Whatever happened to Arsenal’s greatest fan?
Posted on March 23, 2015
There are some football fans who run their lives around the fixture list and cannot possibly think of a time when they might be without their beloved club. They embark on all sorts of irrational habits, sacrifice so much for the pursuit of blindly following a club. Needless to say, they are myopically-biased, refusing to give credit to any other team.
Every club has this type of character from the Premier to non-league. While they are the lifeblood of the fan base, there is also something sad about total devotion to what is often a lost chase.
I once knew an Arsenal fan who was as much part of match day at Highbury as the marble halls and Constable Alex Morgan. His name was Joe and, when I came across him, he had been following the Gunners since the 1940s.
Joe’s love of Arsenal was legendary, but it seemed to the casual onlooker that he let his hobby get in the way of normal life. He was a messenger in the City of London and the fact he would have spent a lot to time walking around the Square Mile was good practice for his matchday ritual at Arsenal. He used to march from London Fenchurch Street station to Highbury to save his cash. He was not a monied person, but I would wager he spent all his disposable income on following the club.
Joe was an easily identifiable figure. his hair was cut into a sort of Laurence Harvey style, brylcreemed into place. He always wore a navy blue blazer, Arsenal crest on the breast pocket, with grey flannels. His Arsenal tie was completed with a pin with the words, “Good luck Joe”, and he always carried a holdall with assorted Arsenal paraphernalia in its pockets and I believe, a flask of tea or coffee.
He could always be seen in his regular place behind the Clock End goal, year-in, year-out. Even in the mid-70s, Joe was already a figure from the past, so goodness knows what he would have made of the Premier era. He was convinced, however, that Arsenal would one day regain the pre-eminent position they enjoyed in the 1930s.
But there was enormous depth to Joe’s eccentricity. He collected football programmes with a passion, maintaining complete sets of all the London clubs and more through a network of contacts up and down the country. Joe sold me the entire Chelsea set from 1946-47 to 1964-65 back in the 1970s. I still have them today.
There were rumours that Joe was the anonymous Arsenal fan that used to call Secretary Bob Wall in the 1950s almost on a daily basis to check if Stanley Matthews had signed for the Gunners. I know he used to be waiting at the entrance to the club’s wonderful Art Deco stand to welcome new players to Highbury, right up to the 1970s. He meant well, his heart was in the right place. But his heart was all Arsenal.
Joe is probably long dead, he was approaching 50 when I first met him, and I was 18. That would make him around 90 today. But I recently saw some footage of a game from 1976 and behind the South Bank goal, I could just make out the smiling and grey-haired figure of a man in a blazer and tie. Arsenal beat Newcastle 5-3 in that game, and I bet the walk from Finsbury Park to Fenchurch Street that evening was a sweet one for Arsenal’s greatest fan.