Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Crisis! What Crisis?

I have to admit that I was pleased to be heading back to
Upton Park on Saturday after the Irons brief dalliance with the lower
divisions. It might've meant doing battle with some of East London's
most traffic ridden back streets. Yet the relatively short drive past
Hackney Town Hall, along Homerton High Street, through Stratford
(where some think Spurs will end up if Stratford isn't to be left with
a white elephant of an Olympic Stadium) to Upton Park, always feels
almost like a home game.

This particular bit of East London might be more Bangladesh
than Tel Aviv these days, with all the Jews having long since
emigrated to leafier suburbs like Edgware, but I retain some affinity
with the East End, when I think of all the forbears who frolicked
along Whitechapel High Street. More importantly having made this
particular trip so many times in the past, as such a stickler for
tradition and routine, in this crazy age of global warming and whacky
weather, there's a comforting feeling that all is right with the
world, when walking along Green Street, full of anticipation for a 3
o'clock kick-off on a Saturday afternoon.

Although I have to admit that despite the best efforts of the
farcical new film of the same name (I've never heard a more
unconvincing Cockney accent than the lead in this movie!) to revive
some of the worst of football's hooligan traditions, it's great
nowadays to find oneself in the heart of Hammers territory, without
having to be in fear of ones life. Mind you while I'm happy that our
encounters are no longer the intimidating prospect they once were back
in the bad old days, it's a pity that the ground itself has lost much
of the imposing, intimate atmosphere it was famous for in the past.

The new main stand at Upton Park, with hotel bedrooms which
double as executive boxes on match days and the widening of the
playing surface has seen the Hammers relinquish a major home
advantage, in the demise of that fortress Upton Park feeling. Still it
may no longer be nearly such a menacing place to play, with visiting
teams no longer suffering the snarling, 'in yer face' home fans who
were in spitting distance of the touchline within the tight confines
of the old gaff, but compared to many of the somewhat soulless,
concrete modern stadia, Upton Park remains a 'proper' football ground.

I've yet to experience the Hammer's hospitality in the new
stand but there's something very reassuring about their rundown
facilities behind the goal. I recall receiving a text message from my
West Ham pal attending his first pre-season friendly "It's half-time,
the beer's run out, the karsey's are flooded, dontcha just love
football?" The bursting Premiership bubble is a popular theme at
present. In truth, much like a flatulent rhino, football's glitzy top
flight has been leaking gas ever since the Taylor Report condemned us
to all-seater stadia. Nevertheless I have to laugh at the glut of
obituaries in the popular press for the beautiful game of late.

Like death, taxes and most other things in life, football is
cyclical. Successful teams will come and go and according to the
fashion, the sport's popularity will continue to wax and wane with the
times. However there's a hard core of supporters who will continue to
turn up each week, come what may. In fact there are many like myself
who've experienced conflicting feelings about the impending and
overdue "bust" which will inevitably follow a sustained period of
"boom". At least it might result in the trimming off of the game's
glory-hunting fat, to the point where genuine fans will once again be
able to afford to follow their team.

It's been a while since I stood for an entire game, as all
the Gooners did behind the goal on Saturday. I'm no longer sure I
could manage it every match. I was almost glad of Roy Carroll's
incessant time-wasting as it gave me a few seconds respite, perching
on the back of my seat. However there's no denying that for some
strange reason, standing is far more conducive to singing, as it was
much noisier than if we'd been placidly restrained to sitting on our
rear-ends. It felt great to be amongst a couple of thousand Gooners,
giving it our all for nearly the entire 90.

Despite the dissatisfactory outcome, I arrived home
completely spent and pleasantly exhausted, with plenty of time for a
reviving kip before Match of the Day. After an afternoon spent on my
feet, vocally venting all my frustrations, this was followed by the
deepest and most undisturbed night's sleep I've had in weeks.

The scoreless draw was no surprise to me. In fact having
predicted it to all my pals, I was just gutted I didn't have any money
on it. After all the pundits who've been bemoaning the lack of
entertainment in the Premiership, pinpointed this encounter between
two of the league's exponents of attractive football, as the game
which was bound to get the beautiful ball rolling and the juices
flowing, as far as I was concerned, it was abso-bloomin-lutely obvious
fate would intervene with a 0-0!

