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Wednesday, 16 November 2005

Never Mind Blowing, We’d Better Be Up For Bursting Some Bubbles This Weekend

Never Mind Blowing,
We’d Better Be Up For Bursting Some Bubbles This Weekend

Our club has offered reduced prices for Carling Cup matches in recent years. Yet after seeing the sensational 46,000 odd turn out for the last round in Sunderland, it’s great that the Arsenal have followed suit for our subsequent 4th round fixture against Reading. While they might not have instituted the admirable ‘kids for a quid’ scheme which inspired a full-house at the Stadium of Light, ticket prices of £20/10 for adults and £10/5 for kids will not only guarantee that Highbury is also heaving on the night, but for many Gooners it results in a rare chance of being able to afford to introduce their offspring to the joys of live footie.

This and the opportunity to witness the development of some of our much vaunted youngsters in a competitive environment are my customary reasons for hoping that we might progress in this particular tournament. I sincerely hope my fears prove unfounded, that ex-Arsenal trainee, Steve Sidwell could be inspired to come back and haunt us with Reading, as I’ve cause more than ever this year to hope for continued Carling Cup success.

One of the missus’ sisters was over from Dublin to meet our newborn grandson the other week. Cliona’s trip came with the added bonus of being able to use my seat for the Sparta Prague game, as I was fortunate to be offered a spare ticket in the East Lower, by a Gooner who I’d done a similar favour for in the past. However usually it’s only Carling Cup games that present an opportunity to sit somewhere other than our habitual marvellous Highbury pitch, as they are the only matches not included in our season tickets. So I’m hoping that our ongoing involvement in this competition might present me with the chance to work my way around the Home of Football, bidding a personal adieu to our ancient home, from each and every perspective the grand old stadium has to offer.

If this game should be televised, be sure to keep and eye out for us. On Friday I purchased two ten quid seats in the very front row of the North Bank, right behind the goal. And if the match goes to penalties, I’ll probably be the meshugana dropping my trousers, in my efforts to distract the Reading players!

Twenty quid for the two of us to watch a football match. If only the beautiful game was always so fairly priced, within reach of the average person’s pockets, as opposed to the extortionate140 quid we pay for our highly privileged Highbury pitch at every other match. Mind you if I’d dallied any longer over deciding where to sit, I’d have been forced to pay a fifty quid surcharge for our North Bank seats. My delight at bagging two together as close to the play as possible, immediately turned to dismay when to my horror, I turned around to find a traffic warden hovering around my motor.

There’s been such a furore in recent times over the despicable way in which local councils have abused parking regulations, merely as a means of raising revenue, with wardens indiscriminately taxing the public as they issue tickets willy-nilly, that these council employees now all appear to have been issued with digital cameras. Mercifully on this occasion I was back in my car and long gone before this warden was able to whip out his camera. In this respect I’m all for this new policy. In the past it would’ve been “sorry pal I’ve already written the ticket” and suddenly I would’ve had a whole lot more riding on what should otherwise be a rare unruffled Arsenal encounter.

Personally I’ve always contended that good PR aside, this reduction in ticket prices is sound economics. It doesn’t take a genius to sense a relatively urgent need for some regeneration of the Gooner audience. You only have to look around you at Highbury to appreciate the rapidly advancing average age. Most fans will confirm that although they might’ve once been somewhat dispassionate armchair viewers, you only have to savour the sensory overload of a single draught from the fountain of that live matchday atmosphere as a child to be intoxicated for life. Thus any one-off reduction in ticket revenues must be negligible, compared to the vast sums accrued over the course of a lifetime of replica shirts sales etc. etc. from those addicts hooked by their first Highbury hit.

Most other times I understand it takes military planning to obtain a general sale seat at Highbury, three months in advance of matches. Taking the kids is out of the question unless you can afford to pay full whack, as apparently it’s almost impossible to acquire any seats in our fun-sized family enclosure. At the AGM our bean counting MD was touting the fact that this will be increased to 4,500 at our marvellous new gaff (no one’s paying me to advertise an Arabic airline!). Yet to my mind its incredibly disappointing to think that less than 10% of the 60k capacity will be available as concession tickets.

