23 Comments

Arsenal: Old Memories from the Class of ’48

Gf60 writes;

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Of old Highbury, Crush barriers, Cliff Holton and Stanley Matthews.

With all-seater grounds, nancyfied and oh so safe, no-one will ever know, again, the thrill of being able to tell the crowd size merely by the pressure on your chest. Seriously.

To illustrate: a big game, the scum for example, meant that you had to get to the ground at least three hours before kick off else risk being locked out. Two hours before hand wouldn’t allow you to get your favourite position without a great deal of manoeuvring.

“Today’s a 65 000.” “Nah, 58 000 at most” We were rarely out by more than a few thousand….bar one dismal day when Leeds came to town back in the 60’s. Figures such as 4 000 didn’t exist other than for the reserve games. Just imagine shortly after the war, the stiffs would pull in crowds of over 30 000 regularly. Days long gone I fear.

Anyway to return to the point.

Cliff Holton was a big lad. More, he had a shot on him that made somebody like Thierry Henry’s look a bit powder puffy. Cliff regrettably had few of TH’s skills but he could play, after a fashion, anywhere from right back to centre forward. He was part of a side that was, to be more than fair, pretty bloody in the mid 1950’s. But it pulled crowds, inevitably over 50 000 and on one particular autumn day, WBA, were the visitors.

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In those days, WBA were a bloody good and attractive side…Allen and Griffin being two very sharp forwards so it was a deep breathing crowd…well over 60, 000 and packed like sardines. The crush barriers must have been doing overtime but, because Arsenal was Arsenal, as safe as the monthly safety checks could make them.

For those who don’t know what a crush barrier was, (there are plenty of photos) in brief, a 1/2 inch thickness cast iron 3 inch diameter pipe supported by two triangular supports of similar construct basically formed the barrier. These were staggered all over the terraces, facing the pitch, so when the crowd swayed, moved, tripped, stumbled, slid …all the sorts of things that standing crowds do whilst following the action, the crush barriers barriered and the folks below were uncrushed. Worked very well at the Arsenal 998 times out of 1000.

So back to Cliff and WBA. Kicking towards the Clock end, big Cliff had a chance. About 20 yards out and he meets this half volley as sweetly as a ball has ever been hit. It may well have been doing over 90 mph. Only problem was it was six feet wide of the goal and still rising as it went towards the crowd.

Do you know how quickly jam packed human beings can move when facing that? I kid you not. The ball hit empty concrete terracing….not 1 person within 5 yards of the ball. There they were packed…there they were gone. …sideways. Barriers not much use for sideways movement. ..but they did leave an unforgettable memory for we North Bankers.

And then there was Stanley Matthews….later Sir Stan….the “wizard of dribble”, by then coming up to 40 years old and Blackpool who were also a good attractive side, with Mortenson, Taylor and other quality players. Invariably they were in the top half of the table, then. Strangely, no matter how badly we were playing in the league, we always had a good feeling about Blackpool coming to Highbury. They didn’t like playing there albeit they’d beaten us in a 6th round Cup Tie 2 years back. This day was no different…we were 3-0 up and going nicely for a change. Matthews hadn’t done much…strangely Dennis Evans who was marking him inevitably played him well.

The crowd, again in the 60,000 region was happy; for once we were going to get 2 points without too much of a panic and a lovely time was being had by all….bar the Blackpool players and supporters. Just as it should be. But a player like Matthews doesn’t get a reputation such as he had without some genius in his feet. He trapped a half volley and in the same movement, went to go inside Dennis. …and the crowd swayed inside to follow the play. Which was why we (the crowd and Dennis) were all off balance when Matthews went the other way. …and we (the crowd and Denis) all finished up on our arses!

It was the most perfect dummy and once again proved that crush barriers were fine for stopping down hill momentum but not too hot at stopping sideways.

There was an interesting footnote to that game. We were 4-0 up and the final whistle went. Every one cheered and Denis who had the ball in our penalty area, celebrating the win, walloped the ball into the net. Consternation. The whistle had come from some clown in the crowd not the ref. Goal awarded…the goal that made the difference to Blackpool finishing third (with the third prize money) and not fourth.

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( Stan pursued by Bowen and Dennis)

About anicoll5

Arsenal supporter, 59, Dad, harmless and humourless, political militant moderate, school governor and worker bee

23 comments on “Arsenal: Old Memories from the Class of ’48

  1. I love it Ian – as a very young kid I was able to clamber up on the barriers and sort of wrap my leg around it so I did not all off – during the 60s when crowds were sparse at a lot of games it ensured a good view.

    Barriers or not though football grounds were catastrophes waiting to happen. The stairs down from the North Bank towards Arsenal station !!! How no one was ever crushed is a miracle.

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  2. Excellent gf60. I am not English and I am a mere lad to you in age but trust me I get it. All football fans who have been to an overcrowded stadium can relate to every thing you say.

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  3. What a marvellous article!

