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Wednesday 5 October 2005

Tuffers & Tommy from Corrie or Trezeguet & Robinho? No Contest!

The misguided suits at the helm of the good ship Premiership might be completely oblivious to the potential grounding of their treasure laden vessel, should they continue to sail straight towards the sandbanks of extortionate ticket prices, with a passenger list full of the football fans whose addiction to this particular cruise could be cured by the aversion therapy of an unexpurgated and unremitting TV diet of round-the-clock live transmissions of almost every bloomin' match on the continent.

I would hope that the assorted helmsmen might pay some heed to the many calls to man the lifeboats. However the hull of the Premiership's floating palace will remain intact so long as 42,000 hardy souls continue to forsake their Sunday morning lie-ins, or their weekly devotions to the omnipotent one, to worship their false footballing gods instead. Considering the 11.15 KO at the City of Manchester Stadium was live (on pay-per-view) and the bottom feeding Toffees are about the least entertaining team in the league, I was gobsmacked that this huge ground was only a few thousand short of capacity. So much for a crisis! Mind you it's a shame more Man City fans didn't take the lead of one of their number and all turn up in their PJs as a protest.

Many of the weekend's unpredictable matches proved to be a timely reminder to all those in the media who've been so quick to regale us with their overblown obituaries for the beautiful game. From the thrilling 5 goal fiesta in the first 45 at Fulham, to Spurs revival at the Valley, with Martin Jol earning begrudging admiration even amongst us Gooners, by refusing to settle for a draw, after recouping a 2 goal deficit and gambling on all 3 points by bringing on a 3rd striker. Moreover I doubt the bookies will have taken a big hit on the first player to find the onion bag on Sunday, as Danny Mills broke the deadlock for the Sky Blues, scoring his first in nearly 3 years.

I'm glad that Paddy Power apart, no one else in their right mind sets too much store by the league tables prior to Xmas. Chelsea's considerable points advantage should be cause for concern. But fortunately whilst Charlton and Spurs remain in 2nd & 3rd, I can't keep a straight face, let alone take the table seriously. Thank heavens we aren't at the business end of the season yet, as I'd have been tearing my hair out trying to stay abreast of Sunday's events. Five different KO times for each of the 5 games must be a first, even for Murdoch's meddlesome maniacs.

I just had time to see Vassell clinch the points for City before I set off for Highbury. My terrace tranny told the amazing tale of Wigan's continued success, in a game that started half an hour before us, while we were on route home when I heard the Villa fans vocalising their utter disgust over their worst ever start to a season, well before the final whistle blew on their miserable defeat 30 minutes after ours

Sadly, subsequent to the splendid unpredictability of all this entertainment, the Scousers failed to round off my footballing weekend when they and Chelsea contrived to produce the most obvious outcome of them all. I suppose it could've been worse, as the Blues relentless pursuit of yet another 3 points would've been far more traumatic if we'd failed to put one past Birmingham's Maik Taylor.

It didn't stop me doing a joyful little jig and high-five-ing it with everyone, as our ancient stadium rocked with an explosion of relief as the net bulged with only 9 minutes left on the clock. Yet having held us at bay almost single-handed up until this climactic point, such was the admiration for Taylor's astonishing display of agility and reflexes, most Gooners had more than a modicum of sympathy when he finally succumbed in such a klutz like fashion.

In truth it was always going to take a fluke to beat the Brum keeper, as he'd kept a clean sheet in the face of a barrage of the very best we had to offer. And I'm not including Pires' rather lame penalty amongst these. When Robbie side-footed home a rather flaccid penalty against Ajax last week, I wondered whether he'd cunningly read the direction of the keeper's dive But with Sunday's equally reserved repeat performance, it was obvious his spot-kicks were more gormless than guileful.

When it eventually came, Van Persie's strike might've just been missing the target, until the deflection caused it to bobble past Brum's stranded keeper. But unlike some of his more shot shy teammates, as they say, at least Robin 'bought a ticket'. However it would've been very harsh if we'd failed to win. Having created so many opportunities, who knows how dented our confidence could've been if we'd gone into the International break feeling bitter about a game which would've been a complete trouncing if it wasn't for Taylor's impressive athleticism.

I was beginning to think it was going to be one of those days, where we'd spend the entire game battering at Brum's door in vain, only for Heskey to make a single break down the other end and the ball to bobble in off his knee, as the visitors stole the points with their only chance of the match. And it would've been all my fault!

