It was 40 years ago today Arsenal won their first European trophy, a 4-3 victory over Anderlecht of Belgium. A few of our fellow bloggers were there that famous night and I would like to describe the evening for those who couldn’t attend.
At the time I was a fresh faced, long-haired lad, fully loaded with Arsenal fanaticism following a decade of dire football. I arrived at the ground at least 3 hours prior to kick-off having taken the trusty 210 bus to Finsbury Park. The walk down St Thomas Rd was, as always, a slow meander past the death-burger stalls, the guys selling rosettes, scarves and rattles, and the paper salesmen. The early evening air resonated to shouts of “Wear your colours” and “Matchday Programmes”. The aroma of dung from the police horses mingled with smell of hotdogs, beer and cigarettes. The Highbury area was packed with expectant, excited fans. I bought my programme from the Arsenal Supporters Club stall (very lucky), and then went into the sweet shop under the North Bank to buy a bag of lucky Everton Mints before joining the immense queue to get in the ground. I took my place midway up the North Bank as central as possible. And waited in one of the noisiest crowds I had ever experienced.
It was a typical early Spring English evening. My recollection is that there had been much rain that week and the pitch was heavy. As darkness fell the ground was illuminated by the cold glare of the spotlights, and the fog from 30,000 cigarettes lay a few feet above the players. In those days almost everyone smoked and the pall is one of my outstanding memories of those evening games at Highbury.
Over 51,000 packed into Highbury, which should be compared to the attendance limit of 39,000 when we left our wonderful old stadium. The ground was humming. The marching band came out to “entertain” the fans, some fat chap sang a couple of songs. The team came out to warm up in front of the North Bank. We chanted and the players responded with a wave and a smile. All 12 players had their own chants from Scotland’s Number One to Big John Radford, all were sung with equal gusto, though the North Bank darling was of course Charlie George – one of our own.
We started with 7 English and 4 Scottish players and an English manager.
Having lost the first leg in Belgium 3-1, we were underdogs but I was very bullish about our chances. If I am honest, I cannot recall too much of the game apart from Sammels winner and the insanity of that moment. Words cannot explain the feeling – you all know what I mean, when the logical process gets left behind and the emotions take over. Time stops. It’s a type of petit mal. There is only one thing like it (wink wink).
People were praying for the final whistle (Sammels scored with 15mins to go). The noise at the end was ear shattering. Frank McLintock received the Cup and then all hell broke loose. The entire North Bank invaded the pitch, followed by everyone else – even the East Stand Upper! I stayed on the pitch dancing with strangers for what seemed like hours until we were shepherded out. I cannot recall another occasion when the pitch was invaded and it remains the only time my feet have touched the hallowed turf.
This was our first trophy for 17 years, yes, 17 years! It was the first trophy I was privileged to see us win. The joy was unbridled. In those far off days I was teetotal yet was persuaded to take pint or two, which accounts for my having little memory of the celebrations that followed!
The names of that team will go with me to my grave. It is THE Arsenal team to me, much as the Invincibles are to the current generation of young Gooners.
Thank you Messrs Wilson, Storey, McNab, Kelly, McLintock, Simpson, Armstrong, Sammels, Radford, George and Graham, and last but definitely not least, Mr Mee. Thank you.