20 4 mins 9 yrs

What a photo, eh? (it clicks big, and should then click bigger)

While looking for something else I came across this wonderful photo. It’s taken at the Arsenal Stadium, what everyone knew – erroneously – as Highbury, a place I know (knew – sob!) so well. The occasion: The Arsenal vs Glasgow Rangers. The date: 17th October 1951. Attendance: 62,000. Weather: Smog with fog, turning to a smokers smog with more fog. Ah yeah, and the result: The Gunners 3:2 Rangers. Go on, click on the pic.

Highbury under lights

For American readers, this was a football (that’s ‘football’) match in North London, back when London was famously smogged out in the immediate post-war years. It was also at the home of the Arsenal, the glorious Gunners, my club, my father’s club, my grandfather’s club and a place I went to hundreds of times before we moved to a shiny new stadium just around the corner. Like countless other Gooners, I think the shiny new home is nice and impressive, but Highbury is Highbury, the place we were baptised into Goonerdom and which will always be home.

But what a photo! I love how culture opens doors to society how it was in times past, and this is a photo I can look at endlessly. I had pretty much the same view for countless matches, from the Clock End and to the right of where the photographer is here. I’ve always loved night matches. They’re the evenings when, with the floodlights on, you can’t see any buildings, planes or stars. It’s as if the match is taking place under a deep black dome. All stadiums feel more intimate and matches more intense under lights, which is why many evening games have the best atmospheres. Alright, that and a bit of boozing time before kick-off then.

I wonder if the photographer knew he was capturing a wonderful image, or if he was just snapping away. He’s on a gantry at the back, near the copper on the left, so maybe he was a press man. I suppose working class men didn’t have cameras in those days and just about everyone there would have been a working class man. It was only the upper tiers in those famous, old East and West Stands which had seating in those days, and professional types sat there. Everyone else stood. Maybe my grandfather was there. I bet my father was. He used to bunk off school to watch the Arsenal squad train, and he went to all the matches he could, doing whatever he could to earn the (what, shillings?) to get in. I’ll have to ask him if he recalls it when I see him tomorrow.

I was thinking about changing the boring Windows wallpaper on this here laptop. Decision made then and the new wallpaper found.

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  1. That’s an incredible photo, in a way like a painting. The atmosphere is almost religious.
    Despite all the fog and darkness, someone who knew the team back then would still be able to pick out the players.

    I also like how the crowd goes right down almost to the edge of the field, none of those tracks and trenches and stuff.

  2. Nice post Pete.

    Stamford Bridge also has an interesting history:

    “Stamford Bridge has been used as a venue for England international matches, FA Cup Finals, FA Cup semi-finals and Charity Shield games. It has also hosted numerous other sports, such as cricket, rugby union, speedway, greyhound racing, baseball and American football. The stadium’s highest official attendance is 82,905, for a league match between Chelsea and Arsenal on 12 October 1935.”

    Maybe your grandfather was there?

  3. When I was a lad I lived a few hundred yards ‘up the road’ from the Arsenal ground, in Ambler road. during the war, myself, and another lad used to used to clean the boots after the infrequent matches that were played there, and we got to know many of the players, most of them on leave from the Forces – and to earn a few ‘bob’, we used our very small front gardens as bike parks, on match days, – we used sticky stuff called dubbin to clean the boots! – and bikes were the main transport in those days.

    My GrandMother ran the bakers shop on the corner of Gillespie Rd, and Avenell Rd – the road where the stadium had its very grand front entrance, complete with steps and a marble floored hallway, complete with bust of its famous Chairman, one, Herbert Chapman.

    Prewar and during the war, – yes they played occasional matches there then, usually betwen the various branches of the armed forces, and even with its rationing and shortages she would put trestle tables in the garage behind the bakery where the players would have tea and sandwiches after the match. We lads knew them all, some famous, others not so famous.

    Chapman’s successor was Tom Whittaker, I well remember a wellknown amateur player named Dr Flanagan, he regularly played left-wing, – nice fella and a good player, and good doctor, George Swindon, and Cliff Bastin in goal, and Scots international Alex James in the front five, – who sold newspapers at Finsbury Park station after retiring from professional sport, and was a well established local favourite.

