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
table!



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
summer.



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

(see: http://www.radioireland.ie/audio/giftjose.wma)



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
later.

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
hat.

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
success

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
first.

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
grandkid.

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
Bernard


--

mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Trophies or Todgers? We’ll Be Running Around Chelsea With One Or T'other Hangin' Out

The great thing about football is that the Arsenal will be preparing to
play Fulham by the time these words appear in the Arena on Wednesday. With a
bit of luck, we’ll get last weekend's game right out of our system by
sticking it to the Cottagers.

When we walked out of Stamford Bridge on Sunday, Spurs were top of the
table (the sort of aberration which is an infallible reminder why we never
used to have league tables for the first few games of the season), we'd just
been beaten by the Blues and if that wasn't depressing enough, on route home
I turned on the radio in the car to hear Alan Green droning on during some
sort of Ryan Giggs review, just as he was describing the climax of Man Utd's
astonishing European Cup comeback. Oh the ignominy of it all! Needless to
say I couldn't hit the off switch quick enough.

On meeting my mate Nell after the match to give him a lift back to home
turf, my first words were "When does the transfer window close?" But I
wouldn't go holding your breath if you're hoping that in the meantime our
manager is off on yet another Mission Impossible to unearth a young unknown
prodigy for peanuts. After losing out on Baptista, not for the first time
Arsène is being accused of not having a Plan B, as it would seem that he was
totally focused on signing the Brazilian this summer, without a single
'maybe' as a possible back-up.

Even after an indelible dose of reality, when he was forced to throw
Flamini into the fray to counter Mourinho's 70 million quid's worth of fresh
legs, Wenger was still singing from the same song sheet. Don't get me wrong,
I remain convinced that on our day this rip-roaring Gunners side can be a
tour de force against any team. Although everywhere I turn, we are being
told that the loss of a talismanic behemoth like Paddy must take its toll.
And yet we coped quite admirably with our former captain playing well below
par for much of the past couple of seasons. So perhaps it’ll be the
psychological significance of our former captain forsaking the Arsenal for
Juve which might prove to be a problem, not his physical absence. What’s
more it might not be just the players who are mourning his loss.

Every time Arsène is interviewed he takes great pains to try to persuade
us that he has total confidence in his current squad's ability to compete
for the title. It's as if merely by intoning this mantra enough times,
Wenger feels it’ll work its magic. However the more frequently I hear it,
the more I wonder if he's actually trying to convince himself. Moreover to
date our manager doesn’t appear to have been successful in selling this
particular pup to his players.

In the past Paul Merson's inarticulate explanation of Arsène's secret,
was his ability to instil "unbelievable belief" in his players". Yet he
hardly sent out the right signals on Sunday, starting with Henry as a
solitary striker. I’m old enough and ugly enough to take an Arsenal defeat
on the chin. It was the timid manner of our demise that I found so
depressing. Especially when seen through my redcurrant specs, where, despite
Chelsea creating the best chances, I thought our 50 per cent of possession
was far more entertaining fare.

I guess Blues fans were just grateful for their first win in 20 league
games over the last decade. But after spending SO much money, one might've
thought them capable of a little more, than merely winning ugly. Then it
seems that there are some incumbents at the Bridge who definitely don't
deserve to be entertained. I can't possibly imagine returning for the first
home game subsequent to securing their only title in half a century, only to
dish out so much stick to Drogba, that their striker felt obliged to
dedicate his goal to this barmy Blue backbiter?

Most often you hear the "wooooh....hoof" chant when the opposition
keeper takes a goal-kick. I am not sure a fifty yard diagonal ball from Del
Horno right onto Robben's big toe actually counts as a hoof. But there was a
period during the first-half when we were singing "wooooh...." ad infinitum,
as Chelsea passed the ball across the back. Doubtless it was my imagination,
but it was as if we were daring them to hit it long and the Blues were
retaining possession just to spite us. Eventually I turned to the adjacent
stranger and suggested that if we weren't careful, we'd force them into
actually playing some footie!