I also get no end of amusement hearing everyone prattle on
about the paucity of entertainment. You've no idea quite how
outrageous this sounds to an Arsenal fan who's stumped up their hard
earned cash every week, to endure the dour 'skills' of the likes of
Hillier, Carter and Jensen, compared to the wonderment watching Henry,
Bergkamp and Pires. Like me, most Gooners have spent the past decade
pinching ourselves to ensure we aren't dreaming.

Those who continue to ring the death-knell don't seem to
appreciate that football comes just above cricket in the entertainment
stakes. The fact that a match ticket guarantees little in the way of
instant gratification is the principal reason those such as the Yanks
will never quite get it. There was a time when one paid five bob to
stand on the terraces, have a laugh with your pals, or spend quality
time with your pop, perhaps down a few beers, give the ref an ear
bashing and if you where lucky, the icing on the cake was a couple of
goals.

The modern day mercenaries might be a lot fitter and get paid
a whole heap more, but in essence, as far as entertainment is
concerned, the game hasn't changed. What's different these days is
ticket prices and a society which now demands value in return for such
a substantial investment. Or else they might as well stop at home,
where they can now watch almost every game on the box.

As we marvelled walking home from our win against Everton
last Wednesday, there's a very fine margin between success and failure
in football. Having waited 50 years, Chelsea fans should enjoy their
moment in the sun, as eventually someone will come along to shatter
that fragile fa�ade of confidence and knock them off their perch.
Perhaps Abramovich is destined to come a cropper to one of the many
enemies he must've made in his dramatic accumulation of wealth.
Hopefully sometime in the future I will still be struggling up the
stairs to the terraces, wondering "Roman who?"

If I was one of the Everton fans who schlepped all the way
down from Merseyside last Wednesday, I would've been extremely
disappointed with the limited ambition Everton displayed, in what was
little more than a damage limitation exercise. I couldn't care less
about the creed or colour of the players wearing an Arsenal shirt. But
what does bother me is the thought that my beloved club is a mere
staging post in their careers.

Ticket prices aside, in my humble opinion the biggest threat
to the health of the beautiful game is the bitter taste left in ones
mouth after watching a match which means far more to those of us on
the terraces than the majority of the participants. As far as I'm
concerned this is the only cancer which could end up having an impact
on the ardour of committed addicts like myself.

____________________________________________________________


Hi folks

I was listening to the podcast of a Radio 5 show, Fighting Talk
(Saturday mornings) on my slick, brand spanking black iPod Nano - a
premature b-day pressie courtesy of my bro-in-law. I wasn't dropping
any hints, honest, but having bagged two of these little beauties, I
don't think my sister is going to forgive me very quickly for sending
her hubbie a text while he was in New York to check out the new iPod's
at the Apple shop. It was actually an excuse on my part to ask him to
bring me back some ciggies, but I'm certainly not complaining that he
forgot the fags and brought this sexy bit of techno kit back instead.
Although in truth I will have doubtless spent the cost of a couple of
these gadgets, at five pounds a pack, before hopefully I get a chance
to restock with cheapie Camels in Prague.

In fact if fags were cheap in Holland, it probably would've paid me to
go and watch the game against Ajax this week. But sadly they're not
and so I'll be stopping at home to watch on the box, to save the
little that remains of my credit in the hope of us making the latter
stages

A regular pannelist on this amusing punditry programme is a 'septic
tank' who's name I think is Greg Brady and who often gets my goat with
his comments. I get the distinct impression from his regular
appearances that he thinks we're all sitting here waiting for the
World Cup, now that the Premiership os already over (according to
many!). He doesn't seem to appreciate that just because footie (or
soccer) aficionadoes across the pond have little else to focus on
because of the dearth of interest in their domestic game, it doesn't
mean any of us really give a monkeys.

I suppose there are plenty of patriotic loonies but if you ever look
at all the flags at an England game, the vast majority come from
places like Didcot and Darlington, where they don't have a decent
footie team of their own to dominate their attention. Brady seems to
have this misguided believe that we are all still in mourning after
getting beat by N.Ireland, when many of us weren't even interested in
this match when it was taking place (I was watching Ireland v France
at the time) and even more of us found the outcome quite amusing.

