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.

Arsene Wenger and his arrogant French genes…. ooh la la!

They think they have the best wines, they think they have the best cuisine, they think they have the best cheeses, they think their women are the most beautiful, they think their country is the most magnificent, they think their language is the most poetic and they think their baguettes are the biggest and best in the world. This is the French attitude and Arsène Wenger is one of them and furthermore, he is from Alsace, so throw in some German stubbornness as well and you have a very arrogant, proud and stubborn man.

Genes are passed on from generation to generation but so are attitudes and the French attitude, passed from generation to generation  is one of arrogance, they can do no wrong and everything they do is right and the best. I’ve lived in ‘La Belle France’ now for over 15 years and spent some of that time married to a French woman. My experience with the French mirrors exactly the Wenger attitude, “I will do it my way and no other and you will do it my way as well”. According to the French everyone else is wrong and they just love it when they can say, “See, I was right all along”. Even though you may argue that they didn’t get it right. Their arrogance ignores everything to the contrary.

This is Arsène Wenger, his team selections, his game tactics, his transfer policy and his everyday attitude and comments. Nothing we or anyone else say can alter his vision as to how the Arsenal should operate and play. I was often frustrated with my ex French wifes arrogance and it is no different with Wenger, he has that same effect on me. She thought that French music was the best in the world and it led to many arguments, and this was where my English arrogance came into play, British music rules the world I’d say, we don’t have much else to be proud of, but music is up there, along with fashion. But my wife would have none of that, oh no, not at all. Fashion she’d shout, “the French invented fashion, and the French sing the most beautiful and poetic music in the world, it’s not my fault that you cannot understand the French lyrics”!  And as the Bard so succinctly said, there in lies the rub.

I would bet that when Wenger gets home from a hard day at the office, he doesn’t turn on the stereo and slip in a Granville Bantock CD or listen to the Rolling Stones, Zeppelin or Coldplay and drink a can of John Smiths whilst waiting for his missus to cook the Cottage pie. I would put money on him listening to Gabriel Fauré or George Brassens whilst his wife cooks a Cordon Bleu French dinner and he drinks Bordeaux wine and after the meal he’ll eat Camembert with Normandy butter and a French baguette, and in the French way he will eat his French cheese before his dessert. And why would he do that, the answer is simple, because he believes the French have it right, only the French produce these things to perfection and better than anywhere else in the world. It is the French way, they know no different, or to be more exact, they don’t believe it can be done any better.

As Lambert Wilson (the character Merovingian in the Matrix ) said:

“Château Haut-Brion 1959, magnificent wine, I love French wine, like I love the French language. I have sampled every language, French is my favourite – fantastic language, especially to curse with. Nom de Dieu de putain de bordel de merde de saloperies de connards d’enculé de ta mère. It’s like wiping your arse with silk, I love it.”

That is one thing I do agree upon about the French language, it is fantastic to curse with, mon dieu!

The French and the British have a longstanding relationship and history of love and hate, and many Arsenal supporters either love or hate Wenger, but ultimately, he will do things his way. It has to be accepted just like I had to accept the arrogance of my ex Frenchy wife, but actually I didn’t, I left her because it got too much. But will I leave Wenger, of course not. Because he is just part of a long line of managerial appointments and has brought great success to the Arsenal because of his arrogant and stubborn ways. Ultimately, he is just a cog in our long and glorious history and will eventually pass the reins onto someone else. In the meantime, he has another three years to prove that his arrogance  will bring further success to the club. The FA Cup was a start, the new signings are a move in the right direction and his attitude, well, that’s something we have to accept… he’s going to do it his way and no matter what we say, he isn’t going to change. So if you don’t agree with his French arrogance and stubborn attitude, then you can do the same as I did with my adorable but arrogant Frenchy wife, leave.

The French say they have a sense of humour but it is a humour that no one else in the world can understand, because their humour is based solely on their language, jeu de mots, puns and ridicule, language games that are solely for their enjoyment and excludes everyone else. French music is the best in the world for the French because nobody else listens to it so they have to say it’s the best, no one else will. You have to go back to Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier for French music listened to by the rest of the world.

Arsène Wenger, you just have to love him for his arrogance and stubbornness, just as I love the French despite moaning about them occasionally. It is their way, they have been raised to think like that and know no different. To be honest, many of the French things they believe are the best in  the world… well actually, they are. So it’s not worth moaning about Wenger and his attitude, you have to blame the French race…….. it’s the way they are, it’s in their genes and in their history. They think they are the best and above everyone else. It will never change and we can’t change them, it’s pointless in even trying because they will just arrogantly argue as to why they are the best.