All the pundits seem to suggest that the Arsenal lacked penetration and
that our opponents are finding it easier to snuff out our attacking threat.
Truth is that in recent matches we've played to Chelsea strengths, trying to
plough our way through the most impenetrable area of the pitch. Not that the
home side's unadventurous approach afforded us much opportunity to play to
our strengths, but Kolo's single charge forwards aside, I can't recall a
counter-attack which didn't include a sideways or backwards pass, or that
crucial moment's hesitation which allowed them sufficient time to get
everyone back behind the ball.

However to maintain the momentum of this sort of move, two or three
midfielders are required to bomb forward into the area. But on the rare
occasions we made any inroads, Henry or Van Persie was left waiting for an
RSVP to their invitation to join them. Come the final whistle the two teams
were only separated by the fact that we couldn't force their central defence
into any errors, while left to deal with Drogba alone, Senderos' lapse in
concentration saw the ball bobbling in off the striker's shin.

Meeting so early in the season, neither team wanted to risk losing this
game and most Gooners would have gladly settled for a point long before the
goal. Personally I felt that we blew it big time by arriving at the Bridge
with such limited ambitions. Instead of loosening the bolts to the wheels of
Mourinho's bandwagon (after Wigan, Carvalho and Robben handed over the
wheel-brace) and attempting to expose the cracks which might give everyone
else a glimmer of hope, we've tightened the nuts and restored their sense of
superiority. Although with Lampard looking a little less ravenous, Robben
and Duff both relatively ineffective and Joe Cole not even warming the bench
at the start to a World Cup season, I've yet to be convinced Chelsea is
quite the happy camp it was. In all of the marvellous 500 matches we've
enjoyed under the management of Arsène, he's never seen fit to publicly tear
strips off a player, as Mourinho did with Carvalho in his matchday programme
notes.

So I've checked to ensure I still have the number stored but while
there's still hope the Samaritans won't be hearing from me. The worst thing
on Sunday was the temptation to walk out with 10 still to go. Time was when
this gallant Gooner would wait until the last for the fat lady.

I felt sorry for Thierry. It was as if the responsibility for stemming
the tide of Abramovich's millions rested squarely on his shoulders and
they'd begun to buckle before the afternoon was out. Not only has he
virtually carried the club for the past couple of seasons, now we are
expecting him to lift his teammates as well. Watching him standing forlornly
on the halfway line, somewhat detached from the others was as convincing an
argument as I've seen of our need for a captain at the heart of this Arsenal
side, whose unshakeable belief can inspire the likes of Titi to keep me
glued to my seat with an eternal glimmer of hope for a last gasp goal.

It was a hollow victory but at least we gave a good account of ourselves
off the pitch. Mourinho appears to have made a bit of a ricket. Apparently
he didn't enjoy the away fans directly behind him, having a dig everytime he
stepped out of the dugout. As a result, instead of spreading us thinly along
the length of the East Lower, where songs fade a long time before those at
either end join in, away fans are now amassed in Chelsea's Shed End behind
the goal. It was the loudest we've been at Chelsea and we didn't hear a peep
from the home fans until they took the lead. You know you've got a big
problem with the atmosphere when we Gooners start singing "worst support
we've ever seen!"

Unlike the streaker who appeared for the second successive week, to
prance around the Bridge with his todger hanging out, our song for the day
was "We'll be running round Chelsea with out trophies hanging out, we've got
11 more than you". I might've had the best view at the Bridge since they
were really sh*t and we stood on their vast empty terraces lighting fires to
stay warm, but it's nearly as long since I last witnessed an Arsenal
performance where we looked less like winning.

We've given up Rona's away ticket scheme membership and it was weird
going to a game at the Bridge without the missus. After suffering one of the
worst views in the Premiership for so many years, Murphy's Law ensured that
she missed out on the first decent pitch in the corner of the upper tier.
Although she wasn't nearly so annoyed as the horrified bloke beside me whose
hand I grabbed for, every time our goal was threatened. Mind you if we’d
have won and his mitts weren’t quite so clammy, I might've accepted his
invitation for a second date!!

_____________________________________________________________


Hi folks

I meant to send the piece above out yesterday but ended up wasting most of the day in a fruitless search for the car key. I was in a total panic because apart from
not being able to use the car, with a game here tonight, it would have cost
us a fifty pound parking ticket if the car wasn't moved in time.