    Those were the days my friends and although I only went to a handful of the old-fashioned zero-seater stadiums (Highbury, Sunderland’s Roker Park & Exeter) I do feel we lost a great deal thanks to the Taylor Report’s insistence on all-seaters. When you consider the 100,000’s of games that previously took place on the basis of virtually self-policed grounds WITHOUT disaster, injury or loss of life then just possibly Taylor’s was a knee-jerk too far.

    Unfortunately the counter-arguments also hold true with the hooliganism of the 70’s rendering even die-hard football fans pretty sick of the state of football. Combine that with the mid-winter mud bath state of all pitches bar Arsenal’s heated version and you had an industry seemingly crying out for modernisation.

    Unfortunately, the effective ‘gentrification’ of the game has unleashed all manner of horrors and the online environment within which we all now obliged to reside to a greater or lesser degree has created, in Football, a beast unrecognisable to all our grandfathers.

    It is what it is, I guess, and we just have to get on with it, savouring the best bits, trying to ignore the worst.

    Of one thing I remain fairly sure and that is that the joy of winning an FA Cup Final against a local rival remains undiminished, regardless of era.

    And as Arsenal fans in particular, we should probably always be grateful for that.

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  4. Great piece gf60! Heres to a lot more blogs from gf60 delving into the history of AFC. To me those guys shouldnt be forgotten, and any anecdote is well worth reading about.

    Does anyone know the year when the North Bank was first covered? And when did the West stand finally become all seater?

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  5. Andrew…you just reminded me of the most scary moment I’ve been in…but not at THOF but Charlton at The Valley in the 60s. I think it was a cup game that we won. Going in we’d had a wonderful fry up, eggs, sausage, bacon, fried bread and a cuppa for 1s 9d! How times change. Going out one poor guy had his arm broken in the crush…and that was the worst crush I can remember. How it didn’t turn into a Liverpool disaster I’ll never know.

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  6. Iwobi: “We would run through brick walls for the boss. I am pleased [he extended] because he really is Mr Arsenal.”

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  7. NB covered 1936. Didnt get that nickname until 66/67. West stand must have been made into seating between end of 60s sometime into 70s? Must have been weirs standing in the upper tiers? Did they build the extension for the camera in the mid 60s too on the WS?
    gf60, the game you describe is it from 55/56? talking of Sir Stanley, I saw this that might be of interest?
    “He (Stan)made his 440th and final appearance in a Blackpool shirt in a 3–0 defeat at Arsenal on 7 October 1961.It was a fitting final bow as he always enjoyed playing against Arsenal, and he had “so many wonderful memories” at Highbury.”

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  8. The night of Arsenal v Liverpool the night of Ian Rush final vist before him leaving for Juventus. Easy 60,000 inside a least another 50,000 locked outside it was the only time I was ever scared on the North Bank. Not when we got attacked by the scum or blind sided by West Ham. I was unable to get my usual spot (infront of the barrier to the nearly half way down) for the crush just getting in couldn’t get out of work any earlier. My friend and myself we pulled apart with my 6ft 3in (1.91)frame my feet couldn’t touch the ground.
    It was a madness .

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  9. Were anyone of you guys on the NB during the game at Highbury v Spurs 1980/81 season, when we won 2-0 (0-0)?

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  10. The upper tier of the west stand was always seats but the lower tier was turned into seats at the beginning of the 70/71 season I’d guess mills

    Like all club League games then you could just queue up and get in – I remember dragging my Dad down early and we’d be inside by 1’ish for Spurs/Chelsea/manyoo or West Ham

    In those days though there was loads of pre match action – skinheads play-fighting, police wading in, dozens of hoolies being hauled out and marched around the pitch, as well as plenty of good singing

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  11. Wenger: “We cannot spend as much as many other clubs because some clubs have external resources that allow them to be basically unlimited.”

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  12. Cheers Andy, looking again you can see the seats in the upper West. One strange thing is as you look at the few photos available, that in various shots the cover for NB looks like it isnt there. In at least 3 photos. Perhaps theyre mis-labelled. I realise I must be a bit of a traitor but I never liked the NB if I went in at that end I preferred going to the side area, even if it meant getting rained on. It always seemed a bit shambolic and falling down.But you would always find yourself looking over under the stand, as thats were most of the noise was coming from. Footballs so strange when youre there, I get transfixed by the crowd and the noise, and the game never seems real. Like you know the people so well from the tv, but in person they dont seem real.
    I played in a team where one of the lads when professional, and he played ( what was Div 1) at Highbury, against Arsenal, and he said, that it was a big old pitch to play on, it looks small on the tv but it wasnt.

