I cannot let this day pass without writing about Shite Hart Lane, before the glorious sight of the bulldozers moving in to demolish it after Spurs final game there this afternoon.
Fair to say it has provided me with so many fantastic moments over the years from my very first away game in 1968, when I was 11 years old and my cousin Stephen who was 15 took me. It was not like today where the allocation was less than three thousand. In those days, there would be more like ten thousand turn up there. The Spurs fans back then were terrified of the Arsenal fans.
I remember it was the first day of the season on a sunny afternoon in August 1968 and while queuing to get in a massive mob of Arsenal came up the road singing and the Spurs fans were desperately trying to hide their scarves. Phil Beal scored an own goal that day as we beat them 2-1.
I did not go to see us win the Title there in 2004 with our great Invincible side. Nevertheless, these are my top five favourite games at Shite Hart Lane.
At number five was the game in October 1987 and David Pleat had been caught Kerb crawling. Some of the Arsenal fans arrived wearing t-shirts with the Sun’s front page about Pleat getting caught kerb crawling emblazoned onto the t-shirts.
There were constant chants of “Sex crime, sex crime, hang him hang him hang him” as well as another chant with a lyric about Elton John. I still remember every word of that one but it is before the nine o’clock watershed so could not possibly repeat it here! The Arsenal fans also smuggled some blow-up dolls into the ground, which were released onto the pitch, and to the delight of we Arsenal fans the Spurs stewards had to round them up and remove them from the pitch. However, one particular doll caused a real problem as every time the steward got close to it a gust of wind would blow it further away from him to big cheers from the Arsenal fans! Michael Thomas and Rocky Rocastle both scored in a 2-1 win to round off a great day…
At number 4, it is the game against Tottenham on Easter Monday 1980. Arsenal had asked Spurs if we could rearrange the game, but Spurs being Spurs of course refused our request. So we had a set of fixtures that read like this Southampton Easter Saturday, Spurs on the Monday, Juventus on the Wednesday in the 1st leg of the Cup Winners Cup Semi-Final, followed by Liverpool in the FA Semi-Final on the Saturday!
Something had to give so Arsenal were forced to play six reserves in the North London Derby. Paul Barron was in goal, an 18 year old Paul Davis made a fine debut, Pat Rice played superbly in midfield and Liam Brady and Alan Sunderland played half a game each. We still won 2-1 with goals from Alan Sunderland and young Paul Vaessen.
Number 3 is the second part of the 1987 Littlewoods Cup Trilogy against the old enemy. Going into the game, we were 1-0 down from the first leg at Highbury, with Clive “Why won’t you shake my hand” Allen scoring for them.
Allen scored again in the second leg and put Spurs 2-0 ahead on aggregate. At half time Spurs did something really stupid, even by their standards and announced over the tannoy how their fans could purchase their Littlewoods Cup Final tickets! The Arsenal fans were incensed to say the least! We were well fired up for the second half, as were the Arsenal players who had also heard the announcement loud and clear in their dressing room. We went out, blitzed them in the second half, and levelled the tie with goals from Viv Anderson and Niall Quinn. Spurs were hanging on by the end to avoid the knockout blow.
Number 2 was the conclusion of that tie, the replay and the third part of that titanic trilogy against Tottenham. We had lost the toss so Shite Hart Lane was again the venue. After the way we’d come back in the 2nd leg in that second half the Arsenal players and fans were quite happy to play away at Spurs ground. However, Clive Allen scored again and put Spurs 1-0 up. Arsenal were not to be denied and late in the game Ian Allinson became an unlikely hero and equalised, then we went ahead for the first over the three games when Rocky Rocastle hit the winning goal. It was pandemonium in the Arsenal end, it was rocking and we drove the team on to the final whistle.
When we came out the ground there was not a Spurs fan in sight, they had long gone. It felt as if we were walking on air and the famous chant, “One nil down, two one up, we knocked Tottenham out the cup” was started and echoed down Tottenham High Road.
My number one favourite game at Shite Hart Lane is also my favourite Arsenal match of all. Going to the ground of our bitterest rivals and winning our first title for 18 years in 1971. I have written a whole blog on this night before but just to summarise it, we had to get off the bus and walk the last few miles to the ground as the roads were gridlocked.
It was frightening outside the ground as people were panicking that they were not going to get in and charging at the turnstiles. When we eventually managed to squeeze our way through the turnstiles we realised we were in the Park Lane, which was the Spurs end. In trepidation, we went up the steps and onto the terrace. What greeted us was an incredible sight. A sea of Arsenal fans, with a great big Union Jack in the middle with Arsenal painted on it.
We gazed in amazement as we looked at the rest of the ground, as the whole place was full of Arsenal fans. We had turned Shite Hart Lane into Highbury for the night with a minimum of 30 thousand Arsenal fans in there. The gates were locked at about 6pm to 6.30pm, well before the 7.30pm kick-off, with an estimated 50 thousand locked out.
Frank McLintock came onto the pitch before changing into the famous red and white kit and strolled across to stand in front of us in the Park Lane. The Arsenal fans applauded him. He responded by putting his arms out in front of him palms up and lifting them up and down to encourage the Arsenal fans to sing louder. The fans started singing Arsenal Arsenal repeatedly and it echoed all over the ground as all the other Arsenal fans in the ground joined in the chant. Frank nodded his head and applauded the Arsenal fans on all four sides of the ground.
It was goal aggregate in those days and only a win or a goalless draw would win Arsenal the Title. Any other result and the Title would go north to Leeds United. Late in the game Geordie Armstrong crossed perfectly for Ray Kennedy to bury his powerful header over Pat Jennings and in off the crossbar into the net. The Arsenal fans surged forward and we were being crushed at the front. The police pulled over over the wall and sat us down next to the pitch. Spurs were really pressing us for an equaliser to deny us the League and Bob Wilson was taking a battering from the Spurs players. The Arsenal fans were whistling so loudly for the final whistle I thought my ears were going to bleed. The whistle finally went for full time and we raced onto the pitch. I dug up a bit of the turf (which I still have to this day somewhere in a plastic bag) my brother Tony tried to do the same and a copper clipped him round the earhole! I will never forget that night and Shite Hart Lane for the rest of my life.