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A Bridge Too Far

Jon Moonie recalls the time when the top deck of the Junior Hornets’ bus were nearly decapitated


It was a school holiday in the late 80s, and the Junior Hornets, led by the legendary Ann Swanson, were on a day trip to Highbury – then Arsenal’s home. I was on the trip and we’d enjoyed a tour of the iconic stadium, hearing the story of the ghostly horse and cart that used to be seen crossing the pitch, and we even had a game or two of football in the JVC centre – an indoor sports hall in the depths of Highbury. We were joined by a couple of the youth team players – from memory, David James was one of them but they couldn’t play for us in our games, which we lost. We were just a bunch of young fans on a day out who wanted a fun game of football. They seemed to be part of the Arsenal youth set-up, and considerably better. 

How could a fun football-filled day like this go wrong (this is feeling like a set-up in an episode of Casualty)?

We all piled back onto the Watford branded double-decker bus (some of you might remember these around the town at the time) and headed home in high spirits. There may have been a chant or two. I was sitting on the top deck about six or seven rows from the front.

As we went past Finsbury Park railway station to get the M1 home, we went under a bridge. When I spoke with Ann Swanson on From The Rookery End, she said that they had changed the route for a shortcut. A shortcut someone knew about and which they had probably done before… in a car!

It was dark, busy, and the driver couldn’t see the warning sign. This wasn’t an extraordinary bridge, it just happened to be a fraction lower than the height of our bus. There was a sound of very loud crunching and scraping as the metal roof opened as easily as the foil on the sandwich I’d devoured earlier that day. A shout of “GET DOWN!” was bellowed and we all ducked. The roof of the first two or three rows had been concertinaed back. Everyone was checked and found to be okay. We were slowly and carefully guided off the bus, and waited at the side of the road. The traffic was terrible and plenty of car horns were being beeped. Ann told us of one boy luckily she did not remember his name who wanted to go to hospital because he was injured. He wasn’t, but it was another thing Ann had to deal with. 

Then, not long later, we were taken to a nearby police station. There we waited for a replacement bus to come and pick us up. With no mobile phones to call home or picture of the bus on a viral tweet, it must have been hard for Ann to get word back to the club about what had happened, but we were all happy and even got to see inside one of the police cells. Our behaviour must have been good as no one was left behind at the station and we made it safely back to Vicarage Road.