Every football fan remembers their first game and every Gooner remembers their first trip to Highbury. The visit to West Ham United on September 16 1995 was my first trip to N5. The game finished 1-0 to the Gunners and being 7-years-old, I can only recall two incidents with any clarity.
The first was the feeling of despair when Ian Wright blazed a penalty wide. As the ref blew his whistle and Wrighty began his run up, it seemed as if I was seconds away from hearing the jubilation of the Highbury faithful. I couldn’t see a thing, but the groans that followed meant I didn’t need to. An opportunity for redemption arose when a second penalty was awarded.
For years I convinced myself that this was the final kick of the game. It was only recently, when doing a bit of nostalgic reading that I found out there was a full 15 minutes remaining. No mistake was made the second time round and the sound of “Ian Wright, Wright, Wright” reverberated around Highbury. He had a new fan.
Whilst the match itself won’t be remembered by many, my first trip to Highbury is something that I will always cherish. The process of trying to find a parking space on Tollington Road, the walk to the ground, ‘Two bags of sweets for £1’, followed fish and chips at full-time; it was all to became part of a regular Saturday afternoon ritual.
That match has added significance, and was one which at the time I’m not sure I fully appreciated. it was the first time I had the chance to watch Dennis Bergkamp. His contribution against the Hammers was minimal that but thankfully I’m privileged enough to say ‘I was there’ when he scored his first goals for Arsenal the following week against Southampton
There were many things that I found endearing about Highbury. The walk down Avenell Road and watching the stadium magically appear out of nowhere. The Art Deco East Stand. The famous Clock End timepiece. My favourite though, was the way the beautiful green turf appeared in all its glory as you climbed the stairs to your seat and the surprise at how close the pitch was to spectators. Evening games under the floodlight had an extra special feel about them.
After games, there would be stops at a couple of pubs to let the crowds disperse. It was Guinness for the old man, diet coke and crisps for the kids. To a young boy, what better way could there be to spend a Saturday afternoon than a trip to Highbury followed by the pub? More than fifteen years and 200 games later, the diet cokes have been replaced with something stronger. But the buzz of arriving into Finsbury Park and going to the game remains as strong today as it did then.