It’s the past that defines us and the French have a history of arrogance and stubbornness, this is Arsène Wenger. He has a great history with the Gunners and love him or hate him, he has defined the club as we see it today. To prove my theory about French arrogance just take for an example Wenger telling the world that his team would go a season unbeaten, the only thing behind a prediction like that is arrogance. No one else would make a statement like that, but he was right.

William the conqueror invaded England in 1066 and changed our history, Wenger invaded the Arsenal in 1996 and changed our history… we will know in three years time when history tells us whether his arrogance and stubbornness has made him the greatest manager in our history. In the meantime we’ll have to live with the frustration of him doing things his way, and only his way, despite sometimes being in the wrong. His arrogance will continue with his sometimes strange team selections and tactics, either until he gets it right or until it all goes wrong. It’s the French way! As Edith Piaf sang, ” Non, Je ne regrette rien”.

 

Searching for Cezanne: Heroes and villains Part 3.

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

If you have not read them already, to understand the full context of this post, it may be good to read parts 1 and 2 here:       

Part 1  http://wp.me/p4FeF9-8g

Part 2  http://wp.me/p4FeF9-aa

Life journeys can be funny things, what fate brings can alter the future forever. The same could be said of football, a little twist of fate will change the future outcome. Take Arsenal last season, fate intervened with injuries in the team which could be said, stopped us winning the league and Cup double. But we’ll never know for sure, because once a path is taken due to the intervention of fate, the alternative will be lost forever. It is one of the wonders of life, organic and continually changing….. you can never really know what lies ahead.

And this is where I found myself at the beginning of the 1980’s. On the threshold of change, not just through fate, but because of decisions I had to make. However, the past still had a hold on me and there was one more short journey I had to take before finally pulling free of a culture that had controlled me from the age of 14, when I had stolen my first car. Change was not going to be an easy thing I discovered. I had to see a Parole Officer for six months after I stopped giving pleasure to Her Majesty. A Probation Officer who had a very narrow view of change, she sincerely thought all I had to do was to make a decision to stay away from criminal activity, and that would be that, I’d be a reformed character. It was akin to asking me to stop drinking or god forbid, change the football team I supported. In other words, it wasn’t so fucking easy and could be downright impossible!

However, whilst pleasuring Her Majesty I’d met someone who had taken an interest in my artistic skills, Reginald, who was due to see the light of day just a few months after me. So we arranged to meet for a drink when he got back to London. He called himself a ‘Art Dealer’ but for all intents and purposes, he was a fraudster, someone who conned greedy art dealers and gallery owners. It was easy he said and the beauty was, if they did finally find out they had been duped, they would never admit it and tell the police, because their reputation was on the line. Easy I thought.  In the meantime, I’d found a job, driving for a timber merchant, yes, a real job, through some very good friends of mine. I had also started doing some voluntary work with the elderly, my first move towards social work.

In my first week of smelling fresh air I’d had three priorities, the first is obvious, Mr Chorizo needed some action, the second was a decent Ruby Murray and the third was going to Highbury for a match. The Gunners had not been having a good time, since the Cup final defeat against West Ham, they’d continued a mediocre period, Terry Neill was still manager and the players of any note were Graham Rix and Frank Stapleton. The first match I went to see was a home game against Leicester City. It was a drab affair and we just about won 1-0. But for me it was great to be able to sit in the East Stand again and watch a game. However, this was the start of a period where I didn’t truly follow the Gunners, I had my life to sort out. I needed to be an upstanding member of society.

However, it wasn’t easy, all the people who I knew were involved one way or another in the criminal culture. A mate of mine Micky K, had gone into the pub game and he had a pub just off Caledonian Road, the typical mix of rogues and villains. Then I finally met up with Reginald, he was in his 50’s and looking very dapper, all suited up, shirt and tie and looking like a country gent, he even had the accent. We met in a pub in Soho and he outlined his scheme, very simple and what appeared to be ‘victimless’ and foolproof.  He just needed someone who could paint, which is where I fitted in because his last ‘artist’ had gone back to Holland.