The scissors principle of supply and demand was about the only topic that stuck during 2 years tedious study of economics. I therefore assume the club are disinclined to cater for kids, when they can flog the same seats at full price. Far be it from me to preach treason but if a fallow period on the pitch for the Arsenal was reflected in row upon row of vast empty spaces at our beautiful new stadium, at least this might come with the consolation of a child friendly pricing policy in order to fill all the seats vacated by the fair-weather fans.

It’s sad to think of generations of kids whose experience of live football is limited to perhaps an annual treat. They’ll know little of the joys of the sanctity of a football stadium on a Saturday afternoon, where a kid can participate in their parent’s effing and blinding at the officials, without any recrimination. Moreover there’s not much that can compare with the sort of bonding experience of the unbridled celebrations that accompany a great goal. Nor can there exist any more ‘quality time’ than sharing the traditional derby day battering of Tottenham.

The fondest memories of my suburban childhood back in the early 70s are related to the footballing rituals I shared with my own dear departed dad. He was a fan of the game, rather than just a devotee of the Gunners. So whether it was to White Hart Lane, or to Highbury, it always made my weekend when at Saturday lunchtime he’d suggest we stroll down to the main road, to wait for a passing acquaintance on route to the ground, to stop and give us a lift.

I pity the poor modern day progeny who’ll never get to experience the thrill of such spontaneous hedonism. A goalless draw was no disaster back then, as there was always next week. Whereas I guess kids these days spend months hoping that their heroes won’t be injured or suspended for their annual Highbury high and that they’re guaranteed some goals with their gold dust ticket.

Meanwhile those who schlepped to Switzerland on Saturday certainly weren’t disappointed. It made a pleasant change to actually find myself enjoying an England encounter. I was just disappointed the Argies’ side didn’t include the latest prodigy to inherit the Maradonna mantle, Barca’s in form Messi. While Sven left out Sol, elsewhere in the Alps, Senderos was scoring again with his bonce as the Swiss battled it out with the Turks in a crucial World Cup play-off.

For fans of clubs whose players are scattered to all four corners of the planet during these International breaks, it’s like watching an impending train wreck. Having already endured the sight of Clichy limping off at the Lane on Friday night as the French U21s drew with England and after Van Persie did himself a mischief in training with the Dutch, I found myself holding my breath every time Henry went anywhere near the ball in a fairly vigorous friendly between France and Germany.

At this crucial period, when our finely tuned star turns are stretching every last sinew in their efforts to impress their national coaches and bag a precious World Cup berth, you just pray that by the time the last stragglers report back to London Colney at the end of the week, the Arsenal aren’t going to end up bearing the brunt of all their International exertions. After all I certainly don’t expect us to finally burst the Wigan bubble just by turning up!

Hi Folks

I sat down to write my diary missive early Monday morning, before dashing off to earn some proper money and after such a great game between England and the Argies on Saturday and with Ireland having dropped off the International map with their unfortante World Cup exit, it proved a particularly awkward task. Writing this piece primarily for an Irish paper (well actually don't tell the sports editor, but in truth I'm writing with all you folk in mind and I'm just fortunate to be receiving some meagre recompense for my efforts at the same time!) I'd win few friends in the Emerald Isle if I produced a 1000 words on the World Cup prospects of the country that was responsible for so much misery over there. In the interests of diplomacy (not to mention self-preservation), I avoided the subject all together, apart from tacking on a couple of paragraphs towards the end, which I wouldn't be surprised to find edited out of the final version.

