Islington, the home of Arsenal in the late 1960’s. Heroes and Villains part 4.


Drayton Park Road on matchday (the mad mile)

Welcome to the GunnersoreArse blog. Being blogged 918.74 kilometers (in a straight line) from the Emirates Stadium.

Cropped hair, Mohair suits, Sta Press trousers, Ben Shermans, trilbeys and Doc Martens was the style. The Rolling Stones, the Who, the Small Faces, the Kinks, Desmond Dekker  and Tamla Motown was the music and Islington was split between four gangs. Highbury, Holloway, Angel and Essex Road, and then you had the youngsters, the Little Highbury, Little Holloway, Little Angel and little Essex Road. This is where I fitted in, one of the little ones. And then at the bottom end of Caledonian Road you had Nash Court and York Way Court Estates both with their own little gangs. In 1969 I was 15 years old , a member of the Little Holloway and inter gang fights were the norm in Islington and sometimes branched out to Somers Town.

I lived in Sonning Street, in between Caledonian Road and Holloway Road. A twenty minute walk from Highbury Stadium. Five streets of dilapidated terraced houses due for slum clearance, Bride Street, Barbara Street, Sonning Street, Oldershaw Road and Leslie Street, sandwiched between Roman Way and Westbourne Road, where little gangs and rivalries regularly had showdowns and one-on-ones. Now it is a housing estate called the Vulcan Estate, the local planners must have been Trekkies, “Live Long and Prosper”.

This is a quote from British History online:

The other large scheme involved clearing a decayed area between Bride Street and George’s Road, where housing problems had been made worse by families displaced from Barnsbury seeking cheap private accommodation; the area was compared unfavourably with the worst city ghettoes in the U.S.A. 

In the 1970s the housing between Roman Way and Westbourne Road was replaced by two-storied houses and open spaces, with some roads closed to traffic, and old houses retained on the outskirts were gradually rehabilitated.

The majority of the members of the Islington gangs were also Arsenal supporters but on the Northbank local rivalries were forgotten and we were united in our support of the club and fought side by side. Our local rivalries were restricted to the occasional street fight, pub fight or more regularly, the major battles were pre-arranged and fought between two gangs on Highbury Fields. Johnny H was the leader of the Highbury and was viewed as the unquestionable leader of the Northbank. Despite being from a different gang I looked up to him on the Northbank and took every opportunity to be beside him when it kicked off at a match. I remember some great fights at Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane and Upton Park.

Travelling to away games was all part of the excitement but I have some bad memories of getting a kicking on occasion. I remember once at Wolverhampton about 20 of the Northbank got separated from the main group, we were walking back to the train station when something like 100 Wolves supporters walked around a corner and started to chase us. Another bloke and I decided to take another route and ended up in a dead end street. About 10 Wolves supporters followed us and we got well battered, I still bare a scar above my left eye from that one. After a game at Stamford Bridge we stormed a pub full of Chelsea Shed boys in the Fulham Road. That was one hell of a battle and went on for at least 30 minutes. However, I ended up in hospital on that occasion, hit from behind with a bottle. I still bare a scar on the back of my neck from that one.

As a small group of delinquents in my area, some friends and I used to steal cars and see who could get to 100 mph along Drayton Park Road before the sharp bend into Gillespie Road and past the Arsenal tube station. We called it the Mad Mile and we mainly stole Mini Coopers, Cortina GT’s and the occasional Jag Mk 2. There was a house on that corner with a small front wall, that wall got destroyed a few times when one of us braked too late to take the bend. I was taught how to steal a car and how to drive by an older mate of mine when I was aged 13. I sat on a wall in Westbourne Road and he went through the basics of clutch, gears, brakes etc and then we went off and stole a Mini. I drove it along Holloway Road at 80 mph, screeching in second gear because I couldn’t change-up to third. But I got better and could often get to a ton before the bend on Drayton Park Road.

