It started as a harmless gag on the Blackcats list. E-mails from the list’s subscribers – located in various corners of the world – have been suffering delay or gone missing or arrived out of sequence .. you name the problem and the list has had it.
On the west coast of America, an exiled Mackem thought he’d get his verdict in early on Arsenal in case the loop crashed altogether or contrived to exclude some of its subscribers before we even had a chance to record another defeat.
“Just in case we do all get kicked off again, can I just say now that the performance against Arsenal was an embarrassment and that I expected better when Bruce took over?”
Somehow, via a few other offerings that took up the theme (“Jones was awful”, “what was Cana thinking of with that tackle?”), we got on to that day in when the Gunners needed Paul Danson’s help to beat us 2-0.
It was Reidy’s relegation season, 1996-97, and we hadn’t actually gone to Highbury with any great expectations. When Danson, who was meant to be referee, decided it was time to play his part as Arsenal’s 12th man, our fate was sealed.
He thoroughly enjoyed himself, sending off Martin Scott for two moderately poor challenges (other refs might have given him the benefit of the doubt and let him off the second with a final warning) and Paul Stewart for a second yellow, awarded after someone – Steve Bould? – climbed so comprehensively over him that his arm went up and accidentally struck the ball.
Our nine men played most of the rest of the game entirely in their own half. The ball would come forward, we’d kick it out. Arsenal; would attack, nine men would repel them.
Inevitably, the Gunners wore us down and scored two late goals – though Michael Bridges had a chance to equalise after the first of them.
Danson’s performance was so dismal that there was even talk some time later of withdrawing him from a game involving us on the ludicrous grounds that the loathing we felt for him might translate into something nasty.
I suppose having two sent off – rightly as it happens – at Pompey refreshed memories. Some fans found that match an oddly entertaining spectacle, but that sounds to me like gallows humour. I recall Pete Sixsmith and Pete Horan disappearing in disgust at half time to renew acquaintance with Young’s finest bitter.
On paper, Arsenal; shouldn’t need a Paul Danson ref-alike tomorrow. But wouldn’t if be nice we we got one for a change, and the Gunners suffered the indignity of a home defeat strongly influenced by two sendings off and a blatantly offside goal set up and converted by a Spurs trio of Steed Malbranque, Alan Hutton and Darren Bent?
Or better still, a reproduction of another relegation season visit to Highbury? That was in the league cup in 2002, when the Gooners (or reserves) played well enough, went two up in the first half but succumbed to our reserves’ three second half goals – just a month after a 3-1 defeat there in the Premier had ended Peter Reid’s reign.