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Tuesday 30 August 2005

Money Can't Buy Me Love

With the Scouser's playing the Abramovich B-team in the Super
Mickey Mouse Cup in Monaco (for the unenlightened, the Russian mafioso's oil
company, Sibneft, sponsors CSKA Moscow to the ‘small change’ tune of $18
mill!), the Gunners got a weekend off. So with no game between 24 Aug and 10
Sep what's a Gooner going to do for his footie fix, but go see how the other
half live. To be honest if it wasn't Spurs v Chelsea, where I had a feint
hope in our North London neighbours nicking some points off the Abaramovich
all-stars, I might’ve struggled to drag myself away from the gripping Test
match on TV. However wired for sound with my radio tuned to the amusing
eccentricities of the institution that is Test Match Special, I had a
relatively entertaining afternoon, watching one and listening to t'other.

Mind you if I had the misfortune to be a Chelsea fan, I certainly
wouldn't have needed to count on my closest Spurs mate being away on his
hols to secure a ticket. As far as I'm concerned, it sums up the Chelsea
situation quite succinctly that apparently they were still selling their
small allocation of tickets to the second biggest London derby of the
season, last Wednesday at the West Brom match! And if I wanted to sum Spurs
up I suppose I'd have to tell you about the traffic around White Hart Lane
last week, as their fans queued to have their picture taken with the league

One of the rare pleasures of going to a game as a relative neutral
party (shows how times have changed, 10 years ago I wouldn't have dreamt I'd
be going to White Hart Lane to lend my support to Spurs!) is the strange
sensation of being able to sit back and appreciate the footie, without all
the angst which goes with kicking every ball in a game involving the
Gunners. Although Saturday's game at the Lane wasn't exactly overflowing on
the entertainment front. It's a shame because as both teams fired some
tentative first few shots across the bows of the opposition in the first 20
there was a serious danger of a good game breaking out. That was until ref
Rob Styles intervened, with a ridiculous sending off. Surely there should be
some law to prevent pompous, limelight whores like Styles, spoiling a
perfectly sporting football occasion for 36,000 paying punters?

There wasn't a dirty tackle worthy of the name and by dishing out 5
yellows and a red, it was Styles needless card waving which would've been
culpable if this match had developed into a more fractious affair. Sure the
Egyptian's challenge was a mite aggressive and some might say he lead with
his elbow, But what's the worse that could've happened, a broken nose or a
bonk on the head. Personally I'd prefer they left the beautiful game alone.
But if the authorities are intent on stamping out anything, I would much
rather see referees react to Drogba diving all over the penalty area, than
the sort of manly assault by Mido, where there wasn't any intent to harm and
which is merely a symptom of the sort of intensity which makes British
football so much more enjoyable than some of the antiseptic fare seen on the
continent, where raising a stiffy is seen as foul play! I wondered whether
Styles had seen a replay of the incident at the break because he seemed to
spend the entire second half making incorrect decisions in favour of Spurs,
as some sort of paltry compensation

It was interesting seeing Carrick on Football Focus suggesting the
current Spurs side believes they can beat anyone. If the Lilywhites were
guilty of anything, it was that they showed Chelsea too much respect, even
when it was 11 v 11. Although it's understandable considering the amount of
quality throughout the Chelsea squad and as we all know, confidence is
everything in football. While Chelsea were content to knock the ball about,
patiently awaiting an opening, despite a decent atmosphere at White Hart
Lane as a result of their optimistic start to the season, it felt is if
there was an abiding mood of fatalism, where both fans (who haven't seen
their team win against Chelsea in 18 years at White Hart Lane) and players
alike were in fear of the crucial mistake which might gift the Blues a goal.

Then again if the Gunners deferred to the Blues ability by starting
with a lone striker at the Bridge, then it's unlikely lesser opposition are
going to be any more gung-ho.

However sadly I've seen Chelsea beat us twice and Spurs once in
recent weeks and even without my "red currant" tinted specs, I have to tell
you I'm glad that I get to be entertained by the Arsenal on a regular basis,
rather than suffer the somewhat boring Blues. They say winning is everything
but perhaps there's a good reason why the champions struggle to sell a
couple of thousand seats to a game on the other side of the capital?