My cousin Richie had somehow become a part of the Angel gang, despite living in the same street as me in Holloway. One night he was walking home alone on Liverpool Road when I was with a few of the Holloway boys. They cornered Richie and gave him a right beating, I stood there and watched. Later that week, Richie and a few of his mates caught me on my own behind Chapel Street Market and I got it in return. Then on a Saturday we would stand side by side on the Northbank. There was a game against Everton at Highbury on one occasion when a group of blokes right at the back of the terracing started to sing Everton songs and shouting abuse. It turned out they were West Ham just there for a fight. There was only about 20 or 30 of them but the battle to get them off the Northbank took ages because of where they were and we were having to fight going up hill. We got them off eventually but the police had waded in and I was carried off by three coppers, down the east side of the Northbank, around the edge of the pitch and underneath the East Stands and chucked out onto Avenell Road from a small side door.

I’m not condoning football hooliganism but ask you to just think about what we had at the time. I lived with my parents in a house that was due for slum clearance, split into two, there were my parents, me, my brother and sister upstairs, my aunt, uncle and their two kids downstairs. We all shared the same toilet and had no bathroom and everyone had access to everyone elses living space. The local lads used to hang about at the bottom of the street, playing football and annoying the neighbours. On the corner of the street was a brothel run by Jamaicans and just over the road on the corner of Westbourne Road and Sheringham Road was a night club called the ‘Golden Star’, a reggae/blues club where most of the local Jamaican gangsters gathered. It was a tough area and you had to be tough to survive.

Most of us didn’t bother going to school and spent our days bunking off and hanging about in a cafe on Liverpool Road playing pin ball and listening to the Who on the dukebox. So life at the time consisted of stealing cars and petty crime, local gang fights and fights at football matches at the weekend, hanging about in a cafe all day long and of course girls. Highbury Fields was a favourite place for a bunk up but personally, I preferred the hallway in Morgan Mansions on Palmer Place, at the bottom end of Mackenzie Road. It was private and quiet and there was no chance of a few boys from another gang discovering you and giving you a kicking.

Hooliganism was bad publicity for the club but at the time we didn’t see it like that, we were shedding blood for the Arsenal. Going out at the weekend and fighting for the honour of our club, to some extent the football took second place. I know that when we walked down Holloway Road as a group or some High Street up north for an away game we frightened the hell out of the locals, but somehow it didn’t seem like that. Don’t get me wrong, we were there for the football as well, Bertie Mee was the manager,the team consisted of John Radford, Frank McClintock, Peter Storey, Ray Kennedy , George Graham, Geordie Armstrong and Bob Wilson. I’d yet to see them win a trophy but in 1970 that was to come with our Fairs Cup victory over Anderlecht. We’d lost 3-1 in the away leg and it looked doubtful that we would manage three or more goals in the game at Highbury. What a fucking night, we won 3-0. It was great to be on the Northbank that night. I got to visit most grounds in England during that time but by the time I was 17 I’d grown out of it and moved on to bigger and better things. It was a short period of my life where personal status was more important than the consequences. And as Roger Daltrey sang, ” I’m just talkin’ bout my  g-g-generation”.

Right, time for a glass of wine and some spicy chorizo…… hope you enjoyed your visit. Until the next time.

à bientôt

GunnersoreArse, “People try to put us d-d-down, just because we g-g-get around” Every Sunday on the dot at 9am GMT.

54 thoughts on “Islington, the home of Arsenal in the late 1960’s. Heroes and Villains part 4.

