Arsenal’s 1989 title-winning match to get orchestral treatment

Sport

For some Arsenal fans it was the greatest night of their lives and for most football supporters it was, at the end at least, nothing short of thrilling.

For Liverpool fans it was misery. Whether any of them book tickets or tune in for the latest project by classical composer Mark-Anthony Turnage is doubtful.

The Barbican announced on Tuesday that a highlight of its autumn music season would be a new work by Turnage celebrating the 1989 match in which George Graham’s Arsenal beat Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield and became, against all expectation, that year’s first division champions.

The world premiere performance of the work, Up for Grabs, will be accompanied by big screen video footage from the match. Afterwards Turnage will discuss the occasion and its wider cultural significance with a panel that will include Lee Dixon, part of Graham’s “big gamble” back five.

Turnage said it had been a joy to write. “I had so much fun,” he said. “It is a dangerous thing to say, but it might be the most fun I’ve had writing a piece.”

When first approached with the idea by Huw Humphreys, Barbican’s head of music, Turnage admitted he was sceptical. “I wasn’t keen because I thought I’ve got to write 90 minutes of music. When you look back, there’s quite a lot of passing back to the goalkeeper.”

Instead the 25-minute piece will feature the match highlights with different leitmotifs created for each individual player. “I also have some slightly cheeky music for Kenny Dalglish … but I don’t think he’ll be offended!”

Turnage is a lifelong Arsenal fan who in 1989 lived very close to Highbury and often saw the players walking down his road, though he was always too nervous to approach – “they were heroes … godlike”.

The match is regarded as one of the greatest ever title finishes, the first time in 47 years that a season had gone down to a final day with a match between the two top teams. It also came just two months after the horror of the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 people unlawfully died.

“Boring, boring” Arsenal had not won a league title for 18 years and were written off, once again, as failures. They needed to win by at least two goals. After defeat at home to Derby and a draw with Wimbledon, few thought they had a chance. The Daily Mirror’s back page declared “You haven’t got a prayer, Arsenal.”

It was made even more famous because of its place in Nick Hornby’s memoir Fever Pitch in which he tries to articulate his euphoria after Michael Thomas got the ball past Bruce Grobbelaar in the dying minutes.

“So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever,” he writes. “We do not lack imagination, nor have we sad, barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.”

Turnage has dedicated the piece to David Rocastle, a key part of Arsenal’s success, who died from non-Hodgkin lymphoma aged 33 in 2001.

The work, to be performed on 5 November, was announced as part of the Barbican’s autumn music season. It will be a one-off concert in London but also livestreamed. Priority booking starts on Friday; public booking opens on 6 July.