In this weeks's show there was a question about which set of fans have
the right to be most disappointed so far and Brady suggested us.
Bearing in mind this was before Newcastle supposedly turned the corner
with Saturday's win and prior to another defeat for Everton, or Man
Utd fans booed Fergie as they got beat at home by Blackburn.
Admittedly we've plenty of cause for cursing our luck but to my mind
his answer just proved quite how little some of these so called
pundits focus on anything other than the top three teams. How about
poor Spurs with Martin Jol's best team getting beat by Grimsby and
losing perhaps their only chance of a sniff of silverware this season

Apart from perhaps Chelsea, West Ham and Wigan (maybe Charlton as
well), virtually all the other supporters of Premiership teams have
plenty of reasons to be more pissed off than us. I was just as gutted
as every other Gooner when I heard how long Henry would be out for. I
am also horrified at the ever increasing momentum of the gossip
bandwagon which would have us believe Titi will be buggering off next
summer (although it's hard to blame him if he does!).

I was also more than a little miffed today when I received a text
message from my sister to say that she was sitting waiting for an
X-Ray at the Princess Grace hospital alongside none other than Thierry
Henry. Actually she initially texted me to tell me it was Patrick
Vieira, but considering Paddy scored his third goal in three games for
Juve in Italy, as they continued their 100 per cent start to the
season on Saturday, I found this a little hard to believe, until she
corrected herself.

I couldn't believe she managed to get me and everyone else I
subsequently texted with this snippet, all excited and then completely
failed to appreciate quite what a precious opportunity this was to pop
a couple of important questions - like how long he thinks he will be
out injured and more importantly, whether Titi thinks he'll still be
here next season. The funny thing is that the Swedish specialist she
is seeing is the absolute spit of Sven Goran Ericsson and I was at
least hoping she might get a picture of the two of them together. Yet
whilst waiting for this photo op, she got 'nyammed' by a traffic
warden and a sodding parking ticket!

Considering he was hardly the most prolific goal scorer during his
time at THOF, it's kind of hard to accept that he's begun scoring so
regularly, especially when we've been looking so goal shy of late.
However in truth I am happy for Paddy. When you think back to the
peerless player who absolutely dominated matches during his first few
seasons but who ended up marking time with the Arsenal, it would've
been much better if he'd rediscovered his motivation at our gaff, but
it would've been criminal if he'd continued to do just enough to earn
his keep and it's great to see him back to his best. Let's face it, it
could be worse, at least Paddy's not wreaking havoc on our own front
door. The funny thing (peculiar, definitely not ha-ha!) will be
if/when we progress in the Champions League and we inevitably draw
Juve in the knockout stages!

Meanwhile with our squad apparently dropping like flys and beginning
to look more than I little stretched, I've already said that I think
there might be a silver lining to us having dropped off the radar as
Champions League contenders, in that traditionally we always been at
our best with our backs against the wall and as a result I've got this
strange feeling we might just end up surprising a few of the so called
experts.

"In layman's terms" that's one of the sentences I read in an article
this week which always winds me up. There are many who earn their
living from talking and writing about football who love to maintain
this illusion that they are privvy to some professional insight which
is way above the heads of the average man in the street. When in
truth, most everyone who has ever played the game can confirm that
whether your playing in the park, or before 40,000 of the faithful,
the principles remain the same and incredibly simple. No matter how
many weird and wonderful formations the coaches can concoct, all the
way from your basic 4-4-2, through Christmas trees, diamond
formations, 4-1-2-2-1 and everything in between, the object of the
exercise remains unchanged. The team who get the ball in the back of
the net more times than their opponents wins the prizes. The rest is
basically ten per cent tactics and ninety per cent the motivational
skills and the confidence, or lack thereof on which every outcome
depends.

I myself am often guilty of falling under the spell of this illusion.
When Arsene or some other manager makes the sort of decision that all
35,000 fans in the crowd are convinced is a blatant mistake, we sit
there wondering what does he know that we don't. When I've come to the
conclusion that the truth is even someone as pragmatic as Le Prof,
with all his wealth of statistical information on fitness and
technique, he may be making decisions which are slightly better
informed than some of his competiors, but this doesn't mean he isn't
winging it any less than every other manager.

They roll the dice every game and hope they come up double-six and
when they don't they'll try something different, a blow on the dice, a
change of hands, a funky shake. If none of these work they change the
dice and if their bad luck continues, eventually they will crap out

I've stated below that it's all bunkum about boring football being
responsible for the bubble bursting because basically the game is the
same as when I started watching. I am not sure the statistics will
bear this out but on reflection it's occurred to me that we shouldn't
be surprised if we are seeing less goals. The mega money involved in
the game has ensured that those at the vast majority of those at the
top have become far too afraid of defeat to take any risks and thus
defensive formations prevail.