  1. Good morning to my small band of regular Arseholes. 🙂

    GunnerN5 will enjoy todays post… he lived in the next street from me in that area. He may be able to add some more local spice to my ramblings 🙂

  2. Right lads, I can’t hang about on line this morning. My ex has just phoned and invited me to lunch, so I won’t be online again today till about 4pm (french time). Leave a comment and I’ll get back later. 🙂

  3. Morning NB – or rather afternoon as it will be when you get back. Interesting stuff, slightly before my time but not by so much as I don’t recognise the tail end of what you’re talking about. Those days (the 70’s in my case) seem a billion miles away from what we have now. Did you know our glorious government actually had a contingency plan for a possible revolution in the 70’s? Yup, they actually thought it might happen, but instead as the decade closed we got Thatcher instead. Crazy times for football fans and the whole of society too. Grey and cool in SE England btw, bet you wish you were here instead (No? Really?).

  4. Fuck, just got home…. a bit boozed but safe 🙂 No Michael I didn’t!
    Margaret Thatcher had a plan for football hooligans and Unions. Actually when I think back to those times, it was very close to a revolution. 🙂 but typical brits, we didn’t take it far enough.

  5. Really good stuff, can tell that history is one of your things, NB. More like this, please.

    I wonder if it was you that I saw two coppers drag to the cop shop below the Clock End once using his head as a door knocker to gain entry.

  6. NB

    Another truly enjoyable piece.

    You are a few years my senior but that Arsenal team you named was the one I started out watching. I once saw all of them at Southgate Tube station during a half term holiday. I wonder if they trained near there. They all seemed like giants to me at the time as I was about 11 or 12 years of age. I too witnessed some fisticuffs with the spuds and the Mancs but managed to get through unscathed. I stopped going to games when some numbskulls started stealing acids from school chemistry labs and spraying it into the crowds. Around that time as well that famous picture of a fan with a dart in his face just below his eye appeared in the newspapers. Imagine that, you are watching the game and some coward indiscriminately throws a dart into the crowd! Screw that for a game of soldiers!

  7. Cbob…. I never ever went onto the Clockend. Early days was the Northbank and then later I used to get a seat on the Upper East Stand.

    Georgaki, it was all part of the game. You took the risks and lived with the consequences. And talking of soldier. I wouldn’t mind betting that those lads on the terraces fighting for their team, 55 years earlier they would have been the first lads joining up to go off to the front.

  8. You’re probably right about joining up NB, I was expecting more about the Arsenal players who lost their lives in the Great War across the Gooner community, this being the centenary and all, but sadly I haven’t seen anything yet.

  9. Jogged a few memories for me, your a year older than me NB,
    Always stood on the northbank as a teenager but didn’t get involved in the rows, had a few around the area though, think I had it easier than you

  10. Morning Arse sniffers 🙂

    Well the predicted storms and flooding didn’t arrive in the Vaucluse but we are still on Red alert.

    Andy, yes that is a surprise about Arsenal players in the great war…. perhaps something to investigate.

    Buckagh, where in Islington are you from?

  11. Another interesting instalment in this terrific series, NB. Amazing stuff. Have you ever read that famous hooligan study by Bill Buford, Among the Thugs?

    If you follow up this theme of the local youth gangs in Islington and Highbury along with supporter groups for Arsenal in this period with further posts on the subject, I would look forward some further detail and analysis from your sociology and criminology perspective. Was it boredom or something attractive/exciting about the gangs that drew you to them? How do you make sense of these groups, I wonder? Anyway, it is interesting that these rivalries were just put aside in Arsenal support. Now we have online and in stadium factions warring over the Arsenal and polarizing the support. There have been punch ups in the stands even. That’s sad.

  12. Good morning arse bloggers 🙂

    I worked for a while in the early 90’s with the criminologist Jock Young, who had written many essays and books on Folk Devils and Moral Panics and the psychology of Outsiders, gangs and gang mentality. It’s all been done before and my Sociology and Criminology degrees were based on criminal and social upbringing. If I had the time and energy I would do something on here but heh, when you live in Provence and drink as much as I do, where do you find the time 🙂

    Would be good to get together with Limey, in a pub in London and discuss the mentality of the working classes………. hooligan or hero soldier? Or Cannon Fodder?

