My family was once divided by football - not in a shouting, chucking saucepans around kind of way - but more in a brittle chilliness that always seemed to settle over things when we all got together. It wasn’t that we didn’t love each other, we did, but the problem lay in the simple fact that the family was divided in its football loyalties. Christmas Day was turkey and roast with sarky comments. “How’s the team doing?” as one team or other tottered on the edge of the 2nd Division. Easter was the same. “I hear that your star player has just found out where the opponent’s goal is!”
My father’s family, the Days, lived in Lausanne Road, Hornsey and they were Arsenal supporters. If there was a match at Highbury stadium they would be there, not decked out in red and white scarves with rosettes and rattles, that was considered a bit too showy for them, but they were there nevertheless. My mother’s family, the Willis’s, lived in Stanley Road, Tottenham and they were Tottenham Hotspur supporters. If you lived in Stanley Road you had to be Tottenham Hotspur supporters or you stayed in on Saturday afternoons. Fandom for both families wasn’t loud, poster bedecked and aggressive. It was just the quiet and persistent knowledge that the best football team in the world was located just up the road and they had the privilege to be able to go and see them in action.
Of course there were one or two people in the family who didn’t come from any side of the football chasm - and that was me, my brother and assorted cousins. We were regularly dragged off to White Hart Lane or Highbury to see ‘the lads’ in action, not knowing who the lads were, or what team they played for and we didn’t particularly care. It was just another part of the regular Saturday routine. Fried breakfast, Uncle Mac on the Light Programme, football match in the afternoon, watching various uncles and grandfathers checking their Pools in the evening and “Billy Cotton” on the radio in the evening. Despite the families’ partisan ‘encouragement’ none of us children succumbed to football fandom. Most of us, brother and cousins were swept away instead in the 1950’s by Lonnie Donegan and Skiffle.
Things were different then. I can remember riding down to Highbury on the bus one Saturday lunchtime when my Uncle Tom quietly told me not to look but some of the Arsenal team were sitting behind us… and they were, smoking Woodbines and laughing. This was the same Arsenal team that went into a nearby pub after the match and sat in modest state talking to fans - while the kids sat outside with a packet of crisps and a glass of lemonade. One of the team ran the local tobacconists and sometimes you would go in there and buy your gobstoppers from the man himself.
I once saw the legendary Bert Trautmann playing in goal with Manchester City at White Hart Lane. During the war he had been a paratrooper with the German Army, the Wehrmacht, and saw service on the Eastern Front where he won an Iron Cross. Later in the war he was transferred to the Western Front where he was captured by the British and finished up in a POW camp in Ashton-In-Makerfield. At the end of the war he refused repatriation and on his release in 1948 settled in Lancashire where he played in goal for local team St. Helen’s Town. In October 1949 he was signed up for Manchester City which prompted protests from over 20,000 fans who thought it was wrong for the club to take on a former Nazi stormtrooper. Surprisingly I remember when he came onto the pitch at White Hart Lane with his team the crowd cheered him!
In 1956 Bert entered football folklore with his performance in the FA Cup Final against Birmingham City. With 17 minutes of the match remaining, Trautmann suffered a serious injury while diving at the feet of Birmingham City’s Peter Murphy. Despite his injury, he continued to play, making crucial saves to preserve his team’s 3-1 lead. His neck was noticeably crooked as he collected his winner’s medal. Three days later an X-ray revealed it to be broken! Trautmann died at home in Valencia, Spain, on 19 July 2013, aged 89.
The other name that sticks in my mind is that of Billy Wright. I didn’t know who he was when I first saw him at Arsenal. I was only about 8 or 9 at the time and more up to speed with the names of Dick Barton’s crime fighting associates, Jock Anderson and Snowy White than those of the Wolverhampton Wanderers team. My grandad put me straight… “That’s Billy Wright”, he said. “He’s the captain of Wolves”. “Oh” I replied. “And he’s also the captain of the England team”, he added as if it made any difference to my level of interest. “He’s been capped nearly 100 times!” None of this really went in until July 1958 - I was 13 then - and Billy Wright married Joy Beverley of the Beverley Sisters. She was the tall, rather horsey looking one, not be confused with her sisters the twins Teddy and Babs. I knew about the wedding and was able to impress my equally non-football interested friends by telling them that Billy was the captain of both Wolves and the England team and had been capped 100 times, as if they cared.
Football is not like that anymore. Kids are no longer passed over the heads of the crowd to sit at pitch side. Fans no longer crowd into pubs to meet the teams. It was a local game. The players came from our neighbourhoods and lived in the same streets as we did. They probably earned not much more that our own dads. No Porsches or secluded mansions for them. They were ours and we loved them… well, some of us did!
It is said that the ‘traditional’ wall surrounding the prestigious gated estate on St Margarets Drive by Richmond Lock was built from bricks recovered from outbuildings when the old Highbury Stadium was redeveloped in 2006.
– from Martyn Day