I was already feeling dreadfully guilty about the empty seat beside me. Due to her not feeling 100%, Rona decided to stop at home at the last minute. Our Arsenal expenses have left me so skint that instead of knocking for the lad who lives downstairs, I decided to take a gamble on flogging her ticket on my way around to the West Upper. I should've known better because I'm so loathe to be mistaken for a tout, that the market is limited to extremely late, psychic Gooners capable of instinctively knowing I had a ticket going begging.

My dear old dad indoctrinated me with his 'never buy from touts' principle. I guess that since I'm fortunate to have a ticket for most games, over the years I've become oblivious to the ubiquitous presence of this pond scum. Their "anyone need a ticket?" sales patter blends into the general cacophony of the pre-match ballyhoo. But from the disparaging glances one gets when forced, in all innocence, to utter aloud a similar query, it feels as if you're trying to tempt folks with an offer of incurable leprosy. And it's downright bizarre to dread being taken for an odious touting brigand to such an extent, that unbelievably I end up unable to literally give away one of the best seats in the house with a face value of an extortionate 70 quid!

The longer the game went on without a goal on Sunday, the worse I felt for not bringing young Jamal and the more I became convinced that my avarice was about to cost the Arsenal a couple of points. Apparently I must've earned sufficient credits on the karma meter to cover this indiscretion. There was a couple sitting some rows back on a first ever pilgrimage to Highbury all the way from Singapore. I'd managed to hook them up with a pal with spare tickets. Ultimately I was extremely relieved that they were able to celebrate a goal and an enjoyable (albeit nerve wracking) victory, if only to ensure that superstition didn't result in the Chongs struggling to find tickets on any future trips.

I'm beginning to perceive a perverse mood of optimism amongst us Gooners, which is indirectly proportionate to they way in which so many of the pundits have already written us off in both the Premiership and the Champions League. Personally I hope all the bookies pay up prematurely and the media continues to belittle our prospects, as there are those in the Arsenal squad who could do with a little more fire in their bellies. It's been a while since we last savoured the exploits of an Arsenal side with their backs against the wall, coming out with all guns blazing to turn the odds upside down. Heaven only knows it's going to take something special if we're to expect the continued loyalty of Thierry Henry, the Arsenal's absolute prize asset.

Meanwhile with the spectacle of the world's greatest footballing talents on offer on TV Sunday night, I struggled to choose between watching Juve v Inter and Madrid v Mallorca. But no sooner had Juve and Madrid gained an advantage of more than the odd goal, than I found myself completely engrossed in the exploits of 'Do I Not Like That' Taylor and his squad of celebrity wannabes in The Match on Sky One. Go figure!
Arsenal FC 1-0 Parma AC
UEFA Cup Winners' Cup Final, Wednesday 04 May 1994
Parken Stadium, Copenhagen

Team Line-Ups
Arsenal FC
1 SEAMAN David (G)
4 DAVIS Paul
5 BOULD Steve
6 ADAMS Anthony (C)
8 MORROW Stephen
9 SMITH Alan
10 MERSON Paul
11 SELLEY Paul
13 MILLER Alan (G)
12 LINIGHAN Andrew
15 PARLOUR Raymond
16 DICKOV Paul
Head Coach

Parma AC
1 BUCCI Luca (G)
3 DI CHIARA Alberto
4 MINOTTI Lorenzo (C)
6 SENSINI Roberto Néstor
7 BROLIN Tomas
8 PIN Gabriele
9 CRIPPA Massimo
10 ZOLA Gianfranco
11 ASPRILLA Faustino
12 BALLOTTA Marco (G)
14 BALLERI David
15 ZORATTO Daniele
16 MELLI Alessandro
Head Coach


Hi folks

I nearly fell over the other day, when someone pointed out that the Arsenal are laying on a complimentary coach trip to Sunderland for the Carling Cup game. If that wasn't a sufficient shock, they've now announced ticket prices as £5 adults, £1 kids. Whatever next? A reduction in season ticket prices? (although ones imagination can only stretch so far!)

It's an admirable experiment, although I'm unsure if the motives are quite so well intentioned. Carling Cup ticket prices have tended to be reduced (for home games at least), ever since Arsene began a habit of giving the youngsters a run out in this competition but I somehow doubt they will be as cheap as a fiver for adults and a quid for kids for any home games in this tournaments (that is if we beat the Black Cats!). The offer of free coaches could just be because the club are afraid of an embarrassing turn out and it will be interesting indeed to see how many are attracted by the offer (although I guess we'll never know how many more are going to go than if the coaches weren't free)

As far as I am aware Sunderland have been one of the clubs with the most enlightened pricing policy for some years now. Who knows, it might just be ever since they moved to the Stadium of Light and needed to try and fill a substantial number of seats but I do recall being suitably impressed back in the early nineties, when I discovered that kids season tickets were available for an amazingly affordable price (it might even have been under a hundred quid a season back then).