The consensus of opinion suggests that we'll struggle to unseat the
current champions, but at least when the Arsenal are on fire, as we saw in
the second half against Fulham, we play with a joie de vivre which is an
absolute joy to watch. Whereas to my mind Mourinho now has so much ability
at his disposal, that his side doesn't need to display their skills. They
appear to be able to get away with playing a percentage game, where, with
Drogba's speed and immense strength, they can simply keep hitting long
balls, knowing that eventually one will pay off. What's more, even if their
opponents manage to hold them at bay for the first-half, they then face the
demoralising sight of £70 million quids worth of substitutes waiting their
turn after the break. Although to my mind it seems somewhat criminal that
Mourinho's many million pounds worth of midfield talent are all left
suffering with neck ache, from watching the ball fly over their bonces for
most of the match.

Down to ten men and conceding a goal just before the break,
defeatist habits prevailed, as the bloke beside me suggested we might as
well go home now. With little to lose, personally I would have preferred to
see the Lilywhites throw caution to the wind in an effort to level the
match. I guess Jol decided he'd rather try to keep the score respectable,
than suffer a confidence shattering defeat. Although I sincerely hope that
someone has the 'cahones' to really take this Chelsea team on sometime soon.
Otherwise they’re likely to develop the same aura of invincibility they had
last season, where squad rotation might be the only danger of disruption.
We’d be left relying on disquiet in their dressing room, amongst those who
are desperate to secure a highly-prized seat on a plane to Germany next

Meanwhile as we departed White Hart Lane I made the preposterous
suggestion that perhaps this one horse race should be handicapped (where on
earth would they put the saddle weights?). At least this would give Mourinho
a little more to think about. Despite his suggestions that the season is
only just getting started, it would appear that the arrogant git is already
in a sufficiently secure comfort zone after only the first few opening
salvoes. With Bridge and Cesc the only Chelsea players not disappearing
during the international break (perhaps joined by John Terry - I felt more
than a little ashamed as the words left my mouth but when Terry went down
injured I couldn't help myself from suggesting that I hoped it was nothing
trivial!), their manager is away on his holyers.

Special my ass! Not that everyone else has the luxury of switching
off during a sunshine break but they could all afford a ten day skive, if
they had the millions at Mourinho's disposal, even Graham Souness! Although
I can't imagine Arsène Wenger or many other Premiership managers wanting
away from their footballing world, only two weeks into a new season.

Watching the Blues consistently bypass their midfield might be
boring and predictable, compared to the Arsenal's attractive play, but I'll
happily admit to being green with Gooner envy. Although not (yet!) so bitter
and twisted that I'm unable to enjoy the latest ditty doing the rounds on
the internet


After sweating out the climax to another incredible Test Match on
Sunday, I found myself engrossed in the opening round of Serie A (Football
Italia has found its way on to Bravo this season). I imagine Patrick Vieira
might well prosper amidst the 'slow, slow, quick' style of Italian footie,
compared to the more exhausting pace of a relentless Premiership. However it
was very hard to witness Paddy's imposing presence, directing midfield
traffic for the old lady of Turin. One would expect him to look a little
awkward, in bed with his new black & white striped sugar mummy. Instead of
which I was like a jealous voyeur, watching an old flame’s calm, assured
display in his Serie A debut, disappointed that he and his new teammates
performed like long term bedfellows.

There are always empty spaces in the 70,000 seater Stadio Del Alpi.
Although it was surprising to see such vast expanses of unsold seats for the
Italian champions first home game. The 'tifosi' sounded in fine voice on TV,
yet it was more interesting to note that amongst the many banners lauding
the extremely popular likes of Del Piero, Nedved and Ibrahimovic, there
wasn't a single sign proclaiming their love of their similarly prolific
stars Trezeguet, Thuram, Emerson or Vieira! Who'd want to be a black player
entertaining all the 'facisti' amongst these Italian fans?


Hi folks

We can't really justify the expense of any of the European away matches but
old habits die hard and so I was sat in front of the TV last Thursday, my
fingers poised over the laptop, ready for the frantic keyboard pressing
session necessary to try and suss out the cheap flights between when the
draw was made and the actual dates of the games announced an hour or so

We've already seen us play Ajax in Amsterdam and Switzerland has a
reputation for being a fairly pricy place to visit, although I would have
quite liked to visit the Wankdorf Stadium to watch the match against FC
Thun. But I'd decided that we couldn't really afford the cost of schlepping
to the opening group games, that was until Sparta Prague came out of the

