As a schoolboy, I was an enthusiastic supporter of Arsenal but living roughly equidistant from Highbury and White Hart Lane (WHL) I was a frequent visitor to Spurs as well. The two Clubs were at home on alternate Saturdays and so visits to both could easily be fitted in. For some years, I alternated between the two although Arsenal was always my team and Spurs very much the runners up. Looking back after so many years there is much I have forgotten but much remembered also.
I was introduced to Arsenal by my father who had been a Gunners’ supporter since his youth having then lived near to Highbury. Inevitably, like father like son, a Gunners’ supporter I became as well. Initially, I always went with father in his post war Ford Prefect (see picture) of which he was very proud. He would park it within walking distance of the ground and tip one of the youngsters who were always lurking nearby to look after it while the match was on. Sixpence (5p), I believe, which was no doubt a very useful source of pocket money especially if other drivers did the same. When I was a little older, I often used to make my own way using a Green Line coach which dropped me near the ground. Interestingly, I just cannot remember how I got to WHL if not with father in his car for the ground was not on any convenient bus route. Perhaps I cycled for the distance was only about five miles but, if so, where on earth did I leave my bike?
We always stood on the terraces (open at Highbury but covered at WHL) as did the vast majority of the large gate that attended in those days – 50,000 was about average and for some games many more. A note in my pocket diary (which I still have) says the gate was 72,000 for a cup match in 1951. Seats were expensive and mainly for season ticket holders. As one may imagine the jostling was considerable and a major crush often occurred when trying to leave through relatively small exits! Looking back, I realize how dangerous this could have been but at the time it was all part of the excitement. Our preferred place was behind the goal and about midway up so that one had a clear view of the entire field. Before the match started and during the half-time interval we were entertained by a brass band the leader of whom carried a large wand. During the interval, the band would march in unison around the playing field and periodically the wand would be thrown rotating into the air and caught as it descended at which the crowd would roar their approval. I do not recall ever seeing it dropped. During play the crowd was loud in its appreciation of the home side but also loud in its condemnation of the opponents. The language was often ‘ripe’ and I learned a number of new words which I knew to be obscene but whose meaning was at the time unknown. Now, they would be considered just vulgar, such have times changed. I never had the courage to ask my father for enlightenment as I sensed he would have been embarrassed.
My heroes were not the goal scorers but the goal savers probably because I played in goal, although sadly I never made the school first eleven. I was devoted to Arsenal’s George Swindin and Jack Kelsey, and at Spurs, Ted Ditchburn. All three were outstanding ‘keepers, Kelsey (for Wales) and Ditchburn (for England) being internationals and Swindin just as good, at least as far as I was concerned. Indeed, it was Swindin who became the role model for my own ‘keeping attempts. Visiting ‘keepers who I especially remember were Bert Williams of Wolves, Sam Bartram of Charlton Athletic and Bert Trautmann of Manchester City. The latter, of course, was talked about as much for his nationality as for his goalkeeping, for the War was still very fresh in the mind at the time. Frank Swift, also of Manchester City, was still being said to have been ‘the greatest’ but I never saw him play.
Goalkeepers have to try and save penalties and so perhaps it is because of this that the regular penalty takers for the two teams are players that especially remain in my mind. Indeed, I can still picture their quite different approaches to the ball on the penalty spot. Wally Barnes, right back for the Gunners, would run fast and straight to the ball and shoot hard and true. I only remember him missing twice, once when Bert Williams saved and the other when his shot went high and over the crossbar. Speed was his forte. Quite the reverse at WHL. Alf Ramsey, right back for Spurs, approached the ball gently and would relatively softly strike the ball but with deadly accuracy low into one or other corner of the goal just inside the post. He was able to disguise which side he had chosen with amazing skill. No hard drive here; placement was all important and, like Barnes at Highbury, his penalties were hardly ever saved.
I can still remember virtually all the Arsenal players of the time but many fewer of the Spurs players. No doubt this is because of my keenness for the Gunners; I was of course an enthusiastic member of the Arsenal Supporters’ Club and wore their lapel badge, long since lost, for several years. Also, long lost are my copies of the supporters’ magazine Gunflash. Several players stand out. Jimmy Logie, inside right, was a wizard in close play making the goals for others but not often scoring himself. The regular inside left, Doug Lishman was another creative player but, unlike Logie, a prolific scorer as well. Cliff Holton, centre forward, had an especially powerful shot and I can still picture him scoring with a scorching drive from about 40 yards out. He also had the astonishing ability to propel the ball from the touchline to the goal when taking a throw-in from near the corner flag. His throw-ins were therefore equivalent to a corner and several goals were scored as a consequence. Red haired Scottish international Alex Forbes at right half was a fine player but tackled hard, or even over-hard, and therefore had the reputation of giving away needless free kicks. And of course, captain Joe Mercer at left half was always calm, unflappable and safe.
As I have said my memory of the Spurs players is dim but for a few. Eddie Baily, an inside forward, was mercurial and both a goal maker and a scorer. Len Duquemin, centre forward was a prolific goal scorer. Ron Burgess, the captain, and Billy Nicholson, both wing halves, are also names that I recall.
What more can I remember of my soccer going in those distant times? Matches on Christmas Day mornings and Boxing Day afternoons and arriving home half frozen. Winters were colder then than they are now. Collecting autographs of the players. Recording in my diary the scores and home goal scorers of matches attended e.g. Arsenal v Man. City 2-2: Lishman (2); Arsenal v Middlesborough 3-1: Milton, Lishman, Holton; Spurs v Portsmouth 3-1: Baily (2), Duquemin etc. Editor’s note: Barry’s memory is incredible as this match was played on April 12th 1952 in front of 66,988 fans, including Barry, and the score and the scorers could not be more accurate.
I know there is much to be found about the clubs and players of the early fifties in the official histories of the clubs and on the internet but apart from glancing through a couple of schoolboy diaries everything I have written is from memory; which may of course have played me false on occasion. If so, I crave indulgence.