Nostalgia – What it was like growing up as an Arsenal fan in the 50’s

What being a Gooner meant in the 1950’s by Jon Fox

In 1956, aged just five, I was taken by my Dad to watch Arsenal and immediately fell deeply in love, and for life! In those days of Sunday school, the rag and bone man, the shellfish man calling around each Saturday evening, and the Saturday evening paper seller shouting his thrilling cry “Noos or Stannard, Classifiiied” being my cue to rush to the front gate clutching Dad’s precious few pennies and being rewarded with the paper which even at that age I was able to read very well.

The headline always said something like Arsenal win, Spurs draw or Arsenal and Spurs both lose, or both win, or any other combination that either made me thrilled or miserable accordingly. I was in an Arsenal family where my Grandad, then still very much alive and an Arsenal anorak long before that word was used, had used to take the tram to Woolwich and watch us before we even moved to Highbury. Even at age five it was already “us” and it will remain “us” til my dying day! Around age seven Dad took lucky me to Briggs Sports shop in Palmers Green where I became the proud owner of a wooden rattle. Guess what colour it was soon painted!

By 1958 I began going regularly with Dad, already deeply in love with all things Arsenal and the colours Red and White, and by 1961 I was going to every game without fail with a school pal. The entrance fee to the magical Arsenal Stadium was the princely sum of two shillings. Being the little “genius” I had already become I had managed to con, sorry.. negotiate, or actually be given the Kings ransom of ten shillings a week pocket money. Ten shillings! I have never been so rich, pro rata, ever since. Board and lodging paid, the Eagle comic starring Dan Dare and his enemy the Mekon, tennis coaching and parents who spoiled me and, later, my little brother too who remains a Gooner to this day and who trod my path just a few years later.

Aged ten I already know every Arsenal manager from 1886 til date, courtesy of Grandad and all the main players from even the twenties, let alone the thirties. We lived next door to the Chapman family in Palmers Green and this worthy gentleman and his two sons, both older than I, were all Spurs fans. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT! YES, SOME DO ACTUALLY EXIST EXIST AND IN PALMERS GREEN TOO. THERE SHOULD HAVE BEEN A LAW AGAINST IT. Herbert, or actually George Chapman – how dare he not be called Herbert – used to tell me about the great Spuds teams, and about the push and run style which the “mighty” toilet men used to play, under a manager called Arthur Rowe in around 1951. I even know about Bert Bliss and Jimmy Dimmock who played in Spuds 1921 Cup winning team. That may in fact be 1821, now I come to think about it. Lifelong hypnosis has failed to eradicate that sad fact from my thus damaged brain!

For “two bob”, or todays equivalent of ten new pence, we could stand on the North Bank. It was not even called the North Bank back then but the North Stand or the Laundry End. The magical programme was 6d, that is six old pennies and I became an avid programme collector, as did many of my friends. By 1961 I was fortnightly watching Arsenal and when we played away, I went to the toilet. In other words, I watched Bottomham Rotspurs, wearing – whenever appropriate – my red and white bobble hat and knitted scarf and supporting their opponents, yes even Man Utd and Liverpool, both courtesy of Granny, who never stopped knitting, smoking and talking.

We had the same talking genes but she definitely wore the trousers. Me? I wore the hat and scarf, natch! Spurs was slightly nearer and I suffered the Spuds Double era. I used to go by penny-farthing, sorry, make that the tube, to Finsbury Park, and walk down with the ever hickening crowd down to Avenell Rd, where I would buy the programme and be in Heaven for the afternoon. Unless we lost! And back then we often did lose too.

Those were the days of 17 long years without a trophy, from 1953 when we won the Division One on goal average, (not goal difference) from Preston North End by holding on to beat Burnley 3-2 at home in our last game, having been 0-1 down earlier on! You will note I really was and still am an anorak!

At Spurs I used to stand on the Shelf – how appropriate for the club that has always been left on the shelf. I was in the Spuds crowd in 1962, when Benfica beat them in the second leg of the Eupopean Cup semi final, although Spuds won that leg 2-1. That evening I made the startling discovery that my voice was louder than all the Spuds fans put together after the final whistle. HOW ODD AND HOW THRILLING!

