We'd enjoyed the game, give or take two Wigan goals, and now we were revelling in laughing at Tottenham. Who could have imagined just how much that sorry bunch of crapmeisters would add to our pleasure on a day when they could so easily have ruined the party. Because as sad as the final countdown was (the countdown clock was set to hit zero at six-thirty as I recall) it now very definitely had all the hallmarks of a carnival in progress. The West Ham result had been confirmed and was greeted with a massive and delirious ovation when it was finally shown on the big screens. We'd just seen our last match at Highbury and it had been quite a game in itself but the parallel activities at the Boleyn ground had enhanced our result no end.
While we were still celebrating a large podium was erected on the centre circle and as ever the West Stand got the back end of it. It was possible to spot Danny Fiszman in a red T-shirt and one or two celebrities such as Wrighty similarly attired. Tom Watt started things off by acted as the compare and he opened on the mike with a mention for ‘our good friends at West Ham'.
I imagine most punters in the stands had no idea what would happen next, although firm rumours of an ex-players parade and an appearance by Roger Daltry had done the rounds and made the papers. A band entered the field of play from the northeast corner. They were the Romford Drum and Trumpet Corps a fifty-piece band resplendent in Green uniforms, gold braid and a red band on their matching peaked hats. They had a tall confident leader, or drum major, who really knew how to twirl and chuck his mace. This was a distant echo of the Metropolitan Police Band of way back when, an outfit that back in the Sixties I detested with fervour for their positively outdated repertoire of tunes. The leader of the Metropolitan Police Band, when marching, always chucked his mace in the air and the entire crowd would whistle and jeer as he did so in the hope that he'd drop it. There was a time when you couldn't call yourself a true died-in-the-wool Gooner unless you'd seen him drop it – a bit like the kudos of witnessing Johnny Jensen's goal. I saw it dropped twice and according to something I read recently the poor guy was absolutely and inconsolably distraught after dropping it in front of the Arsenal crowd who were in total hysterics. The leader of the Romford Drum and Trumpet Corps could really get some height with the mace and in one photo I took it was so high it was out of the picture. I was impressed and it was all rather nostalgic which I guess was the point. The band played and lapped the pitch a few times before setting down in front of the podium.
Then there was some serious nostalgia as Alex Morgan was lead out wearing an Arsenal scarf. Constable, later sergeant Alex Morgan, was the principle singer for the Metropolitan Police band, who when they weren't marching up and down the pitch, were based at the Clock End. Alex used to drive us younger fans nuts back in the Sixties by warbling away to some piece of classical or military music. This was at a time when other grounds where blasting out the Beatles or the Stones on their PA systems. I thought he would just take a bow, but no he was going to sing accompanied by the Romford Drum and Trumpet Corp. I figured that he must by now be about 204 years old but to be honest really have no idea of his age other than he was certainly getting on. So the old boy sang, there was no holding back as he gave it full wellie with an operatic piece that had me gobsmacked. He could really still sing very well indeed and received a deserved massive ovation for his efforts. I hated him for what he stood for all those decades ago and yet I absolutely loved it on his last appearance at Highbury. As Alex left the field to an ovation worthy of Bergkamp there was crowd noise elsewhere as some had spotted the next item on the, unknown to us, agenda.
We now had Ian Allinson leading out the ‘old boys' from the northwest corner and walking along in front of the West Stand. Naturally they received the greeting they deserved. There was no stopping for a chat or autographs though, presumably because they would never have been allowed to have got around in under a week and the tight countdown schedule would have been totally wrecked. Each player had a junior Gunner in tow with a nameboard and we just stood aghast as the equivalent of six or seven teams paraded around. They were roughly in alphabetical order, although I seem to recall Brady as being near the back along with Pat Rice.
