On 25th February 1967 – three days before my 14th birthday, I went to see a football match. Although it lasted only 30 minutes or so it became one of those things that have you asking yourself ‘did that really happen?’
The match was Highgate United v Enfield. The occasion was the quarter final of the now-defunct FA Amateur Cup. Enfield, from London, were aristocrats of the amateur game. Highgate were, and are, a modest club knocking around the minor leagues of the English Midlands. They were having a good season though and had done superbly to get to the last eight of this big national competition.
Highgate play on a bleak sort of pitch outside Solihull, completely surrounded by picturesque farmland. In expectation of a crowd larger than the usual handful, temporary stands had been erected and the pitch roped off. I dumped my bike in a hedge and got a good spot on the half way line. The crowd built up to maybe a couple of thousand. It was raining and very grey as the reds of Highgate and the greens of Enfield took the field. The visitors soon burst the bubble and took the lead.
Soon the rain increased in intensity and there were claps of thunder. But I don’t remember any lightning until….there was an even more intense burst of rain, a deafening clap of thunder and – a surreal moment this, a fork of lightning struck the centre circle. Several players and the ref hit the ground amidst a blue puff of smoke. After a few seconds silence many of the crowd ran under the ropes and onto the pitch to help the stricken players.
As I cycled back up the country lanes the ambulances from Solihull blued and two’d their way in the opposite direction.
Some time the following day Tony Allden of Highgate died of his injuries.
The abandoned match was rearranged for Villa Park in anticipation of a large sympathetic Brummie crowd. But no one anticipated the 30,000+ that turned up, an astonishing crowd for such a fixture. (I still say the crowd was much larger and over 40,000). As one the Brummies roared whenever Highgate were on the attack. Regrettably that was rare. Enfield won 6-0 and went on to win the competition.
Today Highgate still play at windswept Tythe Barn Lane. But there have been no temporary stands since that fateful day in 1967, nor is there likely to be.