In the early sixties Arsenal were far from the team we were to become under Bertie Mee, who was previously the trainer with the “magic sponge”. The magic sponge was widely acknowledged as a miracle cure for everything but broken legs! The ex England captain and Wolves great centre-half, Billy Wright, who played 105 times for England, a then record, was made our manager in 1962 and sacked in 1966 after a crowd of 4554 (yes that is correct) saw us lose 0-3 at home to the… ahem, “delightful” Leeds United at home. Billy Wright was married to Joy Beverley, a singer and one of a three sisters group known as the Beverley Sisters. Joy, Babs and Teddy used to sit in our directors box each game, prominently dressed in red and white with matching coats an hats, while Billy’s teams mostly failed to impress. Those were the days of George Armstrong who was scandalously never awarded a single full England cap; Alan Skirton, a fast and clumsy winger; and such as Jim “Fingers” Furnell in goal who threw in a header from outside the penalty area to lose us the FA Cup quarter final in, I think, 1967 to Birmingham City, yet another “lovely and clean team, full of graceful, flower arranging players”. Or possibly NOT!

Those heady days were also the days of the Metropolitan Police Band, who used to march up and down the pitch at half time, and of a singing copper called Constable Alex Morgan, who used to sing, tunefully too, melodious ballads from musicals over the tannoy, usually to muted applause. When the band leader threw his baton up in the air and caught, it a mass cheer would be heard hoping he would drop it. On one occasion he actually did. Oh joyous day! How we rejoice in others misfortune and how we loved it!

There was no advertising around the pitch in those days. Our then chairman, Sir Denis Hill-Wood, father of Peter who became chairman too in time, said that “adverts would be used only over his dead body”! Unlike today’s owner and foreign shysters, the Hill-Wood and Bracewell-Smith families had owned Arsenal over most of the century and were all real fans. It was Peter Hill -Wood, then chairman, who said to David Dein after our last gasp title win at Anfield on May 26th 1989, that famous day, that the title was “never in doubt”! How we thousands partied the whole night in Avenell Rd, and it was about that night that Nick Hornby, the “Arsenal nut” journalist wrote his wonderful book “Fever Pitch”.

In part two I will write about away days with the Supporters Club and of great days and night in other towns and cities, including meeting Brian Clough, then the manager of Derby, in 1972. I hope this brings back memories for fellow older Gooners, and helps the younger ones see a little of how life was for Arsenal fans back in the day.

Jon Fox


  1. Fabulous article Jon, bringing back such memories to my old brain. Thank you Sir for this and I cannot wait for part two. By the way, John Sammels really was crap wasn’t he, which if my memory serves me was the famous line in Fever Pitch?

  2. First,R.I.P Kenny Rodgers we and the future gerations will live with memories of your great music. Regarding the Article I was born in 1989 so I handover the microphone to you ladies and gentlemen,our time will come for some of to share our memories that we’re creating now.

  3. I am 73 years old and could have written a very similar article & lots more.
    I was Born and raised in Finsbury Park. My Dad was a bus driver and all his depot mates would meet at our house as it was the last stop for them all on the way to the match. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to go. My older brother took me to my first match in 1951. It was a reserve game & remember for some reason that Len Wills was playing at full back..
    Like yourself, from that day onwards I have many memories and stories to bore my grandchildren with.
    I thoroughly enjoyed your article as it prompted me to remember many of my similar experiences. Well done.
    Regards. Alan.

  4. JF-What a trip down memory lane.Congrstulations.A tad early for me Fulham v Arsenal 1962 being my first game but I could really feel in your writing what it meant to you.

    1. Phil, I remember going to a game at Craven Cottage when we won 5-3 and it was pouring non stop the whole day. I was in the open as were most and remember getting the tube back to Turnpike Lane looking as if I has just come out from the bath fully clothed. Alan Skirton had the game of his life that day,roasting Jim Langley, their poor full back. I think Skirton scored two , but may be wrong, but being totally soaked for many hours was what I most remember.

      Do you remember the 5-3 home to Newcastle, probably in Autumn ’76, though I may well be wrong, in Supermacs first season and he scored a hattrick against his old club. What a game that was and it could have been 8-8 quite easily!