I'm the first to admit that for the most part, I consider International football little more than a nuisance that so often causes far too much disturbance as far as the Arsenal are concerned. Nevertheless when the time comes, doubtless I'll be glued to events in Germany next summer and there's no denying that I sat here savouring the last few minutes of Saturday's tasty appetiser with audible delight. No matter where your loyalties lie, I challenge any true lover of the beautiful game to remain impervious to the increasingly precocious talents of Wayne Rooney.

It's just amazing to think that all those who stand to profit from the potential feelgood factor of the forthcoming World Cup, all the businessmen, the governnent even, and basically most of the population of this country, they are all going to become increasingly dependent on the continued fitness and mental stability of one wayward young Scouser. Such is Wayne's importance that sod such trifles as the prospects of Man Utd, or the arguments over locking terrorists up for 90 days, if Tony Blair really wants to ensure his popularity, he should be passing a law to wrap Rooney up in cotton wool for the next six months.

Meanwhile I'll be tuning into the friendly between Italy and the Ivory Coast tonight, praying that Kolo Touré can contain some of his customary exuberrance. As I write, I'm not sure if he'll be joined on the pitch by his Arsenal colleague, right-back Manny Eboué, but with our defence for Saturday's match already depleted by injuries to our two recognised left-backs, Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy, we could well do without any further worries.

The most frightening aspect to our injury woes is the prospect that Wenger might be considering playing the hapless Pascal Cygan in their place. Assuming Kolo comes back to Highbury fit and healthy after his exertions for Les Elephantes, personally I'd prefer to see him played at left-back, with Campbell and Senderos in the centre, while our hapless bald Lurch remains where he can do least harm, keeping the bench warm.

I was surprised Arsene didn't give the Phillipe a run-out at some point against Sunderland. In all honesty I can't see Wenger as a vindictive sort, yet there have been times in the past when a player's made a crucial mistake which has cost us points and has subsequently disappeared out of the picture completely for a time, as if serving his punishment. Considering Senderos started the season as a mainstay of the team, with Sol somewhat marginalised, it's easy to make similar assumptions about the Swiss lad's absence in recent weeks. Perhaps Senderos was responsible for lapses in concentration which contributed to a couple of woeful results on the road. But it's wrong that he should be the scapegoat for what were the whole team's failings.

Still I happen to believe that Campbell's return couldn't have been more timely. After starting the season without both Vieira and Campbell and with the lightweight likes of such relative schnips as Fabregas, Flaminin and Pires, this distinct lack of stature suddenly meant that we weren't nearly such an imposing proposition for many of our opponents. Thus I am sure Sol's return made an important difference as you can imagine his physical presence having an impact even before a ball was kicked, just standing in the tunnel.

However I'm certain it won't be long before Campbell is crocked again. Personally I believe Sol's reached a stage where he is sufficiently injury prone that we will be lucky if he's available for 50 per cent of the season. What's more I firmly believe that Senderos happens to be about the only player in the current Arsenal squad with the genuine character traits of true captain material and while sadly Sol might have reached the point in the cycle of his career where it's all downhill, hopefully Senderos will prove to be the future

Moreover, with the Ivory Coast one of the firm favourites for the African Nations Cup, you have to bear in mind that we are likely to lose Kolo (and Eboue?) come January for what could prove to be an extended run for Les Elephantes in this competition. As a result, to my mind it would be much better to bring Senderos back in now, rather than being forced to to throw him to the lions at a later date, coming back at a crucial stage with little competitive match practice. We saw evidence on Saturday from Wayne Bridge of the potential risks of giving a run out to a rusty player when the pressure is on and who knows what long-term damage might be done if Senderos should be found wanting in similar circumstances.

I've not seen for myself how Senderos played against Turkey in the play-offs, but to my mind if he's capable of contributing to Switzerland's inclusion in the World Cup, then providing he doesn't come back knackered, Wigan should hold no fears for him.

Who would've possibly imagined back in August that we'd be going to the JJB this weekend, worried about how we're going to stop the mighty Wigan from scoring! As one James Greaves might say "It's a funny old game"

Peace & Love

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