One night during WWII I was lying in bed when the room was suddenly lit up with a nearby searchlight coming on. Thinking it was a raid coming, I jumped out of bed and I started to get dressed. Looking out of the window, I saw dozens of searchlights sweeping the sky and waving backwards and forwards. I went into the front room where Mum and Dad had the radio on and they were just announcing the end of the war in Europe. Our next-door neighbour rushed in and everybody sat talking until the early hours of the morning. The next day nobody went to work and we had an impromptu party down at the corner of the road. People took cakes and sandwiches down to be shared out and a radiogram was fixed up to provide music for people to dance to.
Germany had officially surrendered and Londoners could now try to rebuild their damaged City and lives. Life was still very difficult, good jobs were scarce, food was still rationed, we still used Cow and Gate powered milk, and bomb sites were scattered all over town. But gradually life was returning to the streets and the daily fear of bombing raids, and having to dash to air raid shelters for safety, was now just a horrible memory.
The Arsenal ground in North London was not spared from war damage as the North Stand was extensively damaged by fire and the roof had collapsed, the South Stand terracing was also badly damaged and in need of repair. The debts from the construction of Highbury and the costs of repairing the war damage were a heavy financial burden, and Arsenal struggled when competitive football resumed. The war had cut short the careers of many of the club’s star players, including Bastin and Drake and nine of the pre-WW11 had been lost during the war.. They lost 6-1 on aggregate to West Ham United in the third round of the 1945-46 FA Cup, and upon the league’s resumption in 1946-47 the club finished a disappointing 13th.
After close to forty years with the Arsenal George Allison decided to retire from football at the end of that season, and was replaced by his assistant Tom Whittaker, who had been the clubs trainer under Herbert Chapman. So Tom Whittaker took over the reigns at Highbury with Joe Shaw joining him from Chelsea. Arsenal kicked off the1947/48 season with a 3-1 victory over Sunderland at Highbury, an ideal start for the new management team. Leslie Compton, the previous club Captain who had been playing cricket for Middlesex Cricket club, returned to Arsenal and they won the next six games. Joe Mercer had been Arsenal’s Captain in Compton’s absence but Whittaker felt that now Compton was back he should, once again, lead the team but Compton felt differently and persuaded him to keep Joe on as the clubs Captain.
1947 was a milestone year in the life of GunnerN5, I was nine years old and, for as long as I could remember I’d spent endless hour’s playing football on Avenell Road with my mates and kicking a rag football (made by my Mum) about and using the main gate into Highbury as our goal. We were in awe of all the grown ups as they streamed in and out of Highbury on Saturday afternoon’s and wished we had the few pennies it cost to get inside. The different noises coming from the ground always left us wondering what was happening inside but we always knew when the Gunners had scored as that caused the biggest roar of all.
My maternal Grandfather then changed my life and gave me the best present I have ever received, for my 10th birthday he took me to my very first Arsenal game it was November 22nd 1947 Arsenal vs Huddersfield Town and we won 2-0. My memories of the game are somewhat of a blur but we stood, in what was our family section under the Clock, (you see nobody ever told my Grandfather to move – he was a 6”5” local coalman and made of steel). I often feel that the young Paul Ashworth, in the movie “Fever Pitch”, was none other than a young GunnerN5 because after being inside Highbury for the first time there was nothing that was going to keep me out, lack of money, broken glass topped brick walls, turnstiles, stewards, were just mere obstacles to be overcome – I was hooked for life.
Tom Whittaker enjoyed immediate success with the club, winning the League in 1947-48; led by Captain Joe Mercer and with goals from the attacking front two of Reg Lewis and Ronnie Rooke, Arsenal topped the table from October and never looked back beating second place Manchester United by seven points. Given the age of the Arsenal side at the time (Rooke and Mercer were both over thirty, as were Denis and Leslie Compton), it was a remarkable achievement however long-term success was never on the cards. In response, Whittaker started to rebuild the team with younger players and brought in Doug Lishman, Alex Forbes and Cliff Holton.
In a remarkable family double Denis and Leslie Compton played alongside each other at football in Arsenal’s League Championship of 1947/48 and at cricket in Middlesex’s County Championship title in 1947.
The highest ever Football League attendance was on Saturday January 17th 1948 when a crowd of 83,260 watched Manchester United play Arsenal at Maine Road the game ended in a 1-1 draw.