Paul Matz: founder Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association

Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 47 seconds

Everyone has a story. Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association, set up in 2000, represents passionate Arsenal fans who want to be sure that their club is the best it can be. With 10,000 members it’s a powerful voice that has turned its attention this March on getting Arsenal to adopt the London Living Wage. Here AISA founder, Paul Matz, talks football.  Interview by Nicola Baird.

Paul Matz: xx

Paul Matz: local, life-long Arsenal fan and founder of Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association (AISA).

Paul Matz isn’t just an Arsenal fan – he introduces himself by saying: “I am a second generation supporter. My dad supported Arsenal and I’ve been a supporter all my life. I remember my first match at Highbury was in 1965 – 50 years ago! It was a youth cup semi final, the first leg against Chelsea, and Arsenal won 4-1.”

Paul’s dad soon discovered his son didn’t just enjoy going to games, his presence brought good luck too. “The first big match I went to was on Boxing Day a year later (1966/67 season) against Southampton. Arsenal won 4-1 again.”

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Because his dad lived in the Marylebone/Baker Street area and other parts of north London Paul didn’t move to Islington until he was an adult. After a spell commuting to work Monday to Friday from Brighton he found a place just off Gillespie Road, just metres from the club he loves. “When Arsenal moved stadium it trebled my journey time,” he says laughing. “It used to take four minutes to get to my seat from my home. Now it’s 12 minutes.”

Paul, now 58, is very thoughtful about the beautiful game. “Football reflects society. That can be bad for football, but it’s no worse than what goes on Friday nights in many pubs…”

This may be why he wasn’t put off by bad experiences in the 1970s. “I was attacked in Leeds and Leicester in a minor way. Leeds was a particularly intimidating place to go to. People wore scarves then, it wasn’t shirts. At Leeds my scarf was stolen and used in evidence in a court case. After the trial I had to write to the police three times to get it back!”

Celebrating news of the new stadium.

Celebrating news of the new stadium. Photo taken outside Highbury the day after the Council granted planning permission for the Emirates Stadium (December 2001). Paul Matz is in jumper (2nd right), others are Steven Powell, Alysen Miller and Julian Harris. Paul Matz: “All of us were Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association committee members, heavily involved in AISA’s campaign of support.”

Paul Matz’s favourite places to be a Gooner
Arsenal draws fans from such a wide range of places – just recently I met a bloke who brought his two kids up from Devon once or twice a season. Living so close I’m not a typical supporter with a routine of meeting people in the pub etc. I tend to catch up with friends inside the stadium, sometimes on the way to the game.

  • Emirates Stadium: AISA's Paul Matz lives just 12 minutes away.

    Emirates Stadium: AISA’s Paul Matz lives just 12 minutes away from the ‘new’ ground.

    Emirates Stadium! I’ve had to get used to not going to Highbury – but it’s nine years now. Nothing will match the intimacy of the memories of the old ground, but you have to remember the obstructed views and 20,000 supporters who wanted to watch their team and couldn’t get a ticket. AISA supported the deal negotiated with Arsenal and the Council to give priority to Islington residents. Councillors Steve Hitchens and Jeanette Arnold were the proposers at the crucial council meeting.

  • Highbury Barn area – I probably go most often to the post office and chemist but also love the eating places and lovely specialist food shops.

  • Upper Street – when I didn’t live in Islington I used to spend a lot of time in pubs on Upper Street, especially the Famous Cock Tavern by Highbury & Islington tube.

  • Arsenal Stadium history is fascinating. It’s not Highbury Stadium even though so many of us call it that! It was bombed during WW2, used as an ARP (air raid precaution) centre and there are fantastic stories about the wardens playing matches on the hallowed turf. During WW2 the club moved to share and play at White Hart Lane (the reverse of WW1). Islington acted as a host for refugees coming from Belgium and Holland – often only in the clothes they stood up in or a single suitcase at best. All over Islington families acted as hosts; often it was the poorest who gave the most. Arsenal Stadium was where they were registered when they first arrived.

  • Islington's Local History Centre.

    Islington’s Local History Centre.

