Puskas and Co. prove the Real deal
Real Madrid have only visited Highbury on two previous occasions. In 1999, they supplied the opposition for Lee Dixon's testimonial.
But it was their first, visit, on September 13, 1962 that generated most excitement. The match, played on a cold Thursday evening, came at the tail end of an extensive international friendly tour. Three days earlier they had drawn a 72,000 crowd at Parkhead, as the legendary Ferenc Puskas scored twice to help the Spaniards claim the Blue and White Cup in a charity match against Celtic. The following match against Arsenal was their first one on English turf during their tour, and so it stirred up real interest across the nation.
Then, as now, the name of Real Madrid had a magical ring about it. The Merengues' five consecutive European Cup victories between 1956 and 1960 had made them the most feared force in European club football.
In 1962, they had been forced to cede the European Cup to Benfica, despite a first-half hat-trick in the final from the irrepressible Puskas. But their dominance on the domestic front was unquestioned. Real arrived as reigning Spanish champions, having earlier that year claimed the first of four successive league titles. In all their dominance of the sixties would see them crowned La Liga champions eight times.
The Madrid side that took to the field at Highbury featured Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano, Francisco Gento and Jose Santamaria, "names", as the programme notes remarked, "very nearly as well known in England as they are in Spain". The rest of the team was packed with internationalists such as Juan Araquistain, Pedro Casado and Pachin.
For Arsenal, by contrast, the 1960s were, largely, a decade to forget, and the line-up that faced Real was hardly a vintage one. Among the few names likely to stir any memories were youngsters Terry Neill and David Court, and centre forward Joe Baker. And playing along side Baker in attack was one John Barnwell, now better known as head of the League Managers' Association. Two days later, the goal-happy Spaniards played Crystal Palace and won 4-3, ending an extremely successful tour of Britain.
Puskas was reputed to have had a soft spot for the Gunners as a youngster, inspired by the feats of Herbert Chapman's team during their golden age in the 1930s. He showed them little mercy that night in 1962 though, as 'the Galloping Major' orchestrated a model display of pass-and-move football that resulted in a comfortable 4-0 victory for Real over the hosts. The Hungarian maestro returned to the Club in a promotional visit a decade later, in the company of England goalkeeper Gordon Banks, and is pictured here on the Highbury turf, even more portly than he was in his pomp, kitted out in Arsenal colours.
'It Happened At Highbury' is written by Dan Brennan, the author of The Official Arsenal Miscellany. The latest edition of the miscellany is now available in all good book shops.
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