After turning the flat upside down, all to no avail, I eventually gave up,
deciding that I must have dropped the key when walking back from the car on
Sunday evening, with my hands full of carrier bags, after stopping at the
supermarket in my way back from Chelsea. How to cap a miserable weekend!!

I'd already spent time walking the dog up and down the street, peering in
the gutter for the missing key and was just about to head off to my Ma's in
Edgware to pick up a spare, wondering how we were going to find the spare
key for the krooklock and how we were going to cope with the alarm (as
there's no clicker gadget on the spare key), when I noticed something on the
windscreen.

It turned out to be a note from a good samaritan neighbour, who had seen
some kids hanging around the car and as a result, had noticed that the key
was hanging out of the lock to the boot. A quick phone call to the number
on the note and all our problems were solved (well actually they are still
blowing each other up in Iraq and it doesn't sound like much fun in Israel,
but at least I won't be getting a parking ticket tonight)

Mind you that wasn't then end of this particular story. Most of you will
already know that with both cars registered to my Ma's address (as we've had
two stolen from outside here and the insurance premium would be much
higher), we don't have matchday parking permits for either vehicle. Up until
last season I was able to move them just to the other side of Green Lanes,
the borough of Hackney. That was until they introduced a resident's parking
scheme over there. There remained one street over half a mile away on the
other side of Clissold Park which didn't have resident's parking bays and
this was our refuge last season.

However to my horror I discovered last night that this street has also been
marked off with parking bays and so now we are well and truly buggered!!
After driving around for about half an hour I eventually found a tiny side
street, but as I parked the car and walked away I became terrified that it
is private property and I might end up being clamped. And as I walked back
to fetch the other car, I discovered a notice at the end of the street I was
using last season which says that the parking scheme doesn't begin until
30th August.

So we have a short reprieve. Up until now I have been whinging that we have
a game this evening and then no Arsenal matches until 10th September, but
now I am over the moon as it gives me at least a couple of weeks to try and
find a solution for the rest of the season to our parking problems. Although
I still have to go back to retrieve the Peugeot from the side street and the
way my luck's going recently, I won't be surprised to either find it
clamped, or broken into!! No where did I put that number for the Samaritans
:-)

Peace & love
Bernard

PS. Those of you on the Arsenal mailing list might have read my moans on
there about the fact that season ticket holders in the Clock End are going
to be moved to the other end of the new stadium, in order to save the club
ALL the adminsitrative aggravation of having to move them for the half dozen
(at most) cup games every season. As a result, not only will these poor
buggers be left with choosing from all the inferior seats that remain after
everyone else has had their pick, but it also means that the area behind the
goal in the new stadium will only be for general sale seats, which could be
handing a substantial advantage (for a number of reasons) to our visitors

Also I was advised that the famous Clock from the Clock End is going to end
up over the entrance to the Club Level seating at the new stadium, which
seems somewhat criminal that such a historical landmark is going to be
restricted to the privileged few. I've been assured by someone who works for
the club, marketing the new stadium, that this is not the case and that they
are hoping it might be some sort of meeting point but at the moment they
still have to surmount a health and safety issue. It remains to be seen if
this is the case, but I am saving all these whinges about our marvellous new
stadium for another piece.


--

mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Monday, 15 August 2005

The Song Remains The Same

I don't doubt that I've delivered the same opening sentiment at the
start of several seasons. I sincerely hope you don't tire of it because it
deserves repeating and unlike many other of life's pleasures, this one
doesn't diminish with the passing of time. Having hauled my far too rapidly
aging frame up several flights of Highbury's West Upper staircase, to the
concourse where fans are supplied with refreshments and somewhere to relieve
oneself of the same (in fact if it wasn't for the revenue the club might
just as well dump one in t'other and do away with us middle men), I steel
myself for the assault on the last few stairs, before reaching the bulkhead.
As with the first home game of every other season before, on stepping out on
to the terrace, I never fail to be blown away by the breathtaking vista of
35,000 Gooners surrounding the snooker baize like perfection of the luscious
green playing surface.



