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Monday 8 August 2005

He Who Laughs Last.....!

Hi folks

Whether you like it or not, I am back! Should you wish me to remove your
address from my list, please feel free to let me know, I assure you I won't
take offence

Subsequent to a call from The Irish Examiner at 11am last Monday, I actually
wrote my first missive last week. Yet as a result it was written in such a
rush that I really wanted to edit it at my leisure. However as ever, I
didn't get around to doing this but rather than fill your in-box with what
is basically old news (although I've never let that stop me before :-), I've
joined the "blog" revolution (if a little tardily) and you are welcome to
read my previous piece at:
(if you scroll down you will find last week's ravings). Or alternatively for
those of you without access to the web, or who want their own copy, you are
more than welcome to get back to me and I will forward it to you.

Bearing in mind that I am writing for an Irish newspaper and the fact that I
am limited to around a 1000 words (although again I've never let that stop
me before), I haven't written about our journey to Cardiff below, as knowing
full well the prejudices that prevail (and I'm not about to patronize you
with a history lesson about the potato famine, suffice to say that any
existing ill feeling is more than warranted) I didn't really think the
readers over there would be particularly interested in hearing how we were
driving down to Cardiff, glued to the Test Match Special radio commentary
coming from Edgbaston, revelling in such a famous England victory over their
Antipodean foe (and if some of you Gooners are similarly impervious to the
bloody astonishing ending to events in Birmingham yesterday, might I suggest
you scroll down to the beginning of the actual diary piece below)

I've never been a cricket fanatic but I very much enjoy whiling away the
long football-less summer months, watching the cricket on the box, whilst
listening to the LW radio transmission from those marvellous members of the
TMS team. Commentating on the cricket over the radio is indeed an art form
and while the game itself has become a lot quicker in recent years, with a
lot less dead time between overs and balls, these chaps who make up one of
the last remaining bastions of Britishness, deserve the utmost respect for
their ability to broadcast for endless hours at a time, filling the airwaves
with such ridiculous nonsense as their gratitude for the Madeira cake
they've just received from Mrs Getalife in Godalming, or details of the
double-decker bus passing along St. Johns Wood Road.

In fact there was a perfect example of this typically British idiosyncratic
institution yesterday. As the test match between England and Australia
balanced on a knife edge, with the Aussies astonishingly managing to cling
on, coming ever closer to reaching and beating England's score, the Aussie
commentators who share the airtime, broadcasting to all those down-under on
ABC, must have bee laughing to themselves as one of them announced that the
perennial Radio 4 'Shipping Forecast' would be delayed until the outcome of
the match had been decided.

As if, with the game building to such an incredible climax, there was anyone
listening who was actually interested in the wind speed at Doggerel Bank!!

I was convinced, as I assured Kev, my travelling partner, that the script
for what many are already talking about as "the most exciting Test Match
ever", had already been written. Considering Freddie Flintoff's amazing
exploits with both bat and ball during the course of this match, I was
absolutely certain that he was guaranteed to eventually win the game by
taking the final wicket.

"Catches win matches" intoned Kev as poor Simon Jones failed to hang onto a
difficult sounding catch which would have won the match. And with the
tourists only needing a few more runs to take the match, he gave up the
ghost at this point, whereas I was convinced Flintoff was still going to win
it at the last gasp. But as Freddie finished his over without taking the
final wicket and with Australia only requiring a handful of runs, I too
conceded defeat. Kev reckoned afterwards that this was the turning point,
because it wasn't until I finally accepted England weren't going to win that
Harmessen went and bowled the ball we'd been waiting for all morning, with
growing frustration.

Such was our excitement as Geraint Jones took the catch, with AustraLlia
only needing two more runs, that I felt like that bloke in the car insurance
ad. I wanted to pull over to the hard shoulder, so I could get out and dance
a little jig of joy. It is not that the result means so much to me, but
having watched the test match on the box the past couple of days and having
got so caught up in the growing tension, as Australia came ever closer to
achieving an improbably victory, you couldn't help but be affected by the
drama of it all. I actually looked around us at the other cars on the
motorway, thinking that with so many football fans travelling up to Cardiff,
everyone would be listening to the commentary of this other grand sporting
occasion. I was a little disappointed that there was no honking of horns,
waving or shouting, when England eventually achieved success.

