It’s the anniversary of my dad’s death this week, 17 years ago now.

Bows – It’ll be half time in England soon

For me to get to see a live Arsenal football match when I was a kid took a lot of planets aligning. We’d have to be in London for our summer holidays. It would have to be during the football season. I’d have to get someone to take me.

My dad usually stayed at home in Ireland when we went to the UK, and I don’t know why he was there in August 1971. From the photos of the time everyone was well so it wasn’t for a funeral or something like that.

I managed to convince him to take me to Highbury for the first time to see Arsenal vs Stoke City on the 28th August 1971. There’s no need to say it was a 3pm kickoff because on a Saturday back then they all were. There was a *lot* of opposition to the idea from my mother and grandmother – in fairness this was at the height of the football boot boy era, but he stuck with it.

We ended up in the Clock End. We were a bit early (like about an hour) because we didn’t know the form. He decided that about 1/2 way down the terrace would be a good spot to see the action. Of course all these beered-up men descended on the place at 2:58pm and I was suddenly looking at the backs of people. So it was up onto one of the crowd barriers for me, hoisted up by the adult men around me like that old stereotype of football times past.

I remember the game was a frustrating one for Arsenal. The dastardly villian was the referee and it the was the first time I’d heard the chants pondering who indeed is that person dressed in black clothing and favourably inclined towards sexual self-gratification? When that line of inquiry failed them they resorted to the more direct assertion that the referee lacked parentage of the married variety.

It didn’t go well. Arsenal lost the game 0-1. It was iirc John Ritchie who broke my boyish heart, but I sort of forgive him now. It was the year Arsenal were defending their champions title and they went on to only finish 5th. I think that was the year when Brian Clough’s Derby beat Don Revie’s Leeds to the title by one point, and there was a fair bit of muttering about match-fixing.

My dad thought it would be safer if we hung back a while after the match and I remember eating a bag of the fattest, hottest, most vinegary chips that ever saw the inside of a deep fat fryer. I got a red satin Arsenal scarf and a white mug with the crest on it – I still have both to this day.