How going to an Arsenal match has changed in the last 50 years – Better or worse?


I’m guessing that, like a lot of other football supporters during the coronavirus pandemic, we have been watching re-runs of matches and how the game was played back in the 60’s and 70’s. Some observations struck me, and I thought I would highlight them in this article, comparing those days to today’s football on offer.

Even in the top league of English football, most games during the winter periods were played on the equivalent to a ploughed field, or even a large sandpit!!! It’s hard to believe in this day of snooker table type playing surfaces, that this was the case just forty/fifty years ago, but that is the case. Some grounds were covered in sand to allow a game to take place, while the week before our infamous defeat against Swindon Town at Wembley, the pitch was used to hold a horse jumping event.

If my memory serves me well, The Arsenal were nearly always awarded the accolade of “best pitch” during the 60’s, 70’s 80’s and the tradition of a superb playing surface continues to this day.

Since 1970, there is a list of 60 stadiums that are no longer used as football venues in England, ranging from Gateshead’s Redheugh Park to the old spuds’ White Hart lane.

As wonderfully unique Highbury was, it was dated in nearly every area and as far back as the sixties, with guys wandering through the crowd, selling peanuts by the bag and no facilities for hot food until the North Bank was renovated, as an example.

The modern-day venues cater for a whole range of different expectations, according to the price one is willing to pay, with top chefs being responsible for the food being served in the upper echelons of these great stadiums.

At long last, both sexes, along with dietary needs, are being considered and catered for, with modern up to date and numerous toilet facilities for us all to use.

The seats are comfortable, with room for stretching the legs and great views of the playing area at The Emirates -the stadium is themed to reflect our clubs wonderful history both inside and outside of the ground.

We do miss that electric atmosphere at Highbury of course, something I am told that the spuds have managed to keep with their design.

I recently watched a Liverpool/Leeds charity shield game and witnessed what some of us older fans call “proper defenders and midfield players”!!!

The likes of Tommy Smith and Billy Bremner making fouls that would today be classed as an immediate red card and probably a three-game match ban, but actually producing a ticking off by the ref and, occasionally, getting their names taken.

Don’t get me wrong, we had players like Peter Storey, Eddie Clamp, Billy “Flint” McCullough to do our dirty work, while the likes of Dave Mackay, “Chopper” Ron Harris, Norman “Bites yer legs” Hunter, Billy Bonds, Julian Dicks, “Psycho” Stuart Pearce, to name a few, littered the game and no prisoners were taken and no quarter given. These players wouldn’t stand a chance in today’s football – is that a good or bad thing?

I believe that we have progressed so much, since the introduction of such wonderful players from Europe, including our own Dennis Bergkamp, who use their fantastic skills to make the game of football such a wonderful thing to watch today versus the uncontrolled thuggery that permutated into the terraces during the late seventies and eighties.

The only player I can think of from those days who I think would fit into today’s football, would be the magical George Best.

With the introduction of the PGMOL in 2001, standards under this organisation, with Keith Hackett (I believe in charge?) were a real life-changer for the officials – such a shame that it is now a shambles (in my opinion).

They started to rid the game of some of the tackles that were being performed in a Sunday morning League, in the top tier of professional football, with no regards for the health of those unlucky enough to be on the end of a boot or a fist.

There seemed to be a cross section of referees, who didn’t seem to want the star status that the likes of Mike Dean craves today. They seemed to blend in with the game, rather than wanting to make decisions that put the focus on themselves.

Funnily enough, despite the referees becoming more aware, the injuries seemed to increase with alarming regularity.

Such things as cruciate ligament injuries became regular bywords and, despite advances in medical treatment, injuries seem to take so much longer to overcome these days.

We saw two such injuries in our wonderful FA cup win against Chelsea and my view is that footballers today are so much more athletic than yesteryear.

That means so much more stress on all areas of the body, plus the pressing game, would see so many ex professionals named above, struggling to even finish forty-five minutes.

Players were also treated as workhorses back then, clubs using anything available just to get players on the pitch.

Medicine has advanced so much in the last fifty odd years and players themselves take much more care of themselves…pioneered, in my opinion, by our own Arsene Wenger.

So, looking back over many years of watching top level football, I think today’s game, from every aspect, except refereeing, has made huge strides.

We can now take our nearest and dearest to games, played on superb pitches, without the fear of fighting on the terrace or on the field – purchase some really decent food and drink, watch the game from comfortable seats, witness wonderfully gifted players from around the world and live the dream….the only thing that one needs is a lot of money and even bigger capacity stadiums, in order that everyone can be as privileged as I am, with my season ticket, to watch the mighty Arsenal Football Club.


Tags Highbury


  1. A very interesting article Ken

    Regarding club facilities, I remember going to Upton Parka couple of decades or more ago where the ladies’ loos were in a not overly large garden shed with no hand basins. Imagine that now! Of course, at Highbury there were proper, clean cubicles and the luxury of soap and water.

    You refer to the amount it costs today, which is hefty. I wonder how much of a difference the average worker’s pay it took to buy a ticket then was , compared to what it is today? All I know is that my mum and dad could afford to take me to the clock end but would be making serious financial sacrifices to do the same nowadays.

    You mention fisticuffs and there was serious hooligan elements which stopped my dad taking me in the early 70’s but generally I found going to games friendly experiences.

    And of course the band playing to the crowd on that awesome grass added to the occasion.

    1. SueP, the police band is a great example of how things have changed.
      When The Emirates was opened and tours started, one of the most emphasised orders given, was not to go anywhere near the playing surface.
      That great old police band used to march down the sides, up and down the middle and how we loved it.

  2. Yes, the facilities are far better, but the ticket prices to attend a match are far higher, to the extent that it is no longer the working person or family game in the EPL. To regularly attend matches one would need to have a well paying job; the alternative being to follow a team in the lower leagues.
    As for players they were much tougher, due to ground conditions, harder if not dirtier players and the leather stitched ball.
    As well due to the lower wages, a player often had to hold down a regular job as well as playing football. Imagine playing after spending every day during the week *down pit”?

    1. ozziegunner, your so correct in regards to money, players second income and those damn leather balls!!!

      Just a note for us older fans, that might surprise you though.
      Last season, my s//ticket cost just £380 odd pounds!!!!

      1. And ozziegunner, those tackles were not just hard, they were made with intent – would you want to see that today?

        1. Depends who the opposition player was, as you have to see serial niggles get their just desserts. However, you wouldn’t want to see the treatment Reyes of serial fouling got from Manchester United repeated.
          Lucky you with your season ticket!

  3. Don’t get me wrong because our new stadium looks amazing and the facilities are excellent.
    However nothing can replace the feeling you got standing in the north bank when we scored a goal.


    I do broadly agree that things are much better today than way back then but cheating, diving and disrespect for refs are all worse in todays game. BACK THEN THERE WAS PRACTICALlY NO DIVING(Frannie Lee apart).
    Older players of yesteryear playing in todays game would be sent off so often that games would be abandoned for too many sending offs. Eradicating MOST of the thugs is a huge step forward.

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