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The Voyage to the Big Time I was young, not quite sixteen and my brother Joe, who was seventeen, suggested we go to Old Trafford to see Man U vs Arsenal. This seemed like an amazing offer but Slatterys Travel agents in Dublin offered match packages at the time. Tickets for the ferry to Liverpool, the train to Manchester, and the match ticket. I picked up the tickets and we prepared for the adventure. It wasn’t that expensive at the time but I can’t remember how much. We headed down to the harbour on Friday to get the ferry. It was overnight and we had got the cheapest seats. We had to find one and sleep in it. We couldn’t afford a cabin. But we were young and didn’t really care. The way it worked was we travelled on Friday night, got into Liverpool the next morning, then got the train to Manchester and then the bus to Salford and finally walk to Old Trafford. Then after the match, immediately do the reverse, because we had to get back to Dublin by Sunday to go to work on Monday. The sheep were herded The match was on January 19th and it was reasonably mild at the time. The ferry crossing was bearable and we had a few pints to sustain us. They were always fairly busy at the time as there are huge connections between Ireland and the North of England. Everything went smoothly enough although we went past our stop on the train. We went out on the platform and got the train back in the opposite direction to the right stop, all the time worrying that they might ask us to pay something. We didn’t have a lot of money. We landed in the middle of Manchester and found our way to the bus. It was when we got off the bus that we had our first shock. The Man U fans, of which I was inadvertently one, and I certainly wasn’t brave enough to wear my colours, were shepherded by masses of police, many on horseback, all the way to the ground. If you accidently found yourself caught up in the surge, I am not sure how you would get out. Although they did check for tickets at some points. A magic atmosphere We went in to Old Trafford. It was not the magnificent stadium it is now but far smaller and dingier. Still it had an atmosphere unlike any other. Even today, I still feel that, every time I go there, it has a buzz, an excitement, unmatched at other grounds. Highbury, in the old days, had a similar feel, I was among my own people. People who work for a living, long before the invasion of the corporates. It was rough and ready and you were squashed together on the terraces. Really squashed together. And that was my first shock. When the first goal chance happened, the crowd surged forwards around twenty feet, my brother and I were carried helplessly down at around 55 degrees and then dragged back up to a standing 90. I was astonished and a bit scared. I had no control over it. But as it continued to happen I started to look forward to it. Being brought down and then back up became fun. The match was scoreless in the first half but there was plenty of excitement, it seemed to me, although it was difficult to see, being small. I was mesmerized by the noise, the singing and the vitriolic abuse sang lustily by both sides. The Arsenal fans made plenty of noise, but I had to stay silent. I didn’t really want to go there to die. The Man U excitements were fine, I was ferried up and down. But for the Arsenal excitements, the crowd went silent. I had to be very careful not to expose myself. I really did believe that they would have torn me apart like a pack of Arctic wolves. The stars Arsenal had all the old guard, Bertie Mee the manager, Bob Wilson, Peter Storey, Frank Mclintock, John Radford, Ray Kennedy and most of the double team. No Charlie George though and I never got to see him play live, although Alan Ball was there. Man U had the flamboyant Tommy Docherty as manager. And Alex Stepney as the only survivor of the 1968 European cup team. It did have stars such as Willie Morgan, Sammy McIlroy, Martin Buchan, Lou Macari and others who would have long careers there. The goals After we had pie and chips, and a pint at half time, we headed back out for the second half. I kept looking around at all the signs that we were really there, the home of the most famous club in the world. The fans, the extraordinary noise, the abusive comments to the ref and the opposing fans. The constant chanting, the surges up and down. The moments when I wanted to cheer but couldn’t. The match came alive not long after this with Steve James scoring for the Mancs. And despite Arsenal efforts, it looked like I had come all this way to be beaten. Until Ray Kennedy rescued the day very late on to equalize. The crowd went silent except for the Arsenal fans. I was jumping inside. But we came to Old Trafford, we didn’t get beaten, and we were the Arsenal. Steve James who scored for Man United But Ray Kennedy equalised to prove we were Arsenal Anyway, it seemed like a good result. Both of us were reasonably happy. We could enjoy some more pints on the way back, discuss all the ins and outs of the day and arrive home totally tired but amazed that we had done all that and got back home safely. My mother told us afterwards that she was very worried, but for us, we were grownups, and travelling by ourselves was just an adventure. And I had got my first taste of that unique English football atmosphere. And I wanted more. And hey, I still do.
