My Arsenal silver jubilee

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My first home game

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.


Arsenal since about 1979. Thick, thin and all that.

This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. Sajit Kunnumkal

    Long time reader of your blog Goat. Congrats.. Well just a decade of following Arsenal for me.. but already a lifetime of memories..

    drinking at pubs for the games.. fights after losing to United / Chelsea..

    all part of the being a gooner package 🙂

  2. East Lower

    Obviously, winning trophies is a part of it too, somewhere along the line…

  3. matt colson

    Same first match as me, as just twittered. Similar memories as you. Packed into the clock end, bouncing around after each goal. Hearing the colourful language (I was 12), and buying peanuts from the geezer wandering the terraces with a sack of nuts! The programme is so vivid in my memory that seeing it again makes it feel like only last year. Always thought the result was a no brainer, Liverpool top of the league and Arsenal mid table – i told my dad in the car on the way down that I’d support the winners…I did.

    Happy silver jubilee Mr. EL

    Matt aka @cojonesdoro

  4. East Lower

    I went up into the loft to get that programme out.. glad I did!

  5. Tim Merrick

    Great post…..we were just turning into a good side then. You came along at the right time! Can’t believe it’s been that long since that team.

    My first match I was 7 – Highbury seemed absolutely immense to me.

  6. East Lower

    Cheers. It’s true – look at the line-up and the core of the 89 side is there. Just took George Graham to mould it. Good time to start watching the Arsenal.

  7. Gooner in Exile

    Must have been similar year to me I think I was 9 and my first game was at home to Leicester. Thing is there is always some contention in the household as to when I became a Gooner.

    My grandad was a Hamner, nan was a Gunner as was my Dad (who as a kid lived between the Globe and the Tolly Arms).

    On my 4th birthday my Grandad bought me a West Ham kit a month after the FA Cup final, my Dad went upstairs fuming.

    They let me continue on this whim and took me to Trevor Brookings last game at Upton Park, soon after they took me to Arsenal v Leicester at Highbury, we stood in the JG section.. Coming-out of the ground with my Mum, Dad and brother, my Dad turned to me and said that if I wanted to continue watching live football it would have to be at Highbury so I might as well change teams.

    Being as young as 9 the memories aren’t as clear, but over the years of standing on the Nortg Bank I have some absolutely stand out memories like Arsenal 4-Liverpool 0 (Limpar from the halfway line) and the 7 goal drubbing of Sheffield Wednesday with Mersons chips.

    Also a favourite memory was telling the FA to stick the 2 points up their backsides in 1991.

    When I am lucky enough to get tickets to the Emirates (living in Norfolk, and having given up a Clock End season ticket to play Senior football in 1993) I always venture round Highbury walking from Finsbury Park, I don’t know why but coming from Highbury & Islington feels sterile.

    Years of standing at the back of the North Bank can’t help but make me annoyed at the lack of atmosphere at the Grove. So I enjoy away games more than hone games these days. Off to Wigan and Brum over Christmas and New Year could be the making of us.

  8. Aaron Gartan

    Is that a young David Seaman on the front cover playing for Brum?

  9. Kick Arse

    Fantastic post. Going to Highbury always seemed to be something of a ritual, I miss the grand old place 🙁

  10. Richard Daniels

    I had a similar experience last season – my first game was Villa on Boxing Day, 1994, and last season, on the 15th anniversary of my first game was….Villa again! Felt like I’d completed a full circle…and to compare the 2 games…mind-boggling! Apparently it was such a cold day, and such a boring game (I remember that, and Nigel Spink being in goal for Villa), that I turned to my dad and said “I don’t care which team scores, I just want to see a goal”…

    Looking forward to villa on boxing day, 2024

  11. East Lower

    Great memories, cheers. I might adopt your dad’s tactic if either of my sons gets the wrong idea about who to support…

  12. East Lower

    For some reason I remember always playing Villa on Boxing Day and it always being a rubbish game. Must be thinking of the same ones…

  13. Anonymous

    My first game was watching Arsenal under Don Howe we lost 2-1 to Derby Country. My second game, can’t remember who we were playing but I do remember falling asleep and pouring my cup of tea all down my front.

    How expectations have changed!

  14. Anonymous

    Wow, lovely memories, my earliest memory was of watching a 0-0 with Southampton when I was about 5 or 6. Can’t remember much of it or what year it was exactly – but it must have been late 70’s early 80’s. When my Dad used to take us kids we would go to different parts of the ground – when he went on his own he went into the North Bank. So I have experienced every angle of the highbury turf!

    A highlight for me from a similar era to yours, was a 7-1 smashing of Leicester (again can’t remember the year). We were in the East Lower (funnily enough) on this occasion, close to the clock end. Leicester had Alan Smith playing for them and I seem to remember we already knew he was defecting to us at the end of the season!

