Alan Alger – The Day I Scored The Last Ever Goal At Highbury…
It was the 8th of June 2006 – one month and one day after Thierry Henry’s hat-trick had seen off Wigan as the fans said farewell to our iconic home. I was back at the ‘Home of Football’ to play in a fixture given the uninspiring name of ‘Arsenal Match 2’. A Football Aid charity fixture in which each player had paid via an online auction to line up on the hallowed turf. I had ‘won’ the auction to play up front for the ‘home’ shirts in the second half. I had 45 minutes to strut my stuff on the pitch where I’d watched hundreds of matches from various stands and, barring an ill-advised mini pitch invasion after a game against Torino, had never actually set foot on.
I can’t remember how much the position actually went for at auction, I remember tactically topping up my bid just before it closed. I have a vague recollection of the final amount being £425, but I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly. I wanted that shirt and that chance to score the last goal. The fact my football ‘career’ features lots of Sunday League appearances at left-back and very few goals (3) didn’t deter the ambition. I somehow knew I’d get a chance.
Arriving at the stadium that warm summer evening, suddenly scoring a goal didn’t seem the priority. Walking through the marble halls and entering that home dressing room and seeing the kit hanging on the peg with my name on the back was enough. Football Aid had provided a full home kit, that season the claret commemorative one rather than our usual red. I was given number 15 as I was one of four substitutes that would be coming on at half-time (all part of the deal). Incidentally, 15 was the squad number of a young lad called Fabregas that season… What ever happened to him?
In the dressing room I got to know my teammates for the night and it became apparent that an older guy who’d come all the way from California to play in the game saw himself as captain. English sensibilities and the fact he was the senior member of the squad by about 10-years meant that nobody argued and, to be fair, he gave a decent teamtalk. Football Aid had promised (but not guaranteed) an Arsenal legend as captain for each team, but revealed to our dressing room that ours had not turned up. It meant that all four subs (including me) were going to get an additional 11 minutes and 15 seconds at left-back. Brilliant I thought, a chance to show I can actually play a bit before failing miserably as a striker. We then lined up against the ‘Away’ team, our opponents for the night, who had paid a reduced sum at auction to be wearing yellow.
Walking out of the narrow Highbury tunnel onto the pitch was another spine-tingling experience. A crowd of about 150 family and friends (from all the players, not just me) had been allowed into the East Stand Upper to cheer us on and they did a good job as we marched out and lined up for pictures. In the warm-up everyone made sure they put the ball in the net at the North Bank end, much to the annoyance of our keeper who was probably seeking a proper stretch, rather than balls being fired in from all angles. The referee blew his whistle and I retired to the home dugout to await my first-half run out in defence. I was due on second, so had a wait of just over ten minutes.
The match got to the 12th minute and I took up my favoured position. It was a decent end-to-end game considering the temperature and I had plenty to do, and equally lots of chances to get forward. Our team had a corner on my side just as I was about to be replaced, but I made my way up the pitch and offered to take it. The nerves of taking even this most basic of set pieces must have got to me as I ended up kicking the corner flag as well as the ball and giving away a goal-kick, the ball traveling no more than five yards out of the crescent before going out of play. My teammates on the ‘Home’ side could have been forgiven for wondering if it was worth even coming out for the second-half with me up top!
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For a bunch of amateurs playing at pros, we actually produced a decent first half (barring my corner) and it was tightly locked at 0-0 before the we took the lead with a scrappy effort after a great lobbed through ball from one of our midfielders, our striker (the guy I was replacing at half-time) had got onto the score sheet. Back to the dressing room and our new leader from the other side of the pond was rousing the troops once again. I swapped places with our goalscorer and we marched out for the second half. At this point the ‘Away’ side had made their own substitutions and one of them was to steal the show in the next 45 minutes. A lad a good deal younger than the rest of us, came on for the yellow shirts and immediately assisted their equaliser. He then added a brace in the next 25 minutes to put them 3-1 ahead. He’d later be awarded ‘Man of the Match’ by the organisers and deservedly so.
