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Friday
Sep212012

A Chance Encounter

BY RICHEY ESTCOURT / @Interior_Lulu_

My first visit to Highbury was August 15th 1987 for the first game of the new season. Arsenal had just won the Littlewoods Cup, and Liverpool, despite having missed out in a trophy the previous season, were very much the best team of the age. I was 10-years-old.

The first thing that struck me upon emerging from Arsenal tube station in Gillespie Road with my Dad was the shock of the colour and the noise. EVERYTHING was red and white and everyone was making a glorious racket.

In the mid-summer sunshine, the grass of Highbury was a bright green, which was so vivid compared to the images I'd only seen on TV (this is a generation before LCD or plasma, remember!), or in the monochrome action shots in the newspapers. 

On all four sides of the stadium was a solid wall of bright red and white flags, scarves, banners and t-shirts. This of course, was prior to the Taylor Report, so the goal ends of the stadium were entirely standing, swaying and swelling on the terraces.

Liverpool had two high-profile debutants in the game - England internationals John Barnes and Peter Beardsley, to complement their existing team made up from household names such as Bruce Grobbelaar, Alan Hansen and John Aldridge.

Arsenal's team had a young average age, with the likes of David Rocastle, Michael Thomas and Tony Adams still learning their trade alongside Kenny Sansom, David O'Leary and the mercurial Charlie Nicholas. For a 10-year-old in 1987, I thought it was like having a Panini sticker book come to life in front of me!

As it turned out, Liverpool won the game. Paul Davis cancelled out John Aldridge's opener, but shortly before full-time, Steve Nicol scored with a header from outside the box - something I'd not seen before, and I don't think I have since...

After the match, we loitered outside the East Stand entrance to the marble halls, watching the Liverpool players board their bus. They were all in understandably high spirits.  Peter Beardsley, for some reason, didn't join the Liverpool team on the bus - he strolled out into Avenell Road, chatted to me and my Dad for a bit, and signed my match programme, before heading off somewhere by himself.

The result wasn't important. The whole experience of the day was beyond anything I'd imagined. The trouble is, I then assumed that I'd get to meet players after every match at Highbury, and was mildly disappointed when I didn't!

Despite the hooliganism, they were great days. Tickets were fairly priced. Footballers were accessible, and ordinary people. Some compromise between those days and the safety of today's fan experience would be ideal, but sadly, it won't happen anytime soon.

_______

Thanks to @BlackScarfAFC for the picture

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