Arsenal literary icon Nick Hornby: I never worried about Tony Adams and Paul Merson being snapped up by Real Madrid and Barcelona back then
PUBLISHED: 17:52 16 November 2017 | UPDATED: 18:13 16 November 2017
The much-loved Arsenal literary icon Nick Hornby has been speaking with the Islington Gazette ahead of the North London derby.
Passionate long-term season ticket holder Hornby – who has watched the Gunners in 12 Cup Finals – is the author of a number of best-selling books including A Long Way Down, How to Be Good, High Fidelity, and About a Boy, all written after his seminal memoir Fever Pitch.
Hornby is also a successful screenwriter with a number of his books being adapted for films, television and the stage.
The music-lover has also had published the superb 31 Songs – a collection of 26 essays on tunes which resonate with him, including a piece on Bruce Sprinsteen’s Thunder Road.
But it is perhaps Arsenal Football Club which still holds his attention more than most passions in his life, drawing him back to his beloved Highbury, then the Emirates, every other week.
Having penned the immortal lines “I fell in love with football as i was later to fall in love with women – suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring”, it was no wonder Hornby was present at the premier of 89 The Film at the Odeon Holloway, where he talked all things Arsenal.
When asked if the 89 side was a ‘Remembrance Of Things Past’ and things lost he replied: “Yes, I that connection fans had with the team that will never come back again.
“Because professional sport has changed so much.
“You know whoever you’re watching you know they’re basically on loan and they could be gone by the end of the year.
“But I never really worried about that with all due respect to the players back then.
“I never really worried about the likes of Tony Adams and Paul Merson going to Real Madrid or Barcelona back then.
“That was because they were Arsenal players. They felt like ours.
“And so to pull off something like that in those circumstances – nothing will ever mean as much again in football.”
Not even beating Spurs?
For a man who once wrote ‘Spurs fans had a smug air of ersatz sophistication’ and ‘Arsenal have played the space-age version of the football Spurs aspired to’ does Arsenal mean as much to him these days?
Standing on the red carpet, in the maelstrom of a world premier, Hornby thought for a moment before replying: “I never miss a game. My kids go with me. But it’s hard to feel as much about modern professional football I think.”
As both camps gear up for another round of their bitter rivalry on Saturday, with many again questioning whether the balance of power in North London has shifted, with the majority of fans unhappy with the current regime, Hornby turned to happier memories.
For the days when Arsenal were kings of London – and England – and the club and fanbase was united on and off the pitch under ‘Glorious George’ Graham and his class of 89.
Hornby – who appears in the stunning documentary chronicling that tumultuous season – said of the never-to-be-forgotten victory over the mighty Liverpool at Anfield on May, 26, 1989: “It never gets old does it?
“I think it’s wonderful that Amy [Lawrence] has put this together.
“It’s a wonderful subject for a documentary. I made a short interview for the film and I was talking to Lee Dixon about it and everyone has their own memories about it.
“Given how many times we’ve seen that goal I think it’s amazing to see it put in context.”
For every Gooner Michael Thomas’ last-gasp goal against Liverpool to win the league at fortress Anfield is simply the most gripping finish to a league season there has ever been.
As Lee Dixon told this correspondent: ‘You can stuff Manchester City’s finish against QPR.”
The sage Hornby agrees.
“People talk about Manchester City against QPR – but didn’t QPR go down that year?
“So Manchester City were at home to a team that was going down.
“It was an amazing moment but it was relief as much as anything for them – it was something they should have done. They should have won 4-0 or 5-0.
“It’s different from going to places that are a fortress.
“But it was a news story when Arsenal won at Anfield.
“They never lost at home. To go there and win by more than one goal I don’t think you can compare the two.”
That immortal win over Liverpool was simply magical. As is every victory over Arsenal’s noisy neighbours from N17 for Gooners everywhere.
But whatever the result on Saturday Arsenal will always be Hornby’s team, for better or worse, forever.
As he wrote in Fever Pitch: “Loyalty, at least in football terms, was not a moral choice like bravery or kindness. It was more like a wart or a hump, something you were stuck with.”
89 The Film is out now.
Nick Hornby is the author of many books including the seminal Fever Pitch.