Considering how the Arsenal are currently concentrating almost exclusively on marketing the new stadium to their most affluent fans (I am sure as centre block season ticket holders in the upper tier, we were supposed to have received our invitations to choose our seats already - so if you are seated anywhere else in the ground, it appears they are already behind schedule!), I guess it was naïve of me to have some hopes that the wealthy Gooners who are able to stump up up to an incredible £25k a season for Diamond Class, might end up subsidising a more ethical pricing policy that would encourage more people to bring their kids to the new stadium

As it stands at the moment, kids prices are only available in the Family Enclosure, which is I believe almost impossible to get a seat in. Moreover I am under the impression that you have to attend with an adult, so if you have a season ticket elsewhere, it is impossible to take your kids unless you pay full whack for them (or buy an additional ticket for yourself in the family enclosure, which kind of defeats the object).

I can only hope someone is addressing this situation as far as the new stadium is concerned (although from the general levels of apathy about all matters relating to our new ground, sadly I kind of have my doubts! And if everyone's awaiting someone like myself, the king of all procrastinators, to speak up for them, then we are all in big trouble!). I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's not a charitable decision to offer kids reduced prices. You only have to scan the crowd at Highbury these days to appreciate that ours is a rapidly ageing audience. This is all the more noticeable at games like Thun in the Champions League and the Carling Cup, where suddenly the increased availability of tickets results in a substantial number of kids coming to the games

Surely if you attract a youngster to live football before the age of sixteen, the club is guaranteeing itself a lifetimes worth of income from this new fan which will far outweigh the measely reduction they might have received?

But I am feeling like a broken record when it comes to griping about my various grievances about the new stadium and I'd better stop before you lift the needle. I just grow ever more disillusioned by the feeling that so few people actually give a stuff. Not that I am so naïve to think we are able to have any real control over the future of what is and always will be OUR club, but if there ever was a chance of us exerting any influence, when reality does eventually bite (since nautical metaphors seem to be a theme this week - see below) that particular boat will have long since sailed.

As far as football matters are concerned, I don't know whether it's just me, but I think I've perceived a far less fateful mood around THOF recently. I am sure I mentioned it even before we started our Champions League campaign (as I wouldn't want you to think I was jumping on anyone else's bandwagon) but I've had this inkling that having had so much pressure on us at the start of previous campaigns, with expectations raised so high, there's a feeling that we've nothing to lose this season. Where recently we've been amongst many pundits' favourites at the start of our campaign, this season we were written off before we started "Arsenal, they always under perform in Europe" and that was before we lost the best midfielder on the planet!

I wouldn't dare tempt fate by saying we are going to win it but I get the feeling that other Gooners are coming around to the idea that perhaps, just perhaps, we might exceed the extremely limited expectations and surprise a few people

In the past my pessimistic philosophy was to expect nothing, and then I was never disappointed and everything up from that was a result. However this was gleaned after so many seasons of watching Arsenal sides that brooked little comparison with some of our star-studded continental opponents. You'll have to forgive me but I always hark back to our Cup Winner Cup triumph in Copenhagen, as my personal experiences that season have ensured that this entire campaign has been indelibly imprinted on my memory.

I am sure I've bored you with the tale before, but we were fortunate to be a bit flush that season and it was in the days when us mere mortals could still just about afford to travel on the exec trips, whose greatest selling point was being able to fly on the same plane as the players (I think I saw them advertise a similar trip the other day on the jumbo screens but these days if we're lucky enough to pick up cheap flights, it is costing us the same as we used to pay to travel on the exec and the astronomic cost of the exec trips are I believe about the price of what we were then paying for our entire season ticket!)

Mercifully we managed to be together enough to take a camera with us and I've just been fingering through a treasured photo album which catalogues the entire campaign match by match. Jaysus when I think how chuffed I was then to be rubbing shoulders with the mere mortals in this squad. This was in the days prior to the Wenger revolution, when there was definitely still a distinct drinking culture around the Arsenal team and I was always amazed to see the rate at which the players consumed those small, airplane sized, cans of lager on their way home from midweek games - Arsene would have had a heart attack!

I could probably prattle on ad infinitum with all my many anecdotes, but my biggest disappointment was that I didn't have the balls to walk into the karsey with the camera when we landed at Luton (or wherever). The lads would stream into the arrivals hall and head straight for the bogs and I was always dying to follow them in with the camera, as it would have made a great shot to have whistled and catch the entire team turning around as they were lined up at the urinals.