    Not forgetting the Compton brothers both internationals in football and cricket, – all boyhood heroes, – but what a change in remuneration from todays ‘stars’, £10-£20 pound per match, being considered a good deal… so many names! – so many good memories! – those really were the ‘good ‘ole days!’.

    Those were the days when a team represented its community and had staunch local support – teams were ‘local teams’, hence the rivallry between Gunners and Spurs, – that oik team from ‘just up-the-road’!

    Post war, the attendance at first division matches, regularly topped 60,000, mostly standing, my favourite place was just south of the tunnel, – in the front row – of course.

    Somehow soccer just doen’t have the same appeal for me as once it did! those days our heroes were folk we knew, – today they are just another celeb!

  4. Peter,

    Chelsea, Spurs, very second division, so much so I’m sure it’s in their DNA…lol

  5. Peter –

    My father wasn’t there, that was the year he was born, but yep, my grandfather might have been.

    Even now I think of Stamford Bridge as it was – the track, the Shed, all that. I’ve been there many times, the first being the FA Cup Semi-Final win over the Orient in 1978 with my father.

    I remember being there in 1991. We won the League that year and lost just one game all season – that one at Stamford Bridge 2-1 (yeah, I remember it).

    We were kept in after the match and while we were waiting to be let out a fat bloke in a Chelsea shirt (must have been a groundsman) got on a motorised lawn mower and went up and down the pitch. Every time he got to our end he’d stick two fingers up to us, turn around and go back up the pitch. Up, down, two fingers, and turn around.

    I remember it almost as well as I do Kanu’s glorious hat-trick at the Bridge in 1999!

  6. Pete,

    That angular construction in the top left corner of the pic, – I don’t remember that being there – it must have been a later addition to the stands…

  7. Ernest Young –

    That’s fascinating for me. The baker’s on the corner of Gillespie Rd and Avenell Rd has been a chip shop for as long as I remember. I’ll ask my father if he remembers it. He should do – he grew up at Highbury Corner and worked in the area all his life until he retired. Jimmy Logie, the wee Scotsman, was his favourite player in those years. That was when players would take the bus or tube to games, or so I read once.

    That angular structure was the roof overhang on the West Stand. It was there until Arsenal moved out in 2006. The marble halls and even the bust of Herbert Chapman are still in the East Stand, even though they’re now apartments.

    I suspect the North Bank roof hadn’t been replaced by the time the photo was taken. It would have been visible, or at least its white fascia should have been, in that photo at the other end if it was there. A few Lufwaffe bombs did for the original roof, and with a bit of other damage done Arsenal had to play some games at White Hart Lane during the war.

  8. Thanks for the link Pete, just what I wanted to see 🙂


    That was then. Recent history is a bit different:

    “Chelsea hold the English record for the highest ever points total for a league season (95), the fewest goals conceded during a league season (15), the highest number of Premier League victories in a season (29), the highest number of clean sheets overall in a Premier League season (25) (all set during the 2004–05 season),[85] and the most consecutive clean sheets from the start of a league season (6, set during the 2005–06 season).[86] The club’s 21–0 aggregate victory over Jeunesse Hautcharage in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971 remains a record in European competition.[87] Chelsea hold the record for the longest streak of unbeaten matches at home in the English top-flight, which lasted 86 matches from 20 March 2004 to 26 October 2008. They secured the record on 12 August 2007, beating the previous record of 63 matches unbeaten set by Liverpool between 1978 and 1980.[88][89] Chelsea’s streak of eleven consecutive away league wins, set between 5 April 2008 and 6 December 2008, is also a record for the English top flight.[90] Their £50m purchase of Fernando Torres in January 2011 is a British record transfer fee.[91]