Youngsters these days will find it incredibly hard to believe that
many years back when I first began kicking a ball, there was only one
formation in football, which was youor standard 2-3-5. It looks back
to front these days and even I struggle to remember how two defenders
(full-backs) would manage to contain five forwards. I guess it's a bit
of an illusion because in truth only the centre forward was an out and
out striker, inside forwards (there's a dated moniker, which makes me
sound like Jimmy Hill) helped to create in the middle of the park,
wingers worked up and down the entire flank and the centre-half was
the rock at the centre of a footballing universe, around which ever
other player orbited.

Nevertheless, in actual fact no matter how you line the players up on
the blackboard, at the end of the day, formations have and always will
be the window-dressing which we see changed every now and again, while
the footballing stock remains the same

You knew you were in the East End on Saturday, when at half-time they
wheeled out decidedly D-list celeb Tessa Sanderson and the mayor of
Tower Hamlets (personally I would have preferred to watch the far more
aesthtically pleasing antics of the prancing young fillies who are the
Hammerettes!). The local mayor droned on about what a boon for the
borough the forthcoming Olympics would be and how it was great that we
beat the French "and we'll beat then again today". This comment passed
straight over my head, as I slurped the half-time cup of luke warm
water doing a poor impersonation of a cup of PG tips. So it wasn't
until a few minutes later that it occurred to me that he must've been
referring to us with his slightly racist remark.

I guess he thought he was being really clever when he wrote it,
appealing to all the right wing neanderthals who no doubt continue to
haunt the Hammers' terraces. However I assume it wouldn't have
occurred to him that they'd be playing an Arsenal side without a
single Frenchman amongst our ranks, at least not until Mathieu Flamini
made an appearance as a second half substitute. He's not the only one.
Was it only back in '98 when I bought a t-shirt printed with the
famous Daily Mirror front page "Arsenal Win The World Cup". It's a
sign of the changing times at THOF that we started on Saturday with
nine nationalities that included only two players from these isles and
not a single player from jusr across the Channel!

With Vieira having left already and rumours abounding that Robbie
Pires also wants out, is it that surprising that Thierry Henry might
not feel quite so at home at Highbury as he once did? Sod me banging
on about Wenger buying players from these shores, or bringing in more
homegrown talent who might play with the sort of heart and commitment
which reflects their respect for wearing the red & white. If I was
Arsene, I'd be thinking about filling Thierry's Xmas sock with a
handful of Frenchmen and anything else which might make our greatest
asset happy

Peace & Love
Bernard

PS. I've just got around to creating a gmail account (by the lack of
available log-in names remaining, it feels as if I am the last to be
invited, hence thedogsbollock address, but if there is anyone else who
needs an invite for a gmail account, please feel free to ask) and I'd
be grateful if you ould amend my e-mail details for future reference.
It depends on me checking my mail for me to receive messages to my old
address. Whereas there's a great little yoke for the toolbar with
gmail which tells you as soon as a new message arrives and thus I am
likely to see messages a lot sooner

However this is the first time I've attempted to use it to send my
weekly missive, so please be sure to let me know if there are any
problems (ie. you receive two copies, or only some of it etc. etc), so
I can try to find a solution in future

--
mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Monday, 19 September 2005

From "Bites Yer Ankles" to "Bites Yer Bum", Stuart Pearce for PM!

It seemed as if our "Invisible Wall" must've heard me, as Gilberto painted himself positively fluorescent against the Swiss side last Wednesday, with the most influential performance we've seen from the Brazilian for a long time. I know it was only Thun but as other results demonstrated, there are no free lunches in the Champions League these days and the multinational Swiss team provided stiff opposition.

Up to now most Arsenal fans have bemoaned the fact that of all the incredibly skilful Brazilians out there, we had to end up with their equivalent of Giles Grimandi. Perhaps Wenger had a word, but in addition to popping up with a headed goal and his usual defensive responsibilities, Gilberto was impressive all over the pitch, spraying 40 yard passes out to the wings, with the sort of precision which makes me wonder why he's been hiding this potentially far more influential light under a bushel.

However it is a funny old game indeed, since if it wasn't for Dennis Bergkamp's determination, in playing his 3 point get out of jail card at the death, 35 odd thousand Arsenal fans would've gone home feeling decidedly dissatisfied. I never fail to be amazed by that fine line between unbridled joy and a burgeoning mood of despair. If Dennis hadn't scrambled to his feet to stab home this late winner, another disappointing start to a European foray would've only fuelled the whispering campaign about the wheels coming off Arsène Wenger's bandwagon.

