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Moving tales of Arsenal past: Sammy to the Rescue

By David Lane

The story below is just one of a collection of over 40 tales that are contained in a fantastic book by the name of ‘Arsenal ‘Til I Die’.

The book tells many stories – supplied by the full spectrum of our club’s supporters. Some will make you laugh, others will make you cry, but all will give readers an insight into what it really means to be a fan of Arsenal Football Club.

Looking at the images and reading the words will hopefully spark your own memories of a very special football club. Real football stories told by real football fans.

Details of the book, and its new i-pad edition are given at the end.

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Sammy To The Rescue

As a young boy, I used to stand behind the goal at the Clock End and, as I lived a short 15-minute walk away from Highbury, often arriving at about five to three, my friends and I were often passed, hand-to-hand, over the heads of supporters – from the stairs near the turnstiles, right to the front row by the touchline.

Even as late as the 1960s people cared enough about the youngsters being able to see and would gladly help them to get down to the front.

Because I stood in the same place every week, I slowly got on nodding terms with most of the fans who surrounded me and I particularly remember a group of young Turkish blokes who were extremely passionate Arsenal men who all wore red and white scarves and sang very loudly.

One evening in 1979 Arsenal were playing Fenerbahce at home in the Cup Winners’ Cup. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I took my place behind the goal – the Turkish guys were all wearing Turkish or Fenerbahce colours, and although they got a lot of teasing from the regulars all around, there was no hint of trouble and they still cheered and jumped up and down when Arsenal scored their two goals through Alan Sunderland and Willie Young – those lads couldn’t lose that night!

At school I was as good as gold and never in any trouble.  However, supporting Arsenal was a passion and on two occasions I have to admit to having bunked off. The first time was to watch a Cup replay against Derby County, which was played one February afternoon in 1972 during the miners’ strike, and, because of the threat of power cuts, the FA decided that the match should be played during daylight to avoid any backlogs in fixtures.

There was a massive crowd of over 63,000 that day, so many in fact that a crush barrier failed and some people were injured.

I remember the incident for two reasons: firstly it happened very close to where I was standing in the Clock End, but mostly because the press photographers were taking lots of photos of the scene and I was supposed to be at school – I was terrified of being snapped at the game and a teacher seeing my photo in the paper or on TV! I was so concerned that I crouched down and kept my head out of sight.

Looking back at the whole incident it was extremely scary, especially with so many people in the crowd getting hurt – but I have to admit that at that age I was just happy getting away with being off school and watching my Arsenal.

The second time I skipped off school that season was to get a good position in the queue to buy my FA Cup semi-final tickets, and not going to lessons that day meant I was able to get there early enough to get a place in the first 100 or so fans. Lucky that I did, too, as just half an hour or so later, the line of people stretched right up Avenell Road and along by the flats at the top of the hill as far as I could see.

But despite being so early, for some strange reason when I arrived at the ground for the semi I discovered the ticket I had been sold was in the Sunderland end – I was a lone 14-year-old Arsenal fan, kitted out in my Arsenal scarf, among an army of Mackems. Thankfully, the Sunderland fans were all very good to me and I got chatting to a fair few of them.

Then, without any warning, a particularly large Sunderland fan picked me up and made me stand on the top of the barrier in front of him, while he and all his mates propped me up, told me to raise my scarf above my head and that if I didn’t start singing: “You’ll never walk alone!” they wouldn’t let me down.

I felt really embarrassed as I was hoisted up, and clearly worried and concerned about how the other Sunderland fans would react, but I did as they insisted and nervously sang the song with my arms raised holding my Arsenal scarf. To my surprise and definite relief I got a round of applause that seemed to come from all round me – but more importantly my ‘mates’ were good to their word and let me down.

Sunderland then scored what turned out to be the winning goal and, because none of the Sunderland fans had ever been to a Cup final before, their nervous tension leading up to the final whistle was unbelievable. Although I was fed up and disappointed by the result, I wished them luck for Wembley – that was the day I discovered that real football fans are all the same, part of one big family, regardless of who they support.

In 1980 I took on a paper round and one of the houses I delivered newspapers to was where the Arsenal left-back Sammy Nelson lived. I didn’t see him often because I delivered the papers very early, but I’ll never forget the morning of the Arsenal v West Ham final.

At about 10am I got a phone call from the paper shop owner to tell me that Sammy had popped in the night before and dropped off two tickets to give to the lad who delivered his papers. I was thrilled to bits and my girlfriend and I rushed off to Wembley and just about made it in time for kick-off – we didn’t care that we had to stand right at the back.

Although, sadly, we lost the game 1-0 I’ll never forget that generous and thoughtful gesture by my former Arsenal hero and will always be grateful to have been supporting the club during an era when the players genuinely had a connection with the supporters and cared enough to go out of their way ahead of a massively important game to help a fan like me. Arsenal ‘til I die.

Paul Reynolds

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Arsenal ‘Til I Die (the book from which this story above has been taken) has just been made available for Apple iPad users and is on sale now through the iTunes store priced just £4.99, click here for more details. The printed version is available priced £10 from www.tilidie.co.uk.

5 comments to Moving tales of Arsenal past: Sammy to the Rescue

  • naked goon

    Lovely. A photo of Sammy mooning at the North Bank please

  • Laundryender

    Sammy Sammy do your job!!!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Nice story , Sammy always had a smile on his face and seemed generally a good bloke .Had forgotten about that mooning episode !I had read somewhere that after retiring from the game ,he went into the insurance business in Brighton .

  • Laundryender

    Sammy is often seen on the fairways at the Dyke Golf Club north of Brighton.

    Top Geezer

    he went to Brighton at the same time as Steve Gatting (now back with Arsenal) at the time when Alam Mullery was the manager at Brighton.

    Great days when you used to feel that the players and supporters were all one entity, there was a genuine bond, players now seem to bond with money only.