      1. I remember it well Jon, was it his first game for us days after we bought him from Newcastle? I know it was on match of the day that evening and watched it again.Remember those days Jon? Before video recorders and years before you could buy the whole seasons games at the end of the season. And I believe they only showed 2-3 games.

        1. Phil, Something in the back of my tiny mind tells me it was a November game and not his first as he joined us in the summer of ’76. I may be wrong still but that is my impression. I also believe he scored his three with a left and a right foot and a great header.
          I also recall the very first ever Match of the Day, being our game at Anfield with Baker, Strong , Eastham etc and we lost 3-2. In black and white too. I only watched it on telly though! P’raps it was actually Newcastle!!! I have so very many memories of away trips, esp at Newcastle and Sunderland, plus Blackpool etc and of the fellow fans who went. Also of hitch hiking to see us play Rangers in a pre -season friendly, which I will tell of in my part two of Nostalgia.

          1. Your correct te Match of the days first ever programme Jon. Lost 3-2 at Anfield.will look forward to the Rangers hitch-hiking adventure. But that was how it was in the day. I recall speaking to a gentleman up in Sunderland once who took his family on holiday to Ireland for a week. The fact it was where Arsenal we’re away for pre-season training nothing to do with the choice obviously.

  5. Jon, the header picture looks like it could be when we played Derby in the height of the 3 day week in the 70s. I was there in the clock end, Wednesday early afternoon kick off I believe, as floodlights were banned. My feet hardly touched the ground all match and it was the most frightening crown I’ve ever been in. They estimated somehow about 70,000 got in.

    1. I recall that game GB-Fa Cup match if I remember correctly and the Ground was OVERFLOWING.Took a day off school and got a weeks detention for my troubles. Worth every second

      1. 60,000 that Derby match Phil, I remember in 1964 we played Tottenham in a night game, a 4-4 draw with 68,000, biggest crowd I was ever in at Highbury and a frightening crush at the end when with five minutes to go and 2-4 down we pulled back to 4-4. Thousands tried to get back in as thousands tried to leave. Thought I was going to die that night.Apparently that was the norm after the Second World war.

        1. YES Kenny and it was Baker and Strong who scored those two late goals to draw the game. What a huge crowd though and quite scary I remember,as it was so packed. Do you remember which season it was when both of those scored 26 league goals each? Was it in ’63-64, when we scored 90 and conceded 84 ?
          BYW, it was my article not Pat’s, and I have another section about away days, with the supporters club still to come later this week. I will be contributing a number of articles from now on.
          KEEP SAFE KENNY.

          1. Yes Jon, hope you saw my apologies, with respect to Pat, it had all the hallmarks of a Jon Fox article, brilliant piece of work and looking forward to part two

    2. GB, Thank you and I had forgotten about that game and don’t think I went to it even. I was singing professionally in those days and did miss a number of games for work reasons but still made the vast majority. I remember the four cup semis against Liverpool in 1980 which we eventually won in , I THINK, the third of those games, I was onstage with my trannie(surrepticiously hidden, as I would have been for the high jump had it been known) in the wings and we had a few minutes to go and leading 1-0. I exited stage in time to hear Denis Law say ” you can never write off Liverpool ” who had equalised and I threw the radio down in a fury, breaking it . Damn radios , you can never trust them to say what you want!

    3. It was easy to slip the turnstyle operator a few bob once he knew you GB, I used to do that with my daughter, once they stopped me carrying her in.

      The trouble was, I took a chance that there would always be a spare seat available for me to swap in the east stand, otherwise we had to walk to the clock end and stand for the game -she is now as big a committed gooner as I am, followed by her son, so I feel quite proud about that forced indoctrination!!

      1. My old man used to push me, my brother and my cousin all in the same turnstile Ken, as youngsters never had a clue what was going on.

      2. They all took a drink in East Stand then Ken, Started in the early 70’s with a Ten Bob note, jibbing like that for years, sometimes for big games having to sit on stairs, could you imagine that today, aye, aye, call a copper, finally got an official season ticket in 1982

  6. Jon, what a wonderful trip down memory lane.

    I honestly believe that those of us who lived through those days and were then rewarded with the GG and AW eras are so very very lucky.

    We remember those days of pure misery as the spuds became the top aside in England winning the double with great football But we all stuck with the club that invited us in and the Invincibles were, for me anyway, the reward for never ever deserting The Arsenal.

