Highbury Revisited

Published March 20, 2011 by tootingtrumpet


It hit me like a blow to the solar plexus, so how does it feel to Arsenal fans?

I had not been back to Highbury since the absurdly beautiful Arsenal Stadium was converted into residential flats and very nice they are too. Walking into the pleasant urban square that once was that expanse of greenest green, I looked up and around and saw myself on the North Bank as Adrian Heath scored a 120th minute goal to send us to Wembley in 1984 – and there, standing next to me, was my now dead father, as excited and proud as ever I saw him. I barely registered his birthday last week, but Goodison and other grounds trigger his involuntary memory like madeleines did for Proust.


I pointed out to my son where I sat to watch Everton being torn apart, as they seldom were in those days, by Perry Groves (of all people) in the Littlewoods Cup Semi-Final 1988 and where I had stood to watch my first match at Highbury in 1981 (Brian McDermott the scorer and our nemesis as Reading manager in the FA Cup 29 years on). I showed him where I sat to watch my last match (in 2003) at the old stadium, much my favourite football ground, when we had lost again. I spared him the detail of Anders Limpar’s extraordinary performance in 1991, laying on four tap-ins for Ian Wright as five goals were scored in the first 26 minutes and we lost again. Nor did he get the story of the 1-0 defeat on 31 March 1991, after which I cycled straight into the aftermath of the Poll Tax Riots, which had happened five miles away but might as well have happened five thousand miles away in those pre-mobile phone, pre-internet days.

Twenty-five years ago, I lived opposite the turnstiles for the North Bank, so I would pop-in at three-quarter time (if I wasn’t in the pub) and have a look in at The Library. Saturdays were fun, with the smell of fried onions and burgers wafting in from about 11.00am; but night games were the best, the rush for the 7.30pm start enhancing the crowd’s anticipation and the lights bright bright, even in the middle of London’s urban intensity. One evening, police were everywhere and helicopters whirred overhead. I checked ceefax and there was no fixture, so I went outside to ask the nearest constable about the siege conditions. “FA Youth Cup – Millwall innit”. I left the Londoners to their private battling.

Once I ducked in to see the reserves play on a Wednesday afternoon and my eye was taken by a few players of whom you may have heard – Tony Adams was a shouty teenager, already playing for the first team often and probably captaining the stiffs; poor old David Rocastle was waif-thin, but could pass and move like the player he became. I think John Lukic might have been in goal and I recall Paul Davis playing too, probably on the way back from injury and maybe mad Paul Merson was in the XI – what would he be worth today?

With all that swirling about in my mind, I took my boy into the marble halls and there was the window at which I queued for a ticket for one match or another back in the 80s. Herbert Chapman’s bust is still there and so is the unmistakable feel of big-time football. It’s wonderful that you can still go in.

You can buy a flat in Highbury Square for £1/2M  – and I would, if I could. These memories, of course, are, as the advert has it, priceless – and I’m so, so pleased to have them.



14 comments on “Highbury Revisited

  • Nice post. I spent one year at The Emirates, a concrete corporate bowl and 37 years going to Highbury. It just doesn’t do it for me. Far too many memories at the old place I guess. Don’t know if I would like to walk around there now.

  • Sean – Cheers. I didn’t care for The Emirates either. I don’t like these bowls – a football ground needs ends and corners.

    kaprashoo – Thanks. I’m hazy on some detail, but I’m sure Adams did play for the reserves a few times in 85-86!

  • great job! I visited highbury after the last season was over and the gates were locked. wish I’d seen one match on that fabulous narrow pitch!
    also people like sdfsadfadf really exist becasue of the net. why won’t he he go and take a w***k if he doesn’t have anything worthwhile to share or that won’t be up at a google’s length? nostalgia and memories are better for its flaws anyways.
    cheers mate

  • Great piece, Gary. I can recall only one visit to Highbury — a Boxing Day match, I think, when I was either in my final years at school or an undergraduate. My team, Ipswich, won with a penalty, the North Bank didn’t seem a happy place, and all the locals moaned about Mariner “diving” all the way to the tube (hid my blue-and-white scarf, of course…).

    But what a great ground. I’ve often wondered how it looked now, so thank you very much for the account. Only driven past the Emirates (on a relatively rare visit to London), but listened with interest to Nick Hornby’s comments on Radio 5 — “both much better and much worse” (than Highbury). I’m sure that’s true.

    Your evocation of evening matches would strike chords for fans at almost any ground, I think, even without the London admixture — how I miss that blend of smells in the chilly evening air and even the cigarette smoke, floating up into the floodlights… Wish I could give my own sons the chance to experience that mad rush after the working day, and the strange sense of technicolor excess on the pitch, once you get there…

    Loved the Millwall story, btw.

    And a last thought — I wonder if you’ll ever find yourself writing something like this piece about Goodison…

  • My god look at those names. Arse have fallen a long way. Mind, not as long as us. Nice piece ofwriting BTW. As a 4 year resident of Liverpool I followed-and obviously still support- the friendly neighbours. Never got a chance to see Goodison from the inside. My fellow kopites describe it in expected terms. Still, I was pleased that the Kirby bowl plan came to nowt. And am pleased now that FSW is intent on staying at Anfield. Although the game is not the same, and if I ever get the chance to take my wee lad to Liverpool I probabaly won’t be able to get a ticket anyway, it would have been a travesty to show him “this is where the old/real anfield used to be” and “everton used to play just a short walk from here.” You can only sell your soul once. I pray that it will not happen to either club. Trophies and shirt sales in Japan and Singapore be damned. And too bad that I will never get to see Highbury, and so many other great old grounds giving way to the “soccer experience.” It is probably heresy and politically incorrect, but I woud have the 1980s back in an eyeblink …. and not just because I was young then.

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