Arsenal v Blackburn 1964, and the promise of a heated pitch


By Richard Bedwell

On 11 April 1964, fifty-one years ago, I attended my first ever professional football match. It was at Highbury to see Arsenal play out a 0-0 draw against Blackburn Rovers in front of a crowd that barely half filled a ground which had a capacity at that time some 10% bigger than the current Emirates.

I won’t bore you with the usual stuff about the breathtaking sight as we walked down the gangway to our front row seats in the upper tier of the East Stand – the passage of time always enhances these things beyond reason but, suffice it to say, an already confirmed Arsenal fan became a lifelong supporter that day.

What may be worth passing on though are several interesting snippets from the programme which, needless to say, remains a treasured possession.

It was the last home game of a season which typified the rollercoaster existence we enjoyed back then. We finished eighth in the table that year (just behind Blackburn), on the back of results which included 6-0 home drubbings of both Ipswich and Everton and a 7-2 defeat at Leicester City.

Our remaining away game, played the following Saturday, was at Liverpool who went on to clinch the title on the back of beating us 5-0.

The programme explains that the early end to matches (remember it was barely a third of the way through April) had been ‘deliberately engineered by us with the Football League so that work could begin on the installation of the under soil heating which will be invaluable in times of bad weather’

Alan Skirton (who was coincidently the pitch side interviewee at Emirates last week) got a special mention for his hat-trick at Blackpool the previous week. Praise was his via the understated ‘well done, Alan’ so typical of the programme’s style back then.

Alongside this fulsome praise was an article which sought to ensure that ‘the good name of Chelsea fans should not be affected’ by reports that a one man pitch invasion the previous month during a 4-2 defeat to the Pensioners (as they were known then) had actually been carried out by an Arsenal fan who was (shock, horror) ‘a member of the Arsenal Supporters Club’.

The programme reported that ‘it was gratifying, however, to receive a letter from him a few days later apologising to the Referee (who he had harangued) and to the Club for bringing Arsenal’s name into disgrace in this way’. It went on to say that the Club accepted this supporter’s assurances that it wouldn’t happen again but added ‘regret that he did not think about it earlier’. The anonymity of the blogosphere has helped to change so much!

Perhaps the most interesting piece however is the announcement that following a meeting of the ‘committee of London Clubs’ (anyone know if this still exists?) the minimum price of admission for the following season would be fixed at four shillings (20p). I have a feeling that the rise was from three shillings (15p) and was therefore one of 33%! I don’t remember demonstrations happening and the absence of TV cameras pretty much ensured that there were no placards on view the following year but at least the installation of under pitch heating gave Arsenal some obvious way of claiming ‘value for money’. Inflation was running at the time at about 6%.

Within the same piece about price rises there was the announcement of a new ‘special enclosure for schoolchildren at two shillings (10p) per head’. The enclosure, at pitch level in front of the East Stand, was described as being to ‘accommodate approximately 1000 children with separate and direct entrance from Avenell Road’.  Other than with a bit of a price hike the ‘Young Guns’ section has, of course, now been reintroduced.

So many things have changed in that half-a-century although strangely one thing remains familiar. The team that day had a very high proportion of players who were not eligible to play for England on account of the fact that they were either Scots or Irish. Greg Dyke please note.

Here’s the team…

  • 1: Furnell
  • 2: Magill
  • 3: Clarke
  • 4: Neil
  • 5: Ure
  • 6: McCullough
  • 7: Skirton
  • 8: Strong
  • 9: Baker
  • 10: Court
  • 11: Armstrong

Manager: Billy Wright


Arsenal were by no means the first team to install under soil heating – that accolade goes to Everton who installed a system in 1958 – six years earlier.

The league table at the end of play on this day, showed that although it was true that Arsenal had advanced their games to finish at home by 11 April, in effect they were not the only team to have reached 41 games played at this time.  Chelsea, Blackburn and Aston Villa had also brought forward a match.

It should also be noticed in regards to what follows that the convention of the day was not to print the goal average in programmes and papers, probably on the grounds that it would “confuse the reader”.

Arsenal had two high scoring players this season: Geoff Strong who scored 26 goals in 38 games, and Joe Baker who got 26 in 39 – both incredible records.  Only one other player got into double figures, and that was George Eastham with 10 in 38.

As a result of playing their game in hand Birmingham escaped relegation at the last, and Bolton and Ipswich went down, to be replaced by Leeds and Sunderland.  Liverpool won the league by four points from Manchester United.  The top scoring team was Tottenham on 97, while Ipswich finished by letting 121 goals in.

Arsenal first played on their new heated pitch on 25 August 1964.  The result was a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday.


Some of the other events of 11 April through the years

11 April 1898: William Elcoat took up the post as Arsenal manager.  He totally changed the team, but after one season only two of them survived in Bradshaw’s first game: Ord the goalkeeper and Dick, the centre half.

11 April 1910: Arsenal beat champions Aston Villa 1-0, and protests were heard as Villa put out a reserve side.  It was Arsenal’s final win of the season, but still enough to avoid relegation, Arsenal coming 18th out of 20.

11 April 1914: Leeds City 0 Arsenal 0.  Henry Norris met Leeds’ manager Herbert Chapman for the first time.

11 April 1919 Sir Henry Norris wrote an open letter complaining about the behaviour of the London Combination’s committee, in relation to their holding an appeal hearing without him present to represent Arsenal’s position.

11 April 1936: Last appearance for Frank “Tiger” Hill.  He went on to manage five different league teams over a 20 year period post-war.

11 April 1959: Tommy Docherty gained his 25th and last Scottish cap.  He played 83 league games for Arsenal between 1958 and 1961.

11 April 1962.  Fulham 5 Arsenal 2.  The result came just two weeks after a 4-5 home defeat to Aston Villa.  During the run of six games of which these were part Skirton scored 5 and Strong scored 6.

11 April 1987: Arsenal 2 Charlton 1.  Crowd: 26,111.  After 10 league games without a win, during which Arsenal scored two goals, Arsenal finally get a victory.  Paul Davis and Martin Hayes score.

11 April 1992: Paul Merson got a hat-trick as Arsenal beat Crystal Palace 4-1.  It was the start of a five match run to the end of the season in which Arsenal scored 15 goals.

11 April 1998: Arsenal 3 Newcastle Utd 1.  Manninger’s record of 8 consecutive games without conceding ended on the 31st league game of the 2nd Double season.    The second double: part 1, part 2, part 3.

11 April 1999: Arsenal 0 Man U 0  FA Cup semi final.  It was a pivotal moment at which point either Arsenal or Man U (or of course neither) could win the Double.

11 April 2004: Newcastle 0 Arsenal 0.  The 32nd league game of the unbeaten season.  It was the third of four 0-0 draws during the season.

The full anniversaries index can be found here.  

The books

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