The next day he took me to his ‘studio’ in Lambeth, it was a cross between an artist’s studio and a chemistry lab, full of all the paraphernalia needed for an artist, canvasses from the late 19th and early 20th century, paint mixing bowls and jars, piles of paper taken from 19th century books and meticulously dated, pigment powders, old jars of glue, gum arabic and paint binders. Everything needed to produce  an ‘authentic’ 19th or early 20th century painting. And this was the idea, to paint in the style of a fairly well known artist, with original paper or canvas and with the accurate mixture of original pigment to be able to fool a collector or art dealer. We agreed I would do something in watercolour because that had been the medium I’d started with and was used to, then we decided on what style, what artist and what epoque. Eventually we got it down to a couple of English watercolourists and Cezanne. Paul Cezanne had often worked in watercolour for his initial ideas and sketches, so he was the obvious choice, easy to do in the style of and leaving out  the signature. All I had to do was to paint it,  then Reginald would do the rest, finding a ‘mark’ as he called it, doing the deal and collecting the proceeds, of which I would get exactly half. Lovely jubbly I thought, so the following week, I set to work in the studio.

I continued with other things, working for the timber yard, doing some voluntary work at weekends, doing my degree in sociology and going to an occasional Arsenal home game. The Gunners weren’t doing brilliantly but it was looking like we could get close to the top, eventually going on to finish third with Aston Villa as Champions and Ipswich in second place. In the meantime I continued working at the studio, it had taken me a while to get six or seven decent paintings done but Reginald was happy with three of them, two Cezanne style still lives and a small study for Cezannes painting of the bathers. I then left it to him to do the business but it was only a couple of weeks before he contacted me to meet up in Soho.

We met in the same pub, he had a massive grin on his face and handed me an envelope full of cash, £5000 in total. He’d sold two of the paintings to American dealers at an art fair. The third was currently with a New York gallery owner and he would know soon if it was sold. The yank was a greedy bugger  he told me, and was being difficult over the price. An oil painting on canvas by Cezanne at the time could fetch $1m or more, but we were doing very small watercolour sketches, which at auction could go for about $50,000, so any dealer buying our paintings would be looking at a vast profit, and this is what Reginald relied upon, greed. His philosophy was ‘buyer beware’ but knew from experience that dealers would take stupid risks on the basis of earning a great deal of money.

A typical Cezanne watercolour still life.

In early 1981 I had my first solo exhibition at the Islington Public Library Gallery in Holloway Road. It was a sell out and many of my works of local buildings and streets were bought by Islington Council. It was a success and gave me the hope and motivation to continue. However, during my voluntary work with the elderly, I’d met a social worker who I’d told about my background and she told me of a part-time job going at a drug centre in the West End, saying that I could have a good chance of getting it. I went for the job and was successful. I loved it, it was a day centre for drug users and prostitutes in Rathbone Place, just off Oxford Street. We also did outreach work at night which consisted of six male workers, working in pairs going to different areas, distributing clean needles, swabs and condoms and educating users and prostitutes on safe syringe use and safe sexual practices for  health reasons and the prevention of HIV. The system for the night shift was simple, we’d go to the centre at 10pm, collect a rucksack each and fill it with syringes, antiseptic swabs, condoms and a dildo.

My area was Kings Cross where we would  meet working girls in an all night cafe on Euston Road, hand out the various items and then sit down with them, buy coffees or teas and then, with the dildo, show them how to give a blowjob without the punter knowing they were using a condom. The joke amongst the staff was that at the centre there were six different sized dildos, from small to frigging massive, whoever got there last got the monster and then had to give it a blowjob in front of 4 or 5 giggling prostitutes. I eventually got wise to this because I was often the last one to arrive at the centre, so one day I visited a sex shop and bought one that was more manageable and easier on the jaw muscles.

Reginald finally heard from the American dealer and contacted me, he had to go to New York to finalize the deal, which would be in the region of $15,000, and asked if I would like to go.  So we booked a trip and he arranged for us to stay with a friend of his in the West Village. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the gallery to finalize the deal, the police were waiting, whilst the dealer had the painting in New York he’d asked an expert on Cezanne to examine it. We were charged with forgery, we got bail but our passports were confiscated. However, the law on such things was very vague and the painting was unsigned. We had a lawyer and he managed to get the charges dropped on the basis that Reginald had bought the painting in good faith and was selling it in good faith. It never got mentioned that I had actually painted it. However, during their investigations the police discovered that we both had serious criminal convictions when entering the USA. We were deported and put on a list of undesirables, unable to enter the country again. We were allowed to keep the painting and Reginald later sold it to an English dealer for £4000.

