PHIL WITHALL fondly, and begrudgingly, recalls an Arsenal goal which benefitted his beloved Norwich City
When I started thinking about this piece my mind automatically went through the showreel of Norwich City moments. Fashanu against Liverpool with his ridiculously casual celebration. Robert Fleck at the Old Den. Jeremy Goss against Bayern Munich, Leeds, or some other unfortunate side that encountered him during his peak. Then I remembered a goal that was pivotal in the history of the club, a goal scored in a match between two sides that took place after Norwich’s season had already ended.
1992, as we are constantly reminded, heralded a new dawn with the inception of the Premier League. It also saw Norwich enjoy their most successful league season, finishing third in the inaugural table. The campaign started with a come-from-behind win away to Arsenal, and ended with a highly entertaining 3-3 draw at Ayresome Park.
In the pre-Champions League era, when only national champions qualified for the European Cup, there were three spots for lesser European competitions. The league runners-up, as well as the winners of the two domestic cups, qualified for the UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup. Norwich needed the same side to win both domestic cups to qualify for Europe for the first time. Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday had already contested the League Cup final, with the London side winning 2-1. Fortunately for Norwich the same two sides would meet in the FA Cup final, placing City fans in the rather uncomfortable position of wanting Arsenal to win a game of football.
Wembley has hosted many epic battles over the years, with great individual performances and rousing team displays played out in the shadows of the Twin Towers. The four-hour war of attrition and, as the Times report of the replay eloquently put it ‘thuggery’, were a far cry from those exulted heights. Following a 1-1 draw in the original tie the two sides met for the fifth time that season to find a winner in the replay.
The omens weren’t good for the Yorkshire side, with heavy rain and a 17-mile traffic jam on the M1 delaying the arrival of many of their supporters. With kick-off pushed back 30 minutes to wait for the late arrivals, the smallest crowd for a Wembley FA Cup final were treated to a game that was short on quality but high in late drama.
Arsenal took the lead in the first-half, through Ian Wright, and Chris Waddle equalised after 68 minutes. The referee, Keren Barratt, had been criticised for his performance in the first match. As a former player, he tended to let players get away with challenges that merited bookings, and gave yellow cards to players that deserved sending off. In the 19th minute, Mark Bright jumped with Andy Linighan and used his elbow to reconstruct the Arsenal player’s face, receiving just a yellow card from the lenient referee. Linighan would exact a perfect revenge.
The score was level after 90 minutes, following the pattern of the first match. Wednesday had the better of extra time but were unable to find a way past the resolute Arsenal defence. And then there came the moment that wouldn’t have got past a script editor.
Andy Linighan had left Norwich in the summer of 1990 for just over £1 million. He’d struggled to find a starting spot in the Arsenal side that was filled with internationals but injuries had given him an opportunity and the much-maligned defender would take his chance. With a little over a minute remaining, and the prospect of a penalty shoot-out looming, Linighan would score a goal that was wonderfully descriptive of the style of George Graham’s Arsenal side – simple, straightforward and uncomplicated.
Arsenal won a corner on the left-hand side, Paul Merson flung the ball across and the broken and bruised defender timed his run into the area to perfection. Jumping later and higher than his marker Linighan connected well with the ball, but his header went straight at Chris Woods in the Wednesday goal. It should have been a routine save but Woods failed to grasp the ball, only succeeding in pushing it up and over his head and into the goal. Heartbreak and euphoria in a single moment.
Chris Woods and Andy Linighan never played together at Norwich but in that moment, they combined to give their former side one of the most important goals in the clubs’ history. It wasn’t the most spectacular goal ever scored and it didn’t actively involve the club I support but it is one of the most precious goals I have had the pleasure of seeing. It ranks as highly as any scored by Fashanu, Fleck, Goss or any of the others that have graced the Carrow Road pitch.