    Amazing ariel shot on-line of Highbury in 1929, before the East and later West stands were built,of the massive terrace on the west side.
    Poor old Highbury, anyone who went there was touched deeply I think. Second home to many many people, everyone I knew thought it was personally theres, as they did AFC. Seems like a different world away now. Seems sad really.
    In my first times it was turn up and pay a quid! Although the Juve semi was 3.50 in the East stand. Which seemed really loads at the time, much more than I could afford and it took some begging-in those days it was bare essentials and little else.
    Cant recall what the normal price in the stands was 2? or 2.50? Pretty over whelming for a little kid, the smell of booze and Tabak and then seeing Pat Jennings warming up as I came down into the stadium-it seemed the best place in the world, later in the game giving Brady a bollocking. And feeling totally ashamed as he must have heard.That bloke was such a hero to me, I even used to try and do the dimple on myself!! What a vanker, –I know, but hey I was only a kid form a poor background of not much but football.These blokes were like the G-ds to me.
    Going home and not being able to get the place out of my mind.Lying here thinking about it. Of course you get used to it, and in some ways it was much less special but still special, that kick of going in there was still amazing. I hate seeing the pics of what it is now, and the building work.

    But people have much more interesting memories than me, I would love to hear them if youve got time.

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  13. The front portion of the East stand was used for schoolboys, where (if you were small enough)you could squeeze through the bars and get onto the North Bank or take the chance and climb up quickly nip onto the cinder warm up track and jump into the Northbank ( to loud raucous cheers from the big boys) or speak to a kindly Police officer explaining to him that your dad or bigger brother was over there and you needed to see him.
    Because if you were caught on the cinders, you would be ejected. At least till 10 mins in the 2nd half, when they tended to open the gates and you could get back in.
    Happy days.

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  14. Brilliant WwwB,– every anecedote somehow makes the tapestry of AFC, all those unique experiences.

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  15. For a long while there was no problem with walking round from one end to the other if you wanted to be behind the goal Arsenal were attacking in the second half. Unless it was a full house there was always space. Plenty used to wander round but that stopped in the early 70s when the terraces began to get a bit unruly.

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  16. Wow…how good was that! Thanks for a great read GF60

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Brilliant fron GF60 I absolutely loved that post.
    ah the schoolboys where many of us started our solo supporting experience, also a small area along the front of the west stand that the away supporters used to run down to “take the north bank”. The NB used to sing “come and take us, come and take us were the the North back Highbury” and I used to think dont fucking sing that I dont want some skinhead running at me.
    Andrew, the Taylor report did not insist on allseater stadia, thats just the media again telling people something to make something unpopular seem the right thing to do. He actually said more seating areas should be considered it was the tory government, who hated football and had already tried to introduce an ID card for every supporter but had been defeated, who used the tradgedy at Hillsborough as a way of destroying football.
    At the time there were no tv deals, no big money owners and no sponsorship for teams of major description. Football in this country was very lucky to survive and it was ironic that something that was intended to crush it turned on its head.
    The most scared ive been actually happened outside the East Stand trying to get in to the North Bank. Kevin Keegan had just signed for Southampton after his spell at Hamburg, I think he was still European player of the year at the time although I may be wrong about that, it was also our first home game of the season (evening game). To add to a massive crowd some of the guys on the turnstiles hadn’t turned up and the crowd was crushed between the ground and the houses in Avenall road. people were climbing over the roof of the turnstiles, over the gates and some of the garden fences of the houses were smashed down. It was a time when I looked around and couldn’t find a way out anywhere and I felt like my safety was not in my control.
    The other packed crowd I remember was also near the start of the season v Liverpool, it was the game when lads were sitting on the roof of the North Bank we beat them 2-1 which was major at the time for our young side I think the estimated crowd was about 73,000. The big red gates in the North Bank were opened and loads of fans got in free.

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  18. Seems some of the press will stoop to any levels to blacken the name of Arsenal FC

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  19. arse_or_brain – thanks for the clarification on the detail; as you can see, I’ve never troubled myself to read the Taylor Report. As you rightly say, what came out of it was a textbook result for the Law of Unintended Outcomes!

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  20. Morning All,

    Mandy, the Taylor Report was published in 1990 following the deaths of nearly 100 fans at Hillsborough in 1989 from crushing. It recommended that all major stadiums convert to an all-seater model.

    (There had previously been a terrible crushing accident involving Glasgow Rangers, in 1971, I think, where 66 people had lost their lives in a crushing instance involving a long staircase exit.)

    The then English and Scottish Football League authorities passed football legislation requiring First Division and Second Division clubs make this all seater change by 1994.

    [I googled the above – hope it helps put things in perspective]

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  21. I think someone asked when the North Bank was given a roof.

    Highbury was redeveloped about 3 times, but circa 1936, after Arsenal bought the ground outright (it was previously leased) the West and East stands were rebuilt and the North Bank was redesigned and a roof installed.

    [Précis of another Google search]

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  22. Finally, I am really sorry GF 60 not to have thanked you earlier, for an absorbing Post on the history and memories of Arsenal.
    Very, very interesting and I must say the quality of your writing must make you a candidate for producing other articles on the club.

    [OK, Anicoll – I have gone!] lol

    Liked by 1 person

  23. new post up

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