Meanwhile the reason for dragging up my ancient memories is that we were fortunate on the plane home from Copenhagen, as Tony Adams climbed aboard with the trophy and immediately passed it back to us, the fifty odd fans on the flight. Luckily we were near the front, so we got our hands on it, before someone from the club got a little 'didgy' a came back to retrieve it (I don't know where he thought we would be going with it at fifty thousand feet!). Now when I look at the photos from that night, taken on the plane, I have pictures of Kevin Campbell in a shocking red wig, Paul Dickov, Ray Parlour, Ian Selley.

Admittedly we were fortunate to have our famous defence in place, but with Ian Wright hobbling along on crutches (I am not sure many of today's stars would have flown out to Copenhagen, coming along just for the 'craic'?) no one gave us much of a chance against a Parma side who were defending the trophy. In fact I've just looked up the two line-ups, just to remind myself. (I've copied them at the end of this mail in case you are interested) and I recall that few of us fancied the chances of the likes of Morrow, Selley and Campbell against the likes of Zola, Sensini and Asprilla (even the baby faced Tomas Brolin was considered a star player in those days -before he eat all the pies).

Poor old Arsene Wenger made the mistake of spoiling me. Looking at that line-up back in '94, I could have never imagined that in the short space of four years I'd be seeing a Daily Mirror with the front page "Arsenal Win The World Cup" and that we'd be so incredibly privileged to be witnessing the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira trot out in red & white every week. Players of such incredible natural ability are a million miles from the relative dross we'd become accustomed to with Mcgoldrick. Morrow and Selley (although unlike some of our current star names, while they might have been well short on ability by the comparison, I can never recall criticising the latter two for a lack of commitment!!)

Such was the change in my mindset that a couple of seasons back, when it came to the Champions League, I was convinced this had to be our season! And so in some respects I am looking forward to the current campaign. Everyone loves an underdog and I am hoping that we will continue to be written off to such an extent that we might see the development of the sort of backs to the wall team spirit which brought the trophy back from Copenhagen.

Although I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if in the meantime, fate has set in store for us an encounter with Juve at some stage. I received a text message on Sunday night from someone who was also finding it uncomfortable watching Patrick Vieira performing in the black and white stripes of the Old Lady of Turin. Patrick seems to have found the ideal playing partner in Emerson alongside him in midfield, as the latter's defensive nature appears to have freed Paddy up to produce some of the sort of fabulous football which was originally responsible for him developing one of the most fearsome reputations in the game.

Paddy's departure has hit every Gooner hard because if you think about it, it's been a long time since we last lost a player who was quite such an integral part of our squad, who wasn't distinctly on the downward cycle of his career. Other than those we've lost as kids (like Andy Cole) who was the last player to leave Arsenal and go on to have a more successful stage of their career elsewhere? You have to dig way back into the history books!

I was told in a subsequent conversation that his performance for Juve was a reminder quite what our midfield has been missing this season. However this is an unfair comparison because the Paddy we are watching play for Juve today is certainly not the same Paddy who was marking time, merely going through the motions at Highbury for much of his last two seasons.

I guess I use it so often that I should really make an effort to find out which particular footballing sage originally said it, but once again I repeat the mantra which states that every five years you need to change either your team, or your manager. And I guess Vieira was evidence of this, as he had no doubt become somewhat stale at Highbury. I suppose it's an inevitable fact of life that no matter what you do, no matter if you are one of the fortunate people who happens to enjoy what they do for a living, eventually everything becomes a chore if repeated often enough.

To be honest I am pleased for Paddy. Let's face it, it could be a lot worse, as he could be rubbing it in our faces every week, if he'd have gone to Chelsea and found himself reinvigorated. But I happen to think it would've been something of a criminal waste for him to have done a Marcel Desailly, turning out each week for Arsenal and just doing enough to justify his presence, when we all know he's capable of so much more. And in this respect, considering how much pleasure he gave me over the years, I am pleased for him that he appears to have rediscovered his hunger and passion for the game. It's just a crying shame that he's not doing it in red & white!

As far as Titi is concerned, rumour has it that he will be off next summer. Can you imagine if the Arsenal end up playing their first game at their spanking state of the art football stadium, without a single star name to serve up for all those punters who stumped up thousands of pounds for their posh seats!! If this should prove to be the case, I certainly hope their private restaurant are serving up particularly haute cuisine :-)

In truth I can understand Henry expressing his dissatisfaction. He's seen his French teammate depart for pastures new, with the club showing no signs of coughing up the necessary to replace him - and if Baptista was the supposed replacement, to date Real Madrid's experiments at playing the Beast in a midfield role don't really suggest that this would've been the answer. What's more rumours were rife during the summer that Pires wanted out and my feeling is (although I've no actual facts to base this on!) that the club probably went out of their way to persuade Robbie to stay because they knew they couldn't afford to lose both Vieira and Pires at the same time.