    The Arsenal blogs at the moment are very quiet, what’s going on?

  13. Good morning Gooners 🙂

    Lots of Arsenal stuff in the press at the moment. Ozil wanting to leave? Theo nearly back to match fitness? Arsenal season ticket prices?

    My blog being abandoned? 🙂

    Where the fuck is everyone? But I won’t abandon it, not at all, at all! Despite having many weaknesses, giving up on a lost cause is not one of them. 🙂

  14. Morning NB,

    I don’t think for one moment that your blog would ever be abandoned, we are a small but loyal bunch of bloggers who have sore knuckles from knocking on the closed pub door and hearing nothing but moans and groans from inside.

    I really enjoyed your piece on the Caledonian Road / Islington gang wars, I was never a part of it myself but living in the area I was taught the art of “cunning” self defense – I was a fast runner!!

    I remember one particular incident involving my Dad, I was a 7 year old member of the Covenantors (similar to boy Scouts) and after one meeting, in a church hall, I went home and mentioned to my Dad that one of the leaders kept putting his hand on my bum. My Dad decided to take me to the next weeks meeting, when we arrived my Dad asked me to point out the leader in question, he walked over to him and after a very loud conversation my Dad floored him with one punch, he came over to me, took my hand and we walked home – I was never allowed back……….. Islington law and order at it’s very best – don’t you think?

    I’m at home recovery from my surgery, it’s been an eventful and alas a very painful recovery period – but I think I’ve turned the corner.

  15. Crazy Truck Driver

    A truck driver stopped for a meal and was just served when a huge caravan of Hells Angels roared in. As the gang entered the restaurant, everyone but the truck driver quickly paid their bills and left. The truck driver quietly sat there eating his steak.

    The leader of the Hells Angels marched in and sat by the trucker at the bar, reached over and took his plate and began to eat the steak. Still unruffled, the trucker sat there quietly and drank his coffee. This infuriated the gang leader who grabbed the coffee and poured it on the trucker’s head. Calmly the trucker wiped his head and walked to the cashier. Amid jeers and insults from the gang the trucker paid his bill and left.

    When the waitress came to take their order, the gang leader remarked, “Boy, that guy wasn’t much of a man was he. I stole his steak, called his mother a bitch, and even poured coffee on his head. And the wimp, he just walked away.”

    The waitress replied, “Yea, I guess your right. You really scared him. He must have run over about forty motorcycles trying to get out of the parking lot, but he just kept on going.”

  16. A sloth named Herman is walking through the forest one day.
    A gang of snails approach him and beat him up. He is left at the bottom of a tree with several cuts and bruises.
    Several hours later he gathers up enough strength to go to a local police station. Herman walks into the Sergeant’s office.
    “What happened to you? the officer asks.
    “A gang of snails beat me up,” Herman replied.
    “Can you describe what they looked like?”
    “I don’t know,” the sloth says. “It all happened so fast.”

  17. A gang of robbers broke into a lawyer’s club by mistake.
    The old legal lions gave them a fight for their lives. The gang was very happy to escape.
    “It ain’t so bad,” one crook noted. “We got out with $250 between us.”
    “I warned you to stay clear of lawyers!”, the boss screamed. “We had over $1000 when we broke in!”

  18. Two gang members have a big knife fight and really tear each other up. One guy ends up in the hospital bandaged from head to toe. He can’t even move his lips.

    He mumbles to the doctor, “When will I be able to laugh again?”

    The doctor says, “Are you nuts? You almost died.”

    The guy says, “No kidding, Doc, when will I be able to laugh again?”

    The doctor says, “You’re nuts. You’re sewn together with ten feet of thread. Why the hell do you want to know when you can laugh again?”

    The guy says, “Because the other guy is getting married next week and I’ve got his penis in my coat pocket.”

  19. NB,

    The house on the near side of the white building backed on the my maternal grandparents home – they lived at 33 Stavordale Road.

