May 1971 – A week in the life of a Veteran Gooner

March 8, 2010

Morning all, todays post is from guest writer dandan. It’s a really good read, we hope you enjoy it.

Monday 3rd May 1971.  Just one day in a 66 year long life. Five children, 10 grandchildren and a couple of wives ago. A working life, a happy life, a fulfilled life, yet in all that life, that day, that Monday 39 years ago stands out clearly, a milestone, a marker to excitement, expectation, pride and above all friendship, togetherness and achievement.

It began early, after working the morning and fidgeting away an hour of the afternoon it was time. I climbed into my car, picked up my mate, one of four of us that travelled to all Arsenal games together. The other two plus my brother were travelling in the Ford escort that was our real communal football vehicle. Our plan was simple we would meet up inside the ground.

We travelled the back doubles avoiding main roads, but it was soon abundantly clear that something was up; mid afternoon and even the side roads were busy. Eventually at about  4 o’ clock we found a road full of parked cars, with a police no parking cone at the end, quickly we parked the car with it’s front against the cone, jumped out, moved the cone to the back of the car and walked off.

White Hart Lane was where all my family’s loyalties lay, only I was the rebel, a gooner among all those spuds. We were on enemy territory, god and what a sight a queue of people 5 or 6 deep all round the ground and into the distance. We knew immediately, absolutely no chance to get in there by normal means. What to do? We headed for the front of the queue, passing thousands of people, hundreds of coppers. A plan was needed this was serious. Finally the main iron gates into the ground were reached, luckily they were still closed, 50 yards beyond them the turnstiles stood mockingly empty, inviting, waiting for the hordes in the endless queue. A line of police stood turning away anyone trying to join the queue.

Right by the main gate stands the White Hart Pub from which the ground gets its name. It was open, we went in and got a couple of half’s (part of the plan –  couldn’t waste money) and then stood outside casually leaning against the pub wall right by the gates, sipping our beers. At 5.30 the gates are unlocked and pulled open inwards. Immediately the people at the front of the queue, who have waited there overnight, rush forward scattering the line of police. We drop our glasses literally, join the rush, and sprint to the turnstiles, pay our money and we are through and in. We must have been two of the first 50 in the ground, as the man says don’t you love it when a plan comes together.

Not only are we in the ground, but also in the enclosure, people were pouring in. We felt desperate for our mates, knowing they had no chance of getting in as they had intended leaving work a bit later.

Then amazingly there they were, pushing through the crowd to join us, I had reckoned they’d be without my brother, a spud, although he knew this ground like the back of his hand.  In those days there was a press gate in one of the side roads, he was a regular there, a few quid in the attendants hand and he and they were through. 52,000 thousand locked out and we had all made it. They had just abandoned the car in a traffic jam, if it got towed, tough. It wasn’t they found it after the match and drove home.

The game was a blur with chances at either end, gradually we got on top, a 0 – 0 draw would be enough to win the league. Then with 3 minutes to go, Geordie Armstrong centered, Ray Kennedy leaped and headed home. Pandemonium, the stadium muted with tension till then, erupted. White Hart became Red and White Hart, every Spud seemed to disappear under a sea of scarves, hats and frantic, cheering, hugging, jumping Gooners.  The Spurs team went berserk kicking all and sundry the intention seeming to be that we would not field a full team in Saturdays cup final to take their ‘double’ record away. The referee saw what was happening and sensibly blew the whistle early. Where and how all the spuds disappeared to has puzzled me over the years, but the stadium from the moment the goal went in belonged to The Arsenal.

We left deliriously happy, found the car. No ticket, moved the cone and moved off listening to the radio singing and laughing. The normal 1hr journey home took 2 hrs but we never really noticed, what a day, what a night and the cup final still to come just 5 days away.

I had intended to end this post right there, with the championship won and the first leg of the 1971 double secured. But the act of writing it down after all these years, set me to thinking just how immense the events surrounding The Arsenal of the double year and that week in particular were in my life. Enlightening me above all to the importance of friendship and loyalty in a changing world.

First some background, as I said earlier I came from a family of Spuds, my earliest football memories are of being taken to WHL by my father (I saw Stanley Mathews play there, for Stoke I think) and the cup finals on TV. In those far off days the Cup Final was the only game live on TV, although before that you could see short highlights of it on Pathe News at Saturday morning cinema.

We then moved from London to Hertfordshire about a mile from what is now Beckingham Palace the home of David and Posh. So a trip into London for a carless family was an expensive undertaking and not taken often. For this reason as we got older the annual BBC Cup Final broadcast became a big event in our house. My 2 mates from school both Gooners would come along together with a gaggle of friends and family of the Spud variety.

Mum would move back and forth recharging cups and glasses and topping up the buffet she had provided, whilst we huddled around the TV. Then came the 1961 final when Dads dreams came true and Spurs did the double and the family partied long into the night. Us three Gooners of course the butt of every joke going. We were 17 at the time, apprentices or trainees, just able to afford to go to the home games at Highbury by train. Later I got a car and all games became available. But always the Cup Final at my parents home for my mates and I was mandatory.

Fast forward to 1971 double year, my parents have moved to Southampton, as Dads progression through the company required him to relocate. Then a week before Christmas the world changed, whilst travelling the dual carriageway that predated the M3 my dad’s car was hit by a lorry that came through the trees that lined the central reservation, he and his passenger died instantly.

I was devastated, my Dad and great mate gone. But my three Arsenal mates took over and made sure that I was accompanied to every Arsenal game that season and as they moved inexorably towards the double the sadness and realisation of the leg pulling and verbal I was missing with Dad grew.

Came that final week in May, Spurs on the Monday a euphoric, poignant day safely negotiated. Now because we had saved our programme vouchers, we also had our cup final tickets. But as the five days past I realised that I could not go to Wembley leaving my Mum alone down in Southampton, I needed to go and watch it with her. I gave my ticket to my mates and told them to give them to a Arsenal fan outside the ground.

They said nothing until Friday, our snooker night, when we met up they dropped the bombshell, they too had given their tickets away, and the faithful Escort all ballooned and ribboned up was parked outside and  bound for Southampton in the morning.

Needless to say it was a marvelous day tinged with sadness of course, Liverpool were overcome. Willow missed one on  the near post, Charlie lay on his back and waited his adulation, GG claimed a goal he never touched, whilst Eddy the real scorer couldn’t give a monkeys at the time, Frank at the final whistle, told the world we had xxxxxxx done it. Whilst we in the smart bungalow in Southampton watched it all on the big new colour Television that Dad had brought for my mum just 6 months previously.

It helped a lovely lady start to come to terms with her loss, but it taught me the meaning of true friends, enriching my life beyond belief and now all these years later as retirees, we still meet and greet and talk about our Arsenal days.

So I owe the Arsenal a great deal. Remarkably just that one word conjures up memories, of triumphs and disasters, but most of all it reminds me, that a common interest cemented four young men into lifetime friends.

Finally, may I say, as a newcomer, that as I read your posts, I sense that same feeling of comradeship, and respect for each other. Great game football, great club the Arsenal.

By dandan