Northbank1969, wit, raconteur and bon viveur, writer of Gunnersorearse each Sunday, as well as Arts ‘N’ All, has taken time to share his memories of a fourth round FA Cup tie at Ayresome Park in 1977. Yes, he’s really that old…
It’s a cold and damp February Saturday morning in 1977, five blokes meet at a north London pub at 8am, hungover from the night before and carrying cases of lager. The landlord opens the pub for them and they manage to get some hair of the dog. Discussion focuses on the forthcoming match, away to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup 5th round and who got their end away last night. Tickets are checked, beers are finished, thanks given to the landlord and they make their way to Kings Cross Station. When they arrive it is already heaving with Arsenal supporters, red, white, yellow and blue, everywhere. The police are watching and herd the supporters towards the platform where the train is waiting, the usual dilapidated and uncleaned affair allocated to away travelling football supporters, stained tartan checked seats and plastic covered tables with cigarette burns. We manage to get a table and seats, to be guarded with our lives for the 4½ hour journey to the north-east.
Beers are handed around, the whoosh of cans being opened fill the carriage and the noise of conversation, excitement and the occasional song, reverberates from every corner. Supporters who were unlucky not to get seats are spread about, sitting on the floor, standing in the aisles and next to the toilets. The train eventually chugs a few feet forward and we’re off, slowly moving out of the station, through the tunnel and then emerging to the view of soot covered walls and archways which make up the scenery before it opens out to views of north London and then the sight of Highbury Stadium in the distance as we pass through Finsbury Park. More beers are passed around and we get talking with some of the other supporters. The cards come out and the five of us, Micky K, Bobby, Billy, Barry and yours truly settle down to a game, occasionally having a joke and a laugh with a group of teenagers on the table opposite. It’s a long journey, but one which passes fairly quickly with the banter, the jokes, playing cards, drinking and regular visits to the bog.
We eventually arrive at Middlesbrough station and the main objective is to find a pub. We have more than an hour before kick off. We say goodbye to the teenagers and give them a word of advice to behave themselves and stay out of trouble. We get to a pub full of Gooners, staffed my barmen that look more like bouncers and manage to get a round of warm beer. But I’m bored, there are no birds in the pub and I don’t fancy chatting up any of the barmen. I had a reputation of being a bit of a wind up merchant in those days and so I start on my mates, telling them I’ve been to a brilliant pub up the road before and it’s always full of birds. (I had never been to Middlesbrough in my life). I don’t know what it was but I could be very persuasive and we were all a bit drunk so they believe me, the mugs, and we leave and walk about half a mile until I see a likely looking boozer and say, “That’s the one”.
So we pile into this pub and as we get a few yards in we realise it’s full of Middlesbrough supporters, luckily for us we weren’t the type to wear scarves or club shirts so we think “what the f***, we’ll have a drink here, nobody had taken any notice of us”. That was, until we open our mouths to order the drinks. You can imagine the scene, all of a sudden silence descends upon the pub and faces turn towards us, a remark comes from somewhere in the background, then another one from the right, I reply with some verbal and then it’s off, I can’t remember who throws the first punch but there we are, we slug it out, standing toe-to-toe against a few Middlesbrough supporters. Micky sees a bloke grab me from behind whilst his mate takes a couple of digs at me, so Micky grabs the geezer by the hair to pull him off and a syrup comes away in his hand, I turn and we look at each other, he holds up the wig and we just start laughing.
The five of us manage to get to the door and we tumble out into the street, they are hurling abuse at me for taking them in there but then we look at Micky, he’s still got the wig in his hand and we just crack up. I’ve had a dig in the eye and it’s starting to swell and close up already, we’re all covered in specks of blood, bruised and a bit of a mess. We head off rather rapidly to find the stadium. We follow the crowd and get to the ground, find our seats and the match kicks off. My eye is practically closed now, my eyes won’t stop watering and I’m having problems seeing the match. I’m relying on my mates to tell me whats happening but they’re so pissed off with me they can’t be bothered, so I’m relying on the roar of the crowd and trying to view the game through watery eyes. So for me the match was literary all a bit of a blur, we lose 4-1. I now have hardly any memory of that game apart from my painful eye.
We leave the ground just before the final whistle, have a quick drink in a pub, buy some beers for the journey back to London and get to the station along with all the other Gooners. The police are watching and herd us into the station, onto the platform to the same train that had brought us here. We find a table and seats, beers are passed around and the whoosh of cans being opened fill the carriage, the conversation about the match is subdued and critical. We start drinking and having a laugh about the fight and the wig incident. The teenagers turn up, take one look at us, all battered and covered with blood and say, “F***ing hell, and you had the cheek to tell us to behave ourselves!” They sit down opposite and get us to recount what had happened. We hadn’t bought any food and the buffet is closed, we’re bloody Hank Marvin, the boys have food but no beers and keep asking us for a can. So Micky does some card tricks and if he guessed correctly the boys had to give us some food, but we still give them a few beers. The train slowly moves out of the station and soon twinkling street lights of little villages and dark images of northern hills are flashing past, we are on our way back to London, another 4½ hours of drinking, banter, jokes, playing cards and regular visits to the bog.
I thought I would try to give the flavour of a typical away game journey in the 70’s rather than the actual game. Not that I saw much of it.
Thank you sir, match reports below.