Both Kev and I had a little chuckle, as seconds after this incredible
conclusion to the cricket, instead of an interview with the captain, or the
man of the match, Radio 4 went straight to the delayed Shipping Forecast!

I am sure I could prattle on ad infinitum about this amazing Test Match but
I wouldn't want to alienate all those who find cricket a confoundingly
boring sport. What's more, with another three Tests to come, I guess I'll
have plenty more opportunities to test your patience on this particular

Before I go, I completely forgot to mention one astonishing fact in my piece
below. After arriving back home completely shattered on Sunday night
following our tortuous trip back, I was so shattered that I laid down on the
bed and simply conked out, fully dressed, until 10am, when I woke to
discover with some dismay that I dribbled down one of my favourite Arsenal
t-shirts. As a result I ended up writing my piece in a bit of a rush,
worrying about being late for my deadline (so what else is new!).

I completely omitted to mention the outrageous coincidence which actually
left me thinking that it was so bizarre that after that, there was no way we
were going to be beat by Chelsea. Kev had arranged to meet up with some
mates at Cardiff and despite some traffic on route, "the Fuhrer" - as his
friends advised me is the moniker they've given him - had actually managed
to get me out of the house early enough (with his threats that he would stop
at home if we hadn't left by 9am) that we'd arrived in Cardiff and had
parked up, not only in time to make kick-off, but with time to grab a swift
half (or a cuppa in my case) at the pub. I am in trouble now, as Rona wants
to know the secret of how Kev is capable of making sure I am not late!!

So, as you do, when we met up at the pub, tickets were produced to check how
far from one another we would be seated. I'd bought our two tickets at the
Box Office. I'd asked the bloke at the counter which tickets were avoilable
and then phoned Rona to get her to check on the plan of the stadium, where
exactly the available seats were. Having made my decision, I went back to
the Box Office, but apparently the bloke had made a mistake and the tickets
I wanted weren't actually available. So I took the cheapest on offer (only
15 quid, a couple of blocks nearer to the corner, thinking that there would
be so many empty seats in our end of the ground, we would be able to mooch
round to sit somewhere better.

However this didn't prove to be the case. Obviously our end wasn't full, but
there were far more Gooners there than I, or anyone else I believe,
expected. Our seats were perfectly adequate as you get a pretty good view
wherever you sit in this stadium. Kev's mates had booked their tickets over
the phone and it turned out that they were not only in the same price range,
the same block, the same row but out of the 72,500 seats in the Millennium
Stadium, our tickets were for the two seats directly next to their three!!

Perhaps we should all dash out and buy lottery tickets
Big Love

He Who Laughs Last….!

If there was one thing Sunday's Community Shield proved, it was
that while Roman Abramovich might be able to fritter away his millions
chasing silverware, the one thing Chelsea can't buy is supporters. We
Gooners might as well have season tickets, the amount of times we've
schlepped down the M4 to Cardiff in recent times. So I was a bit concerned
there might be an embarrassingly small turn out at our end of the Millennium
Stadium on Sunday. Whereas I would have expected Chelsea fans to be
travelling to Wales in their hordes, considering it was their first
opportunity to celebrate their only title triumph in half a century.

There were odd empty spaces in the Arsenal end but there was
nothing like the astonishing sight of the almost entirely deserted middle
terrace behind the goal where the Blues fans were sat, or the huge swathes
of empty seats elsewhere at that end of the ground. Considering Abramovich's
generous nature (£23 million for Shaun Wright-Phillips!), one might have
thought they would have given away all those spare tickets, rather than have
us taunting this miserable turn-out with "are you Blackburn in disguise?".

As far as events on the pitch were concerned, the object of the
exercise might be to win the game, but from what I could gather on leaving
the ground after a single goal defeat, most Gooners were doing their best
"am I bovvered?" Catherine Tate impersonations. First off, as far as omens
go for the season ahead, winning this worthless bit of silverware could
hardly count as auspicious, considering how unsuccessful previous winners
have been in the subsequent campaign. Secondly we might have afforded the
opposition two opportunities to take advantage of some slipshod defending,
but I don't think there's any argument which of the two teams played the
more entertaining football.

