Glorious trip down memory lane as Kanu’s treble and Robert Pires help Arsenal Legends beat Milan Glorie 4-2 at Emirates sellout
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
An Arsenal Legends team beat a Milan Glorie team 4-2 on Saturday at a sold-out Emirates as Layth Yousif takes a trip down memory lane.
The boy clutched his father’s hand as he walked along the bridge to The Emirates before a team of Arsenal Legends played Milan Glorie. As he turned the corner towards the state-of-the-art new stadium and his first look at the outside of his field of dreams his face lit up.
His dad, an old school fan if ever there was one – forearms like hams, the odd tattoo, and not a club shop plastic bag in sight – tousled his hair and looked down kindly at his boy. ‘Here we are’ he said quietly, but secretly delighted at the young lad sharing his passion.
“They’ll be some heroes out there today’, he added, more to himself than his son.
He wasn’t wrong.
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The mind wandered on being handed the teamsheet. Evocative names prompting glorious deeds on cold nights to warm the soul.
Just saying them in a litany provoked a glow to put to a smile on a cynical hack and long-term Gooner alike.
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David Seaman, Nigel Winterburn, Martin Keown, Kolo Toure, Robert Pires, Marc Overmars, Ray Parlour, Emmanuel Petit, and Gilberto started.
Just mouthing those words would be enough for some devotees as backs-to-the-wall-victories against all the odds were recalled – as well as battling qualities on freezing northern nights when the boys from The Arsenal confounded those who thought all Londoners were southern softies.
I don’t have to even mention any of those never-to-be-forgotten games many of us went to throughout the 80s and 90s – you’ll all have your favourites. Or those god-awful away days where nothing went right – on or off the pitch some weekends – but the memory of which have morphed into fond reminisces through multiple retelling over time.
And for many in the crowd, Saturday was all about remembering those glorious times. When the team had a true camaraderie and players identified with the fans.
You didn’t come to see the football. You came to see The Arsenal.
Arsenal legends to be precise.
True Arsenal men one and all. Who stood for – and continue to stand for – the old Arsenal motto: “Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent.”
An ethos so faithfully delivered by Red and White heroes such as the late, great David Rocastle. Who was also a personal friend to many of the Arsenal team at the weekend.
As for the football. Well, like an old rock band who reform for one more time on the road, you know you’re not getting that first passionate, unforgettable explosion of excitement and passion combined with youth – yours and theirs.
In tough times you’re getting you’re getting a comforting does of nostalgia and a remembrance of times past.
So when Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires and Marc Overmars combined for an early shot – my word how even writing that sentence made my throat catch – the sellout crowd lapped it up. This wasn’t a poor tribute act at a backstreet dive, this was The Stones at Wembley, albeit years after their prime.
This was an afternoon strictly for Arsenal fans. Nothing else mattered. It was our own private function. So when a tiring Ray Parlour was substituted for Giles Grimandi after all of five minutes the man on the PA deadpanned ‘Parlour’s disappeared’, before the whole crowd laughed.
After Invincibles’ metronome Gilberto – who flew all the way from Brazil for this reunion of old pals and jolly good company – made way for Kanu you were transported back 17 years to his Stamford Bridge hattrick. When he sold Chelsea keeper Ed de Goey the most outrageous dummy to make it 3-2 on a wet and windy autumn afternoon.
With that magical memory in mind it was unsurprising the big man scored on 26 minutes within seconds of coming on – with a well-aimed header past the giant Italian goalkeeper Christian Abbiati – who only retired from Serie A action in May.
Even the score was evocative. One-Nil-To-The-Arsenal.
And as Marc Overmars raced down the flank – well, ran as fast as a once Flying Dutchman in his 40s can these days – the mind flashed back to a momentous lunchtime at Old Trafford in 1998.
Back in the days when the whole world stopped to watch Manchester United v Arsenal games, Arsene Wenger won doubles as a matter of course and Tottenham Hotspur weren’t even good enough to flatter to deceive.
Unlike that raw March day 18 years ago, Saturday’s version of Overmars dragged his shot wide. But it didn’t matter. Not in the slightest.
Even a Martian could sense the love as he was replaced by another legend for those of a certain vintage, Anders Limpar, as the whole stadium rose to warmly applaud both men who played such short but pivotal roles in Arsenal’s history. The reception proved the old adage: ‘Once an Arsenal man always an Arsenal man.’
Milan equalised through Christian Vieri shortly after to make it 1-1. The response was heart-warming as the whole crowd sang David Seaman’s name to console him. The great keeper, a footballing giant in every sense of the word, gave a rueful smile as many immediately recalled perhaps his finest hour, away to Sampdoria and the ear-splitting noise of the Luigi Ferrara stadium in April 1995 in the European Cup Winners Cup semi-final – weeks before his nemesis Nayim broke all our hearts on a hot and steamy night in Paris.
It was like old times as Jens Lehman seamlessly replaced Seaman during the break. And when ‘Nutty’ Nigel hounded Paolo Di Canio around the centre of the park you almost felt like you were back at Sheffield Wednesday on the day the Italian lost his head, and threatened to take off our Nigel’s.
You were also reminded The Arsenal Foundation will donate £1,000,000 to build football pitches in London, Jordan and Somalia. Which can only be a good thing, for everyone, everwhere.
When substitutes started to replace substitutes it was a telling reminder time waits for no man, not even our footballing legends.
The pace which was already understandably slow faded to walking pace.
And why not? No-one had anything to prove, not even the opposition, so when the Mexican Wave started up you knew the day was meaningless in football terms. But priceless in terms of nostalgia.
A second Kanu header made it 2-1 with fewer than 20 minutes remaining before super Bobby Pires was felled after a jinxing run by Massimo Ambrosini with 11 minutes remaining.
As someone who was there to witness Kanu’s unforgettable treble at Chelsea it was nice to see him slot the penalty away for another one to make it 3-1.
And when Freddie played in super Bobby Pires to make it 4-1 I nearly had a catch in my throat at the memories it brought back.
Jens Lehman had time to save a Vieri penalty, showing his Teutonic reflexes haven’t dulled as much as some today, by nearly blocking the forward’s second attempt. The ball did its best to avoid entering the net but to no-one’s real displeasure it did, and the game ended 4-2.
The hunt for Premier League points starts again next weekend and we can all get back to normal.
But tomorrow and the future can wait. Saturday was all about the past.
As the old school Gooner said to his son before the match: ‘They’ll be some heroes out there today.’
He was right. They all were.
And to the 60,000 in attendance, and countless millions around the globe they still are – and always will be.
Seaman (c) (Lehman h-t), Winterburn, Keown, Toure, Pires, Ljungberg (Boa Morte, 35), Overmars (Limpar, 35), Parlour (Grimandi, five minutes), Emmanuel Petit, Gilberto (Kanu 23), Justin Hoyte.
Abbiati, Cafu, Albertini (Carbone 30), Costacurta (c), Di Canio, Desailly (Eranio 41), Favalli, Boban, (Simeone 35), Ambrosini, Serginho, Vieri.
Referee: Howard Webb.