I can't name them all but there was certainly Geoff Barnett, Brendan Batson, Steve Bould and Liam Brady who I don't want to grass up but who definitely nicked a couple of handfuls of grass without shelling out 25 quid and was using his phone to take pictures of the North Bank. Gus Caesar over from Hong Kong, Jimmy Carter, Paul Davis looking as trim as ever, Lee Dixon waving to one and all, Jimmy Carter, John Devine and Alfie Fields the oldest of the lot. Jim Furnell and Remi Garde who I believe has a scouting role with the Club. Steve Gatting, Charlie George who'd watched the game from one of the boxes, Peter Goy, Bobby Gould and George Graham wearing his famous red scarf and positively beaming as he waved to the crowd. Giles Grimandi, the ever popular Perry Groves, Martin Hayes, David Hillier, Don Howe, Pat Jennings and a tubby Eddie Kelly. Martin Keown now back coaching with the club, Anders Limpar filming the crowd as he went around, John Lukic and Oleg Luzhny who must have come a fair way to be here. Peter Marinello in a white jacket, John Matthews, John MacLeod and Frank McLintock with a day off from his Sky job.
The players just seemed to keep coming in a long stream of legends. Terry Neill looking better than when I last saw him, Billy McCullough or Flint as we knew him, Jimmy McGill and Malcolm Macdonald who really lapped it up. Bob McNab over from the States I think, Arthur Milton who needed assistance from his Junior Gunner minder and Sammy Nelson who didn't drop his trousers in front of the North Bank. Emmanuel Petit looking casual in jeans, David Price, John Radford, Pat Rice, John Roberts in a cream suit, Stuart Robson, Graham Rix, Jon Sammels, the rotund Kenny Sansom and a bearded Peter Simpson. David Seaman who had partaken in a penalty competition at half time sans pony tail, Alan Skirton, Alan Smith, John Sneddon, Fred Street our old physio, Alan Sunderland, Brian Talbot, Derek Tapscott who scored the very first Highbury goal I ever saw. Michael Thomas, Len Wills, Chris White, Bob Wilson who couldn't resist touching the cross bar for one last time, Tony Woodcock with a mass of hair, Nigel Winterburn, Ian Wright, and a massive Willie Young. We definitely have the biggest Willie now. Chants and loud applause were continuous throughout the parade of players. It was worth the admission price just to see them all.
I know I've missed some names but I hope this gives you the flavour and if anyone can provide the definitive list I'll amend this report at a future date. After lapping the ground to rapturous applause they were all lead out to the podium and some were interviewed by Tom Watts and our regular stadium announcer Paul Burrell in turn. John Radford, Frank McLintock, Michael Thomas, Malcolm Macdonald, Ian Wright and Lee Dixon all got to say a few words piece in what was described as eight generations of legends. Someone, Tom Watt I think, reminded us ‘That we should make sure that we take the memories over the road to Ashburton Grove' – I liked the way he failed to use the ‘E' word. The players were lead away and the fans were still coming out with chants such as ‘Rocky Rocastle' and ‘Are you watching Tottenham'. We knew full well of course that not a solitary soul from Tottenham was watching by now because they were all very busy finding stones to crawl under for the summer.
As the old boys went back to their seats we were reminded by Tom Watts of past players who could not be with us on the day. Their pictures appeared on cue on the screens to jog our memory banks. The players featured were a representative few but included amongst others late greats such as Rocky Rocastle, Joe Mercer, Bertie Mee, George Male, Jack Kelsey, at about which point my eyes were no longer just a tad damp because I had tears streaming down my face. I also recall seeing on the screen Reg Lewis, the incomparable Alex James and Herbert Chapman who made The Home of Football a centre of soccer excellence. All quite moving.
Next up was what seemed like a couple of million junior Gunners in bright red T-shirts running onto the pitch in turn carrying a replica of each and every trophy won in our time at Highbury. They even included Charity Shields, which were all described as Community Shields for some reason. This was fine but went on a bit and there was a definite ‘hurry up' gesture from one of the organisers half way through. We thought it had been completed but then of course there were all the Arsenal Ladies trophies to be accounted for. These were somewhat rushed through presumably to get back on to the 6.30 countdown schedule.