This was my first, and last, sojourn into the world of art forgery and the final event that made up my mind to get out of criminal behaviour permanently. I continued working at the drug project and also found part-time work in the Probation Service working with difficult young offenders. My route was now clear, I gradually moved away from mates who were still involved in dodgy activities and got more involved in a social life with Probation Officers and Social Workers. It was difficult at times because I often felt inadequate amongst all these university educated people, I felt awkward socially and very rarely contributed to conversations, often feeling inhibited. Consequently, I kept a small amount of contact with a few old mates. It was a schizophrenic lifestyle for a while.

This was the most difficult time in my rehabilitation and made me understand the difficulties that offenders have when trying to go straight, it takes a major change in social acquaintances to really be successful, which for many is near impossible. A real benefit from my change of lifestyle and social circle however, were female social workers, bloody hell, were they up for it, especially with a bit of rough like me! I couldn’t keep up with it, it felt at times that I was gradually shagging my way through the entire London Probation Service.

I went on to finish my degree in Sociology, I got a full-time job in the Probation Service as an assistant, I continued painting with quite a bit of success and I finally got accepted onto a Social Work qualifying course in 1986, the same  year George Graham  was appointed as  the Arsenal manager and there were nine years of success to come. My visits to Highbury increased dramatically. And during my social work course, I soon discovered the pleasures of young, horny, female social work students, I was like Winnie the Pooh with a new pot of honey! So you could say I was now a very ‘upstanding member’ of society.

2014-05-24 16:21:09

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

à bientôt

GunnersoreArse, the Sunday supplement that brings you the Arsenal, history, art, dildos and women of the night. What more could you want. Every Sunday morning at 9am. Just one click on your PC!

 

 

 

To be quite frank Frank, just sing us a song you ol’ gooner crooner! A tale of Heroes & Villains part 2.

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:

http://wp.me/p4FeF9-8g

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.

à bientôt

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!

 

I walked on the Emirates pitch 34 years before Wenger. A history of heroes and villains!

 

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

I was thinking about this last week and I started to reminisce how I’d walked regularly on the Emirates Stadium pitch, across the terraces and through the dressing rooms long long before it was even a twinkle in Wengers eye. In 1972, if someone had asked me what Chorizo was I probably would have said a Brazilian footballer, I was 18 years old and working for a company called J.R.Smith and Sons, a scrap iron and steel company owned by three brothers from Camden Town, Brian, Dennis and Ronnie. I worked with Dennis, they called him ‘Dennis the menace’ and the description was perfect, he was fucking crazy and he had his fingers in many different dodgy pies.  Dennis and Brian ran the Ashburton Grove site and Ronnie had control of a sister company, the Hornsey Metal Company which was in Stroud Green. It was a business just on the limits of sculduggery and the wrong side of legal, just as you would expect from any self-respecting decent scrap metal business. If you had seen some of the blokes that would  turn up to see Dennis at our little backyard office, you could easily have thought it was a scene from Snatch. Even our office was a caravan inside a large shed.

The site started at the top end of Ashburton Grove, where the main office and weighbridge led to the entrance to the yard and then it extended right across to the top end of Queensland Road, where the entrance leading to my little caravan was in Emily Place. I dealt with the non-ferrous metals side of the business; brass, copper, lead, aluminium, zinc, burnt wire etc. I worked with a tough little Irish fella who knew how to work the weighing scales and earn us some extra cash by under-weighing and underpaying customers. Dennis was also extremely good at earning us extra cash, often buying RSJ’s as scrap iron at the lowest price per ton and then we’d sell them as re-usable RSJ beams to the building trade and split the profit, a nice little earner.

The brothers had an uncle named Wally , a bit of a charactor, who had a small scrap yard down in Hoxton, which was much more of a Steptoe & Son type of affair but it was rumoured he had formed the company on the proceeds of some heavy duty criminal activity. But he was happy just to run a small yard and let Brian, Dennis and Ronnie deal with the bigger stuff.