    My family were all spuds and my elder brother was rewarded with my grandads first World War rattle, which,as you can imagine, made a hell of a noise – he painted it in the spuds colours and still has it today at the age of 77 – SAD OLD GIT!!!!!!

    Do you remember the children’s enclosures? I used to go to the spuds proudly wearing my colours and not feeling worried in the least.

    Could go on and on and on, but thanks for the reminder of days gone by and, as I once said to someone on here who called us old fogies, I hope they will live as long as we have with our wonderful memories of our great club, The Arsenal:

    1. Glad you like it Ken and I guess that all we oldies who have shared so much of watching back then must strongly identify with much of it. I will send the other part later this week but first will send my take on former and current fan/ player relatioships which touch on other socially related matters. Such as fan attitudes towards players in this huge wage era and the difference when players were still ordinary working class men who earned a normal to good wage but not outrageous fortunes. I firmly believe players are STILL basically the same but their wealth and lifestyle divides and shields then from ordinary fans, to a greater degree than before.
      I have a yen to talk about wider life matters than just Arsenal and do so regularly but obviously not on here. I have asked Pat if we could separate this site into two sections; one for those who want to talk ONLY Arsenal matters, which is fine, but another for those who want to include AFC but also talk more deeply about related social matters. I would obviously want all to be free to be on BOTH sites ,should they wish. But by avoiding those who only want to give their lists for next games and write inane cliches, we who want to talk more seriously could avoid wasting our time on trivialities. So far Pat has not answered me.

      BTW, I often feel almost “guilty” THAT I can recite the Spuds double team in an instant but have to think about our own’71 regular eleven, which of course used more players than did Spuds through the season. If dear George Chapman and his younger son Ron , who were lovely guys had not let me and kid brother gladly raid their fulsome cherry tree each year, I might never have forgiven him for NOT being called HERBERT! How about THAT for an inanity, eh Ken!

      1. Qh Jon, please accept my apologies . thought it was Pats. Brilliant post Jon, just what I needed to get me back in the swing again, can’t tell you enough how I enjoyed the read , can’t wait for part two

    2. I remember the younger hooligans all being isolated in the moat alongside the pitch at Highbury. I stuck my head up and it was level with the pitch!

      1. Admin Pat, with those a-z half time results at the corners, and the said scores being manually put up just before the second half started.

        My memory has gone again and I can’t be bothered to look,but what about the crazy guy who used to go around the pitch, at both home and away games.
        He had a “shield” saying “WE ARSENAL SUPPORTERS SAY MAY THE BEST TEAM WIN” and he was regularly pelted by away supporters, but carried on year after year…just imagine that happening today!!!!

        There is nothing like him or the good old policeband today…although AFTV does a service for fans after a game I guess.

        The, sometimes, very personal debates we get on here about individuals (players, managers, coaches, other posters) obviously never happened back then – it all occurred during the game, walking away from the game, or down the pub, when one thought he looked old enough to be served and drunk light ale or a pint of mild!!

        Wouldn’t change the experience for all the tea in china – wouldn’t mind a few years back on the clock though!!!!

        1. That was David Stacey I think Ken with the big board, he used to do the same with the England team. Do you remember the guy who used to come on at half time and play with the invisible football. He would have the crowd in uproar, jumping and heading the winning goal, running and celebrating with the supporters. He was such good entertainment at half time that they allowed him to stay on. one day and I only saw it once, he bought a ball on and was quite useful as a player

          1. Don’t remember that one Kenny and thanks for the information on David Stacey, plus your family’s efforts to get in for free!!!

            What rogues we were in those days – I used to buy a ticket from bounds Green to wood green., travel to the arsenal and back to wood green, then walk home.
            Got caught one day and my dad gave me a good old clip around the ear, after which I have been as white as the driven snow!!!!

          2. Kenny, David Stacey used to wear a top hat in our colours and walk around the pitch. He ran an old programmes company somewhere in far Essex I think, can’t remember exactly where though and he used to advertise it in Charles Buchans Football Monthly,which I bet you used to read too!

            I think the guy with the England board was not him but someone older and shorter. Seems ages ago, which it was but also as clear as yesterday. I never did know the board mans name but he was a character.

