Welcome to the GunnersoreArse Blog, being blogged 918.74 kilometers (in a straight line) from the Emirates Stadium.
This article is a continuation from my last post, so perhaps to understand the context, it may be best to read that first here:
In the mid 70’s, Arsenal had declined somewhat from the glory days of the early 70’s. The lowest point being a 17th place position in the league in 1975/76. Most of the double winning team of 1970/71 were moving to other teams and Bertie Mee had been replaced by Terry Neill as manager, Charlie George had gone, Ray Kennedy had gone to Liverpool and made a very successful change from Striker to Midfielder. George Graham had buggered off to Man Utd in 1972 and Frank McClintock had moved across London to Queens Park Rangers, increasing his weekly wage by nearly 100%, does that ring any bells relating to more recent Arsenal player moves? For fuck sake, I was earning more than he was from ticket touting, selling stolen goods and little schemes with Dennis the menace. However, a footballer earning £250 a week in the 70’s was no where near the millions they now earn in the 21st century. Retirement funds could not be assured, so many players had to look for other options to earn money for their retirement from football and many went into the pub trade.
And that is exactly what Frank McClintock did, just before he left Arsenal for QPR in 1975, he’d gone into business with Harry H, a con man involved in the Islington criminal underworld and together they bought the Sutton Arms in Caledonian Road. Frank wasn’t new to this culture, he’d been going to pubs and after hours drinking clubs in Islington for quite a few years beforehand, getting to know many local villains.
Franks pub had regular well known faces as customers such as George and John Reilly, the Flanagans, Frank Warren the boxing promoter, and occasionally the young Terry Adams and his brothers would be there, yet to start their violent take over from the Reillys. But sadly, Reggie Dudley and Bob Maynard, two of the most likeable and genuine Islington rogues you could ever meet, were in custody awaiting trial and would eventually be sentenced to life for two murders they didn’t commit. Everyone who was anyone in Islington knew they were innocent.
My ticket touting mate Eddy’s dad, Teddy K, was a regular at the Sutton, with some of his mates. He was a classy and very good burglar and safe breaker. Teddy and his partner Vincent, had a superb system, they only targeted high end properties in Maida Vale, Hampstead, St Johns Wood and other exclusive areas in London. Mainly flats in mansion blocks, they used to tap up concierges, security guards, cleaners and gardeners when at pubs and after hours drinkers to find out when residents would be on holiday or away from their apartments for substantial periods. Then with their Ford Transit, they’d load up two bicycles, then dressed in workers overalls, flat caps and carrying rucksacks, at something like 3am, drive to within a mile of the property, park the van, get the bikes out and cycle to the mansion block. They looked like any other workers coming off the night shift or just going to work. They even had packed lunches in their rucksacks just in case the ‘billies’ stopped them. They concentrated on safes, cash and jewellery, nothing else was touched….. then they’d leave on their bikes, rucksacks full of ill-gotten gains (and their uneaten packed lunches), and cycle back to the van. They were so good they were never caught. Never ever got a criminal conviction. Despite what they were doing, they had to be admired.
Teddy offered me and Eddy an apprenticeship but having gone on a job with them one night we decided it wasn’t our thing, we were happy to keep on ticket touting and selling stolen high class clothing which we used to get from a gang of lorry highjackers, who targetted mainly clothing transporters. Every month we’d visit a lock-up in York Way and choose the best of the most recent heist and because Eddy’s dad was a well known face, we had an arrangement of sale or return. By this time in the 70’s, although we still got some of our football tickets from Fat Stan Flashman at his office in Kings Cross, we were also buying player allocations from Frank, Liam Brady and Eddie Kelly and a couple of other players. Another Arsenal player had also bought a pub, the Spanish Patriot, just behind Chapel Street Market and had let a couple of villains open a after hours drinker upstairs. That was a regular Sunday afternoon haunt after Frank had kicked everyone out of the Sutton.
I’d eased off going to Arsenal games, practically never going to away games except for a few Cup games. Eddy and I still did our thing after selling all our tickets at home games, paying a few quid at the turnstile and getting seats in the East Stand. But other things seemed more important and the Gunners weren’t winning many things, well actually, they weren’t winning anything. For instance, in 1976/77, we had Malcom Mcdonald up front, scoring 24 goals in the league, but we ended up finishing 8th. Above us were Ipswich, WBA, Newcastle and Aston Villa. I’d gone to a 5th round FA Cup away game at Middlesborough that season and they beat us 4-1. Not the most exciting times to be a Gooner, but on the bright side, the Spuds were relegated that year.
So this was the culture at Franks pub, local villains and occasionally a famous celebrity. Being regulars, he often used to ask me and Eddy to help behind the bar if it got really busy, which was often the case at weekends. He only ever employed young women, because if he had barmen they would leave after a few days because of intimidation and threats from the customers. You had to be very, very careful. Rounds would be enormous, where the person ordering would also say, “Get so-and -so and his mates a round over there”, and when you looked there would be 10 or more geezers plus the 15 or more he’d just ordered for, then just as you thought the round was finished, some other faces would walk into the pub and the person ordering the round would start again. I would often get verbal and Chris Flanagan was an example, he used to call me ‘Crimbo’ and if I gave a wrong drink or made a gaff, he’d shout at me, ‘”Oi Crimbo, what the fuck is this you little fucking cunt, I’ll come round there and give you a fucking dig. Sort it out”! And at the same time you’d have John Reilly waiting to be served and giving you dirty looks as if to say, “If you don’t serve me soon you wanker you’re gonna end up in a fucking shallow grave”. You had to understand that it was just part of the scene and the banter and the verbal was generally just a wind up, but Eddy and I had to be on our toes with a quick witty reply that didn’t wind them up too much. They were much more polite to the young bar girls, so you can understand why Frank was reluctant to employ barmen.
Sunday afternoons were probably the best for atmosphere, Frank would get a band and a singer in and he’d regularly get up on stage and sing as well. He was quite a crooner was Frank, giving excellent renditions of Sinatra classics. People loved the man. He was my hero when he was playing and it was a privilege to have known him in his private life. They were good times, I had money in my pocket, I didn’t have to work too hard and some of the charactors I knew were awesome. But in 1977 I started to think about getting out, I was seeing too many people get heavy prison sentences. So I moved to the South Coast and got some honest employment in an attempt to distance myself from that culture. However, on a few visits back to Islington I couldn’t help but get involved in a couple of things and eventually it all went tits up, and on Friday 13th April 1979, at the Inner London Crown Court, I had to give some pleasure to Her Majesty. As a consequence I had to watch the 1979 and 1980 FA Cup finals on an ancient TV in a grey room with a load of blokes dressed exactly the same, in blue and white striped shirts, cheap jeans and slippers. The 1980 final was the worst, not just because we lost, but because many of the other inmates were West Ham supporters and at the end of the match there was a massive fucking fight in the TV room, and as a result, I lost 7 days remission. I didn’t see day light again until Friday 19th September 1980. But on the positive side, I did find out that I had a talent for drawing and got an ‘A’ Level in Art and had also started a degree in Sociology, discovering along the way that I was quite good at this academic malarky. It was a ‘life changing’ moment. Well, it nearly was ……..but not quite!!
Right, time for a glass of wine and some spicy chorizo…… Hope you enjoyed your visit. Until the next time.
Extra, Extra, read all about it! GunnersoreArse exclusive – local villain gives pleasure to the Queen in a back street drinking club. Every Sunday morning at 9am. Get your copy here!