Even after all these years, the hairs on the back of my neck still
stand to attention in eager anticipation of the ensuing excitement.
Sentimental old sop that I am, I lingered for a few moments on Sunday,
soaking up the magical assault on my senses, only too aware of the poignancy
of the occasion, as I drank in every last drop of that heavenly first day
thrill, for the very last time at our ancestral Highbury home.



With Thierry Henry needing to hit the back of the net only four more
times to nab Wrighty's all-time goal scoring record, hopefully there will be
more than a few 'firsts' this term. Nevertheless in truth we’re facing an
entire season of 'lasts', with the club giving each home game a theme, in an
effort to ensure that each of our 19 opponents final matches at The Home of
Football is as memorable as possible. Funnily enough it was Rona who twigged
first when the familiar refrain of "You'll never play here again" rang out
from the North Bank. I know there’s the customary trouble and strife in Toon
Town, but surely the Gooners singing behind the goal were watching a
different game, since the Geordies were coping far to well to be written off
so soon as relegation fodder. I felt a tad foolish when my missus pointed
out that we'd be repeating this particular tune all season long, as none of
our guests are likely to play at Highbury ever again.



Sunday’s theme was 'Player's Day', but starting the season as I left
off, it was always unlikely that we were going to arrive in time to catch
the pre-match parade of former Arsenal heroes. Still we might've had a
better chance of making it, if it wasn't for the ridiculous KO time of
1.30pm. I was only just getting used to the Sky dictated 2pm and 4.05 starts
on Sundays. Their absolute sovereignty over the TV schedules ensures we
Gooners don't see a good old-fashioned 3pm game on a Saturday until end
October! In fact this backslapping Gooner love-in proved to be a blessing.
It was only as the noise of the North Bank came wafting through our open
windows, as they paid their respects to the stars of yesteryear, that the
penny dropped and it dawned on me that I might've been wrong to assume a 2pm
KO.



Mind you I probably would've struggled to recognise many of them,
bereft of trademark barnets' which had long since seen their last comb-over
and carrying the sort of poundage that might be more suited to the rugby
scrum. However I was pleased to hear that the likes of Manu Petit made the
effort to pay homage to Highbury (although in these perfidious times one
can't help but wonder if all these ex-pros turned up gratis?)



Meanwhile in all the media (inc. our matchday programme) everyone continues
to obsess about the absence of Manu's midfield partner. Ró wasn't
particularly enamoured with Arsène's programme notes. Perhaps the inference
in French wouldn't be the same. Yet she hardly thought he set the right tone
with his opening remark "This is the first time I've started a season at
Arsenal without Patrick Vieira"



There isn't a player on this planet capable of replacing our former
captain at his formidable best. But with Paddy having performed well below
par for the past two seasons, we've grown used to coping without the
talismanic Frenchman's more influential displays. Consequently, Wenger would
appear to affirm that it is possibly the detrimental psychological effect of
Paddy's departure which might prove to be most problematic.



Wenger's woes don't end there. Some would contend that our manager
faces his stiffest test in the near future, as he is tasked with recreating
another team in his image, capable of challenging Mourinho's 'loadsamoney'
Chelsea. There's no suspicion that Wenger's ship is sinking, but I believe
we might see a mini-exodus of "show me the money" rats following Vieira, in
search of a more buoyant vessel, before we reach the promised land of our
magnificent new stadium - Pires, Campbell and Cole being my prime suspects.



As a result I can appreciate Arsène wanting to re-establish an air of
security, by appointing a loyal and supremely respected star as his new
lieutenant. If the post hadn't become available quite so prematurely, I'd
have favoured Senderos. I believe it's preferable to have a captain at the
back, who's far more capable of appreciating the performance levels of his
team when they’re all playing in front of him. The Swiss youngster
undoubtedly has the required character traits and I'd be surprised if he
doesn't inherit the captain's armband at some point in his Arsenal career.