  7. Thank you for a very nice article.
    For someone like me, who “fell in love” with Arsenal in 1970, when watching English football on TV here in Denmark, it is nice to hear experiences from before that.

    1. Herbert Chapman was the first and so far the only former spudite player to become manager of Arsenal.
      If my Arsenal history book is true HC was known as a ‘roly poly’ (what ever that might mean in spud speak) sort of player.
      At the time the two clubs were worlds a part with us playing out among the Kent Orchards and spuds in foreign parts some where up north.

      While spuds frogged legged it on the marsh land that was a major part of Tottenham, we turned professional. We went on to win the right to play in the relatively newly formed ‘ Big Boys’ Professional League’ of the far away north and luxuriate in the expert refereeing of Mike Riley’s predecessors.

      Back then we were bank rolled by the club’s owner director Henry Norris to whom in my opinion the club owes its very existence. No Henry Norris, – No Arsene Wenger and all the years between the two.

      All handed over willy nilly to a couldn’t careless American Trump supporter.

      What a way to die!

      1. Fabulous comments Snowden and you are SO RIGHT about Sir Henry. Without him we would be, at very best, another Charlton standard club, still in Woolwich probably and have NONE of our proud and glory days . But the club will survive KROENKE AND HE WILL DIE WAY BEFORE WE EVER WILL.

      2. Excellent article snowden, I make you right regarding Sir Henry Norris. I remember years ago Arsenal running a competition on what they think the new North Bank Stand that was about to be constructed should be called. I put forward “The Sir Henry Norris Stand” for the very reasons you mentioned

  8. Oh what an article Pat, absolutely brilliant,believe mate, we lived parallel lives, it felt like you were telling my Arsenal life story. Born !950, my dad first started taking me and my older brother around 1956 to reserve games only. As you know the reserves in those days was like watching the first team but without the crowd. I can remember getting off the bus at Clissold Park, walking through Riversdale Rd, crossing Blackstock Rd into Conewood St and suddenly getting the first glimpse of the East Stand when the excitement would build up. Then, especially with reserve games you could smell the liniment that the players put on before the game. although I can’t honestly recall it but my brother who’s 3 and 1/2 years older than me tells me we were at the famous Arsenal v Man Utd game before the air crash. From the age of 9 years old I would go with my brother or my mates. I remember Tottenham double season as if it was yesterday and the game at Highbury when they done us 3-2 with a late Les Allen goal. I was 10 years old perched on a crush Barrier on a hot September day at the back of the North Bank or Laundry End as we knew then, uncomfortable, but the only way I could see in a 65,000 crowd. i lived and dreamed everything Arsenal, every exercise book at school had Arsenal drawings on the inside cover. Me and my brother would fight over the paper on a Saturday evening as soon as it came through the letter box. Started to go to first team games at the age of about 9, mum used to give me Half a Crown, Two Bob to get in, Thrupence (three old pennies) fair, Hoxton to Clissold Park, there and back and thrupence the programme. I soon became an autograph collector and had all the players many times over. Also got the autographs of Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, a story many on this site has heard before, when I ran on to the pitch just as they were about to start the second half, then chased off by the referee, couldn’t do that these days. As you also done Pat I was also a programme collector , had every club in the Football League as well as European Cup games like Hamburg v Burnley, Tottenham v Benfica and other such as Brazil v Chile, Olympic Final 1960. Used to send away to Fraser’s the programme company who used to advertise on the back page of the legendry “Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly”, had a fantastic collection that I threw away when I was about 18 when having a clear out, something I regret to this day. 63 years of going to watch Arsenal regular apart from the late 60’s until the late 70’s when I played non-league football for various clubs, even skived off training for midweek games in those days to watch my beloved Arsenal. Yes, 25 years on the terraces and 38 years a season ticket holder and still am and still get just as excited as I did back in the 50’s. Arsenal Football Club after my family have been the love of my life and will be to the day I die.

    1. Good to have you back and in full flow Kenny – really missed your mr. memory details of games – always relied on you to correct me!!!

      By the way, this was Jon’s terrific article, shame the sillyold bugger can’t remember all the good things Ozil does during a game, but like you a true gooner through and through, as are all of the old fogies “gotanidea” christened us a few months back.

