A beautiful game

PUBLISHED: 12:37 24 May 2007 | UPDATED: 15:06 12 May 2010

FOOTBALL is not just a game. It s a passion, a way of life. It s agony and ecstasy. Whether it is more important than life or death, as the Liverpool manager, the late Bill Shankley, once said, is a matter for discussion. But it is a game that plays an im

FOOTBALL is not just a game. It's a passion, a way of life. It's agony and ecstasy.

Whether it is more important than life or death, as the Liverpool manager, the late Bill Shankley, once said, is a matter for discussion.

But it is a game that plays an important role in the life of the nation.

I mention this because we are coming to an end of yet another season - and I've just realised that it was 50 years ago that I was introduced to the professional game.

It was in those days as a dirty-kneed, short-trousered schoolboy I was taken to that great citadel of the English game which was and still is Highbury.

Until that momentous occasion the game was seen from the touchline watching the likes of Crouch End Vampires and Highgate Redwing.

Such occasions watching, essentially in those days, games which were just about above a park kick-about did nothing to prepare the way for that initial visit to the Arsenal Stadium.

Such a moment is still etched on the memory: the bus journey to Finsbury Park, the walk through the backstreets of north London, and eventually the appearance of the stadium in its majestic grandeur.

What a memory.

For the record, Arsenal were playing Preston North End, and in the side were the likes of Jack Kelsey, Harry Goring, Derek Tapscott, Cliff Holton, and Jimmy Bloomfield. This was a time, too, when we supporters (I became a supporter there and then) were seeing the emergence of David Herd and Danny Clapton.

These were the players who became, at that time, the playground heroes.

Arsenal lost 2-1, but the result took nothing away from the occasion.

So much for nostalgia.

Football is still the beautiful game - and so, too, are the surroundings.

I can say that because this season started by seeing a game at the Emirates Stadium (it was sad, however, to see the now abandoned Arsenal Stadium) and ended at Wembley.

But it's still difficult to believe that it all started 50 years ago in an era of Matthews and Finney and Lofthouse, and has progressed through the days of Greaves and Best and Moore, and to today of Ronaldo and Rooney and Henry.

But it's still a way of life.

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