Early birds on Sunday saw Titi receive another Golden Shoe as the
continent's joint top scorer (remarkably in the company of the same Diego
'Forlorn' who was surplus to requirements at Utd), proudly displaying both
golden boots as the first ever player to top the European scoring charts in
consecutive seasons. Some would contend that the Arsenal are so dependent on
Henry that we are basically a one-man band. Aside from the fact that Titi
plays with his back to his team mates for much of the match, isn't it enough
that he already has the responsibility of winning the vast majority of the
Gunner's games, often almost single-handed. I find myself drawing an analogy
with cricket, where assorted England batsmen have suffered a drastic loss of
form the instant they've been appointed captain. Personally I would prefer
for Titi to have no such distractions from getting on and doing what he does
best.



If I'm uncertain about Arsène's choice for the armband, I was
downright disturbed on Sunday to see him persist with a decidedly insouciant
Pires in the centre of the park, subsequent to the substitutions. Sadly it
could be said that this tactic worked a treat, whereas in truth it was the
arrival of the energetic Hleb and Van Persie who actually made their
presence felt.



It will take a couple more performances for me to get my own
footballing routine down pat. I forgot my binoculars on Sunday and it spoke
volumes that these weren't necessary for me to instinctively suss that it
was our more sinner, than sinned against Swede who'd earned us the penalty.
Nevertheless the 2-0 scoreline wasn't half as harsh on Newcastle as
Chelsea's 93rd minute winner against Wigan. What's more if ref Steve Bennett
hadn't condemned us to a Toon display which was understandably lacking in
ambition, as a result of the rash sending-off, we might have witnessed far
more of the sort wonderful counter-attacking football seen in the build up
to the 2nd goal.



Along with the Toon Army japesters, I imagine there's also a Dutch
lass somewhere wondering "Hey Van Persie, I wanna knoooow, why you're not in
jail?" Mercifully our lad's legal wrangles don't appear to be damaging his
concentration unduly, which might either be interpreted as a clear
conscience, or alternatively he's just grateful to get involved in the game,
because it's the only means of escaping his guilt! Mind you it's rich to
hear the Toon army teasing, when their team is replete with its own share of
'roasters' and assorted miscreants.



After the sending off saw all the life squeezed out of this
encounter, up until the 80th minute goal it was possibly the bare
faced/arsed cheeks of a streaker who provided the most entertaining moments.
He had a great 'craic' parading up and down the pitch, performing the
extremely painful looking splits for our pleasure, whilst hundreds of
stewards and coppers merely stood watching on from the sidelines. After he'd
eventually had enough, he was led away, hiding his embarrassment with his
cap. I’m not sure this streakers’s badly-fitting outfit was worse than our
German keeper's bright orange costume. According to a pundit on the radio,
Lehmann looked like he'd been 'Tangoed'!



The subsequent Chelsea performance suggests I’m not alone in lacking
match practice. I will reserve judgement until they encounter another
unfancied team, before daring to suggest that they might be wanting for the
work-rate and commitment that was the basis for much their success. If this
isn't the case then their woeful performance against Wigan could well prove
the perfect kick up the backside that might unfortunately ensure we face a
close fought battle with the Blues at the Bridge this weekend. Moreover (if
at all possible), I might be bemoaning the fact that they didn't drop a
couple of points even more, if we should find ourselves approaching Xmas
with our main competition coming no closer to an equally dodgy outing.
Hopefully this match might act as the inspiration for every team who might
previously have considered a meeting with Chelsea as mission impossible.



As far as a reaction to the ennui of the Essien saga is concerned, I
find myself turning once again to my best “Am I bovvered?” Catherine Tate
impersonation. In my humble opinion Mourinho's team must soon reach the
stage where he can't possibly improve the quality and is only adding
quantity to an overstuffed squad. The Blues might’ve appeared a little
hungrier than us in the first-half at Cardiff, benefiting from the
competition for places. Yet I'm convinced their squad must soon reach a
pivotal point and as their bench-warming bums begin to suffer from
splinters, surely the law of diminishing returns must apply. In a World Cup
year where the cream of the crop will be desperate to secure a once in a
lifetime opportunity, some of bigger egos in their squad are bound to become
dissatisfied with the selection policy. Mourinho might well struggle to stop
the spanner of this disgruntlement from undoing all his work developing a
winning mentality in the Chelsea camp.

