BY HUGO GREENHALGH / @hugogreenhalgh
Every Gooner remembers their first Arsenal match. However, my first visit was made extra special by the sight of a true Arsenal legend.
The match itself was a 3-0 win against Sunderland, on a lovely Easter afternoon in March 2002. As we know, the team were on their way to completing a second ‘Double’ under Wenger. How I took such success for granted as a 10-year old!
Yet I’d started the day not thinking I’d end up inside the ground. My mum had promised a trip to the Arsenal museum and the club shop to spend a voucher (a £2 birthday present from the Junior Gunners). I used it to get a figurine of Robert Pires. However, it was another Bobby that made my day.
I don’t know if it was the fine weather or the allure of Highbury’s famous marble halls, but my mum said we could try and see if there were any spare tickets at the box office for the day’s game. As it happens, there were, and right bang in the middle of the North Bank. I was about to lose my Arsenal virginity.
Tickets in hand, we crossed Avenell Road and passed a man, still handsome despite his years, in a cream suit and silk Arsenal tie. I caught his eye and we grinned at each other. “Enjoy the game”, he told me. Only once we reached the pavement did I realise who this was. The man from the Arsenal videos and ITV presenter.
It was Bob Wilson.
It’s a memory that has stuck with me ever since. As my passion for Arsenal grew and grew, I came to appreciate quite what a club legend he was. It was 30 years since the club’s first ‘Double’ in 1971; Wilson played every game that season.
Like other members of that team, Pat Rice and Charlie George for instance, Wilson has remained immensely proud of being part of ‘the Arsenal’ and continues to be involved in the setup. His charity work is well known and there are few men who embody the 'Arsenal way' more than Bob Wilson.
With his words in my ears, we took our seats on the North Bank. I remember standing on my seat for most of the game and the legendary stand living up to its reputation; my mum was suitably appalled by the language of the terraces.
Unfortunately, the best action was at the other end and Arsenal had the game wrapped up in the first three minutes. The whistle had barely been blown before Vieira opened the scoring. This was quickly followed by a wonderfully worked second, with Henry teeing up a tap-in for Bergkamp. Wiltord added a third on the half-hour mark.
For all the beautiful attacking play, we defended impeccably that day too. My mum and I agreed Ashley Cole was the man-of-the-match and he really was a fan-favourite back then. It’s memories like this that made his betrayal to Chelsea all the more sour.
I was only lucky enough to go to Highbury once more for the star-studded Testimonial of Martin Keown. Since the Emirates move I’ve been able to go more or less to any game I want.
But I doubt I would have the quite the same fanaticism about Arsenal today if I hadn’t been to Highbury, something I’ve got my mum to thank for. I’m looking forward to taking my children to their first game one day. And maybe we’ll cross paths with David Seaman outside the Emirates…