What's more if I travelled to the game with some trepidation that
Chelsea's incessant spending was going to make it impossible for us to
compete, such worries have since been assuaged by a performance on Sunday
which suggests that there is still little to choose between these two sides.
However it was obvious to me that Chelsea might have one important advantage
over us. From the way the Blues set about hungrily hunting down the ball in
twos and threes, it would appear that Mourinho's array of talented purchases
have ensured that all his players are only too aware that they are playing
for their places, Unfortunately Arsène doesn't have the luxury of equally
competent players competing for every position on the park. As a result he
is going to have to find some way of ensuring complacency doesn't raise its
ugly head, amongst those who might believe their place on the teamsheet is a
little too secure.

What's more, I have to give credit where its due. Despite all our
trickery, Chelsea managed to produce a marvelously resolute defensive
performance, to the extent that I recall Thierry Henry's tireless efforts
only resulting in one single clear sight of the target. Consequently one
can't help but wonder if Terry, Gallas and Makalele are capable of
nullifying the threat of one of the greatest players on this planet, what
hope is there of the likes of West Brown and Wigan scoring against them. In
saying that, Chelsea's defensively minded players know full well that they
need to be at the very top of their game to prevent themselves being
outwitted by Henry. Whereas football wouldn't be nearly such thrilling fare,
if it wasn't capable of throwing up such surprises, as those which might
occur when a lapse of concentration allows the likes of Wigan the
opportunity to embarrass their betters.

In all honesty I am far more optimistic now, than I was going into
a game, where I expected a midfield of Pires and Flamini to be overrun by
Lampard and co. Thankfully Arsène was able to abandon his experiment with
Pires in the centre of the park. Instead the young Cesc Fabregas not only
served up a reminder of his talented footballing brain, but also produced a
combative performance, which suggests he is quite capable of making up for
what he might lack in stature, with his commitment. The possibility that
Pires might occupy a position which requires such industry and 'bottle'
seemed so bizarre, that I am now wondering if it was merely a ruse by Wenger
to make Robbie feel that he has a crucial role in our squad, rather than a
peripheral one, thereby scratching his 'itchy feet' and hopefully putting
his mind off the subject of the pots more cash which he might be proffered

I suppose we can't really complain. After a pitiful performance
against Man Utd in the FA Cup, we were fortunate to win the penalty shoot
out which saw us coming away from Cardiff with the trophy. So we didn't have
much right to whinge when the better team on the day weren't triumphant on
Sunday. Exiting the Millennium, we took a nostalgic look back at the
impressive scene of our almost annual encounters in recent years. FA Cup
semis aside (and perhaps the final - as few seem to think Wembley will be
ready in time), we might not be returning to Cardiff. I'm not sure I
would've gone on Sunday if there wasn't a sufficient number of months
between matches, for me to forget quite what a nightmare the journey can be.
While I certainly won't miss all the aggravation on the M4 motorway, I'm
sorry we might have seen the last of this superb stage for great sporting
occasions. Not to mention the sunny disposition of our hospitable Welsh

With both sets of fans returning East towards London, the journey
back was as bad as ever. It's ironic that after all this time, on perhaps
our last trip to the Millennium, I've finally discovered a route whereby one
can avoid the worst of the traffic. It might've meant driving 50 odd
additional miles, but on a warm day, with all the car windows open, the
scenic Welsh countryside was far more preferable to crawling along the
motorway in the company of gloating Chelsea fans. It was 10pm by the time we
approached the capital, exhausted after a trip of a couple of hours had
turned into a 5-hour trek. However as I headed around the North Circular,
the unmistakeable sight of Wembley stadium's arch dominating the skyline,
signalled that we were nearly home. It was a very welcome reminder that the
Arsenal's achievements in the future won't be accompanied with the prospect
of such an arduous outing to Wales.

Now we’ve got the hors d’oeuvres out of the way, Sunday’s match
has ensured that if I was at all anxious about my appetite before, I am now
starving for the main course.


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