    Chelsea, along with Arsenal, were the first club to play with shirt numbers, on 25 August 1928 in their match against Swansea Town.[92] They were the first English side to travel by aeroplane to a domestic away match, when they visited Newcastle United on 19 April 1957,[93] and the first First Division side to play a match on a Sunday, when they faced Stoke City on 27 January 1974. On 26 December 1999, Chelsea became the first British side to field an entirely foreign starting line-up (no British or Irish players) in a Premier League match against Southampton.[94] On 19 May 2007, they became the first team to win the FA Cup at the new Wembley Stadium, having also been the last to win it at the old Wembley.[95] At the end of the 2007–08 season, Chelsea became the highest ranked club under UEFA’s five-year coefficient system, the first English club to do so in the 21st century.[96] On the final day of the 2009–10 season, Chelsea became the first team in Premier League history to score at least 100 goals in a single season.[28] In 2012, Chelsea became the first London based club to win the UEFA Champions League, after beating Bayern Munich in the final.[97][4] On winning the 2012–13 UEFA Europa League, Chelsea became the first English club to win all four European trophies.

  9. I’m not a football fan (except the NI team 🙂 ), but even I think that is an amazing photograph. Something quite beautiful about it.

  10. Pete,

    That baker’s ‘on the corner’ was called Moll’s Bakery.

    Jimmie Logie was another name that brings back happy memories, – the ‘little fella with the baggy shorts’, – as does Highbury Corner, Blackstock Rd, and my old schools – Joan of Arc prep school and Highbury County Grammar, where I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to.

    All those memories – doesn’t look as though I will get much sleep tonight!

  11. Thanks Noel!

    I’m usually quite tardy in mentioning such things as I have no wish to be a bore, so I wait for others to make mention of things before putting fingers to keyboard.

  12. //I’m usually quite tardy in mentioning such things as I have no wish to be a bore,//

    Not all all. I could read those kind of stories forever,

    In fact I’d say, and I’m sure there are many like me, that those stories make a more persuasive case for the kind of England you envision/rue than endless political argument.

    But I don’t want to sidetrack this thread.

  13. Noel Cunningham – I agree, and that’s partly the reason for posting it. Sidetracking allowed. It’s one of those posts. Even mention of Chelsea and Sperz is allowed!

  14. I have mentioned before my fascination with life’s little ironies.

    I caught a few minutes of the film ‘The Battle of Britain’ on tv this afternoon, – it had some very graphic actual footage of the London Blitz, which played a big part in my younger years, and left me with many memories, and here comes Pete with a post that evoked more memories, almost as a continuation of that time – i.e. from the 1940’s – 1949.

    Is that ironic or just plain coincidence? sometimes I get the feeling that someone is trying to tell me something!… perhaps I should try writing my biography, – and please no suggestions for a title. 🙂

  15. I caught a few minutes of the film ‘The Battle of Britain’

    One of my favourite war films. My father survived the Belfast blitz by great good luck – he decided not to enter an air raid shelter which took a direct hit shortly afterwards.

  16. I have just enlarged the pic to its full size – and it takes on a new dimension in the larger size. That new addition I mentioned earlier is no such thing – the larger perspective is as I remember it.

    The north and south stands never had roofing as I remember, the ground beyond the north fence was the original training ground, and beyond that was a seminary.

  17. My dad took my two brothers and me to a Newcastle United match when I was about seven years old. I wasn’t really interested in football, but my Mom was visiting someone ill, and Dad had the tiller.

    About three-quarters way through the match, this particular player took a shot at the goal, and just, just missed; so I clapped, because it was a very fine shot. The I stopped clapping because everyone else was looking at me, including my Dad and my eldest brother.

    “Whats the matter?” I asked.

    “He plays for Plymouth Argyle.”

    End of my foorball career!

  18. Great photo, Pete. I visited Highbury a few times, and saw some great matches there, as well as some great players. I brought my eldest daughter to visit the museum, when she was only 6 or 7, and as we walked in, who greeted us but Charlie George! I almost fainted, whereas she just smiled and said hello, and wondered why her dad was so excited 🙂

    Arsenal were the first team in England to play under floodlights, apparently. The first televised match was between Arsenal and (I believe) Liverpool.

    The Arsenal stadium was also where Henry Cooper famously floored a young boxer called Cassius Clay. Charlie George and his other young teammates apparently helped to set out the seats around the ring.

    I might just have to nick this photo for my own wallpaper! 🙂

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