I confess. I have an irrational dislike of Terry Conroy. For the uninitiated, Conroy was an Irish international who played for Stoke in the 1970s. It wasn’t his ginger hair, suitably unkempt as was the style in that era; it’s just whichever picture of him I saw, the inevitable rain made his kit look grey with red stripes. If Stoke was that bad, no wonder Alan Hudson could not wait to get out of there, or so my pre-teen mind reasoned. Utterly irrational.
Dean Saunders? My dislike of him stems from this day in 1989. Arsenal were top, five points clear of Liverpool, albeit having played a game more, with the trip to Anfield in less than a fortnight. Two home games in the interim, wins needed in both to ensure that a point would be enough to make Arsenal champions for the first time in 18 years.
Saunders put Derby into a two-goal lead, seemingly intent on securing his stereotypical Welsh-forward-dream-move-to-Liverpool on this afternoon. Liverpool’s win at Plough Lane closed the gap to two points; Arsenal could not emulate that at Highbury against Wimbledon less than a week later. Everything led to…well, you know.
I didn’t have a ticket for Anfield at this point yet this result offered my first true encounter with the lack of faith that seems to haunt some Arsenal supporters. Understandable in that it was the first real hope of being champions in a generation. The mood post-match was sombre, Saunders had punctured the hope. Two acquaintances were moping over their pints in the bar at Waterloo; I forget it’s name – a balcony affair above the main concourse. The Balcony Bar is probably its’ name.
Bemoaning the result, they offered the opinion that going to Anfield was a waste of time, wishing that they had never bought tickets for it. The solution was at hand; my friend Neil and I would relieve them of the tickets for face value and a pint. We had not one jot of an idea about what the future held, just that the Friday night session on 26th May would be in Liverpool rather than our hometown of Guildford. Oh, and a League title might be won. Larry, our chaffeur for that late May evening, was more worried about coming back with wheels and hubcaps intact.
In a way I suppose I ought to thank Saunders. What is still the greatest night of my footballing life would have been via a television screen rather than in the flesh. I’m sorry I can’t remember the two acquantainces names; I’d put out a shout so I could buy them a drink.
You would think that I would forgive Saunders for unintentionally instigating a chain of events from which I benefitted. No chance, the loathing diminished but never went away. After all, if I forgive Saunders, Conroy would be next to receive a pardon and that would never do.