With about ten minutes to go I’d hardly seen any of the ball and it really didn’t look like I was even going to get half a chance to get a shot away in anger. Our team responded well though and we ended up pulling it back to 3-2 as another one of our subs pounced on a loose ball and blasted it into the net at the Clock End from about two-yards. 89 minutes were on the clock by the time the Away side restarted and they sensibly tried to run the clock down to become winners in the final game. We resorted to long balls as the referee verbally indicated to us on the pitch that he was going to add five minutes of injury-time. To this day I don’t recall any stoppages that would warrant it, but we happily plugged away.
Three minutes into the additional five I chased a long ball into the corner and didn’t have the pace to get there before the defender. But he stupidly played it across his area, even though he wasn’t under any pressure. One of our midfielders tried to run onto the ball as it broke loose and made out he had collided with the outstretched foot of their centre-back. Penalty! One of the softest I’ve ever seen given – think Rooney at Old Trafford in game 50. The amount I had paid to play up front (at least 25% more at auction than some of the other positions) came with the benefit of being penalty taker. I made sure I got hold of the ball very quickly. Having placed it on the spot I noticed that the Away team were (rightly) not happy about the spot-kick being awarded. Charity game or not they wanted to claim the last win on that ground.
I remember trying to block everything out and just focus on the goal, but was interrupted by our right-back who had jogged forward and asked “do you really want to take it, because if not I will?”. I told him I was fine, but before he returned to the other end of the pitch he imparted one bit of advice – “re-spot the ball because you’ve been waiting too long”. He was right, the Away team were still protesting while this was going on.
When the ref had finally cleared the area I went forward and picked up the ball and placed it back down again. Took a few steps back, told myself to keep my head still over the ball and ran up and blasted it with my left foot, aiming for the top of the goal. That was it. Goal. 3-3. At first relief that I hadn’t missed. Then an outpouring of emotion as I ran back to the halfway line. I then thought about a Charlie George style lie down or even kissing the turf like Thierry had done a few weeks earlier. What I actually did was a weird kind of kneeling down movement before the right-back came over to congratulate me by doing an even weirder drumming movement with his hands. If you don’t believe that or any of the above you can watch an incredibly grainy version of the last two minutes here:
The final minute of the game was as blurry in my mind as that video. But I can also lay claim to the last touch as the referee blows the whistle as I’m about to maraud forward to add to my tally (or more likely trip over the ball). Back into the dressing room where our new American friend congratulates me, but then adds “I was going to sub myself on and take it”. If he had done, this might have been written from one of HMPs with the title of The Day I Became The Last Person To Commit Murder At Highbury. Thankfully he didn’t and we all retired to a bar in the North Bank for presentations – including my bottle of Whyte & Mackay whisky (Football Aid partners) for ‘Moment of the Match’.
Much to the annoyance of everybody I know, or have known in the last decade I of course like to recount the story above as many times as I can. It’s also prominent with the video on my Twitter bio and someone even helpfully added it to Wikipedia within the Arsenal Stadium entry. There are over 7000 views on the YouTube video and I dare say well over 500 of them are mine, whenever I feel like reliving the moment. What a night!
Important PS: Yes I don’t doubt a number of builders and other folk had access to the pitch before the bulldozers went in and took shots at both goals. There were also a couple of 7-aside matches and tournaments between Arsenal staff and partners in the days after our game. My claim is based on the fact it was the last 11-aside match with proper officials (a ref and two linesman) played at Highbury, in proper Arsenal kits. So don’t be like our American friend and try and take it away from me!
Thanks for reading, Alan.
Our thank to Alan for sharing this wonderful priceless memory.
Alan is a Lifetime Gooner. Scorer of the last ever goal at Highbury. Favourite Arsenal player of all-time Tony Adams. Wenger Realist. Working in the Sports Betting industry. You can find him on Twitter @