  9. I was born in 1957 and didn’t go to my first match until the mid ‘60s with my mum and dad – always standing at the clock end. My Nan and grandad lived in Jackson Rd, just off Holloway Road and my younger brother and I got dumped with them at the turn of the decade whilst my parents and all mum’s brothers went to the match. After we’d head back to north Finchley-stopping at East Finchley tube station and get the classified Evening News results from the vendor.

    When I was old enough my brother and I would head off to South Herts golf club to get the players autographs as they arrived for they arrived for the pre match meal

    Thanks Jon for your memories -I’d have loved a rattle but my dad wouldn’t hear of it. My brother Cliff was named after Cliff Bastien who was my mother’s hero.
    It is wonderful to belong to the Arsenal family-even if we don’t always agree with one another

    1. Sue, I think my Dad let me have a rattle so that he could use it himself sometimes. He stopped going regularly in the late sixties when I had became the chief Arsenal “knowall” in our family. My schoolpal and I had the Jack Kelsey book, “over the bar” from the library and kept it betwen the two of us for well over a year. I kept several Arsenal scrapbooks with glued in articles from national newspapers and player pics too and they were prized possessions, as were the programmes I collected.

      Would your brother have been called Thierry or Dennis perhaps were he decades younger!

      1. Jon,
        Quite possibly, but my eldest son and his Mexican wife have two sons, the eldest aged 4 is called Santiago (after Santi Cazorla!!!)

        When I could I used to take him and his brother and they are both big fans. Their father a Barnet – cum – Chelsea supporter never stood a chance. Thank heavens!

        1. Sure that wasn’t Santiago Fernandez do Nascimento a Mexican footballer who played FC Barcelona, ask your Mexican Daughter in Law, no only joking. How did you stop them following Chelsea. Remarkable achievement

          1. Thank you Kenny

            It was a cunning plan. I bought them Arsenal bibs, pyjamas, duvet covers and then a ticket to the game. A slow but brilliant campaign 😀

            My ENTIRE family supports the Arsenal – uncles, cousins – all of us on both sides

            I remember coming back from Sunday school aged 7 or 8 telling my dad that my friend Alison said I should support Spurs as they were better than Arsenal. His immediate suggestion was that I should go and live with them then. Hilarious to think about it but it worked!!!

    2. 100% Gooner and long time Arsenal fan, SueP you have a proud history. Talking about rattles, i remember my Dad bringing home for me the heaviest rattle you could find anywhere. Twice the size of those flimsy plywood ones this one was made of heavy solid oak with great big metal bolts, so heavy that I only ever took it once and that was the early 60’s at White hart Lane. I remember swinging it round on the shelf one day and accidentally hitting a Spurs supporter on the head and almost knocking his head off. Fortunately this was pre hooligan days and like a true gentleman he accepted my apology

      1. Kenny, that description tells me it was probably a first world war rattle I described earlier in.

        They made one hell of a racket and were used by wardens.
        I would think they would be classed as carrying an offensive weapon today!!!!

  10. I remember a mate of mine , would you believe a Spurs supporter who took klaxon horns to games. After that the rattle days were over. !st World War Ken? Well it looked about 40 years old. We’re talking the 1st here not the 2nd, makes me feel old, funny thing I don’t feel that old

    1. Old Kenny? No way! I play bowls at a club where our most senior, not old, just senior player is 96 and still going strong. Or he was, until this ghastly lemonade type drink virus that we used to guzzle as kids stopped all of us bowling. I am using forced isolation to get super fit and feed my brain with all the knowledge the internet can provide. Thank God for it too! Tim Berners Lee, take a bow son! You and I are almost of an age so we will have tons of shared Arenal memories. Yippee!

  11. Jon, although a little before my time (first game 1974) I thoroughly enjoyed reading that. I have great memories of standing in The North Bank and watching the marching band and was there to witness Supermacs hatrick v Newcastle. I remember aged 14 picking up a newspaper in the summer of 1976 to read we had signed Mc’Donald for £333,333,31 I was shocked we just didn’t sign players like that or for that sort of money. I’m still a season ticket holder home and away and can’t wait for this horrible virus to go away so we can return to a sense of normality. Thank you for sharing your memories Jon….. A class read!!

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