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By Walter Broeckx, Belgium.
It was February 1979 when we came to London with our school. We were last year students, aged 18, but I was the youngest of our class and only 17. It is a bit of a habit in Flanders (Belgium) to do some kind of trip to a foreign country in the last year before going on to university or other higher education programs.
In my school they had chosen for many years that we would go to London. It was a trip that we looked forward to with great expectations. We had some football crazy boys in our class but no girls. In those days the separation between boys and girls at school was still a fact in most of our schools, (how silly this now looks.)
Before the trip was made we had asked one of the teachers who was planning to come with us if we could visit a football match. In those days without the internet, no fax, or other smart devices getting tickets for a game was much more difficult than now. So we had given our teacher Mr. Moens (sadly no longer with us, but a man whose name I want to mention because it is him that has made it possible that I did become an Arsenal fan) a really big task. He had to search to see which games were played on the Saturday we were in London, and how we could all get in.
I still remember we had 3 possible games Arsenal, West Ham and I think the other was QPR. My choice was easily made. It should be Arsenal. Why? One of the reasons was the fact that in the early seventies they had beaten Anderlecht in the European finals. Anderlecht were the team we hated, well I did anyway, because they won everything and they had stolen the best player ever (Ludo Coeck) from the team I was following at home. So a team that had beaten Anderlecht and had shut them up should be a great team. And to be honest I didn’t had a clue about anything else concerning Arsenal.
We stayed in a hotel near Oxford street. And I loved London from the first moment I saw it. I don’t know what it is but those things just happen.
Not that London was a nice place in those days. No, if I look back at those days London was a mess in fact. The garbage collectors were on strike and I remember every square in London was full with trash bags. You could actually smell when you entered a square before you saw it with your eyes. For some reason I didn’t care. I felt at home.
It was a time when punk was alive and kicking and all kind of strange dressed people, which I hardly saw in my parts of the world, filled the streets. This is my memory playing games I think. Because maybe 1 in 1.000 people was dressed as a punk but he did got noticed more than the 999 other just dressed normally. I found them very funny to be honest.
Back to the Arsenal. Our teacher had made a little book with guidelines on how to get to Arsenal. He had written in it : just go on the Piccadilly line and get off at Arsenal. Even we could do that. So with 4 of us we left the rest of the group after visiting Old Bailey and went to Arsenal.
And from the moment we stepped on the Piccadilly line we came in another world: Arsenal’s world. A world of red and white. We went off the train with the rest of the Arsenal supporters and from the moment we stepped on the platform in the Arsenal underground station you felt something special. Walking that long, long corridor to come back in the light. And on that sunny and rather warm (or was it just my heart that was feeling warm) day in February when I came out of the station I saw the world opening up. The streets full with people all wearing the Arsenal colours, the shops in the streets and did we buy? Oh yes off course we did buy our scarf from the Arsenal.
And then there just was a gap between the houses. And this gap lead us to the holy ground of Highbury. I followed my local team which played in the first division every now and then so I had seen a lot of football grounds in Belgium but my first impression when I went to the turnstiles was: Oh, my God this is big.
I paid one pound, which was very cheap compared to the price in Belgium I remember, and entered the North Bank. I had never seen a stand like that with my own eyes before. The thought of that moment entering the North Bank is still impressing me. We couldn’t believe our eyes and when the stadium filled up it was even more impressing. Chants were sung before kick off.
That day I have seen the Highbury wave. I remember the minutes before kick off and in those days the teams came separately onto the field. And we looked at the players entrance waiting for Arsenal to come out. And from the moment the fans standing next to the entrance could see the first Arsenal player they started applauding, cheering. And their reaction started the Highbury wave as it went further through the stadium until the whole stadium erupted in a very loud noise when the Arsenal players entered the field. I don’t know until today if it was just me noticing this or if it was a coincidence that it looked like it was a wave spreading through the stadium but that is just the way it is planted in my memory.
We lost. 0-1. We played great but couldn’t score. One counter from Wolverhampton and that was it. We hit the bar, we missed chances. It was one of those days. The North Bank erupted a few times thinking the ball went in but there was always a leg or an arm in the way or the keeper. I remember a ball against the post, keeper just standing looking at the shot, hitting the post and then just flew in to his arms. A day to quickly forget for most of the Arsenal present I think. I day that will stay in my memory as long as I live.
I remember us getting out after the game and a real London Arsenal fan telling us: “it’s going to be a bloody Monday.” I think he didn’t fancy going to work to face his colleagues who will have been fans of other London teams I guess. And we were impressed like never before. We lost a game, but Arsenal won a fan for life.
1979 a good year for me. I fell in love with the Arsenal. I turned 18 later that year. And just after that in the same year I fell in love with a girl that became my wife and still is my wife in fact. But my love for Arsenal is older and that is something she has to live with.
If you would like to contribute to this series please send your memories of the first time you saw Arsenal live (if at all possible as a word file) to Tony.firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s a list of other articles in this series at www.blog.woolwicharsenal.co.uk