By Tony Attwood
My trip to Wembley starts at noon; I think Walter started at around 4am. One stop in Northampton to meet up with Drew, then we drive to Harrow (or somewhere odd like that) to meet up with Ian and his sons, and then the tube on to Wembley where maybe, if we manage it, we’ll meet Walter too.
And in many ways that’s what football is all about for me. It is about the association of friends, coming together for matches, time spent in the pub, meeting up with friends, and with people you’ll never meet again and about whose lives you really have to wonder…
I think my favourite “character” (as such people used to be called) this season was in the Coronet, a totally Arsenal pub, before the Fulham game. There he was bedecked in black and white sitting with his considerably younger lady, talking some extraordinary stuff and saying “know what I mean” after every fifth word. At one stage he got up to get another round, leaving his lady with us. As he left the table she raised her eyes to the heavens. It must have been a tough season madam.
And as I think of this and wonder about life and all this football stuff…
I think maybe it is largely because I go to football matches (not just Arsenal but lower league games too) with my friends, and because I have deep rooted feelings for another team that currently in a serious state (Torquay), and a really tiny but up and coming club (Guernsey), and because I share my passion with friends, and because I have been at Arsenal during the really bad times like the early 1960s, that I don’t get so negatively worked up as some.
(That was a complex sentence, sorry, I seemed to have got lost within it but basically I’m ruminating that my attitude comes from…
- Going to Arsenal with my friends
- Supporting Arsenal in the 1960s
- Going to watch other clubs
- Having feelings for other clubs, one of whom is in difficulty
What we have been seeing on the blogs and in the press about Arsenal is pretty appalling, but is not new. If you take a peek at the Arsenal History Blog today you’ll find the tale of goalkeeper Harry Storer, our most illustrious early player, the first Arsenal player to play in a representative match, who was so frustrated by the jeering and booing he got as a goalkeeper (and a brilliant goalkeeper at that, by all accounts), that he turned on the crowd.
The club suspended him, and then sold him. It was the Season of the Seven Keepers – 1895/6 – Arsenal’s third season as a Football League Club. The earliest version of the AAA had won.
I doubt that we are going to be able to push the history of the AAA and their antecedents back any further… (although there is always a chance of a report of a Royal Arsenal match in which they boo their team), just like I doubt that any member of the Globetrotters community will ever be able to understand what I am saying when I write about true support as I understand it.
But the story of Harry Storer reminds me that certain aspects of the club are always there and have been with us from the start.
Chapman grew very angry with the booing in the 1930s, and wrote against it vigorously in his newspaper column. The players in the championship winning team of 1953 spoke openly to the media of Arsenal supporters being the worst in the country. I remember Jack Kelsey shouting at the top of his voice at the crowd behind his goal who were slow handclapping the team… it is just Arsenal I guess. Somehow the fame of the club and its origins as the first ever working-man’s Football League team, seems to attract that sort of person.
So Ian, Drew, Walter and I make our journeys to Wembley, and we’ll enjoy it, no matter what. And I know that we’ll enjoy it because when I went with Ian and Roger to see the League Cup Final at Wembley against Luton where we lost 2-3, and we had to drive up the M1 via Luton, with all their banners out, it was utterly ghastly.
But I still remember with the deepest affection the camaraderie of the day, the spirit of being together, the spirit of supporting Arsenal no matter what. And I still remember getting back to the Midlands that evening and my young daughter greeted me at the door with the announcement, “They lost!”
I nodded, picked her up, swung her around a bit in the way that dads do and which makes mums speak reproachfully about “getting them wound up just before bed time”, and knew that the football didn’t matter. Or at least, it mattered, but not when held in any comparison with the well-being of my family it didn’t matter.
Maybe if I hadn’t experienced the Luton final (and of course many other disasters under many different managers), I wouldn’t have got quite so much out of sitting in the upper tier north bank at Highbury and watching in utter disbelief as Tony Adams scored the famous final goal to beat Everton and win the league.
I remember that, and the way the north bank bounced up and down, and the massive crowds outside, just as I remember the trudge back to the car after the Luton final, and Roger putting the champagne back in the boot “ready for next year.”
Maybe to get a real understanding of what life’s all about you need the horror moments and the glory moments. Maybe most of all you need a sense of the journey. Like watching your children grow up to become beautiful, caring adults.
And maybe all we can do is hope that today is a glory moment. Just like on this day in 1994 when we reached the final of the Cup Winners Cup by beating PSG 1-0 in the semi-final 2nd leg. That’ll do. I’d like more goals, but that will do.
The full anniversary file is published on the Arsenal History Society blog
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal