At just under 5 years old, my first game came thanks to my grand-parents, family and aunts and uncles who had organized a knees up in Southend. Up to this point, my knowledge of football was confined to my gran’s “Up the Lillywhites…best football team in London.” (Interesting how Spuds don’t change?)
But they decided that my cousin should baby sit. A confirmed Gooner, there was no way that he was going to miss a game…so off we went. Blackburn at Highbury 3rd April 1948… 2-0 to an Arsenal side that would become champions and I was Gooner for life.
I wish I could recall the game, the players and the goals. They just passed me by. Sitting on my cousin’s shoulders though, the noise, the friendly offerings of peanuts from nearby fans, the whole gestalt. The trouble that my cousin was in was a minor problem…far worse was my gran’s reaction that her daughter had bred a Gooner!
She was a lovely woman though, always spoilt me. Took me to my very first derby in 1950 with a seat in the spud stands for my Christmas present. A few days before Christmas no less… Spuds 1 Arsenal 0. The first Christmas that had ever been totally screwed up. Tears as the knowledge that we’d lost, pentrated. Times of good tidings and cheer? I was not a happy camper. Worse followed as on the way out, a spud bent down and told me “That’s yer Christmas present, yer little Arsenal shit.”
When I returned home and totally innocently, asked my mother what a shit was, a clip round the ear and a banning from football games followed. “If you’re going to learn that sort of language, you can stay away from football.”
Oh happy bloody Christmas. Cup finals on the steam radio and reports in the papers were the closest I got to the gooners for over two years.
At last, the ban rescinded and attendance allowed Saturday afternoons only. But then the break out, the day of the first evening game on my own. Burnley. May 1 1953. Nothing much to the game…only the championship if we won, runners up if we drew.
Can you believe, Joe Mercer puts through his own goal? Despondency quickly lifted by goals from Jimmy Logie, Doug Lishman and Alex Forbes. 3-1 at half time and semi euphoria. Then Burnley score and they really press for an equaliser. The clock of course, yep that clock just resurrected, goes slower and sloooweer and practically stops. Almost as scary as 1971 at the spuds.
But we made it. We were the champions again!