Arsenal fan Alan Davies: You get the feeling Harry Kane will be scoring goals against us until we’re all dead
- Credit: Archant
Alan Davies is an instantly recognisable face whether you know him from Jonathan Creek, a panellist on QI or as a stand-up comedian.
But to thousands of Arsenal fans he is recognised as – to use the old parlance – ‘A proper Gooner’.
He may have been critically-acclaimed as a young comic at the Edinburgh Festival, as well as a ‘star in a reasonably-priced car’ on Top Gear – or simply as a face you see when you switch on the TV after a night down the pub.
But the only thing that matters about him to most fans of North London’s rip-roaring reds is his genuine love of The Arsenal.
For Davies is a lifelong season ticket holder. First at glorious Highbury. Then at the shiny Emirates.
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He is also a lifelong socialist who once said social justice was important to him, that life wasn’t about every man for himself – rather it should be about co-operation and collaboration.
So it is no wonder he lauds George Graham’s side of three decades ago as his favourite team and favourite time.
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For they achieved far more as a collective than as individuals. They also valued loyalty and gave their all for the common cause.
Such as beating Liverpool at Anfield in 1989.
Speaking exclusively to this correspondent at the launch of the stunning documentary chronicling that wonderful era, 89 The Film, Davies took a fond look back at those long-lost days when we were kings.
“If you could bottle the team spirit of that side. Even Pep Guardiola wouldn’t mind a bit of that. It does feel at times these days like you’re hiring mercenaries from around the world” he says standing on the red carpet of the art deco Holloway Odeon.
“The idea of building something, bringing people through feels impossible now. It’s a shame nowadays there seems to a demand for instant results all the time.
“For many of us even though we loved Arsene Wenger and Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieria the period around 1989 with the team being made up of half the youth team was our favourite time supporting the club.”
And what a time it was.
George Graham’s young guns were flowering. Despite the tedious and incorrect labels attached to them of ‘Boring Boring Arsenal’ the team were leading scorers in 1989 and 1991 with forward Alan Smith clinching the Golden Boot awarded to the highest-scoring player in the top flight – twice.
The 1988-89 season has been excellently covered in fiction through fellow Arsenal fan Nick Hornby’s iconic Fever Pitch book and film.
But the documentary 1989 The Film treats that never-to-be-forgotten season as non-fiction.
The good-natured Davies spoke about the season which started on a blazing hot day in south-west London with a 5-1 victory over Wimbledon – note not MK Dons – at cramped Plough Lane.
“The team felt really balanced and steady and stable. Everyone wanted to play for each other. Everyone was played in their correct position.
“There didn’t seem to be any weak spots. Square pegs were played in square holes.
“They’d shown a bit of promise in the seasons before when they’d gone on long unbeaten runs and got some decent results but that 5-1 laid a marker for that season”, he recalls.
With a twinkle in his eye and a ready smile he added: “The best view in the away end at Plough Lane was in the toilets. When you’re in the urinal you got a proper view of the game. People were taking ages as they wanted to watch the game in the loos.”
Wimbledon virtually bookended the season as the second from last match was also against the Dons of South London. Against who Arsenal had thrown away two vital points at Highbury the week before the tumultuous climax at Anfield.
He recalls: “We thought we’d blown it after Wimbledon and Derby. Dean Saunders was a proper thorn in our side and then came the despair of drawing with Wimbledon.”
But the club’s young tyros in David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Steve Bould, Martin Hayes and others had shown what they were capable of throughout the season.
Not least during the five games Graham’s men played against Liverpool – including the trio of hard-fought ties in the League Cup third round.
The 51-year-old Davies – who it has to be said could pass for a decade or two younger – explained: “I remember after the replay at Villa Park when Liverpool had beaten us 2-1 in the second replay in the League Cup third round there was a feeling that the natural order had been restored. We had been slapped down.
“But with Rocky’s great goal in the first match at Anfield we had shown them we could compete. We could match them. There had been a tight draw in the league. And if you remember the Mercantile Credit Classic when we played and beat Liverpool at Highbury.”
The Mercantile Credit Centenary Classic.
One of those tournaments like the Watney Cup and Texaco Cup which is a strange, unfathomable footnote in English football accumulating dust on a high shelf, only to be brought out on special occasions as a curio.
