Derby day and not a hooligan in sight

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

Jimmy Greaves, Spurs player, in 1962. A different time.
Jimmy Greaves, Spurs player, in 1962. A different time. Photograph: Getty Images

When we came to London in 1960, we lived first of all in a flat in the Vale of Health in Hampstead, in the middle of the Heath. Then, in December 1962, we bought a house in NW5 on the less desirable side of the Heath, the only house we could afford – price £5,000. They called it Parliament Hill Fields, which you still see written on the C2 bus, but today the local estate agents have rechristened it Dartmouth Park.

So, 50 years of living here, in this same house, and 50 years of going to Spurs. Why Spurs? Hmm, I often ask myself that. Especially today – as I have just got back from watching Arsenal-Spurs.

My true allegiance is to Carlisle United, whom God and the sheep preserve, but I wanted a London club to support, nail my colours to, and Spurs back in 1962 were the better team, having won the double. I have loved them madly ever since, but over the decades I have also gone to watch Arsenal. Today, though, was my first trip of the season to Arsenal. What a mistake.

Geographically, there was not a great deal in it. In the Sixties it took roughly the same time to get to Arsenal as to Spurs. Now, as in so many other ways, the gap has widened. I always used to drive to either place and could easily park, three or four streets away, nae bother. Now, you’ve got no chance. Traffic generally has got about ten times worse in the past 50 years but going to Tottenham, having to negotiate several busy high streets, it seems 20 times worse.

Arsenal has also got easier because it has moved nearer. Yes, they were very considerate when they built the Emirates, plonking it down nearer to us than Highbury.

Another big difference, as you have asked, in these 50 years, is of course the hooligans. In the Seventies and Eighties, when it was the Spurs-Arsenal derby, at either place, I used to fear I might not get home in one piece. You would try to duck down a side street, which appeared empty, then a wild army would suddenly sweep down, screaming and shouting, followed at a safe distance by cops.

Today, you never see fights in the street, at either place, or gangs of marauding lads looking for trouble. This is my experience, my observation, so it was interesting to have it confirmed by a new Home Office report. Last season, arrests at football matches in England and Wales dropped by 24 per cent compared with the previous year. There were no arrests at 74 per cent of games. Football-related arrests are now at an all-time low. Good, huh.

Sky high

I assume it’s partly to do with the price – it now costs a fortune so the hooligan lads can’t afford it. I paid my next-door neighbour, who has two Arsenal season tickets, one of them spare today, £83. A good seat, but not the best. That would have cost me £123.

He moaned all the way there about greedy Arsenal and the enormous prices for season tickets. They now have three categories of home games, A, B and C, and change the prices accordingly. Can you guess what they are?

The A games are Chelsea, Man United, Man City, Liverpool and Spurs. The B games –QPR, Fulham, West Ham, Newcastle, Stoke, Villa, Everton. QPR presumably sneaks in as a B because of London, not their quality. The low-class C games – one does feel sorry for them, poor things – include Sunderland, Southampton, Swansea and West Brom. Bit unfair on West Brom, who have turned out good this season.

Being middle class does not of course mean the language is any better than it used to be. Every time Arsenal went up for a corner, all the Gooners round me started shouting, “Big fucking German, we’ve got a big fucking German.” And low and behold, Mertesacker lumbered into the penalty area.

Could this be described as racist – to call a German a German? And would it be abuse to use the F-word about him? Hardly, when the chant was a clearly a mark of endearment.

Arsenal won 5-2, and the BF German did score. Spurs collapsed after 17 minutes, when that idiot Adebayor got himself sent off, much to the delight of the crowd. The game was over as a decent contest. It can happen, that ten men do better than eleven, but rarely. I do think, when tickets cost so much, that fans should get 1/22 of their money returned, as they have paid to watch two full teams. That could be up to £6 back.

In 1962, with £6, you could have bought the Spurs players a beer and a packet of Woodbines when they went to the local pub after the game. Which they did, oh yes. A long time ago, 1962.