The thing is, when you have watched Arsenal over a few decades, in glory and mediocrity, in wet, sunny and freezing weather; when you have travelled by tube so many times, walked the same streets and drunk in oh so many pubs, specific matches don’t stand out that much.
I wasn’t at the Lane in ’71 or Anfield in ’89, those would surely stand proud in the mind. No, my Arsenal watching comes down to a melange of memories of goals, people, pubs, players and people I went with. Friends and my father. A couple of cup finals. A bit like memories of childhood, without the drinking, of course.
Time and place, then. That’s what has defined my main joy as an Arsenal supporter and for a lad, there could have been no better season that 1970/71. I’d been watching the team for a few years on trips to London but this was the first season that I attended more games than I missed - it must have cost my parents a fortune!
Almost any game from that season would tell a story but I’ve picked the home fixture against Chelsea. Saturday, 3rd April, 1971. We were second in the league. They were third, four points behind. Leeds were six points ahead of us with ten games to play but we had three games in hand.
I’d been at the reverse fixture back in the previous August when we had suffered our first defeat of the season on a lovely summer day. For this match, the weather wasn’t so good but at least it was dry and the crowd kept us warm. Over 62,000 were packed into Highbury. In the corner between the North Bank and the West Stand we seemed to be standing at an angle of 60 degrees. As my father later said, “Half of those 62,000 were on my back, Bert!” Comfortable it wasn’t but a brilliant atmosphere, it was.
We were all still high on the drama of the previous Saturday when we had come back from 2-0 down against Stoke in the FA Cup semi final with an equalising penalty put away by Peter Storey in injury time against Gordon Banks. I’d actually been at Argyle that day with my ear glued to my transistor radio, which I was on the verge of throwing over the back of the stand when the day was so dramatically saved.
As for Chelsea, they had done us a favour with a win over Leeds United the previous Saturday, but as the programme pointed out: ‘Today they have got their own sights fixed on second place.’
The Arsenal side that day was:
Bob Wilson, Pat Rice, Bob McNab, Peter Storey, Frank McLintock, Peter Simpson, George Graham, , John Radford, Ray Kennedy, Charlie George.
The Chelsea side was:
John Phillips, Ron Harris, Eddie McCready, John Hollins, John Dempsey, David Webb, Tommy Baldwin, Alan Hudson, Peter Osgood, Charlie Cooke, Peter Houseman.
The match itself was typical of home games of that season, in my memory at least. Some good football from both teams and Chelsea had a very talented footballing side with a steely centre. We were more direct and hard-working with the flair coming from Charlie and George Graham. I remember my heart being in my mouth a few times as they pressed. We came close a few times as well but half time arrived goalless. No chance to nip off for a pint, even if I’d been old enough, no chance to even go to the gents, so crammed in we were.
The second half saw two excellent goals, both scored by a young Ray Kennedy with a massive contribution from Charlie George, as I recall. He certainly claimed the applause of the crowd, but that was Charlie’s way. The victory was of course important. We were to go on and overhaul Leeds by dint of that famous victory at Spurs. That was a midweek game and I was doing my ‘O Levels’ that year, so a couple of minutes of blurry TV relayed the news to us. I don’t even think it was on the radio! The Saturday after saw us win the FA Cup against Liverpool for our first double.
Time and place. It seemed to me that we were on the verge of great things. A pivotal moment with a strong experienced team sprinkled with young talent. Surely more success would follow? History tells us otherwise.
That team was broken up and the talent never fully matured. Kennedy and George would both leave Arsenal. This was as good as it got for that team. Not bad though!
After the game, I’m sure that we joined the queue outside Arsenal tube station for the long ride back on the Piccadilly Line to Hounslow East and a bus onto Feltham where we were staying with my sister. The pubs, the friends and the pints came later. It was always just me and my Dad that year.
It was a very different time.
There was no advertising at all at Highbury, Just a fence around the pitch and of course there was the Metropolitan Police Band whose pre-match entertainment included ‘Salute to Wales’ and ‘The Cuckoo & the Bumble Bee’ while the ‘Pop Parade Selection’ included ‘All The Things You Are’, sung by Constable Alex Morgan. Of course, the band leader tossed his baton into the air, as always, to the cheers of the North Bank, as always, as the band marched around the pitch.
Glorious days of youth. Brilliant.