____________________________________________________________


Hi folks

Ro and I spent much of half-time on Sunday debating how groundsman Steve
Braddock had managed to produce the "Highbury 1913-2006" pattern on our
pristine playing surface in front of each of the four terraces

Watching on TV prior to heading around to Highbury, I mistakenly assumed it
was merely a screen effect, produced by Sky's techno wallahs. So it was a
pleasant surprise to discover it was in fact the real thing when I arrived
at the ground

Since it was the same colour as one of the four shades of green which makes
up the plaid pattern of the squares on the pristine pitch (which I've always
assumed was merely a result of the direction in which the grass is mown),
Rona reckoned it was done with some sort of stencil. However I would have
thought this would merely be demolished by the mower.

At least it gave me something to contemplate other than the uninspiring
football played on a sumptuous surface that deserved better, not to mention
my own self-conscious appearance. I've spent the past few days doing a
passable impersonation of The Pogues Shane McGowan, after one of my two top
front teeth fell out last week. Since both have been crowned, I wasn't too
concerned until I discovered, to my horror, that most of the peg had come
away inside it.

If there'd been any more than the tiny protruding piece of rapidly decaying
tooth remaining, I might have tried to get away with super gluing it back,
in an effort to avoid the dreaded dentist (as there can be few more cowardly
folk than me when it comes to the dreaded dentist's chair). I actually dug
out one of those emergency dental kits which had been collecting dust here
for decades and attempted to reattach it. But it was never going to hold

So I was forced to bite the bullet (or more accurately "suck"). Pending
going back to the dentis for some impressions, he tried to stick the crown
back temporarily, but advised me it might not last and inevitably on Sunday
morning I ended up spitting it out with a mouthful of sarnie. To be honest
it was probably the best thing because otherwise I might have kidded myself
I could get away without going back again. What's more, it's amazing the
importance of this one tooth, as without it I struggle with any word with an
"F' in it and have to try to avoid dribbling every drink down my front.

So considering the pressure put on the tooth when I'm able to say my "Fs"
with it in and the amount of times I had cause to curse Robert Pires'
ineffective efforts on Sunday (albeit whilst still attempting in vain to
encourage him out loud with a steady stream of "Allez Roberts"), doubtless
I'd have ended up losing the tooth for good, spitting it out whilst venting
my frustrations with some choice invective :-)

Meanwhile I've been a little concerned since my ticket for next weekend's
big game at the Bridge turned up (unlike our box of Arsenal membership
goodies which have apparently already arrived elsewhere!). For years now
away fans have had one of the worst and most expensive views in the
Premiership with our allocation in the East Lower - which is particularly
bad when everyone stands up, as I believe the shallow angle of incline
results from them having merely plonked seats on what was once a standing
terrace. And while everyone else I've spoken to appears to be sitting in the
usual area, it's beginning to feel as if I'm the only Gooner with a seat
behind the goal in the Shed End

It's hardly likely but it wouldn't be much fun turning up to find I'm sat on
my tod surrounded by Blues' fans!! Obviously the media will be hyping up
this clash of the titans to the hilt. But coming so early in the season, I
suspect this match might well prove to be a massive anti-climax. My main
fear is that both teams will be desperate to avoid defeat and an early
points disadvantage and in so doing they might both be a little too keen to
settle for the honours even outcome of a draw.

However I am of the opinion that we might well need to gain an advantage
over the Blues, because while our defence might be prone to the sort of
lapses in concentration which could cost us occasional points, unless
Chelsea's woeful performance against Wigan is a true reflection of their
form, rather than merely a first match of the season reminder of the focus
required to win every week, we might be waiting for match after
disappointing match, in hope of another equally dire display from them?

In the meantime whilst I'm waiting for this weekend's ensuing battle, if
there are any green fingered Gooners out there (of the gardening variety
rather than any wise arse bogey men :-) with any plausible explanations for
creating this effect on the pitch, please feel free to put us out of our
ignorant misery

Come on you Gunners
Bernard


--
mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

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:
http://goonersdiary.blogspot.com
(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
topic

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
Bernard
______________________________________________________________________


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
elsewhere?

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
hosts.

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.


--

mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com