    On match day Stavordale Road was always filled with parked cars, my grandfather, a 6’5″ local coal-man saw this as an opportunity to make a few extra quid. When a car parked my grandfather would run up to the driver and forcefully put his hand on the blokes shoulder and say – here mate give me a bob and I’ll make sure nothing happens to your car – they took one look at his build, his hob nailed boots and then his coal engrained face and paid up – good old fashioned blackmail. Once the street was full he would go up the top to the Drayton Arms for a few quick pints and then skedaddle up to Highbury in time to watch his beloved Arsenal.

    He saw the very 1st game the Gunners played at Highbury in 1913 and took me to my 1st game in 1947 – so our family support goes back over 100 years..

  20. GN5

    My guess is that photo of Drayton Park was taken in about 71/72. I base my observation on the cars. In the foreground on the left is a Mk2 cortina. But over the other side of the road (where two people are walking) there is a Cortina Mk3. So 1971/72 by my reckoning.

  21. What kind of exhibition?
    Surely not painting.. have you done anything recently or are the director? 🙂

  22. Great picture NB, Gilespie Road at the bottom with the ground only about a 5/10 minute walk.

    The white building was the Express Dairies, my grandfather used his “influence” (nobody was foolish enough to say no to him), to get me a milk round out of there – my 1st job at 9 years old.

  23. I hope you get lucky then, I obviously misjudged you ha ha
    20 litres of decent wine a month here would bankrupt me. Roll on my move.

  24. NB,

    I knew that area like the back of my hand, what with my own milk round and rides on my grandfathers horse my cart when he was making his deliveries. It brings back many fond memories.

  25. GN5

    When the area in the Cally was due to be demolished, my parents moved to Gillespie Road. The new blocks of flats on the corner of St Thomas’s Road. Otley House.


    20 litres here, if I buy from a co-operative at say Chusclan, will cost me no more than 24 euros (about £19) 🙂

  26. I don’t suppose the AGM will reveal much, just stick to the script, difficult questions will be out of order i’m guessing.

  27. Thanks GN5

    And Michael, when you move you will have the Loire wines to choose from. But I would suggest you find another team other than Chateauroux…. looks as if they may be relegated this season 🙂

  28. For an “inexpensive” red dinner wine we drink an Australian Shiraz which costs $12.00 a litre.
    Wine is taxed to the hilt here, a really good red wine will cost around $40.00 a litre.

  29. NB
    They looked like they would get relegated last season…I like a challenge, some kind if fool methinks. 🙂

  30. Police work can be entertaining as well as dangerous. Recently, a female sheriff’s deputy arrested Patrick Lawrence, a 22 year old white male, who was fornicating a pumpkin in the middle of a field at night. The next day, at the Ashtabula County (OH) courthouse, Lawrence was charged with lewd and lascivious behavior, public indecency and public intoxication.

    The suspect explained that he was passing a pumpkin patch on his way home from a drinking session when he decided to stop. He explained, “As there was no one around for miles, or at least I thought there was no one around.” Lawrence went on to say that he pulled over to the side of the road, picked out a pumpkin that he felt was appropriate to his purpose, cut a hole in it, and proceeded to satisfy his pressing need. “Guess I was really into it, ya know?” he commented with evident embarrassment.

    In the process of doing the deed, Lawrence failed to notice an approaching sheriff’s car and was unaware of his audience until Deputy Brenda Taylor approached him. “It was an unusual situation, that’s for sure,” said Deputy Taylor. “I walked up to Lawrence, and he’s just humping away at this pumpkin.”

    Deputy Taylor went on to describe what happened when she approached Lawrence. “I said, ‘Excuse me sir, but do you realize that you’re having sex with a pumpkin?’ He froze and was clearly very surprised that I was there. And then he looked me straight in the face and said, ‘A pumpkin?! Shit … is it midnight already?’”

