I’m delighted to welcome Simon Furnivall as a guest poster on CoA. A Liverpool fan, here he talks about how Michael Thomas broke his five-year-old heart. Enjoy.
“Thomas, it’s up for grabs now!”
Those words still hurt me. I was just shy of my sixth birthday, but I still remember it as if it were yesterday. The crushing disappointment, the broken heart of a sports fan, to my dying day I will never be able to forgive Arsenal for inflicting that pain.
My first memory of anything to do with football is the 1988 FA Cup final. As the son of a man who grew up on the Kop, a man who had been at Heysel, the fact that I was born in Leeds was not going to have any say on the matter, I was destined to be Red through and through. I was told stories of the glory days of league titles and European Cups, I grew up safe in the knowledge that Liverpool were the greatest team in history.
Lawrie f***ing Sanchez fairly quickly shattered that illusion. But it mattered not, we were still league champions, still the best. I don’t remember much of the detail of the ’88-’89 season – save for the fact that I fell deeply in love with John Barnes – but May 26th 1989 is burned on my memory, and you’re crazy if you think I had to look up that date.
Back in those days a live televised match still generated excitement. We had won the FA Cup just six days earlier – a cathartic moment after the horrors of Hillsborough – and I remember the thrill of anticipation growing throughout the day.
My dad was working away for the day, down in Oxford or some such place, and wasn’t going to be back in time for kick off. We had arranged that my mum would tape the game and when my dad got home he would get me up and we would watch it together, ‘as live’.
Being a cheeky little b*****d, however, I spent the entire evening after getting home from school bugging my mum to let me watch the game live, then again when my dad got home. Eventually she gave in, but first made me promise that I wouldn’t let on that I knew the score.
Despite my tender years, I fully grasped the fact that Arsenal had to beat us 2-0, and just how unlikely that was. I had grown up with ‘This is Anfield’ still putting the fear of God into opposing sides, and we simply didn’t lose at home.
A goalless first half and things were looking rosy. Two seasons and two titles and an FA Cup, my football supporting career was getting off to a pretty good start. Even Alan Smith’s 52nd minute header didn’t overly perturb me. I was soon back to thinking everything was rosy and lifting my imaginary league trophy to the sky.
At some point towards the end of the game I had started doing laps of honour around the living room. I was probably jogging past the imaginary Kemlyn Road stand in my front room when Brian Moore uttered his immortal line; I certainly wasn’t looking at the TV. I turned round just in time to see the ball rolling back out of the net and Michael Thomas doing his weird backflip celebration as hundred of Liverpool fans streamed out of the exits behind him.
The immediate feeling was one of utter betrayal. Liverpool won league titles, they didn’t lose them. Liverpool won at Anfield, they didn’t lose by two goals in matches of monumental importance. I couldn’t quite process what had happened, other than to explode in a flood of tears.
My mum comforted me then shepherded me off to bed, but I couldn’t settle. I got back up and wandered around, eventually sitting at the top of the stairs, tears still streaming down my cheeks. When my dad walked in the front door, the first thing he was was me, inconsolable, and he instantly knew what had happened. To this day he has never watched that game.
It is said that it’s the hard times which define us as sports fans. They bring us together, and it is certainly having tasted the lows that make the highs all the more enjoyable. Twenty-two years later, however, the pain is still as raw as it was then. No matter how much beautiful football Arsenal now play, no matter that Thomas went on to score in the 1992 FA Cup Final in a Liverpool shirt, I will never be able to forgive them for the day that Michael Thomas broke my heart.