What's more with two defeats away from home since the departure of our colossus of a club captain, the confidence in the Arsenal camp has taken a bit of a battering. I'm not going overboard, as a last gasp goal against our obscure Swiss opponents isn't exactly going to repair the damage. But one sensed it was important for the spirit of unity within the squad. At least it gives Wenger something to build on going into the Everton game - additionally by contriving to get himself sent-off for Juve, it felt as if Vieira was with us in spirit!

Even if we hadn't managed to achieve a win in midweek, considering how bleak my outlook was after getting beat by Boro, there was a crucial difference in the two performances, which gives me cause for a soupcon of optimism. What bothered me most at Boro was that when we went a goal down, the game was immediately up. There wasn't a glimmer of the sort of resolve necessary to rescue a result. Whereas last Wednesday I never gave up hope of achieving a win. There was evidence of a renewed determination, whereby we battled right through to the final whistle, at no point settling for a draw.

It was a pleasant surprise, as the six game format of the opening group stage of this competition allows for a couple of indifferent results. It's one the reasons the Champions League has lost some of its "do or die" lustre and is doubtless a contributing in some of the half full stadia across the continent last week. As a result, having gone down to 10 men, it would've been easy for us to have blamed the harsh refereeing decision and accepted a consolation point.

It was no surprise to discover this was the youngest Champions League ref, making his debut in the tournament. One might wonder if he was somewhat insecure about his authority and felt the need to demonstrate his dominion over the proceedings, from the manner in which he brandished the red card without a moment's hesitation. It could be argued that Van Persie should've been wary of the fact that refs are more prone to penalising a raised boot in European matches. However I applaud the enthusiasm which inspired Robin's actions and I actually adore the idea that he was so totally committed to winning the ball that nothing else mattered. Personally I think it's a ridiculous rule, in a game where you can't kick the ball without raising your feet!.

Obviously I appreciate that there are some over-enthusiastic, career threatening, two-footed tackles that must be totally discouraged. However to my mind, in a sport where physical contact is an integral part of the contest, in most circumstances it should be "intent" which is the decisive criteria.

Where we sit, at the front of the Upper Tier at Highbury, we are fortunate to overlook the TV balcony. On European nights, when there are many more monitors, we get a great view of the replays that are deemed too controversial to show on the big screens. Thus we witnessed a replay of the incident which raised the choler of our usually imperturbable Brazilian. With the linesman standing only a few feet away, it was outrageous that this foul went unpunished, as Gilberto's eyebrow bore the brunt of an elbow, flung back at him with utter malice (as evidenced by the claret spurting everywhere!).

More ridiculous still is the fact that if UEFA should pick up on the incident after the event, the only ones to profit will be our competitors who might get to play against a Thun side weakened by any resulting suspension. Additionally, doubtless Wenger would've encouraged his side to give the ref every opportunity to redress the balance in the second-half, by collapsing at the first sign of any contact. Yet if the ref recognised the sending-off as somewhat severe and doled out 3 bookings as some form of compensation, again these could only end up benefiting our other opponents.

Still I shouldn't complain because in some respects it was the feelings of injustice and the sense of winning in spite of being reduced to 10 men for much of the match, that had such a beneficial effect on our team spirit. You have the advantage of knowing by now whether it's proved sufficiently positive to overcome an Everton side, on the rebound from 6 losses out of 7, including a thrashing in Europe. Considering we scored 14 goals against them, in their best season in donkey's years, then we might also be up against the law of averages, which would suggest we are due to draw a blank against the Toffees.

We're going to need to be as confident as possible, when it comes to taking on a West Ham side this weekend, riding high on their surprising start to the season. In some respects I wish they were playing Chelsea, prior to the couple of hammerings that in all probability are bound to bring the Irons back down to earth. At the moment they're one of the few teams likely to take the Blues on without demonstrating fatal levels of respect.

It will take a manager like Pardew, or perhaps Stuart Pearce to spring a surprising result against Chelsea, with the "cahones" to send their team out to beat their illustrious opponents, rather than merely trying to avoid defeat. As a counterpoint to the customary arrogant witterings of Mourinho, it was wonderful at the weekend to be reminded that the beautiful game still contains the odd charismatic character. I am of course referring to the irreverent, rib-tickling sight of Stuart Pearce biting Sam Allardyce's bum on the touchline.