    The court (and the judge) could not contain their laughter. Lawrence was found guilty only of public intoxication, fined $10 and sent on his way.

    The Washington Post wrote an article describing this as “The best come-back line ever.”

  31. Morning All
    Good one GN5

    You obviously either bombed or sold the lot and are either celebrating or having a glass to cheer yourself up. 🙂

  32. Moaning all…. morning Michael

    I’m setting up the expo this afternoon, I’m just hoovering the dust off my paintings 🙂

    GN5 great story about the pumpkin abuser

    Lots to talk about today with yesterdays AGM and the comments from Wenger about Ozils injury.

  33. NorthBank. What a fantastic post!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Unfortunately, I am not able to frequent your jolly good pub as often as I would love to. Life is tough! 😦

    My appearances will be fleeting for the mo. Please bear with me. 🙂

  34. Great post mate-brought back some memories,some good,some not.I literally grew up in the next street along from you & my experiences of growing up in Barbara st mid 60’s until 1971(moved to Avenell road when Barbara street was demolished) were much the same as yours.
    In my time the Arsenal firm had become the ‘Gooners’ by 1980/81 & we now made the Clockend our home,we had a fair few well documented punch ups in & around the stadium but the worst,& most adrenalin filled were the away days,no hangers on-no shirts or colours-we were mean bastards & we placed our mark on every town & city in Britain.By 1985 we were the no1 mob in the country-West ham & Millwall couldn’t touch us.Most of the hardcore in our firm,including yours truly!,were full time professional criminals,we robbed anything & everything,then a major money making opportunity came along with the advent of ‘Acid house’ & the club scene when a load of us football bods from various firms put our heads together & got organised,we lived like kings & ended up right at the front-all due to our street education & geographical location I reckon.

  35. Probably not as I was only 6 years old when my family left in 1971,so I was only a young un,your’e probably a good 10 years older than me.
    I loved that huge 4 storey victorian house in Barbara st,I remember strangers knocking on the door asking for a room to rent for the night-turns out most of em were friends & family of the residents presiding at HM’s hotel across the road at the Ville !-my dad used to tell em to F*** off !,I think one particular black geezer took offence & decided to ‘creep’ the house at night & broke in through the basement-he crept about &then went into my little brothers bedroom,my brother woke up & called for my dad-who was a big 6ft 3″ lump & a very ‘dodgy’ character to say the least! (he ran illegal gambling clubs & fenced gear etc),my dad ran out of his room wearing just his pants & chased the black bloke down the stairs & into the kitchen where my dad caught up &battered him & threw him through the glass back door which led into the garden,the black guy ended up torn to bits & with a thumb missing!.Dad ended up getting nicked for it after he called the OB to come & get the bloke & my dad got 2 years bird for the assault-ridiculous huh?.
    I went to Ring cross infants school-long gone now & replaced by yet another housing estate,hated it-used to bunk off most days,same as secondary school-Highbury grove-used to spend most of my days thieving up west & fighting kids from other schools-mainly Holloway,never robbed off our own,only from business premises.
    As kids we used to buy all our sweets & toys at Barkers(also long gone) at the Westbourne road end of Bride st & we used to play football in Paradise park & that little park in Arundel square-it all seems so long ago now but my memories of that time never fade-I really loved growing up around there.

  36. Just re-read your post-you knew Johnny Hoy?,he lived down my road in the 70’s-Avenell road,Highbury-though I don’t remember him a few of my older pals do-he was a legend,last I heard he moved up to Tyneside & runs a pub.There are many people-including me-who would love to read about the late 60’s & early 70’s Arsenal firm led by the legendary Johnny Hoy,you lot gained the respect of every mob in the country-used to regularly take the shed & Paxton etc though apparently you had a tough time in West Hams north bank in around 1969?,any old photo’s of you &the boys would be much appreciated ,as would some stories.Regards.

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