No no, I’m not old enough to be waxing lyrical about Ted Drake scoring all seven goals in a 7-1 drubbing of Aston Villa on 14th December 1935, but cast yourselves forward fifty years to something far more monumental for me – the first Arsenal game I ever attended.
Yes, today is my Arsenal silver jubilee, so I wanted to share it with you. And with any luck, pointless filler though it clearly is, it might just take your minds off yesterday.
I have clear memories of FA Cup final day in 1980 being the first Arsenal game I cared about, and I have even clearer memories four days later of blubbing uncontrollably when my Dad woke me up for the Cup Winners’ Cup final penalty shoot-out against Valencia (damn you Graham Rix), so clearly something was building.
But it wasn’t until 1985 that I got to go to Highbury, with my Dad and my brother (the latter now season ticket holder next to me – I take all the credit for making him support the Arsenal), and I remember the day as clearly as you can remember anything that happened 25 years and thousands of pints ago. The clearest memory is not of arriving at the ground, or the bustle of the crowd outside – I don’t remember that at all – but of me emerging into the sunlit uplands of the West Stand upper tier. I was confronted by the vastness of Highbury, and I was looking down at it from the gods. I have a picture of it in my head now, just as it was then, and if some clever swine could create an app for that, I’d show you.
For this teenage boy it was a snapshot of sheer and utter brilliance. I remember the Clock End (no roof) filling up and I remember the spine-tingling noise of the crowd. I loved it from the off. I was hooked.
What else do I recall? Well I remember Charlie Nicholas, mulleted superstar, scoring the first – he got a lot fewer goals than he should have – and I remember Niall Quinn, all nine foot seventeen of him and also sporting a mandatory 80s mullet, bagging a goal on his Arsenal debut.
The attendance was a shade over 35,000, a good crowd for Arsenal at a time when we were averaging much less and hadn’t sniffed a trophy for five years (bells ringing?) But above all, it was a victory by a fairly nondescript Arsenal side against the very best side in the land and, coupled with a win at Old Trafford (either straight before or after, I forget), it was a sign that the club was stirring. Little could we know what might come next of course. Don Howe would not last much longer and George Graham, his successor, kicked Arsenal onto the next level where by and large we have remained.
The image at the top of the blog is from the official programme but if you’re not bored yet, there’s more. I’ve scanned some of the other pages from the programme to give you a flavour (link below). My favourite bits are the ‘Young Guns’ report on up-and-coming Paul Merson, my own pencilled and badly spelt amendments to the line-up, Don Howe’s snooker-fuelled programme notes and the quality goods on offer in the club shop. It really was a different era but even now I’d pay good money for that Centenary Holdall (Vinyl). A snip at £7.50p, I’m sure you will concur.
Programme highlights (pdf, 2.38MB)
I can’t believe it was 25 years ago.