Arsenal’s 12th man: Danson in the dark at Highbury

Source: Rankopedia

My first notion was to direct visiting Arsenal supporters immediately to Tom Watt’s great interview. On second thoughts, they should go there only after a quick look at Pete Sixsmith‘s amusing reminiscences on a past Arsenal v SAFC encounter enlivened – even if Pete’s detail may be open to question – by a man for whom the chant “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing” may well have been composed …

Paul Danson. Remember him? Premier League referee from the mid 90s. Came from Leicester; refereed the game at Highbury in September 1996.

That’s the one. Useless little sod who sent off Martin Scott and Paul Stewart before half time for absolutely nothing and left us trying to defend as best we could with nine men. A game never to be forgotten in the annals of Great Crimes Perpetrated on Sunderland AFC.

This was the first Peter Reid team to be promoted. In many ways, it was the most enjoyable of promotions, done on a shoestring and with honest players like the aforementioned Scott, Steve Agnew, Craig Russell and Micky Gray.

We had started the season off reasonably well and by the time we went to Highbury, we were looking to consolidate and move forward (as the best management speak has it). It was a railway trip, organised by Sobs and the much missed Derek Poskett and included myself, Mr Horan and Mike Amos, doyen of North East columnists (but unforgivably an Arsenal supporter – ed). It turned into a legendary afternoon out.

As usual, we assembled in the Lamb in Bloomsbury and sampled several pints of Wandsworth’s finest beers. A short tube ride to Arsenal, a quick sing up the narrow passage that leads from the platform to the Booking Hall and then into the streets teeming with Arsenal and Sunderland fans.

Arsenal v Sunderland is a very evocative fixture. Their record crowd was 73,000 against us in 1935, when we were just about to usurp them as England’s No 1 club and over the years there have been some great clashes between the two. The ghosts of Chapman and Murray, Shackleton and Kelsey loomed over Avenell Road as kick off approached.

For some reason, Mr Horan and I had seats in the Arsenal section of the West Stand. I think Mike Armitage, the secretary of Shildon FC and an FA councillor had managed to get them for us. Great bloke Mike; his tragically early death left a huge gap in North East non-league football. So, after several libations, we took our seats and placed them on the wooden tip ups provided and settled down to watch the game.

Media eyes were on this game as it was Arsène Wenger’s first game at Highbury after his arrival from Japan. He was an unknown quantity then. Nobody knew of his remarkable propensity to miss blindingly obvious penalties or fouls committed by his players. He seemed an aloof and professorial Frenchman in direct contrast to the earthy Scouse wit of Peter Reid.

The game trundled along without much happening until Paul Danson decided to take a hand. He had already booked Martin Scott and then decided to show him a second yellow for an innocuous tackle. Much complaining from us two, surrounded as we were by Arsenal fans, who had some sympathy for us.

It got worse, when, just before half time, he sent Paul Stewart off for “deliberate handball”, when the ball clearly hit his hand and he could do nothing to get out of the way of it (may even have been fouled by Steve Bould, causing ball to hit hand – ed). Reidy complained and was sent to behind the huge Highbury dugouts to smoulder and fester for the rest of the game.

Which is more than Pete Horan and I did. We went to the toilet, complaining loud and long and upsetting some Arsenal fans who were clearly not the Monty and Rupert types we have come to associate with Ashburton Grove. As we kicked the toilet doors in frustration, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and bunked off back to the Lamb.

We spent the second half supping pints of Young’s Bitter, sipping glasses of Black Bush and chatting to the relief manager who came from, of all places, Close House, Co Durham. As the rest of the group joined us, we heard that we had put up a sterling display, but the strength and power of 11 against nine was just too much.

It was a boozy journey home. Derek gave us several renditions of That’s Amore and a good selection of Beatles songs before we rolled off the train and into No 22 in Coniscliffe Road. I remember waking up the next morning feeling a little delicate.

As a result of this fiasco, Danson was stood down and then removed from the Premier League list at the end of the season. He continued to cause havoc in the Football League for another eight years before they lost patience with him and demoted him to Assistant Referee where he remained for another season, before dropping back into well deserved obscurity.

On Saturday, we have Anthony Taylor. He sent Lee Cattermole off in the season’s opener against Arsenal’s conquerors, Birmingham City. Here’s hoping he doesn’t start Danson in the Dark at The Emirates.

Finally, have you ever seen anything on a football field as unpleasant as El Hadj Diouf? Even Rangers deserve better than a reptilelike him.

* see image in context (a table of worst refs in which he is placed 22nd) by visiting this Rankopedia link

7 thoughts on “Arsenal’s 12th man: Danson in the dark at Highbury”

  1. “it was Arsène Wenger’s first game at Highbury after his arrival from Japan.”

    Only partially true. Wenger didn’t take over, iirc, until the following Monday.

  2. “Finally, have you ever seen anything on a football field as unpleasant as El Hadj Diouf?”

    We used to get dog excrement on our school pitch when I was a nipper. Does that count?

  3. I remember Paul Danson well indeed Salut. He impressed me hugely in his handling of that game, so much so that I posted his address and telephone number (courtesy of BT) on the blackcats list, so that other SAFC fans could give him a call or drop him a line to congratulate him on the wonderful job he was doing. Not sure how many of our supporters got in touch with him, but I’m sure that a lot of them will have kept in touch with him over the intervening decade and a half.

  4. Colin, you should remind your daughter that Vieira actually broke Darren Williams’s nose, so it probably stung a bit!

    See you in the Lamb, Pete

  5. Great write up… enjoyed very much, from a gooner. West Stand was a bit hit and miss. I’ve sat in there with a mix of away and home. Normally without any problems. Southampton supporters were the worst!

  6. … and my southern-born daughter, for whom SAFC come no higher than second or third in allegiance (failed as a father; she supports Liverpool) still laughs when she remembers Darren Williams going down as if mortally wounded by gunfire and getting Patrick Vieira sent off.

    Should have said: all comments, from SAFC and non-SAFC supporters alike, welcome within reason, but if you are posting for the first time, spam resistance means a short delay for moderation (a grand way of saying I get to see it first).

  7. Nice piece. Think u got us back in the last two games at your place with the ’12th man’ refusing to blow the final whistle until you’ve equalised! Enjoy the game.

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