Last Saturday morning I was privileged to be amongst so many wonderful Gooner fans on the AwayBoyz boat up the Thames. What a wonderful experience and one I’m so glad I did not miss. I didn’t go to the game though as I had to get back home to Wales. On the boat staring out onto the Thames my thoughts went back to when I was a very young kid and travelled to away games whenever my mum, God Bless her, could afford to let me and my elder brother go.
Travelling away in the 50’s and early 60’s was not easy. No motorways and slow steam hauled trains. Most fans travelled as part of the Arsenal Supporters Club. My brother and I always travelled by the Club coaches. I loved going to the games North of the Midlands. Manchester, Blackpool, Bolton, Newcastle etc. Would cost about 12/6 to 15/- depending on distance.
The coaches left Highbury Corner at the back of the old entrance tube station about 10.30pm on a Friday night. It was generally all the old faces that turned up! I was always the youngest on the coach. Gradually all the fans would turn up wearing their colours etc with rattles in hand. All optimistic but not over the top optimism!
There was always a guy on board called Fred. He always went. My brother and I always made sure we sat well away from him as he always drank a bottle of whisky during the journey!
We’d set off going up the Holloway Road in good voice with a few choruses of the Arsenal song set to the tune of Anchors Aweigh! The roads would be almost empty except for the occasional lorry. I tried to stay awake as I loved just watching us go through the many towns and small villages en route.
About 3am we’d stop at a transport cafe to have a break and a cup of tea etc for about 30mins. Generally this was about Newcastle under Lyme area.
Eventually would fall asleep and wake up as it was getting light and you could sense you were ooop north with all the Mills etc easily seen. The odd looking coloured buses. Men walking to work with their flat caps on. Just like a Lowry painting depicts.
We’d get to our destination about 8am. The driver always knew where to take us for breakfast. Never ever forget those! Full old English- northern style. Big mugs of tea. Fried bread etc.
About 9am we’d wander to the ground wherever we were playing. Nothing much to do in those days! Pubs didn’t open till 11am. Someone would always bring a ball along and we’d all go along to the nearest bit of open land and have a match between ourselves. I used to really love this being young and enthusiastic, and a decent player. My favourite players then were Derek Tappscott and Danny Clapton. Danny was a winger and had a unique way of going past a full back- dropping his shoulder etc. I used to practice doing this during our match pretending I was Danny! We’d put coats down for goalposts etc.
Just approaching 11am the older ones drifted off to the nearest pub to the ground. My brother was about 16 and I was about 9 or 10. We’d have to sit outside with our lemonade and bags of crisps! Never bothered us as many came outside with us anyway. The friendly banter with the locals would then start. Their accents then used to amaze me! “Are you ooop for game lad” they’d say. “You’re wasting your time lad thars in for a thrashing!” Generally they were always right!(sadly).
About 1pm we’d all go to nearest chippy for our lunch! How I looked forward to that. Proper fish and chips cooked in beef dripping!
We would be close to the stadium by now and all the programme sellers would be out and, of course, the rosette sellers. “Wear your colours!” they’d be shouting!
Time to go into the ground. Not that many fans travelled away to league games. We would meet up with the ones who travelled by train in the ground and start our singing and chanting and making noise with our rattles. 2-4-6-8 who do we appreciate etc. Fairly mild stuff compared to those songs on the boat to Fulham!!!!
There used to be a legendary Arsenal supporter named David Stacey. He wore a red and white dinner suit with top and hat and tails in red and white. Mascots etc could walk around the pitch in those days. He carried a big board which read — We Arsenal Supporters say “may the best team win!” Can you really imagine that happening today! When he reached us we’d all just cheer and rattle our rattles and give a few choruses of the Arsenal song then. He then walked all the way around the ground showing the banner to the applause of the home fans! Much respect amongst fans then.
The match to me really passed me by! I remember more about events leading up to and after that have stuck in my memory. We normally always lost or drew.
On one occasion at a Cup game away to Man Utd the fog came down and the game called off just before 3pm. I remember being so disappointed. The Man Utd supporters club invited all us coach travellers back to their club and entertained us before our coaches left Manchester Piccadilly about 10.30pm for London and home.
Normally got back home about about 7.30am Sunday morning after being dropped of at Drayton Park along the Holloway Road..
I really really miss those days.
regards to you all,
The Arsenal song we sang then to the tune of Anchors Aweigh!:-
Send Arsenal down the field for one more goal,
No other teams can fight than the boys in red and white.
Never let their Glory fade
long may it glow
So let us all sing out with
Up The Gunners!
Up the Gunners!!!
Mmmm Such happy happy memories. Will share a few more old stories another time.