But to some Arsenal fans of a certain vintage it was a lodestone to future glories. Such as Davies.
He said: “We’d beaten Liverpool in the Mercantile 2-1 through a stunning goal from Brian Marwood – who played once for England, against Saudi Arabia in a friendly.
“And I remember thinking we’ve beaten Liverpool and not quite believing it. Even if it was just in the Mercantile Credit Centenary Classic.”
It was only later I realised a man known and loved by millions was talking about an obscure football tournament we had both attended in 1988. And not only talking about it but had brought it up first.
That should be your litmus test for any ‘celebrity’ who claims to be an Arsenal fan from now on.
For if they can speak knowledgeably about the Mercantile Credit Centenary Classic played in the autumn of 1988 then they can safely call themselves a Gooner.
One game Davies is focussing on is Saturday’s North London derby.
Spurs are in the ascendancy and questions are again being asked about a possible shift of power between Arsenal and Spurs.
“The 89 side would scare the life out of the current Arsenal side. The organisation, the desire. They would have to play on an 89 pitch because the pitch at Highbury was a mudbath. If you wonder why the ball was in the air a lot back then it was because the ball wouldn’t roll in a straight line.”
Warming to his theme Davies talks about a player who has scored six goals in six games against Wenger’s Arsenal – Harry Kane.
“The Kane situation ‘kills’ Arsenal fans because he was at the club when he was nine and they let him go.
“You get the feeling we’ll be conceding goals in North London derbies to Harry Kane until we’re all dead.”
Despite Saturday’s match being too close to call, Davies passionately discusses team selection. He might be standing on a red carpet when we speak but what he says wouldn’t be out of place in a humble pre-match pub somewhere down a North London side-street.
“We all want to see Jack Wilshere back in the side and hopefully he can earn a place in the starting XI. I wish Alex Iwobi was playing too.
“To see the excitement against Norwich City in the League Cup when Eddie Nketiah came through and scored two goals – that is something.
“And that’s what Tottenham have with Kane. And there’s nothing quite like having one of your own come through and represent your club.”
Talking of one of your own, Davies shares his favourite Arsenal match of all time – which just happens to be this correspondent’s too.
Wednesday March 4, 1987. Spurs v Arsenal Littlewoods Cup semi-final replay at White Hart Lane. The half-time announcer at the Lane that night told Spurs fans how to get their tickets for Wembley. I know because I heard it with my own ears. As did Tony Adams who told me the same thing in a recent interview.
I ask him what he thinks of my theory that beating Spurs that night in 1987 was the catalyst for Anfield 89 and by extension the making of the modern Arsenal.
Because if Graham’s side hadn’t beaten them they wouldn’t have had the belief to lift their first trophy – against Liverpool in the final of the 1987 Littlewoods Cup. Meaning two years down the line Anfield 89 simply wouldn’t have happened.
Davies adds with a smile at the fond memory of how an Arsenal side came back against all the odds to win at the home of a fierce rival.
“That game against Spurs is still my favourite match. I’d turned 21 a few days later and that was the best week of my life. I was at all three of those games and the final.
“The way the team played for each other was amazing.”
As the interview draws to an end and I thank Davies for his time and cheekily ask if he’d be interested in doing a longer piece for the paper and Arsenal fanzine The Gooner. But there is one last question.
What did he do after Arsenal had won at Anfield to clinch the league title?
“I didn’t have a ticket so I watched it at home.”
And after the final whistle went?
“I went out afterwards covered in beer. Headed over to Upper Street and celebrated.”
As he moved to walk away he added poignantly, “That night felt like the start of something special.”
89 tells the incredible story of one of football’s greatest triumphs when Arsenal snatched the Championship title from Liverpool at Anfield in the last minute of the last game of the 1988-89 season.
Mixing archive and previously unseen footage with revealing interviews, insights and memories from the original squad, game officials, fans and the people who were there on the night this is the definitive account of a watershed moment in football and a must-watch for any sports fan.
In OurScreen.com cinemas and on DVD and Digital Download from November 20.
At 8pm on Friday, November 17 the official Twitter account @89TheFilm will live tweet the match that made history. Follow the account and join in.
For more on where to watch the film visit www.ourscreen.com/film/89.