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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 May 2006, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
End of an era
By Chris Bevan

Charlie George
Being a local lad and playing for my local team with all the boys - my friends - supporting me on the terraces. That was absolutely amazing
Charlie George

If you are looking for someone to show you round Highbury in the week before Arsenal's final game at their famous old ground then Charlie George is probably the best man for the job.

Islington born and bred, George stood on the North Bank as a boy before becoming a hero of the same terraces as a player.

Still on the club's staff today as a match-day host and museum tour guide, he has been watching, playing or working there for over 50 years.

Walking round Highbury with George, it is clear he will take a lifetime of memories away with him when the club moves to its new base at nearby Ashburton Grove next season.

He told BBC Sport: "I was only five when I first came with my brother-in-law. The crowd used to sway all over the place when a goal was scored so I would end up about 20 yards from him.

"So you would get passed over people's heads down to the front then walk back to where you had been standing.

"As I got older I started walking round to the West Stand and when I got to 11 I started standing on the North Bank with about 15 or 20 of my friends.

"I was very fortunate just after that to be asked to come to train with Arsenal on a Monday or Thursday evening with a lot of other lads - but I still stood on the terraces until I signed as an apprentice in 1966.

"Three-and-a-half years later I had gone from standing there shouting out the players' names to actually playing with those guys.

GEORGE FACTFILE
Position: Forward
DoB: 10 Oct 1950, Islington
At Arsenal: 1966-75
Games: 157
Goals: 49
Honours: Fairs Cup winner 1970, League Champions 1971, FA Cup winner 1971

"For me to be running out at Highbury - you just don't forget things like that.

"Being a local lad and playing for my local team and all the boys - my friends - are supporting me on the terraces. That was absolutely amazing.

"When we used to have 15,000 to 20,000 fans on the North Bank chanting my name - that is the most fantastic feeling you will ever get, the biggest thrill you will ever get in your life."

George's most famous moment in an Arsenal shirt came at Wembley in the 1971 FA Cup final victory over Liverpool which clinched that season's Double.

He smashed a glorious winner past Reds keeper Ray Clemence - then laid down in the centre-circle - in what has become an iconic celebration.

But he has plenty of magical performances at Highbury to look back on too, with the most outstanding being Arsenal's Fairs Cup (now Uefa Cup) triumph in 1970.

An Ajax side, which included the likes of Johan Cruyff and Rudi Krol, was brushed aside in the semi-final to set up a two-legged meeting with crack Belgian outfit Anderlecht in the final.

Arsenal lost 3-1 away in the first leg but in the return encounter, goals from Ray Kelly, John Radford and Jon Sammels gave them a 4-3 aggregate victory - with George setting up the winner.

"Before then the club had suffered a barren spell of 17 years without a trophy," George explained. "So it was great to win it at Highbury. The atmosphere was fantastic too and those days were great times.

Charlie George
Highbury will still be here. We have some great memories to take away with us but you have to move on and this is the way forward
Charlie George

"The guy who scouted me for Arsenal was George Male, who was a right-back for us in the 1930s.

"He was a really nice guy. I was never as good as he was - they were real tough guys back then - but I hope I repaid him a little bit for what he did for me."

George is happy to discuss his own illustrious past but as Arsenal gear up for their summer move to a new ground at Ashburton Grove he is more concerned about the future.

And, given his long association with Highbury, George is surprisingly pragmatic about seeing the club move on to pastures new.

"Highbury will still be here," said George. "We have some great memories to take away with us but you have got to move on and this is the way forward.

"We need to get more fans in because a lot of people are not getting into games and we have to generate money so we can get the best players here and the manager has the resources he needs.

"I was looking around the new stadium about a week or so ago now and it is absolutely fantastic. It will probably be the best stadium at club level in Europe, if not the world."

And George is confident that the Gunners can mark their move to their new home by winning the Champions League final against Barcelona on 17 May.

"It was ironic that Liverpool won the European Cup after Michael Owen left them in a bid to win it with Real Madrid," George said.

"The same thing has happened to us with Patrick Vieira going to Juventus.

"The way things have gone for us I think our name is on it - I just hope I am right."




WATCH AND LISTEN
Report: Arsenal prepare to leave Highbury



SEE ALSO
Highbury farewell photos
04 May 06 |  Photo Galleries
Liam Brady on Highbury's magic
04 May 06 |  Arsenal
Highbury memories
04 May 06 |  Arsenal


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