May 31st, 2013 by 'holic
Huge thanks are due to the inimitable zicoinexile, one of the many house doctors, for sharing a wonderful tale of his introduction to North London life. I’m hoping the string of full-stops he closes with are an indication of a second part to follow.
While I am here can I just thank everybody for the kind words about last nights live Arsecast/Google Hangout. I hope most of you enjoyed it as much as we did making it.
Without further ado, I give you the story of a man I am proud to have met just by following this great club of ours.
If it seems like a lifetime ago, then that is because it was.
It was a simpler time when you could get from A to B with little more than a thumb and a flair for conversation. Back then, I would take a lift from anybody, truckers, gypsies, wired-to-the moon crazy fuckers, as long as they got me further up or down the road. So it was that this unemployed wide-eyed boy from Scotland found his way to the big city, deposited in a daze outside London Victoria by an amused lorry driver, choking amidst the diesel fumes and buffeted by everyone who was so-in-a hurry. I must have looked every bit like the hick from Midnight Cowboy.
It had never crossed my mind that football would be on the agenda that weekend. The lure of the city for me had been music, beer and girls, and not necessarily in that order. Summoned by an unexpected call from a good friend who had taken Tebbit at his word and “got on his bike”, and wound up in the Borough of Islington, working for the Local Authority, “Come on down”, he said.
Having travelled hundreds of miles by road without fear, my venture onto the tube was an exercise in paranoia, convincing myself I was headed in the wrong direction and would end up somewhere on the wrong side of bottle-wielding bandits. When I had looked at that psychedelic map, it was like a two-dimensional Rubik’s Cube, and about as easy to master. It was with relief then that I stumbled not into the dystopian world of A Clockwork Orange, but instead into daylight at the Angel. There, Pat was waiting for me, with a fire in his eyes which I knew could only be doused by a night on the tiles and the inevitable mayhem that would surely follow.
But he surprised me. His first words to me were “you’re going to love it here, I live about 10 minutes walk from The Arsenal and…..they’re at home tomorrow.” Intrigued, I was about to ask a series of questions when he cut me short, and reverted to type with a “let’s get a scoop, there’s a boozer just round the corner…..”.
Later that night proceedings were eased in gently in a pub on the corner of his street – I think it was called the Red Lion (but then, every second pub in England appeared to me to be named in deference to the Monarchy so it could just as easily have been the Queen’s Head or the King’s Bollocks). A couple of beers sunk, we readily ignored the occasional strange look as Pat and I caught up on months of gossip in loud and excited “foreign” accents.
We walked up Upper Street. We approached a Victorian-looking pub and outside, a large group of young locals were hanging around, rendering me slightly nervous (again). This was the Seventies. At home, groups of animated young people congregating outside a pub usually meant it was ready to kick off. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. We had arrived at the Hope and Anchor and the restless natives (admittedly many clad in outlandish gear) were all simply waiting patiently to descend to the cellar where, over the course of the next 12 months, I would spend money I didn’t have and time (which I had bags of), getting a (new) musical education.
Over the years, bands that were up and coming and bands that were never to be, from The Stranglers to the Feelgoods, Graham Parker, the Cure, Eater, The Makers, Madness, – even the Skids! – found their way to the Hope and Anchor, some on the way to world domination and some, spectators like me, on the way to hell and damnation.
But what does any of that have to do with football?
Well, those Fridays were followed frequently by Saturdays at Highbury.
That first time, I would have had a hangover. Friday nights merged seamlessly into Saturday mornings as Pat always seemed to know where the after-hours parties were. They say your hangovers get worse with age but I’m not so sure – a lot of those days at Highbury I remember as much for the revenge of the hops as the quality of the football. But that day, if I WAS hungover, I was too eager to get to Highbury to notice. The Home of Football had been on my checklist for some time, having previously made it to Wembley, Anfield, Villa Park and Old Trafford, I felt sure I knew what to expect.
It was a bright sunny day and we approached the ground from Highbury Hill. At virtually every football ground in those days, there was a lingering maleveolence in the air, and you always had to keep your wits about you. It took years for the police to learn how to effectively control the snarling tribes but I remember being pleasantly surprised by the gentle calm that surrounded Highbury and its apparent absence of malice.
Once we got into the ground I was hooked. The Clock End. We had found our spot.
There was just something so right that brought me to that place, at that time that I immediately felt a sense of belonging that has stayed with me ever since. It was more than the effects of whatever dubious medicines Pat dispensed that weekend that made those red and white strips so compelling, but whatever the strange chemistry was, I discovered there was no antidote. No substitute. No contest.
Memories of the game itself have long since faded but occasionally I get flashbacks of the day – of course these could have been from any of a number of games that season : a one-handed catch of a cross ball by Jennings (his hands appeared to be like gigantic claws) plucked from the sky whilst an opposition forward lunged head first at fresh air. The ungainly Willie Young whose every touch of the ball was almost painful to witness – the antithesis of a Beckenbauer or, whisper it, a Hansen. Of course, we too had some stand-out footballers – Stapleton, Rix, Sunderland. And of course, Chippy. Everything we did went through him and his cultured left foot. I was (still am) mesmerised.
On the Monday morning I was back to scrounging lifts home to Edinburgh. I made this unorthodox return trip every other week for the best part of a season before my wanderlust took me next to Dublin (where I watched and celebrated the 5 minute final). But thereafter, apart from the occasional match in the early 80s, my attendance at The Arsenal was put on hold as I pursued an education, a proper job, marriage, children – wrestling with all the standard conventions of life that quickly creep up on you and get in the way of a good time.
In the intervening period, George brought Arsenal back to winning ways before Arsene oversaw the step-change that transformed us into a so-called superclub. As success followed success, (and terracing became seats) I, like many others, peered from a distance at the Clock End with pangs of nostalgia, mindful of simpler days and wondering what it would be like to go back…….
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