This led quite neatly into next item which was Arsenal Ladies with yet another double and an interview with Vic Ackers who has taken English ladies football to a level undreamed of when the team was started eighteen years ago. Since then the 21 major trophies they've won has to be considered seriously impressive stuff. Anyone who saw the recent 5-0 thrashing of Leeds in their Cup Finalcan only be impressed with their outstanding quality of play.
Following the ladies was a season ticket holder from Block D in the East Upper. Roger Daltry appeared ‘Who?' some of us shouted, but such wit was lost on a numerous younger fans. I found it quite amazing that although he's a contemporary of mine his hair is still light years away from being grey and altogether better coiffured than mine. Roger is a big Arsenal fan and had produced a singalong number called ‘Highbury Highs' which I hope will be released because it's a fine anthem type song. It was a catchy little number that may yet make the terraces. He also belted out ‘My Generation' although the Romford band was not quite able to match the powerhouse sounds of Pete Townsend, John Entwhistle and Keith Moon. Good Stuff for all that.
Four huge Arsenal historic crests were displayed next from our first club badge to our most recent. These round banners were carted round the pitch by the ever-enthusiastic Junior Gunners with just the one unfortunate kid taking a high-speed tumble.
Another Arsenal fan to appear was a man who attracted the biggest attendance at Highbury for anything other than a game of football. The ever popular Sir Henry Copper was interviewed as clips of his classic battle with Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, was shown on the screens. It was at this point I noticed that although a large number of Wigan fans had remained to see the last rites at Highbury there were quite a number of Arsenal shirts now visible in their away section.
Our current Arsenal team paraded next in redcurrent training gear. Given that they had no trophies to parade and that Henry was interviewed for TV on his way around this was a low-key salute. Indeed many of them were more intent on chatting amongst themselves rather than acknowledging the crowd. Ditties such as ‘One Arsene Wenger', ‘Que Sera', ‘Thierry Henry' and ‘One Dennis Bergkamp' were still going strong and were followed by presentations once more on the stage. Such end of season parades are never quite the same without a trophy to show.
When they left the field we went back to the podium which featured a series of presentations conducted by Peter Hill Wood where first off Danny Fiszman was presented with what looked like a huge symbolic key capable of unlocking our new place. The ever-popular Ken Friar received something in a big red box, as did Le Boss before Thierry Henry was presented with yet another ‘Golden Boot' to add to his collection. ‘Four more years' was heard here. So we now at last got to the final countdown when an explosion on the roof of all four stands set off loads of streamers at the same time, I understand as balloons were released from my/our/your new gaff just down the road. The confetti storm was immense and I managed to nab some of the red streamers that might come in handy for decking out John's car for its trip to Paris. And that was that really.
Overhead a helicopter trailed a huge red banner that had on it the Club badge together with a marketing style legend that stated ‘Emirates Stadium… a bright new future'. Henry and Cole sat around on the podium to be joined variously by Pires and Gunnersaurus and a single rather respectful fan who seemingly acted in good taste and whom I hope was not subsequently banned. We the remaining fans gradually drifted away without any noticeable protest. We took more photos and took in the fabulous old place for the very last time remembering mainly good times. Our gang didn't attempt to be last out and so I have no idea quite when the stewards and police said it was time to go for those remaining.
I was one of the lucky ones because I was there and there is no way my ‘I was there' T-shirt will ever end up on Ebay because it's now an official family heirloom. May 7th, 2006 was one of the most enjoyable days ever seen at Highbury but it had ended. It was the best of days and the worst of days. I survived the last hours of Highbury better than I'd expected to and at the end of it all I found the overdose of emotion had induced both exhaustion along with a lot more memories to add to those I already cherish.
Highbury as we knew it has gone but the memories will never be forgotten.