The Arsenal and Me – Ann’s Story

1974 Not the year I was born but the year I came to live in Islington.

I watched the 1971 FA Cup final at home in Scotland and was enthralled that both my teams had won…Celtic in the Scottish Cup and The Arsenal in London. A few years later (1973) is was doing my A Levels and wrote an essay on lads and lasses who went to Highbury. The essay helped me get a credible B Grade.

A year later, I had moved down to Islington and into a flat share where everyone else hated football. On a Saturday in October 1974 I went to find The Arsenal.

Highbury Fields were empty, there was obviously no home game on. So I walked from Highbury Corner, up past the college, past the shops and down the hill. I couldn’t see The Arsenal but knew they must be here somewhere.

By chance I looked to the left and saw the white and red facade at the end of the terrace. I found The Arsenal. I quickened my pace and couldn’t wait to walk towards the stadium. At the bottom of the road, Highbury stadium. It was beautiful then and remained beautiful the day we played our last ever match there.

I went to as many matches as a civil service salary would permit. I checked the scores on a Saturday, longing to go back and watch live football when I was too skint.

My life changed. I married, moved East.

A few matches here and there, especially if the Hoops came for a friendly, which was often.

My comrades from Glasgow, a friendly bunch came for the day, drank the pubs dry and scared the local kids. They were good box office though!

Brian Talbot, Liam Brady, Jon Sammels, Kenny Sansom, Tony Adams, Rocky Rocastle, Sammy Nelson. I am honoured to say that I saw them all!

Life then changed again. My son was born. It was an era where a team of Red men played great football in a northern town and in Europe. He became a Liverpool fan and still is.

Then Hillsborough.

The horror, the lies the cover up, only fucking working classes, pissed up fighting with the old Bill. Would never have happened otherwise. Fans went to a football match and didn’t come home. I had been to Highbury and I’d always come home.

As a result of Hillsborough, The North Bank was then dismantled. The club failing to include an accurate representation of our supporters in the hoarding while renovations took place.

When the North Bank was rebuilt, everything changed. Seats, play stations, bands before the match (live, not marching). Modern football had begun

On the pitch, footballers like Wrighty, Overmars, Pires! Big Dave in goal, Tony Adams at the back. Times were good.

I started watching on a regular basis again around the same time Monsieur Wenger joined the club. We queued up Avenell Road for 4 hours on the days tickets went on sale but it was worth it. This was before the internet, before a membership scheme. Before the new stadium.

We watched Tony Adams score that fourth goal against Everton, “we won the league, look at us!!!” The one where he opens his arms to take the salute, the same pose that is now his bronze outside the new stadium.

Dennis Bergkamp, “an artist at work” I’d say to my son as we watched him dance and slide skilfully out of a defenders field of vision and over their trailing leg. His testimonial opened the new stadium. I was sad he was going but we saw him at his best.

With the new stadium came a season ticket, a cost.

Regular football watching. One of the chosen few who had a seat and a view.

Our team, our boys, the tourists came, the brand of Arsenal created in a Corporate image. Monsieur Wenger was part of building that brand.

Many cold European nights. Many shock defeat. Many dodgy decisions, but that’s football. What go’s around come’s around.

And it came around in 2014. After 9 years of suffering, I fulfilled a lifelong dream and The Arsenal made that possible. I watched from a seat at Wembley as they won the FA Cup. I sobbed like a child, sobbed loudly into my hands when the final whistle went. It meant so much.

It took me back to 1971 when I was so enthralled The Arsenal had won the FA Cup at Wembley.

Last weekend I went to the semi final to see my Arsenal. It was a strange game as the team laboured. But we won. And that is the important thing. At the end of May to try and retain OUR trophy.

2015 is my 60th year on this planet. The club I went looking for in 1974 moved across the road. I moved several times but I keep coming back.

Last Christmas, my son bought me a plaque and it’s on the stairs along with many other outside the North Bank. It says:

“Ann Gibson, Fan since 1974”

That is who I am.

Ann

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