What’s the missing number in this sequence 4, 12, _, 5? Well, we will get to it at some point. As we saw last time in 1969-70 we finished 12th and the only highlight of the year was winning the InterCities Fairs cup, now the Europa League. It was very difficult to feel optimistic. A climb up the table though, surely was necessary. Strangely enough, my young mind really hated the idea of relegation. Arsenal had never been relegated and I wanted that to continue, at least. No team though, had ever done the double in the 20th century, except, amazingly, the Spuds in 1961. They had a magnificent team full of big names and won the league with 8 points to spare. They beat Leicester 2-0 in the FA cup final. But that was before my time. I was a voracious reader, though and I knew all the stats. The Spuds won the first European trophy for England in 1963, the European Cup Winners cup (you might need to ask your dad). Manchester United were the first English team to win the European Cup in 1968 although Celtic from Scotland had won it before them in 1967. Arsenal, though? Winning the league? Or the Cup. Or even the League Cup? It was hard to be optimistic even with having a trophy sitting in our cabinet reminding us that we can win. It was 18 years since we last won the league, long before my time. Nobody was tipping Arsenal. Leeds were extremely strong as were Liverpool. 2 draws against West Ham and Everton at the start meant we were already behind and relegation might be a possibility. Then a nice 4-0 against Man U and we beat Huddersfield before our first defeat 1-2 v Chelsea. 6 points, 5 games, it didn’t look too good. 2 points for a win in those days. Honestly, that is what it was like for the whole season. My memory is that we were never top. Plenty of good results, but Leeds looked stronger. Every time I dared to dream a little we would lose or draw. There is a comparison with Leicester’s win a few years ago. However, Arsenal had many trophies in their cabinet, even if old ones. Leicester came from 14th, we came from 12th. The big teams for Leicester collapsed, the 2 Manchester’s, Liverpool, Chelsea, etc. Arsenal came second, our best over the past few years. It was the same in 1971, the 2 Manchester’s, Liverpool, Everton who all had won titles the previous seasons., came nowhere. Leeds and Spurs were strong. Towards the end, our 4th last game against West Brom, we drew 2-2. Then Leeds beat us 1-0. The league seemed out of touch as we had Stoke and then the Spuds away. We had to win both. Spurs were playing very well and they were at home. Leeds only had to beat Forest and that was pretty certain as Forest were poor. But a good finish was assured. To be honest, going into school, I felt happier. I was hoping for a win in the Cup. We were beaten by Palace in the 4th round of the league cup and by FC Cologne in the quarterfinals of the Inter City Fairs Cup, but moving along nicely in the FA cup. I was hoping and hoping we could do it. I was challenged to put a bet of 10 shillings on Arsenal doing the double by a friend of mine Michael Nolan, and not wanting to lose face, I accepted. For a poor 13 year old student, this was big money. Ray Kennedy But in the Cup that year, we could never seem to beat anyone. Ok we beat Yeovil in the 3rd round 3-0 but after that, what struggles we had. Portsmouth, after a replay, we scraped home 3-2. Then we beat Man City. Then it took 2 games to dispatch Leicester. Again we found a way through, 1-0. Then we met Stoke in the semi’s. Another 2 games and we finally were going to Wembley after beating them 2-0 with Ray Kennedy and George Graham (pictured) scoring. Three times replays and waiting and hoping all the time. This was Arsenal. Up and down, up and down, emotions pitching one way and then the other. Somehow, we were going to play Liverpool at Wembley. George Graham with hair Like Leicester, when they won the title, few people regarded them as the best in the country and honestly, I have to say I regarded Leeds and Liverpool as better than Arsenal. Leicester were 500-1 to win the title but I guess Arsenal were at least 50-1 as Arsenal did have a history of winning things. I was too young for betting shops then. Leeds had a squad of top players, Giles, Bremner, Gray, Hunter, Cooper, Clarke, Lorimer, etc. Liverpool had Toshack, Heighway, Ian St. John, Thompson, Hughes and many more. And we were just playing match after match, the fixtures piling up so we had lots to do and Leeds could concentrate on just beating Forest. They duly did. 2-0. We beat Stoke 1-0 to set up a final day against White Hart Lane. We had to win. Next week, I will put the final instalment of Creation of a Gooner. The game against Spurs and the final against Liverpool. Our players, the manager, and that crazy time. And what it meant to me. Anyone able to name the 2 captains here?