By Sean-Paul Reilly
I remember being 8 years old, and sitting in front of the telly: I remember looking at the crucifix on the wall, and my brother sitting next to me. I vaguely remember the game itself, but most of all, I remember my dad watching.
He was an Arsenal fan, which meant I was an Arsenal fan too, despite the best efforts of my aunt, a Spurs season ticket holder (Boo! hiss!). Arsenal were playing the 2nd leg of a cup winners cup semi-final against Sampdoria, and the tie was heading towards penalties – I had even been allowed to stay up late such was the importance of the occasion.
The game had been a roller coaster of ups and downs. My dad had been absorbed from the beginning, bemoaning every bad pass (of which under Graham there were a few), kicking every ball and making every tackle. It had enraptured me and I wanted to join in, to be a part of this hysteria.
“NO! NO! NOOO!!!”
The two games had seen a flood of goals: it was 5-5 on aggregate and Arsenal had been heading out until a dramatic late free kick equaliser from Stefan Schwarz had forced extra time, but even that did little to lift my dad’s spirits. In fact, it seemed to prolong the agony.
His face was red, eyes staring intently., fists clenched.
“McGOLDRICK! YOU ARE USELESS!!!”
Eddie McGoldrick. The name would go down in family folklore; a name now synonymous with rage, anger and being useless. Most have a footballer who causes them untold anguish by being rather crap, the mere sight of whom is a catalyst for vitriol and the scapegoat of their broken dreams.
McGoldrick was my dad’s. Whatever he touched in my dad’s eyes, always turned to shit. My dad would rage like an old testament prophet, howling doom and destruction whenever McGoldrick touched the ball.
The Egyptians were plagued with frogs and locusts.: my father was plagued with Eddie McGoldrick.
“We ALWAYS Lose on penalties!!”
Extra time came and went. My dad sat, head in hands on the sofa. my mum looking at him warily. Brian Moore was speculating about possible takers and I remember being agitated, more so than I had been watching a match before. It had been drummed into me from the telly and everyone around that penalties were a lottery – a 50-50 chance, a toss of a coin. What could I do to help? What could anyone? It was just down to luck. Maybe if I prayed? Would Jesus help? Was he allowed to?
I looked up at the crucifix and wondered if Jesus was hearing my silent prayers. I had my doubts though; he was probably a United fan like everyone else. After abandoning Jesus, I turned towards the screen and put my faith in the last saviour left, the big moustached Yorkshireman in goal. He was the gentle giant, a mythical goalkeeper with Jedi-like reflexes and intuition – SEAMAN. He could do it.
“I can’t watch…..”
Dixon strode up for the first one…he scored! I smiled, my dad remained unmoved. I didn’t know who Siniša Mihajlovic was at the time, but it wouldn’t be his last run in with an Arsenal team in Europe. He looked angry. Seaman stood upright on the line. The left footed shot was viciously hit, but Seaman saved!!!
Mihajlovic looked slightly stunned, so did my dad. His face became softer, a hint of a smile crept over his face: could it be, could we actually win? I allowed myself to believe it, and I think my dad did too. But then he saw who was holding the ball…..
Eddie McGoldrick placed the ball on the spot. My dad started shaking his head.
“MCGOLDRICK!? He’s going to miss, I know he’s going to miss, I KNOW IT”
His hand was on his face, staring intently, the glimmer of a smile having now retreated.
McGoldrick’s run up was enormous; he didn’t run to the ball, he sprinted at full speed.
McGoldrick hit it…..over the bar.
“I KNEW IT!! I BLOODY KNEW IT!”
My dad then said a naughty word. I stared at the telly, my gaze undeviating. There would be no forgiveness for McGoldrick: his fate was sealed forever and I would never forget his name.
My dad looked a broken, exhausted man. His eyes were closed and he was taking deep breaths.
Seaman, however remained unbroken. Not content with already saving one, he expertly dived low and saved the next as well. – Arsenal were still ahead!
The next four penalties were all scored and Arsenal were leading 3-2. Both teams had one left each, then onto sudden death (a scary thought for an 8 year old). If Paul Merson scored the next one, Arsenal would go through to the final.
“Come on…just one more”
Just one more scored penalty and the suffering would be over. No more Sampdoria, no more penalties and no more McGoldrick (for tonight at least!). All Merson had to do was score.
The partisan crowd roared with delight. My dad left the room and muffled shouts could be heard coming from the hall. That could have been the last straw. Paul Merson might have killed my dad.
The bald Sampdorian player – Atillo Lombardo – had the ball. He looked like a bald eagle, which was ironic as he would later play for a team of eagles. My dad looked on tentatively; there was still hope as the saviour, Seaman, wasn’t finished yet.
The ball was struck well, but Seaman threw out a big right arm and made a fantastic save. The game was won! Arsenal were through.
I jumped up and cried out in joy. I ran to my dad and gave him a hug, so did my brother. My dads face was beaming. He was back. The anger and frustration had vanished, replaced by happiness and relief. We hugged, and danced around the room, my relieved and slightly bemused mother watching on.
It was an amazing feeling, a football joy I don’t remember experiencing before then. Even though Arsenal would lose in heartbreaking fashion to that Nayim goal in the final, this game was where it began, this game was the start for me. The start of the football addiction.
You can follow Sean-Paul on twitter (@spreilly86) as well as read his posts on The Football Express.