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.

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For better or for worse…. till death do us part!

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

Loyalty and staying with the same partner for life….. till death do us part! Or in this instance….. staying loyal to, and supporting the same football team for life, which when analysed, throws up all the same experiences, emotions, disappointments and joys similar to a marriage. Some people can devote their whole life to one person, for better or for worse, unfortunately I’ve not been very good at it, hence three failed marriages. But when it comes to the Arsenal……..   I’ve devoted my life to her, plus quite a substantial amount of money and emotional investment, see, just like a marriage! So how do we do it? What makes us able to stay faithful to the Arsenal for life but not always stay faithful to a partner? Can the simple word ‘Loyalty’ really convey what it means?

I took my marriage vows with the Arsenal when 8 years old and I’ve never been unfaithful to her, never once have I dipped my chorizo into another teams sauce, not yellow mustard vinaigrette, not white béchamel or creamy blue cheese. Arsenal to me is what Red thai curry is to white thai rice, what Bolognese is to spagetti, what mint sauce is to lamb, what chili is to con carni……in other words, a perfect marriage. For 52 years and hopefully for a good few more, it will only be death that eventually separates me from the Gunners and I finally go to St Peters Italian Deli in the sky. In comparison, the longest I’ve stayed with one partner is 14 years and during that time I have to admit, occasionally I dipped my spicy chorizo into a bit of tasty french mayonnaise, a well seasoned tzatziki a la grecque, a piquant chinese oyster sauce, plus, on a regular basis I got my chorizo nicely warmed in some deliciously comforting and fulfilling Lancashire Hotpot. And if you are reading this Lisa from Southport, “I still think of you!”

Some of you will call me weak, and yes, I agree, on occasion I have preferred to look for some nice sun dried tomatoes in virgin olive oil rather than eat luke warm tinned tomatoes at home. But with the Arsenal, I’ve been much stronger in my resiliation to stay faithful and loyal.

So the question is, could I be unfaithful to my Arsenal? Would it be possible on occasion to share my spicy sausage with some Tottenham kosher potato tart , a Chelsea currant bun, Cardiff Welsh rarebit or some Norwich roast mutton dressed as lamb and cheat on my Gunners? No of course not, it would be unthinkable, it would be akin to being offered perfectly cooked Smoked Duck Breasts with a Ginger butter sauce and saying, “I’d rather have some spam with ketchup.” Or being invited to dine at a three star Michelin restaurant but turning it down and going to a hot dog stand on Tottenham High Road.

I am proud to be a Gooner, my Greek Keftethes swell with pride when I tell people that the Arsenal are my team. My spicy chili sauce gets spicier when we win a game, but sometimes I’ve had to accept eating cold pizza that’s been left in the fridge for a day or two longer than it should have been.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to sample some of the best culinary delights possible, with a dash of international influence and creativity. Hollandse Nieuwe Haring, Bûche Chocolat gourmande a la Française, Irish beef in Guinness, Swedish Meatballs, Romford Pie and Mash and of course, Spanish Tapas. But on other occasions, I’ve had a plate of unsavory overcooked sludge plonked in front of me which you wouldn’t even give to your dog……. but I’ve eaten it! My analogy here is the Arsenal, not women, well, if I’m truly honest…….. Damn, I’ve been a slut sometimes! But my point is, if your wife served you a load of trollop on a plate on a regular basis, you’d start to think, “Is she the right one for me?” and “maybe I should go out and find some Steak Diane or Crêpes Suzette”. Whereas the Arsenal serve up some unappetizing fodder on a regular basis but we go back for second and third helpings and over the last few years, that would be ‘fourth’ helpings as well. This is to me the essence of fan loyalty and faithfulness, no matter what’s on the menu, you’ll eat what ever is dished up. Never thinking that there might be some ‘Cordon bleu’ somewhere down the Fulham Road in a restaurant where they change their chef as regularly as they change the table napkins.

Psycologically I’m basically a loyal person, for instance, I’m very loyal to friends and family, and also to certain commercial products, Nivea, Gauloises tobacco, Spanish chorizo, Pataks curry pastes, Heinz baked beans, pastis 51 and Durex, though nothing puts me off my meal more than having to wrap my chorizo in clingfilm! I’m also extremely loyal to the Arsenal and this begs the question, where does loyalty come from? What are the psychologically complex factors which define us as loyal followers of just one football team. Psychologists have studied the complex and opaque neurological processes which add to the psychological make up of a loyal fan. They have also spent quite some time analysing the psychology of infidelity and adultery. But it’s as complicated as the recipe and ingredients for a Marseille Boullabaisse. I may have a go at preparing it for you on another occasion.

Is it easier to commit adultery with another woman than to be unfaithful to your football team? Are the prohibited Nouvelle Cuisine menus of infidelity easier to digest than the taboo of dipping your chorizo into a cold blue piece of stringy pidgeon standing on a soggy meatball? Is loyalty to the Arsenal more powerful within us than the ability to stay loyal to a spouse?

In fact, does it ever cross our minds that we could stray from the righteous path of only  supporting the Gunners? Whereas the temptation of a juicier meal away from home may  intrude upon us from time to time, and we can sometimes give in to it. Do we sometimes look at another teams attractiveness, sexiness and charms, being overcome by lust and temptation for some forbidden fresh fruit cocktail? Would we actually take that fateful step into another teams restaurant and consume a three course ‘a la carte’ meal with all the trimmings just because we have an urge rising in our Moulinex mixers to whip up and serve some Crème Anglaise?

I think I can catagorically say no for all or at least, for most football fans on those questions. For us, fidelity to a football club is sacred, it would be sacrilage to even contemplate having an affair with another team. We would be a Prune and Port Fool. Our loyalty means we will happily accept the occassional crap dinner, knowing that there will also be times when we can savour the taste of the authentic and appetizing delicacies of well cooked football, prepared by a gourmet Chef de cuisine, tempting our tastebuds and teasing us with the delights which are to follow and if we’re lucky, ‘Silver Service’.

You may think this has all been a load of Falafel and Chocolate Profiteroles,  and you’re thinking perhaps whilst I’ve been typing it I’ve chucked far too much Côtes du Provence rosé down my neck. This may be true, but writing it has been like slipping my tongue into a Rum Cream Trifle and eating Cherries marinated in Maraschino liqueur……….  Yummy.

I, Northbank, do take you, Arsenal FC, to be my Football Team, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; until death do us part. And hereto I pledge my faithfulness.

Right, time for a glass of wine and some chorizo (perhaps dipped into a creamy prawn sauce)….. hope you enjoyed your visit. Until the next time.

à bientôt………… et bon appétit 🙂

And don’t forget….. GunnersoreArse is always a blogging good read, every Sunday morning at 9am GMT.  Tune in and join in! But occasionally, I may be unpredictable…. and when the fancy takes me, I’ll scratch my GunnersoreArse on another day.