50 years in the top flight – The Arsenal Dinner and Dance 1968
On 9 November 1968 Arsenal chose to celebrate their 50th consecutive season at the top tier of the English game. This entailed a Division One match against Newcastle in the afternoon which ended goalless despite George Graham and John Radford being up front, and the club held a banquet for 400 guests at the Park Lane Hotel, Piccadilly that same night.
The first game in this sequence was against Newcastle on 30 August 1919. It was also the first ever top flight game at Highbury. It resulted in a narrow 1-0 win for the Magpies.
Incidentally, it was also against Newcastle at home that the club made their league debut in a second division encounter on 2 September 1893 which ended 2-2. It was also Newcastle who played Woolwich Arsenal in the Gunners first ever game in the highest echelon on 3 September 1904. This was played at St James Park and saw Arsenal lose 0-3.
So the decision to choose this home game against Newcastle was a very apt and well taken one. The whole official match programme entitled the “Jubilee Souvenir Edition” was taken up with information about the previous 50 years of the club: great players and great moments. It contained details of FA Cup and League wins and highlighted such club greats as Herbert Chapman, Tom Whittaker, George Allison, Charlie Buchan, Cliff Bastin, Alex James, David Jack and a host of others.
The current Newcastle players and officials were invited to the banquet along with as many former Arsenal players that could be found, together with the then current staff at the club. This photograph was taken during the proceedings and contained a large number of ex-Arsenal greats. See how many you can recognise, with out looking at the name tags below!
The banquet menu was presented as a 16 page brochure with the multiple courses set to correspond to each respective decade – the swinging sixties containing a great photograph of Frank McLintock in a classic tracksuit presenting the team to royalty at Wembley combined with an enigmatic surprise soufflé omelette!
The brochure is dedicated to the fans of the club with these heartfelt words from the club:
“Here’s to the 50 million fans (give or take a million either way!) who have watched Arsenal at Highbury since 1919. Without them we could not exist – with them we can conquer the world!”
Whilst special mention was given to Herbert Chapman who was described as “the most chivalrous of rivals and the most loyal of friends” in a fitting epithet to the architect who made Arsenal the most famous club in the world during their dominance of the 1930s.
The Bill Elliott Quartet provided the music and those present danced the night away until the heady time of 1:30am with popular choices selected and performed from all the different decades.
The toast was to the Queen and the Arsenal football club – the ceremony was performed by Mr Shipman, the President of the Football League and both the Arsenal Chairman, Denis Hill-Wood, and the Chairman of Newcastle, Lord Westwood.
At this particular juncture, Sunderland were the only other team that had managed a longer run in the top flight having spent 68 years there from 1890 to 1958. Their relegation left Arsenal in prime position to overtake them, which they did in 1987 although there were a couple of close shaves in the 1970s.
It is also of interest to us all that, assuming we remain in the Premier League, the 100th consecutive year of Arsenal’s stay in the top flight is almost upon us. If both these teams are in the top flight during the 2018-19 season, the home game against Newcastle would be a fitting and historical way to celebrate this potential landmark.
Background to the article
The season past we were asked to write a regular page in the official Arsenal magazine based on a historical object related to the Club. Magazine and Programme editor Andy Exley has kindly given us permission to reproduce the match reports on our blog. We will also be including additional material that didn’t make the final edit of the magzine.
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