    Islington Local History Centre at 245 St John Street, EC1 is a fantastic resource. I’m researching Arsenal during World War Two and looking for people who lived close to Gillespie and Avenell Road then. They may have moved away now –they’ll be about 77 or older – but I’d love them to contact me (see info below). My plan is to turn this into a pamphlet published by AISA. There are already five AISA Arsenal History publications, which cover the pre-war years.

  • Pre-war Arsenal programmes have a big map of London’s railway system on them. They were the first club to do this. It’s clear that from the time Arsenal moved (from Woolwich) they were looking to recruit supporters from all over London.

  • When Arsene Wenger came to Arsenal in 1996 the waiting list started. Before that you could turn up and get in – even during the 1970/71 double season there were only two or three matches that sold out.

Nowadays Arsenal is sometimes mocked for it’s coq-au-vin, empenadas and steamed chive dumpling-eating supporters,* but certainly not by Paul. “These days the prices in football and the fact that it is very popular with middle classes doesn’t stop football having a working class core. One of AISA’s campaigns is to reduce prices at the bottom end – it’s what the Taylor Report called for after Hillsborough, prices to be stretched. At Arsenal people can pay almost £300 for a single match without hospitality! Paul believes that for those who can least afford things there must be reduced prices. Arsenal have made a start with a Junior Gunners Section for a tenner a ticket, with adult prices reduced for some matches and a Family Enclosure where under 18 prices are around £16-18.

The football memorabilia fans' essential reading - Programme Monthly & Football Collectable, @ProgMonthly

The football memorabilia fans’ essential reading and a way to find and exchange rare programmes – Programme Monthly & Football Collectable, @ProgMonthly

Until 2011 Paul worked at Carers UK co-ordinating the charity’s national Carers Week still held each June. “I was thinking about early retirement and then an opportunity to purchase the football memorabilia magazine, Programme Monthly and Football Collectable, came up. The previous editor had run it for 30 years, so we did have to modernise it, but as a collector myself it was too good to miss,” he says. The magazine focuses on collectors’ stories and also offers a place for collectors to buy and sell their treasured programmes. Rare Arsenal programmes from the pre-WWII change hands for £100s, for pre-WWI it can be £1000s.

AISA will be asking the Club to commit to the London Living Wage.

AISA will be asking Arsenal to commit to the London Living Wage.

All about AISA
It’s the AISA work that really excites Paul. With more than 10,000 full and associate members, including 500 who live abroad, and a real understanding of the needs of out-of-the-borough supporters – such as fans in Hertfordshire, Essex, Surrey and Sussex – AISA has a strong voice. It’s helped get more season tickets for locals, worked on the planning permission for the Emirates Stadium, helped see adult tickets fall below £30 and encourages younger fans. AISA also works hard to get greater recognition of the importance of Arsenal fans travelling to away matches.

AISA’s next request might help the community even more. Paul explains: “Arsenal hasn’t yet gone all the way to ensuring employees who work for the club directly and indirectly get the London Living Wage. We will be discussing this with the Club in March and we hope and believe they will do the right thing.”

If the club does, then there look set to be even more celebrations at AISA’s many events that have led to Paul – and plenty of others – meeting their heroes. “Charlie George is great,” says Paul struck by hero worship for a moment, “and I’ve met Sol Campbell, Alan Smith – who scored the winning goal in the Cup Winners Cup Final – and John Radford, who is a lovely bloke – he scored the crucial goal when Arsenal won their first European trophy”.

Paul had to end the interview to rush to another appointment – he’s a busy man – so I missed out on hearing more Arsenal history. You can learn more at Arsenal Museum (just by the Emirates Stadium) but even better is to sign up to AISA and be up-to-date with all things Arsenal.

  • More about Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association (AISA) here.
  • Did someone you know live in Gillespie or Avenell Road during World War Two? If so can you ask them to contact Paul Matz to help his Arsenal history research. Either email or phone 07850 920899
  • You can subscribe to Programme Monthly & Football Collectable, email: or see also @ProgMonthly

Coq-au-vin, empanadas and steamed chive dumpling – the favourite foods of Arsenal fans according to research published in November 2014, see the YouGov survey report in the Daily Mail here.

Over to you
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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

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