There were a few of us of, shall we say fans of a certain vintage talking on Twitter Christmas Eve about Highbury & GC asked us to go back through the mists of time to tell a few memories of those days. This is my contribution
I started going to The Arsenal in the 1960s & my first game was a 3-1 loss to Newcastle in 1965-66 season. I was already besotted by the club as my dad had told me & my brother all about when he watched the great Herbert Chapman side of James, Bastin, Jack, Hulme, Hapgood etc.
When we first started going to Highbury we used to get the 236 bus from Hackney to arrive at the ground double early to be at the front of the queue at the clock end as there was a great spot just above the entrance to the concourse where you could get a great view of the game. We’d usually get there 3 or 4 hours before kick off to make sure we got that spot.
As kick off approached we’d watch the ground gradually filling up & Constable Alex Morgan accompanied by the Metropolitan Police Band would entertain the crowd belting out Lady of Spain or some other equally ancient songs. But they always get a nice round of applause when they’d finished.
“Peanuts peanuts come & get ya peanuts” would be the cry from the man flogging Percy Daltons finest as he pushed his way through the crowd. As we looked across the pitch at the North bank it would be packed with fans raising their arms clapping in unison & singing songs to the opposition fans like “Your going to get your f****** heads kicked in” or ” “I hear the sound of distinct bums over there over there” At night games you’d see a constant twinkling of lights as people were lighting up their fags all across the north bank
As there were no all ticket games you had to get there early for the big games like Spurs or Man Utd to make sure you didn’t get locked out. So as the kick off approached the singing would get louder & reach a crescendo when first the opposition got booed onto the pitch. While the ground would roar their approval when The Arsenal took the field. The north bank would chant the players names & the players would raise their arms in acknowledgement as they warmed up before the game
At half time we eagerly awaited the man putting the half time scores of the other matches being played that day next to the corresponding letters at the side of the pitch. The police band would then march round the pitch playing their instruments with the man with the long baton leading them from the front. As they approached each corner he’d point the baton to the left or right depending which direction he wanted the band to follow. But the highlight was when he’d hold the baton upright & the North bank would go “wooooooooooooooh” as he spun the baton though the air & caught it. One day he came a cropper when to his horror he missed the baton & dropped it. The cheer from the crowd was massive matched only by John Jensen finally scoring his only goal for The Arsenal v QPR!
The day JJ scored we all celebrated wildly & at the end of the game I walked back to our cars with my brother Tony & my son Neil & started to frantically pat my pockets. I said to my brother “I don’t believe it I’ve lost my car keys. It must have happened when Jensen scored” he replied “I’ve lost my keys as well” We trooped back to Highbury & found a steward who had a big box of lost keys. As we identified our keys the steward said “We’ve never found so many lost keys”
Sorry to digress. As we got older we graduated to the north bank which was where most of the action took place off the pitch in those days! There were gangs of Arsenal fans that chanted “North London”, “South London” or “East London” wherever area they came from. When The Arsenal scored there would be pandemonium. The crowd surged and we were all pushed forward like a human wave often ending up 10 or twenty feet away from your mates!
When opposition fans infiltrated the North bank to try and take our end they’d be running battles, the police in the middle of it trying to form a line between the two sets of fans. If you ran at the opposing fans or they charged at us, you just had to go with the flow or be trampled on like a herd of cattle
When the game ended everyone would try to surge out the gates & often your feet wouldn’t touch the ground as you were carried along by the crowd. How there wasn’t another Hillsborough I’ll never know!
I’ll end this with a couple of away stories. The first involved a trip on a football special. A bloke we knew for some reason decided to take a leak out the train window! As he started to pee another teenager decided to stick his head out the window for a bit of fresh air further down the carriage. He ended up getting a golden shower! Both the windows slammed shut as the two of them looked at each across the carriage in shock. The other bloke with urine dripping from his face! Our pal said “Sorry mate I didn’t know you were going to stick your head out the window” to which the other kid replied “And I didn’t know you were going to get your knob out & piss all over me” with that the whole carriage were in fits of laughter!
Another occasion where I wasn’t there my brother & our mates decided to go to Nottingham to see us play Forest in the FA Cup. We won 1-0 with a Frank Stapleton goal & Pat Jennings performed wonders to keep Forest at bay. They all went up in a transit van & as they left the ground got chased all the way back to the van by the Forest fans baying for blood! They all dived in the back of the van & made a narrow escape. It was pitch black in the back of the van as there were no windows & as someone lit a fag the back of the van was illuminated & sitting there among them was a complete stranger! “What the f*** are you doing here” someone said “well when Forest started to chase us I decided to run with you & jumped in the back to get away from them” everyone laughed & they dropped him back in London.