My name is Bill Hallahan. I have been supporting Arsenal for over forty years. I am a season ticket holder in the North Bank Upper. I grew up a long goal kick away from Highbury, a short midfield pass from the new stadium and still live locally in north London.
I attended my first match at Highbury on the 1 September 1970. It was a nil-nil draw against Leeds United, which was watched by a crowd of 47,749. I can still remember the excitement of walking down St Thomas’s Road towards the ground with a sea of other people. I can recall pushing through the heavy turnstile in Avenell Road to enter the ground, walking up the concrete steps onto the North Bank and seeing the pitch and rest of the ground live for the first time.
My first impression was how vast the North Bank seemed. That night it was tightly packed and the crowd was vociferous. I didn’t think there was any space for us, but we managed to push our way onto the terrace. In truth I didn’t see too much of the match, but recall that the swaying of the crowd took us up and down the terrace as the game ebbed and flowed.It’s difficult to explain to anyone who has only known all seater stadiums what it was like to watch a match on the terraces – exciting and scary in equal measure. My experience that evening got me hooked and has kept me coming back ever since.
The match itself was very tense. It was early in the season and I don’t believe any Arsenal supporters at the match that night expected us to go on to win the double that season. The main feeling amongst the crowd was one of perceived injustice at the sending off of Eddie Kelly, which resulted in the Leeds goalkeeper, Gary Sprake, being pelted with coins throughout the second half by supporters from North Bank – the big pre-decimal pennies not the tiny ones we have today. He didn’t seem to be too bothered at being the target for the coins and took himself to the edge of his penalty area, just about out of range even for even the longest of the penny throwers.
Forty years on, I still walk down St Thomas’s to matches. It hasn’t changed much, except some of the houses are a bit smarter looking. The pub is still there on the corner with Plimsoll Road. It’s changed its name from the Plimsoll Arms to the Auld Triangle, but the exterior and interior are still caught in a 1970s time-warp.
The St Thomas the Apostle church remains. Indeed it has been there since 1889, so it has seniority on the Club as a fixture in the area. I suspect many a silent plea for divine intervention has been made by Arsenal supporters passing by over the years and will continue to do so long into the future.
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