood star, a Roy of the Rovers moment to give the North Bank terrace one last eruption of glory. The feat was all the more poignant given ex Palace chairman Ron Noades' assertion that black players lacked bottle just a year earlier, which was probably a key factor in Wrighty leaving Palace for Arsenal. It took Nike a matter of days to paste over the Quasar billboards, 'Ian Wright. Golden Boot Winner 1991/92. Gary Who?'
As the mists of history grow ever foggier, it is easy to forget the significance of these events. This game marked David Rocastle's last in an Arsenal shirt. The old North Bank was duly torn down and replaced by the infamous mural facade. Sky Sports and the breakaway Premier League arrived on the scene the next season, the backpass law came in, the half time break was extended from ten to fifteen minutes, and the very next season was my maiden voyage as an Arsenal season ticket holder at the tender age of eight. That summer John Jensen signed for Arsenal following his excellent strike for Denmark in the Euro 92 Final, 'great, a goalscoring midfielder' we all thought! The day of May 2nd though, despite the revolution that lay ahead, belonged very much to two larger than life characters, the North Bank stand and the flamboyant Ian Wright, the day he proved beyond doubt, that he could kick it alright.LD.