Anderton: Nothing compares to the thrill of THAT goal
In a stellar career it remains an unsurpassed feeling.
Among the trophies, international caps, World Cup experience and even run to the Euro 96 semi-finals, Darren Anderton has never known anything like it.
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ wrote our favourite son Charles Dickens. He was surely stood in the Clock End on April 5, 1992.
This tale of two cities was all about Pompey and Liverpool and the setting, of course, was the FA Cup semi-final at Highbury.
Today, jaw-droppingly, marks the 25th anniversary of that seminal day in the club’s history. Yes, a quarter of a century has really passed.
No-one needs reminding of what unfolded in the 109th minute in north London as Warren Neill dropped a ball perfectly into Anderton’s line-breaking run. One swing of a his prodigiously-talented right leg and things were never the same again for the then 20-year-old.
‘People look back on it as the moment – and I do, too,’ said Anderton as he reflected on his defining goal.
‘I love that people still buzz off it.
‘There’s been some downs in recent years at the club but there’s also been massive highs. So for people to look back on that moment with pride as they do is something special.
‘The celebration was proper old school crazy. The feeling was something else. I just loved it, absolutely loved it.
‘It was ridiculous. I’ve never had a feeling before or since like it really.
‘We were such underdogs and I’d just scored an extra-time goal in the FA Cup semi-final in front of our fans in the biggest game of my life. Pure madness. It felt like the moment I’d made it as a player.
‘The feeling was we’re going to the FA Cup final off the back of that goal.
‘I definitely enjoyed it and remember jumping to celebrate but then almost falling over because my legs had turned to jelly!
‘We were very, very unfortunate to not make it to the final. We played so well that day. It was such a shame.’
To hear the enthusiasm in Anderton’s voice when recalling the semi-final is to know his words on the subject are earnest.
While time so often skews memories when players go back over their careers, the clarity in which he relives that spring afternoon is vivid.
‘I was thinking about it laying in bed this morning,’ Anderton explained. ‘I turned to my partner, Emma, and said it was at this time 25 years ago I was having some breakfast with Steve Wigley.
‘He said to me if I get a one-on-one to do (Bruce) Grobbelaar with my eyes. He knew he’d try to read me, so to look one way and stick the ball in the other. Thanks Wigs!
‘I had taken his place in the side, so that sums up the kind of guy he is. He helped me with everything. It was a very nervous morning, I can tell you. Nerve-wracking to say the least. The memories are still clear.
‘The initial feeling afterwards was one of disappointment but then you reflect that we’d gone out and performed as a team.
‘There was a chance we could have gone out and got beat four or five. That wouldn’t have been a surprise.
‘So we stayed in a hotel that night and went out and had a good few beers! It was so disappointing but we went and had a great night out because we were so close as a team.’
The Boys of ’92 stand alongside the best of Pompey teams in history in terms of their status among supporters.
Anderton feels back then it wasn’t quite apparent how good the side were.
Those who went on to play in the top flight afforded context, however, in the ensuing years.
On the day, it was Ronnie Whelan who brought the agony after Anderton provided the ecstasy.
That, of course, arrived after Andy Awford’s foul on Steve Nicol afforded John Barnes the chance to fire his free-kick on to Alan Knight’s post.
Time stopped as the ball rolled across the face of goal. As we know, Whelan was quickest to react.
Anderton explained he will continue to give Awford some light-hearted flak about his foul but there is no doubt about where his career was headed before injury struck two years later.
He said: ‘I remember Awfs had a fitness test on the hard shoulder of the motorway before the game. He had to play.
‘He still gets a bit of stick from me about the foul when I see him, though!
‘But Awfs could have gone to play at any level. He would have been an England international if it wasn’t for injury. I’m sure of that.
‘He’s one of the best players I played with.
‘That team to me was a Premier League team in terms of quality.
‘No-one knew quite how good the younger players would go on to be then. A lot of players in that team went on to have great careers or had already enjoyed one.’
For so many, 1992 was the year they learnt the lessons of life following Pompey. The euphoria, the pain, the exhilaration and the tears. Anderton felt all of that – but things were to change very quickly for the man who will be remembered for that iconic moment.
‘It was a day which, I guess, brought me to the attention of the country,’ Anderton reflected.
‘As much as I didn’t want to leave Pompey I went on to Spurs and played in the Premier League for 14 years.
‘The heartache was felt by everyone that day – players and fans.
‘I’m from Southampton but Pompey is my team. Simple as that.
‘So it was a special moment for me, and I glad others feel the same way.’