One day I was introduced to Arsenal by default. That day was way back in the sixties, the exact date is a blur (well it was the 60’s man!) and despite attempts to find my Holy Grail date, I have failed. Someone out there, will have the patience to advise me, I have no doubts about that?
At the time I was living in Margate, pre cheap Spanish holidays it was a great (fab even) place to grow up with hoards of teenage girls arriving every two weeks through the summer. We hardly spoke to local girls from June to September and they afforded us the same disdain, preferring the Cockney mod geezers, and trendy Brummies’ for their flirtation. Come another barren winter we reinstated our mutual lust, and hooked up for winter.
The other teen obsession was the local football club, Margate FC, the ‘Gate’ as they were known. Average home crowds c. 1500 in those days. We became a big team in the Kent League and well respected giant killers in the FA Cup. The highlight was beating Bournemouth 3-0 away, when they were top of the Third Division South, and unbeaten that season.
The day I met The Arsenal was another hopeful trip to Torquay in the FA Cup. In those halcyon days, British Railways laid on Soccer Specials and it was a bitterly cold morning as 2000 of us, yes, more than an average home gate, crowded onto platform 3 at Margate’s beautiful railway station. Some chancers, with just Platform Tickets, a bizarre system, which allowed people onto the platforms, to apparently greet friends arriving. Of course the opportunity to’ jump the train’ was too much for some. More truthfully, it was a plan.
The wearing of scarves a pre requisite but more importantly you had to, I mean, had to have a rattle, painted or covered in tape in your teams’ colours. The other ‘FA Cup only item’ which appeared on such days, was bells, large noisy bells, they signified it was an FA Cup tie. Oddly they were never used for League games.
One friend, who jumped the train because of lack of funds, could neither afford a rattle, or a bell, so he improvised and carried with him a rectangular biscuit tin and a hammer! The noise was incredible. I still remember his name but for the sake of this blog will not divulge same, other than his first name was Fraser. If you tried to gain entry to a match today, carrying a hammer and biscuit tin, they would probably surround you with Policemen in full riot gear.
The train was rocking, beer laden groups of older men, OAP’s recounting past glory dates and swigging from hip flasks full of Scotch, or Brandy. Everyone was as one and the feeling bordered ecstasy to young minds. I will never forget the colours dripping from the overhead baggage racks, the smiles, the unlimited booze and the thoughts of whacking Torquay at their ground. We were young but other fans handed out beers, friendship with the best intentions. We watched snow covered fields as we hurtled through the Kent countryside in the closed auditorium of comradeship.
Suddenly a guard walked through the train announcing the game had been postponed due to snow. The train would be diverted to Victoria station and our tickets would be valid for any train home that day, all except Fraser, and the others holding Margate Station Platform Tickets.
Someone looked up the days fixtures in London and the preferred game was Arsenal v Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury. It was a unanimous decision and we poured off the train, a sea of colour and rattles and bells adding the Cup fever atmosphere. Fraser had his biscuit tin up high, driving a ‘beat’ and we marched on the ticket check man. He shrewdly stood aside and waived us all through, much to the delight of those without tickets.
We roamed the West End for a while, heading into Soho for a glimpse of the famed sex shops, which were all closed. Finally we arrived at the Arsenal and after a short wait for the turnstile man we charged onto the North Bank. I have avoided telling you the home colours we wore, because it adds to story, and the imminent danger we put ourselves in. Margate played in Blue and White, the same as Sheffield Wednesday. Here we were, piling into the home terrace covered in blue and white scarves, hats and rattles. Bells chiming and Fraser still bashing crap out of his biscuit tin with the angry hammer.
We were not universally welcomed, is a gracious description of the North Bank hierarchy’s shock. We soon made friends; our accents lacked the foreign tenor expected from Owls fans. It was a touch and go moment as the North Bank filled and the word had to get round, we were friend, not foe. Must have seemed odd to the Wednesday fans camped in their section, as clouds of blue exploded in the North Bank their decision not to come and help us remains a mystery to this day. We probably became legend in Sheffield pubs as their fans spoke in awe of the mob who invaded the North Bank!
Again my memory fails me but I am sure the score was 2-1 (someone help here please) and we said our goodbyes to our new North Bank friends. Outside it was different, ‘quick run’ was a sensible action as we became a target from other AFC fans, enveloped in blue and white. Fraser’s hammer was no deterrent, so we legged it.
It made no difference. From that wonderful day I became a Gooner, as did many of the ‘Gate’ fans.
Thank you, North Bank 1960’s. Now there’s a rare tribute.