By Tony Attwood
I asked yesterday if anyone could send me some memories of their first time watching Arsenal live. Thanks to everyone who did this – I will try and publish some shortly although I am about to go on holiday, so there might be a delay.
I also said I would write up my own memories of the first match. Here they are. Meanwhile if you want to join in and let me have your memories, please have a quick read through my last article so you can see the format required.
Here’s my piece…
Actually I think it was 1955, but it might have been 1956 – and that’s the problem, looking back all those years to the first ever time I went to a match at Arsenal I really lose track. I must have a programme somewhere, but my programmes, which stretch back to that era are not thoroughly sorted.
I keep thinking one day I will go through them….
Anyway, I seem to remember it was Arsenal Reserves 0, West Ham reserves 0, although I can’t really be sure that was the first ever game I went to at Highbury. But for the moment, let’s assume.
I went, naturally enough, with my father who was an avid fan. Indeed he used to regale me with stories of his time at Arsenal in the 1930s and my grandfather being there right at the start of Arsenal in the league.
What do I remember? Well, I think that was the right score – if I have the right match. But I might have missed the goals because I was looking around at the crowd. I was only eight or nine. I think Arsenal first team lost maybe by 0-3 or something.
I remember when I asked to go, my father saying that I would be running around by half time, and that he would have to bring me home (which was enough to tell me I had to stay watching throughout the game just to prove him wrong).
I know it was at Highbury – that is certain, not just because I remember being there, but because we didn’t stop playing reserve matches there until something like the 1990s.
We played in the Football Combination, previously known as the London Combination (indeed I feel sure my dad called it the London Combination. Or if he didn’t my grandfather did. Mind you I think my grandfather called the team Woolwich Arsenal.)
The Combination was a rambling affair of 30 odd clubs I think – and I am sure it wasn’t based on the usual home and away game rule. It was just a collection of southern teams that wanted to have a league for their reserve teams.
The notion of a reserve side being in fact a youth side was way in the future – these were the back up players to the first team.
Entry price to the standing section was 6d (six pennies in old money, half a shilling, one fortieth of a pound), and for that you could be anywhere in the standing area of the old ground. I am sure that at this time Highbury had a very curious notion whereby you paid to go into the ground on the clock end or north bank, and then if you wanted to, you paid again at an interior turnstyle to go along the side of the pitch (in front of the east or west stand). I know that the west stand was only seats upstairs – downstairs it was standing.
But for the reserves, the gates were open, you paid your 6d, went in and could walk to any spot in the standing area – under the west stand, north bank or clock end. Quite what happened in the east stand I don’t quite know, but maybe there were upper and lower seats by then with a small terrace in front.
Anyway, what I do recall is that we stood near the half way line, but the crowd (which I have the memory of being told was 8,000) gathered mostly on the north bank. Then at half time much of the crowd walked around the ground to stand on the clock end. I have the notion that I asked my father why, and he explained that they were walking around to see the Arsenal goals. If 0-0 is correct there were not any.
It wasn’t the first match I have seen – that was in White Hart Lane. Not at Tottenham H of course, but actually in White Hart Lane – at Wood Green Town, the local amateur club. I still have a couple of programmes of Wood Green Town from that era, but curiously they are not dated. They say the day and the month, but not the year. I must get out one of those calculator things and find out what year it was. It must have been around 1955.
I did persuade my father to take me to Arsenal for a few first team games before we moved away from north London. He really was concerned about the crowds, and quite probably my mother would have expressed her fear of him losing me! I know (because I asked her later in life) if she had been to Arsenal, but she said she never had. It was a man’s game.
Entry to Arsenal for first team games around this period was 2/6 – that is to say two shillings and sixpence, one eighth of a pound. My father thought it outrageous – there was no discount for children. I can’t be sure that this was the price in 1956 but it was around that.
Of course I can go and look up all the missing facts and one day I will, but that was my memory. The clock I certainly remember. Being near the half way line in the west, that I remember. All the people moving at half time. All that.
We also had that old set of letters on two corners of the ground. At half time someone crawled in and put numbers next to the letters and you looked in your programme to see which club was which. So next to the letter A there would be a two and a nil, meaning two nil at half time to the home team. I don’t recall any announcer telling us the results – you had to go and buy the Star, News or Standard to find the results. They were out on the streets by 6.30pm on a saturday, with a detailed coverage of the first half and bugger all about the second half, but they did have the final score.
I can also remember driving to the ground in my dad’s car. For reserve games we used to park a street or two away, but for the first team games it would be several streets back. Kids from the area ran a money-with-menaces operation, (known in north London language as a racket) called “watch your car mister” which meant that for sixpence they would not smash the windscreen in. We paid up. My dad was a real Londoner and he knew how the system worked.
Beyond all that it gets murky. I will go back and get out the programmes just to see how much I can find, but the memories are important. Everyone said, “Hello son,” and “Come to see the Arsenal get beaten?” – not because they were anti-Arsenal, it was the language of the street. Everyone wanted Arsenal to win, but we hadn’t won the league since 1953.
I loved it, I wanted to go back the next day. I couldn’t quite get why we had to wait. But wait we did and we went back.
A final abiding memory…. how huge the clock was.
“Did you enjoy it Tony,” asked my mum as we came home to our flat in Devonshire Hill Lane.
“It was great. They had this huge clock…”
Well, you know, kids watching football.