In this momentous first season at our new Emirates Stadium, the matchday programme will feature a different Arsenal 'first' in every issue.
For our opening European match at Emirates, it would seem appropriate to chart a European 'first' and what better way to start than cast our minds back over 40 years to the Gunners first ever competitive fixture in Europe. And what a start it was with the Gunners racking up a 7-1 victory over Danish side Staevnet in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
The year was 1963 and the Gunners had qualified for the competition courtesy of a seventh place finish in season 1962/63.
Arsenal had been travelling into Europe to play friendly fixtures since the turn of the century. The Club's first match on the continent was way back on May 5, 1907, when the Gunners travelled to Brussels and beat Racing Club 2-1, before then heading off to Holland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Hungary in a comprehensive eight game European Tour over the course of just a fortnight. The Club had also been visiting Denmark for many years, with seven tours having headed to Copenhagen, primarily in the 1920s and 1930s.
But the first competitive match in Europe obviously marks a special occasion for any Club, and our game on September 25, 1963 represented the start of what has been a long history of continental participation - tonight's game is Arsenal's 171st official fixture in European competition.
Despite the fixture in Denmark being over 40 years ago, there was one current Arsenal staff member who actually travelled to the match in question and, it won't surprise anyone to learn that it was current Director Ken Friar.
"I remember it well," says Ken. "Arriving into Copenhagen and that beautiful bridge. In those days we flew everywhere in two planes believe it or not. It sounds strange now, but the Club employed this policy in case one of the planes didn't make it! So we would literally have one goalkeeper in one plane and one in another, and so on.
"The Danish people really looked after us, they were great hosts and the Club had been playing friendlies out there for many years. Of course back then it was far more unusual for people to go abroad so everything seemed very different. I remember the 'smorgasbord' of food in the hotel - most of the people in the party had never seen anything like it."
Nowadays, qualifying for European competition is absolutely crucial for a football club of Arsenal's stature, but back then things were very different.
"To be honest it probably cost the Club money to participate in European competition back then," says Ken, who was assistant to Club Secretary Bob Wall at the time. "You have to remember there was no money from TV companies back then and the crowd in the return leg was under 14,000 at Highbury, which was probably half the average number that season. The attendance shows that in the early years in Europe supporters weren't really enthusiastic."
As mentioned, the first ever fixture resulted in a comprehensive 7-1 win for the Gunners.
15,000 enthusiastic Danes watched Scottish International Johnny MacLeod get the ball rolling on nine minutes and legendary striker Joe Baker made it two before the half-hour mark. Then Geoff Strong took the game by the scruff of the neck. The Geordie striker, who scored 77 goals in 137 matches for Arsenal, scored a 14 minute hat-trick to leave the Danes reeling 5-0 at
half-time. After the break Joe Baker grabbed two more for his own hat-trick - Joe went on to score 100 goals for the Club in his career. In the closing stages Staevnet scored a well taken consolation.
The Danes could be forgiven for being over-run by Billy Wright's Gunners as they were all amateur players who trained in the evenings after work and to come up against International stars like Baker, Strong and MacLeod, not forgetting the great George Eastham who also played in the match, would have been a daunting prospect. Nevertheless, Arsenal obviously put on a superb performance that night and at the banquet after the match the Danish officials confirmed that 'they had seen the finest display of football given by any British side in Denmark since the war,' according to the Arsenal matchday programme for the return leg at Highbury.
The full Arsenal team for the fixture was as follows: McKechnie; Magill, McCullough, Brown, Ure, Groves, MacLeod, Strong, Baker, Eastham, Armstrong.
Of the Gunners team that day, unfortunately Laurie Brown, Joe Baker and George Armstrong are no longer with us. Of the other players who featured that day, two were actually present at Highbury for the final ever fixture; full-backs Jimmy Magill and Billy McCullough.
In the Highbury leg of the fixture, the Danes actually triumphed 3-2, though of course this was still a heavy 9-4 aggregate victory for the Gunners. Joe Baker, George Eastham and Johnny MacLeod were rested for the fixture with David Court, Alan Skirton and John Barnwell taking their places. Skirton and Barnwell were the Gunners' scorers in front of just 13,569 supporters. John Barnwell is featured on pages 62-63 of this evening's programme.
One little known fact about Arsenal's opposition for this historic fixture is that Staevnet were not an actual team in their own right. The term 'Staevnet' is the name given to a combination of Copenhagen clubs when playing as a select team. In the Gunners' earlier friendlies in Denmark they had often played against Copenhagen 'Staevnets'.
This combining of clubs from a city also occurred in England in the early days of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, when teams representing 'Birmingham' and 'London' entered the competition on occasions.
SEND US YOUR FIRSTS
We will be running an 'Arsenal Firsts' article in every matchday programme this season - and we'd like you to get involved. In this debut season for Emirates, we'd like to read about the first time you ever watched Arsenal. Send us your brief account - no more than 200 words - and if we like it we'll print it in this season's programme. And if we feature your account, we will also send you a professional A3 print of Emirates Stadium.
Either post your 'My First Match' to: First Match, The Publications Department, Arsenal Football Club, 75 Drayton Park, London N5 1BU or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 22 Aug 2006