Having missed out on the match there last time we played and with Prague
having a reputation as such an interesting city, I thought I would at least
check out our options (as I did with the other two destinations). Once I'd
found 50 quid return flights with Easyjet, it wasn't long before I'd changed
my mind

I was thinking that having schlepped all over Europe these past few seasons,
following the Arsenal's unsuccessful exploits in the Champions League, the
laws of Sod and Murphy were bound to prevail, in as much as the first season
I stopped travelling to the away matches (and with the Arsenal pretty much
already written off by most of the pundits) this was bound to guarantee our

So if we should fail miserably again, you now know you can blame my
irresponsible spontaneity, in deciding to go to Prague. Meanwhile, we nearly
didn't make it. I sat here hitting the "refresh" button on my broswer a
couple of times every minute, waiting for the actual dates of the games to
be announced, as experience has proved that they invariably appear online

In the end I got up to make something to eat, believing that the act of
leaving the computer and being distracted by satisfying my belly, might
instigate the announcement. But it appears that the "refresh" button on my
browser wasn't doing the job and I was more than a little surprised to
receive a text message from a pal who was interested in travelling as well.

The fact that he was assuming I'd already know the dates was bad news, as it
meant that the info must have been available for more than a couple of
minutes. So by the time I struggled to hit the "confirm" button on the
Easyjet website, without transferring the remains of half my sandwich from
my buttery fingers to the keyboard, the fifty pounders had long since been
snapped up, I assume by Gooners who'd been quicker of the mark (I am sure
Easyjet must have about twenty different price levels on each plane, with
only a few seats available at each!). The total inclusive price had already
doubled and at just over a ton for each of us, my mate decided it was no
longer such a cheap outing and I was grateful that at least one of us was
being sensible.

So having already hung up on the phone to him, after deciding that we
wouldn't bother going, I glanced at the pages of notes I'd scribbled during
my fairly pointless search and recalled that I'd also seen some flights
offered by Czech airlines. Despite the fact that they took off from the
conveniently located Stansted, I'd dismissed them previously because they
were pricier than Easyjet, but when I went back to the web site and
re-checked, they still had availability at 80 quid.

When I phoned my mate back, it seems the 20 quid difference was just enough
to swing the deal and suddenly the three of us were off to Prague again. I
hurriedly dug out the plastic, praying I'd be able to make the booking in
time before my reservation timed-out and tapped in all the relevant details.
However in the instant I hit the confirm button, I noticed on the screen
that I'd entered the name on the card with a "u" at the end instead of a
"y". But it was too late to do anything and for a minute or so I sat here
cursing my impatient failure to check the details first. I was panicking
that the incorrect spelling would mean that the booking wouldn't be accepted
and in the time it was going to take to repeat the entire booking, the cheap
seats were bound to disappear.

Mercifully the Czech Airlines computer didn't baulk at my bad spelling and I
breathed a huge sigh of relief to finally see the confirmation page.
Unbelievably, I became so engrossed in sorting out this trip that I
completely forgot about the Test match and after the flights were confirmed,
I spent the next few hours pouring over web sites offering accommodation in
Prague. It wasn't until after the close of play that I suddenly realised I
missed all the exciting opening day action from Trent Bridge.

Come Friday we were sitting having our regular Friday night dinner round at
my Ma's house (the one night a week I am guaranteed a bit of protein and
some respite from Ro's veggy preferences) and I announced that we were off
to Prague. It was only when I confirmed the dates out loud that Ro announced
in horror that the 18th October was just about the due date for her second

I was completely knackered by the time we returned home and I wasn't
planning on even opening the laptop for fear of finding myself stuck in
front of it for a few hours, when all I wanted was an early night. However I
thought to myself that it might be best to fire off an e-mail to the
airline, as if I was going to get any sympathy with regard to cancellation,
or a name change, the sooner after making the booking, the better.

I was halfway through typing a few lines when my computer froze and when I
rebooted I was mortified to see the dreaded question mark on my screen. On
an Apple Mac, the question mark at start-up means it can't find the hard
drive for some reason and computer aggro doesn't come much worse than this.

As a result I sat here until five in the morning, at one point terrified I'd
lost everything, but never more grateful when I managed to sort it out
(thanks to being able to use my iPod as the only thing I could find from
which I could start-up the machine). So much for an early night. The again,
it wasn't as if I needed to be in fine form the following dat, as I wasn't
about to be joining in with "Glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur!"

Meanwhile any Gooners out there fancy seeing the Gunners play in Prague?
Peace & Love


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