I guess we might find out next summer, but I am of the opinion that some sort of deal might have been done to convince Robbie to stay for one more season with a mutual agreement that he can leave with no bad feeling before next season (and I've seen nothing from his somewhat lacklustre performances this season to convince me that I am wrong!!). However I can't imagine the reaction if both he and Henry were to walk in the summer.

Here's hoping that Titi is just using his power as the club's prize asset in order to exert some leverage upon those in charge of the purse strings. Let's face it, a player of his calibre, who is right at the top of the tree when it comes to a list of "most wanted" and who can only expect to remain there for a limited number of years, he has every right to demand some sort of statement of intent by which the club can demonstrate that their ON FIELD ambitions match his. Moreover the idea of Thierry having itchy feet is magnified by this image I have of him sitting alone in his favourite Hampstead coffee shop, raising a latte to the absent friends who would've previously occupied the other chairs at his table

Considering Thierry has been an almost ever present in the Arsenal line-up these past couple of seasons, I guess he was due (according to the law of averages), if not over due a spell in the treatment room and no doubt this has left him with far too much time on his hands, without the usual physical exertions which would leave him falling into his bed, without spending hours channel hoping through the entire gammut of continental and intercontinental football we find on our screens these days, wondering whether the grass might indeed be greener elsewhere.

If Arsene didn't already have enough problems! One thing's for certain, this season certainly won't be dull, as Wenger faces the biggest challenge yet of his Arsenal career. When Roy Keane announced he'd be leaving Utd the other day, it occurred to me that the departure of Utd and their manager's rock, might indeed precipitate Fergie's retirement (for real!). I also can't help but wonder if the only reason Wenger hasn't decided to walk away is due to the fact that he is such a gentleman.

When I recall the sight of him losing his rag on the touchline at Boro, when in the past our phlegmatic Prof would have remained on the bench, I get the distinct impression that he isn't having quite as much fun as before. Although it's obvious that it's never going to be the same barrel of laughs when looking down the wrong end of our cannon. The thing is that Wenger was such a principal instigator of the new stadium project, that it might never have happened if it wasn't for the impetus he and the success of his Arsenal team, gave the whole scheme. And as such, I imagine Arsene feels a responsibility to see the project through. He's certainly not the sort to walk out halfway through.

I've criticised Arsene in the past. I am as mystified as the next Gooner by some of his decisions and I happen to believe that he makes some assumptions about players when they reach the stage of being good enough for selection for the Arsenal first XI, in that they've already learnt their trade. And if he has some weaknesses, it might be that he doesn't hold much stock in the sort of regimented training routines which could benefit our defence.

However any of us Gooners who are long in the tooth to have endured some of the comparative dross of the past, we should be prostrating ourselves in gratitude before this man who has managed to work relative miracles with (financially speaking) both hands tied behind his back. If we are lucky, the club might find some way of hanging on to him for a good few more years but I reckon he might well have already made his mind up to see the new stadium project through to completion before taking his leave

If so, I would guess this wont be until we are settled in our new home. Can you imagine the clamour for Club Level refunds, or the faces of corporate managers responsible for stumping up the fortunes for Exec Boxes, having been looking forward to puffing out their chests with pride, as they invite all their jealous customers to their swanky new facility only to find a team full of kids, with no Vieira, Pires, Henry and Wenger :-) -if it wasn't for not wanting to tempt fate I would have said it would almost be worth it just to see their faces and no I am not having a pop at genuine Gooners who are fortunate to have bagged a Club Level pitch, as I am as jealous as hell!

Finally (phew!), a mate of mine was laughing when I told him that I turned over the TV on Sunday night and instead of the world's best talents performing live in Italy and Spain, I found myself watching a load of clod-hopping wannabe footballers on Sky's The Match as mentioned below (but I guess I felt the need to justify myself :-). He was telling me that this reminded him of a discussion he had about an idea to set up a camera on Hackney Marshes to film various Sunday league games.

I guess this all goes to prove that since most of the media have never paid for a football ticket in their lives and as a result most of them have their heads stuck so far up their backsides that they could never truly appreciate that the beautiful game is destined to outlive humanity itself, while genuine fans are happy as larry when they can opine about anyone and everyone kicking a ball about (me more than most!!)

Here's wishing all our muslim brothers well over their Ramadan fasting and a happy and healthy New Year to my fellow 'four by twos'
Peace & Love

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