Kempes, Dainton and shattered Arsenal Heysel dreams

Did I imagine it? Did I, as a naive 15-year-old, dream it? Has the truth mysteriously melded with fiction and legend in the intervening years since that horrible night in Brussels?

You see, I am convinced I saw Dainton swipe the silverware from Argentinian star Mario Kempes as he tried to board the Valencia team bus after we lost to the Spaniards on penalties in the 1980 Cup Winner’s Cup final at the now infamous Heysel Stadium.

In my mind’s eye, I can see him running off down the road with sweating security guards and assorted Spaniards hot on his trail. But the rare clarity of mind I enjoy these days shrouds my telling of these events in doubt. It is most unlikely isn’t it?

And yet…

What is painfully accurate, however, is the fact that I had just tearfully witnessed Terry Neill’s Arsenal lose out on the chance of obtaining a second pot in five days in the cruellest manner possible: the penalty shootout.

It was particularly unpalatable given that we had missed out on the FA Cup when Trevor Brooking stooped to conquer and headed home past Pat Jennings to give West Ham a 1-0 win on the Saturday. But so what? Brooking was not going to be a harbinger of doom. No way. I remember being gracious in defeat on the train home to Sussex from the Twin Towers because we were off to Belgium to win a European trophy for the first time for ten years.

Lady Luck had to be on our side after we’d overcome the Old Lady of Turin. We had reached the final by becoming the first British team to beat Juventus on their own patch when sub Paul Vaessen (RIP) snatched a vital 88th minute away goal in the second leg of the semi-final after we drew 1-1 with the Italians at Highbury. We won 2-1 on aggregate and surely glory awaited?

It wasn’t to be. Poor Graham Rix was blamed in some quarters after his missed effort handed the trophy to Valencia, but lost in the mists of time is the fact that the great Liam Brady also failed to convert his kick.

The climactic conclusion was too much for me and I was blubbing like a baby by the time the players came to console us as we applauded them from the crumbling terraces that just six years later were to have such a devastating impact in the death of 39 fans in the Heysel disaster.

As the tears rolled down my cheeks I was offered succour from John Hollins, who had come on for David Price during extra time and scored a penalty and was now facing me, bootless and shirtless as I recall having tossed his kit to the supporters. “We’ll win every fucking thing for you lot next season,” he assured me as he hung from the fence that surrounded the end. Of course, they didn’t.

As I mentioned, the defeat was hard to handle. But, arguably, worse was to come. That night in Brussels was scary. Or, at least, it was scary for me. Let me explain. The lads with whom I had travelled to the Belgian capital in a mini-bus from Bognor Regis were all older than me and let us say they liked a drink and weren’t too overly concerned about the angst of a spotty teenager.

Our travelling party didn’t have the luxury of accommodation and it was every man for himself to find a spot to sleep in the 16-seater vehicle. At around 2 a.m., one of the more brutish housed therein decided that he didn’t have enough room and, applying his own crude method of Social Darwinism, duly evicted me.

This was bad. Very bad. All night there had been running battles between locals, Arsenal fans and Spaniards. I’d peered out once or twice as the night wore on, but stopped doing so after seeing a fleeing Belgian viciously whacked round the head with a lump of wood.

Now I was amongst it, away from the relative safety of the bus. And my situation had been compounded by the location of our charabanc…slap, bang in the middle of the red-light area. But, perversely enough, this was to prove a saving grace.

I wandered aimlessly to keep warm and was soon acutely aware of scantily-clad working girls in brightly lit windows beckoning possible punters, some of whom were boozed-up Gunners fans, into their lairs.

I gazed at these exotic seductresses with a fair amount of excitement I have to admit but gawping at their flesh-flashing outfits was enough to satisfy my curiosity. Until one girl in particular caught my eye. She was gesturing to me to come forward, and opened the door aside her window. I took the plunge.

“What you doing out here at this time of night, young ‘un?” she asked. She was English, from Bolton I seem to remember. Once I explained my circumstances she took about £20 in Belgian francs from her bag and pressed it into my palm. “Take this money, go and get a hotel room, luv,” she said. “Get yourself off the streets.”

Locating a room at that time of night in that part of the city wasn’t that easy but I did spot a bloke flogging beer from a makeshift bar and hit upon the idea of buying a crate of ale and returning to the bus to bribe a way back in. It worked. The lads supped happily, I found a space and slept soundly.

Now, was this when I dreamt about Dainton and Mario Kempes… or did it really happen?

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