So this is how I managed to walk on the Emirates pitch in 1972, thirty four years before it was constructed.  When I walked from my little caravan office across the yard to the weighbridge, I literally walked across the future stadium. Back then it was a combination of mud, oil, diesel, piles of car tyres, scrap iron and steel, all churned up by roll-on/roll-off container lorries and JCB’s. I could never have imagined it would eventually become the magnificent stadium it is today, a Wenger dream that would not take shape in his brilliant mind for another 30 years. At the end of most days we’d all go for a drink in a pub on the corner of Benwell Road and Albany Place, where some of Dennis’ mates would join us and they’d discuss and conclude dodgy business deals with him. I can’t remember the name of the pub now, perhaps someone can tell me if it’s still there?

The Arsenal manager at the time was Bertie Mee and the team consisted of such legends as John Radford, Ray Kennedy, Charlie George, Frank McClintock, Peter Storey and Bob Wison. Every other Saturday afternoon, a mate and I could be found touting tickets outside the Marble Halls on Avenell Road and when we’d sold them all, we would pay a couple of quid to the bloke on the turnstile for entry into the East Stand and we’d find  empty seats to watch the match. Every Friday and Saturday night you could also find us at the Wellington pub in Mackenzie Road, selling stolen designer clothing from the boot of a Ford Cortina.

These were the halcyon days in Islington, of after hours drinking clubs in the upstairs of a pub and run by gangsters, where someone slid open a spy hole in the door and if you weren’t known, you were told to fuck off. Sometimes you would see an Arsenal player at one of these clubs, McClintock, Peter Storey and Eddie Kelly were regulars. Frank McClintock went on to form a business partnership with Harry H, a well known local con man, and they bought a pub together in Caledonian Road, which became a regular haunt for the Islington criminal underworld. Peter Storey bought a pub in Essex Road and would eventually end up doing time for his involvement in certain criminal activities. This was the Islington of Bertie Smalls (the first ever supergrass), of Reggie Dudley and Bob Maynard (aka Legal and General) and the ‘head in the public toilet’ murder. The Islington where Jamaicans had ‘blues clubs’, basically a basement in someones house where you could drink rum and dance to bluebeat and ska all night long. The IRA had control of Finsbury Park and the Archway area, and the Adams brothers were only just starting their Islington crime syndicate from a house in Barnsbury and would eventually, and violently, take over from the Reilly’s as the most feared crime gang in London. This was the Islington of my youth, where I rubbed shoulders with, and regularly had drinks with some of the most feared and dangerous criminals in London. An Islington where local villains quietly went about their business and stayed away from any form of publicity, an Islington where gangsters from other manors would not dare to encroach upon, an Islington that I have very fond memories of, and by comparison, the East End, the Krays and the Richardsons were small time.

In 1974 I was still ticket touting at Highbury and other venues, and still selling stolen designer clothing, but now it was from the boot of a Jaguar Mk2, but the scrap metal firm had started to experience financial problems. This was caused by Ronnie having gone a bit radio rental with company money from his side of the business in Hornsey. Unknown to his brothers, he’d used business funds to buy, amongst other things, a large beachhouse property in the Carribean, a yacht and a light aircraft, plus a couple of Rolls-Royces and a mansion in Hertfordshire for his mistress, by the time Brian and Dennis found out, Ronnie had spent millions and it was too late to save the company. I was in the weighbridge office when it came to blows between the three of them, Dennis and Brian would have killed Ronnie and he would have ended up in the car crusher if me and a couple of Dennis’ mates had not intervened.

I then spent a hectic 12 months regularly driving two, three, sometimes four  times a week to Teeside, West Bromwich and South Wales collecting cheques owed to us by some of the larger steel works, then speeding back down the M1 or M4 to London and paying them into the bank, some cheques totalled £150k or more, but it was still to no avail. Brian and Dennis were frantically moving money from company banks to personal accounts abroad and the business was eventually put into receivership and bankruptcy. After the business folded I continued working with Dennis and some of his associates for a while in little money making schemes but with all the company problems, his health had suffered so he eventually decided to move to Spain and live off the money he’d managed to keep hidden from the inland revenue.

I moved on to other things, some good, some bad, some disastrous, some glamorous and some downright unsavoury. However, despite having walked on the Emirates pitch 34 years before the turf was laid, before even Wenger or an Arsenal player had ever set foot on it, I’ve still not been into the new Stadium to see a game. It remains a dream, a dream which I hope to achieve very soon. And at the same time I’ll also have a drink in the pub on Benwell Road if it’s still there?

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

à bientôt

GunnersoreArse, bringing you the hidden history of Arsenal and Islington, chorizo and copper, brass and muck. A classy publication delivered to your PC free of charge every Sunday morning at 9am GMT.