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.

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:

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!