    Charlie Nicolas got a typical curler from outside the box…I was sat right behind it so saw the path of the ball as it curled perfectly into the top corner. Then the cherry on the cake was a Martin Hayes waltz through the Leicester defence – starting from our half – ending with him rounding the keeper and walking it in! Amazing, considering Hayes’ie wasn’t the most gifted of Arsenal players ever to wear the shirt.

    Talking of memories of the old place, on the last game at Highbury, my Dad gave me his ticket. So I thought I would say thanks by creating this:
    I thought afterwards that other gooners might like one so I adapted it and have attempted to sell it on to anyone that might be interested. If nothing else I would love to hear your opinions on it!

    Happy Silver jubilee EL and “come on you rip roarin reds” (remember him?)

  15. Don Doherty

    My first match was August ’86, opening day of the season at home to Man Utd. I was six years old.

    Similarly, I was in the West Stand Upper but remember nothing about getting too or in the ground; only walking up the steps and the late summer sunshine beaming through Highbury. I also remeber the vividness of the green grass and the divine perfection of the crisp white lines, posts & nets.

    When Charlie Nicholas scored the winner, with only goal of the game ten minutes from time; I honestly thought everybody would simply stand and appluade……….. the roar shot me out of my raggedy seat and the love affair was born.

  16. East Lower

    Great montage. That’s really nice.

  17. David Fernando

    “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.”

    I know EXACTLY what you mean.

    My Mum took me to see Arsenal for the first time on the opening day of the 1976-77 season. Supermac’s debut v newly-promoted Bristol City. Blindingly hot sunny day (the drought of ’76!). We were all re-cycling bath water for the garden at home but when I walked up the stairs out to the seats, the only thing I remember was HOW GREEN THE PITCH WAS!!! Breath taking. Clearly they didn’t adhere to any hosepipe ban at Highbury.

    We lost 0-1 of course. I wasn’t to see them again for three years (v Juve).

    Oh, and sweet (!) memories of the running fan battles in the streets afterwards with my Mum sheltering me in the doorway of a house on Gillespie Road.

    Happy days.

  18. Anonymous

    You are a true gent, thank you.

    I have been to the Grove a couple of times, although a magnificent stadium, the memories and old pictures of Highbury still fills me with warmth and excitement.

    Another world.

  19. Anonymous

    Long time Arseblog reader but don’t venture over here often, will now though.

    Great stuff, my first experience of Highbury was actually the opposite! I don’t remember the first time setting foot inside the ground although I wish I did. I must of been around 13, walking along with my mum completely stunned, fascinated. The smell of matchday, gooners everywhere, horses, looking up at the east stand facade my word. Thinking about it is actually giving me goosebumps. From that day forward I was completely hooked, and never looked back. The result was 2-1 to Man U unfortunately, but it didn’t change anything, the dreaminess of Arsenal and Highbury had already put me under it’s spell long before a ball was even kicked.

    I actually came across the programme having a clear out the other day, Seaman was on the cover, I think it was 02/03, the season before you know what 😉

    My god, Arsenal, I love you!

  20. Bailey Darar

    Heyy Everyone, I’m 11 years old and went to my first arsenal match when i was 5 (In the clock end). it was Arsenal Vs Southampton and we were losing 2-1 and i was crying! in the last minute RVP scored a amazing goal and we drew. i remember coming out and asking my dad “Can we go again next week?” he then reached into his pocket and showed me a clock end season ticket and gave it to me. Best Moment Of My Life 🙂

  21. Warren Czapa

    Thanks Rotorgoat. You’ve brought back a few memories there – 5 April 1980, a 1-1 draw with Southampton.

    It was a sunny spring day in the East Upper, the guards band at half time & a scummy toerag behind me who pilfered some mints out of my back pocket during the 2nd half. Mick Channon got their equalizer & did that wheely arm thing to celebrate. It kept the pang of the team not winning away until the desperate last 10 minutes when Arsenal kept pumping it into the box but couldn’t get the winner… at least it prepared me for the pattern of many games to come !

  22. East Lower

    Some great reminiscences here. Love it.

  23. East Lower

    There aren’t enough wheely-armed celebrations these days.

  24. Anonymous

    Reading these great posts reminds me of the first professional match I attended and how old I am!

    In the late sixties my uncle came over from Ireland for the weekend. Spurs were playing Coventry at home and he took me to the match. I was five or six years old. The game started and for some reason I really wanted Coventry to win. Spurs won; 4-0 if I remember correctly (it may have been 4-1).

    That was it for me. I left White Hart Lane a devoted Arsenal fan. And it’s been that way ever since. I care more about the Gunners than I care about football and have Spurs to thank for it!


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