It was always going to be Arsenal. My Mum was regular in the Clock End with my grandparents standing a bit further back. My first game was West Ham 4th April 1970 a birthday treat. I was seven and West Ham were the team of the moment with Peters, Moore and Hurst. I am ashamed to say I bought a West Ham rosette much to my Dad’s annoyance, it lasted till we went 2-1 up!
During my childhood visits to Highbury was limited to birthdays and special occasions but when I left school in 1979 Highbury was a regular destination. I headed straight for the North Bank always in the middle, we were there at least an hour before kicking off chanting the players names and enjoying ‘rip roaring’. It became my second home right though until the new stand was built. At one stage I lived close to Highbury, finishing a double shift at a local restaurant before biking to the ground.
I traded in my £56 Terrace season ticket (that was the annual cost!) for a Clock End Season ticket which I kept until my second son was born and I rarely could get the time to go along. My three sons followed in my footsteps and we enjoyed wonderful European nights and weekend games together. My proudest moment …. when my second son stood on his chair aged eight in the West Stand shouting ‘You fat B**stard’ at Ronaldo (the original one). I knew then my work was complete!
Three of us were there for the last game, we got in by the skin of our teeth in the very back row of the North Bank. I stayed to the end and had to be asked to leave … I knew then that it would never be the same. My sons come with me occasionally, League Cup games and European nights mostly, the thought of paying nearly £400 for four tickets to see an A category game means I am unlikely to share those heady derby days again with them.
My boys have all left home now and I have tried to go back, the last game was Napoli. It was a depressing experience, the stadium almost empty 10 minutes before kick-off, so called fans arriving long after the kick off with drinks and hot dogs, the incessant talking through the game with a mass exodus 5 minutes before half time and the end.
No longer are the names chanted… with the incessant music and the distance to the pitch they would never hear you anyway, and if they did, I am not sure many of this team would really care. When did playing Neil Diamond have anything to do with my club?
Maybe I am getting old! I still watch every game, but it is from my armchair rather than shouting to the rafters in the North Bank, despite the wonderful football delivered by Arsene, the last eight years of mediocrity only added to my view that it is time to move on. I know it is heresy to say so but for me Arsenal have never been a ‘Big ‘club. We had the tradition and the ethos, we played the game well, occasionally we had periods of success, but we knew deep down it would not last. The current expectation of success seems to drain the enjoyment of the players.
I always walk back past Highbury after every game and wonder what if …………
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