Time spent at GLORIOUS HIGHBURY

WHEN Arsenal recently played their opening match of the League season at home to Newcastle United, they staged a highly nostalgic parade of past players; and many a memory was activated. Not least for one who, like myself, was an Arsenal fan from boyhood into his early years of journalism. And sometimes those memories curiously converged. Not least because I have been deep in the process of writing the official club history, `The Arsenal Stadium History', taking the club from 1913, when it moved across the Thames from Plumstead to Highbury, right up to the present day.

Two of the ex players who came on the field that Sunday afternoon were Alf Fields and Arthur Milton. Fields joined the Gunners away back in 1936, served in the Army in the last war, winning the British Empire medal in Italy, finishing his playing career at Highbury in 1952, and staying on as a coach. A solid third back centre half.

Arthur Milton, much younger, came to the Gunners in 1945 as an inside right, turned into a right winger, played as such for England against Austria at Wembley in the Autumn of 1951. He never again played cricket for Gloucestershire, Bristol born, as a talented batsman. He, however, was chosen to appear in Tests for England.

And in 1946, at the Fulham Thameside ground of picturesque Craven Cottage, I watched both of them play for the Gunners in a friendly against Fulham, Fields at centre half, Milton, largely anonymous that rainy day, at inside right, his debut. Goodness knows why I and a couple of schoolmates had sneaked up from Charterhouse that day — capital offence — to watch such an unimportant game. Yet I have one clear memory of it. Ronnie Rooke, the veteran Fulham centre forward, destined later that year to go to the Gunners for a mere �1000 and a couple of reserve players, took a free kick centrally from just outside the box with his ferocious left foot.

Rooke, of course, was destined to have a fantastic Indian summer with Arsenal, heading the winning goal from a corner on his debut at Highbury against Charlton, helping to save them from looming relegation, then the following season getting no fewer than 33 goals when they won the Championship.

In the absence of the first choice, Leslie Compton, still then keeping wickets for Middlesex, Fields played third back in the opening six winning games of the season. The last was at home to Bolton Wanderers; I and my father were there. As Fields shaped to intercept a ball, the Arsenal goalkeeper George Swindin came belting out of his goal and crashed into poor Fields smashing up his knee so badly that he never played again that season. In due course, though never wholly recovered, he became a competent coach. Once, playing at that same Craven Cottage, this time in an Arsenal junior side, he delighted Fulham by coaching both teams, during the game! They wrote to thank the Gunners.

I used to watch Milton when he was playing outside right in the reserves, a dazzling, fair haired figure with splendid speed and control. He was a late, surprising choice for England against a powerful, Ocwirk inspired Austrian side at Wembley for he had had just a handful of League games.

I watched that game, too. Milton began it dynamically, twice making ground down the right flank. And putting over a couple of excellent crosses, neither of which was exploited by his inside right, Ivan Broadis.

Milton then, perhaps discouraged, faded out of the game; and out of international soccer.

Nowadays, a footballer of such coruscating talent would be a millionaire; and probably far too consumed by soccer to be able to play first class cricket. Milton, however, when he finished his cricketing career, found himself working as a postman. What irony.

Arthur Shaw, an Arsenal right half between 1948 and 1955, was also in the parade. Tall, lean, composed, he was never an automatic first team choice, but he played many games in those years, and was a very close friend with the star of the show, the late Jimmy Logie, a highly talented inside right who, alas, would fall on very hard times after he had finished playing. How rich he would have become had he been playing today!

Logie and Shaw shared a love of dog racing, and Shaw was notorious when the team were playing on a pre-match tour of Scotland, his victim was an Arsenal director who was famously mean.

Sitting in the back of the team coach one day, Shaw held up a Scottish Pound note and said scathingly, "Stage money!" making as if to treat it in two. Mr. Bone, the director, immediately cried, "No, no, it's real money!" But Shaw tore the note in two and threw it out of the coach window. Or seemed to. Some hours later, he and other Arsenal players made their way surreptitiously back to the same spot, to see Bone grovelling about in the dead leaves, looking for the Pound note! Shaw was also known, when playing away with the reserves, for tricking assistant manager and ex-star right half Jack Crayston with a series of phone calls made to empty public telephone boxes, leaving messages for "Pegleg"!

Arsenal played Newcastle in the maroon colours they had worn when they crossed the Thames. Next season they leave Highbury for the huge new stadium they have built, a stone's throw away. Those two glorious Art Deco pre war stands will be preserved as monuments.