The game itself was typical of many that season. Arsenal were uninspiring but scraped a 1-0 win, thanks to a goal from young Meade...
This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of my first ever Arsenal match. Back in October 1981 I was a spotty 13 year old who had only ever been allowed to watch West Ham with my older sister, Karen - who had rather misguidedly become a fan - or Dagenham, my local non-league club.
As none of my school friends followed Arsenal, I had spent the previous three months nagging Karen to take me to Highbury, and finally, on Octber 17th 1981, she agreed to do so, for the match against Manchester City.
The programme from my first ever Arsenal match
Back then of course many things were different. I was much shorter and had more hair for a start, while there was no such thing as the Premier League and very few foreign players. All games kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon and football was a sport as opposed to the business it is today. Arsenal, of course, also played in a different stadium...
Hooliganism was rife in 1981, hence why my parents were reluctant to let me travel across London on my own, but the World in general seemed a far safer place. Perhaps in reality it was not, but as The Daily Mail had not spent the previous 20 years scare-mongering, it did at least appeared to be safer anyway! Kids played football in the street instead of on computer screens and the three TV channels all shut down at midnight.
In the music world I was listening to The Jam, The Police and The Specials, while Adam and the Ants, Ultravox and Soft Cell were all selling lots of singles. Yes singles. Remember them?? But some things, it seems, have not changed very much at all.
Back in 1981 we had a (fairly) new Tory government, there had been riots on the streets of London during the summer and Arsenal were coming to terms with the loss of their two best players. Liam Brady had left for Italy in the summer of 1980, while a year later Frank Stapleton had moved to Manchester United for a bigger pay cheque. Not too dissimilar then to the loss of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri 30 years later...
On the pitch things were also quiet similar. The club had not started too well in 1981 and had only won only two of the opening nine league matches. In fact in the week prior to the Manchester City match we had lost three times away from home - at newly promoted Notts. County and Swansea City (whatever happened to them??) and at second division Sheffield United in the League Cup.
Under normal circumstances it would have meant the City match would have been nothing to get too excited about, but for me it meant the World! I don't think I have ever felt more excited as I got off the Underground at Arsenal Station and made the long walk up the windy tunnel. I had been to Highbury before of course, to visit the club shop and for the odd reserve team match, but that was different. It had been empty then. Now it was alive...
My sister and me made our way to the North Bank and I remember the feeling of awe as I reached the top of the steps and caught sight of the pitch for the first time. Wow!! Going to West Ham and Dagenham had been great but it was nothing compared to this. After 3 years of watching football I had finally found my 'home' and it felt great!
We found a place to stand, about half way up to the right of the goal, and although the ground was half-empty - the crowd was somewhere in the region of 25,000 - I felt like I was in the centre of the universe!
The Arsenal team that day was a mixture of youth and experience. Pat Jennings was in goal and the back four was John Hollins, Kenny Sansom David O'Leary and young debutante Chris Whyte. In midfield was Brian Talbot, Paul Davis, Graham Rix and Peter Nicholas, while up front was Alan Sunderland and another debutante Raphael Meade.
I'm not sure who was in the City side, although I seem to recall Joe Corrigan was in goal and Peter Reeves may have been playing. City were a decent side back then and they had reached the FA Cup final the previous season. Another similarity to 2011 then...
The game itself was typical of many that season. Arsenal were uninspiring but scraped a 1-0 win, thanks to a goal from young Meade, so I, at least, went home happy. Now I have seen the club win league titles, many cups and seen them score some truly memorable goals in the subsequent 30 years, but this one probably means more to me than any of the others. In the days before mass TV coverage and end of season DVD's I have never seen this goal again since, although I can still picture the ball hitting the back of the net at the North Bank end in the second half. I think I was still celebrating on the Tube all the way home!
Rapheal Meade who scored the winner. So long ago it's in black and white!
I managed to pursuade my sister to take me to another three home games before Christmas -Winterslag in the UEFA Cup (2-1, Rix and Hollins (pen)), Everton in the league (1-0, Brian McDermott) and Liverpool in the League Cup (0-0), but it was not until early 1982 that I became a regular visitor to Highbury, after I convinced a Chelsea-supporting school mate to join me.
Thankfully the first game he attended, a midweek encounter with WBA in March 1982, saw Arsenal score twice in the last five minutes to salvage a 2-2 draw (Sunderland and Meade again on target!) and he was hooked!
Of course my life has changed a lot over the last 30 years. I am no longer a spotty teenager, I have children of my own - some of who now come to the football with me - and I have lost both my parents and my sister. But Arsenal still mean as much to me now as they did then, and I will be celebrating the 30th anniversary at The Emirates on Sunday.
Anniversaries are traditionally a time to remember and reflect, so I will be thinking of my sister Karen on Sunday, as without her I may have had to wait a little longer to finally get to Highbury. Perhaps I would never have got to go at all... I will also think of Mac and his mate Frank, the Watford fan, who I met on the train on the way to that first match. I know they were only chatting to me that day to get close to Karen but we become good mates in the end and went to many matches together over the years. I even went to Watford with them a few times in the days of Luther Blissett and Nigel Callaghan. And of course I can never forget my mate Steve, who I converted from Chelsea to Arsenal so I had someone to go the games with. Finally I would also like to give a massive thanks to Rapheal Meade who made my first game so memorable.
I have to say the last 30 years have simply flown by, and as I walk towards the ground on Sunday I will still fell that same prang of excitiment I felt back in 1981. Neary 700 games later and that feeling has never gone. I just hope I am still around to celebrate the 60th Anniversary in 30 years time!! I will, after all, be only 73!