Moreover, from watching feeble performances by Spurs and Real Madrid, I got the distinct feeling that I needn't fret over Wenger's failure to capture the likes of Jenas and Baptista. Their fairly anonymous efforts (to date!) would suggest that events might have contrived to save the club from wasting over 20 million quid? The pundits would have us believe that it is Sol Campbell's return that could prove crucial. I would agree that it might be important but more in a psychological sense, as a player of Sol's size and immense presence lends gravitas to an Arsenal team that was in danger of being regarded as a little lightweight without both Campbell and Vieira.

Right at this point in time, a player who commands as much respect as Sol could shore up the cracks in the centre of the park. But I'm assuming it's a temporary fix, to relieve some of the pressure and allow the likes of Gilberto time to grasp the mantle of midfield general. Long term Sol's probably too injury prone, or perhaps not sufficiently committed these days, for a durable defensive partnership that we can depend on in the future

_______________________________________________________________



Hi folks

I was grateful for Dennis' goal Wednesday night, if only for the fact that if it hadn't been for the Dutchman being left with enough 'get up and go' in the 90th minute to 'smash and grab' the winner (can you imagine how gutted the Swiss side must've been?), this mail would've turned into a far more pessimistic moan

But it was what this represented which meant most to me. The fact that it was the first sign we've seen for some while of the necessary 'do or die' spirit which is crucial for success in football

It's funny because you can usually bank on me for an effusion of 'glass half empty' opinions, but with the fatalistic mood which has been flowing from miserable Gooners of late, suddenly I am back in my element. For season after successive season, we've suffered as the Arsenal have under-achieved as one of the most fancied teams in Europe

Yet when I look back to memorable nights such as the Cup Winners Cup win in Copenhagen, it seems that after several seasons of successful domestic football, played in such fine style, we've all forgotten quite what a reputation the Arsenal once had for our ability to 'win ugly', against all odds. Remember the mediocre line-up of humdrum journeymen who triumphed over Parma's multi-million pound, star-studded line-up

I daren't open my big gob and speak 'its' name precisely, for fear of tempting fate, but perhaps, just perhaps, in a season where we've our weakest, least fancied squad for years, we might surprise a few people, by scrapping out some unlikely results. Whatever the upshot, it will be great if we should qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, to find ourselves going into games as the undoubted underdogs

I am not suggesting you should rush out and place a bet on us for European Champions, but consider if you will that I have schlepped all over the continent this past decade or so, but as my plastic debts reach meltdown point, this is perhaps the first season where I hadn't planned on travelling to any of the away games in the group stages and only changed my mind and twisted my own arm with regard to a trip to Prague, after picking up some cheap flights. So perhaps it's already written that we are bound to progress in the first season where my lack of attendance at away games is going to result in me not being eligible for a ticket to the latter stages. If I'd known that's all it took for us to get to a Final, I would have stopped travelling years back :-)

I certainly hope we can look forward to some success in Europe, as it's not exactly looking promising on the domestic front. Even if we beat Everton tonight, we'll still be nine points behind Chelsea. And even if we win the game we have in hand over the Blues, while mercifully the British game is still just about capable of throwing up the occasional result which goes completely against the form book, it's hard to imagine more than a couple of teams with the wherewithal to put one over on the Pensioners

And if that should prove to be the case, then basically we're going to have to win every single game between now and 8th May! This would be a tall order if we were a team at the top of our game. It would be a bloomin' miracle based on our current form!

But there I go getting all morose again. Although it's hard not to in the circumstances this season. Ro had a splitting headache last Wednesday and decided to stop at home at the last minute and watch the match on the box. This particular situation always present a dilemma. Do I risk the ticket going to waste, walking round to the Box Office and heading to the West Upper entrance from there, in the hope that there's a Gooner mind reader looking for a spare ticket, as that's the only person I am likely to flog it to, when I am far too afraid of being taken for a tout to be able to make the necessary vocal effort required to find a less psychic, ticketless Gooner

Moreover at that late stage, there's absolutely no way I am going to get anywhere near the seventy quid face value for it (in fact I've never had the front to ask for more than fifty quid for a football ticket -despite being prepared to pay so much more myself!). So considering it's far more likely to go to waste, or at most I might get 20 or 30 quid, and knowing quite how much of a wind up it must be for his Spurs supporting dad (having already lured his son away from the dark side - which doesn't take much persuasion these days!!), I will invariably knock for the lad downstairs.

However there was no reply when I called for Jamal on my way round to THOF and since I'd arranged to meet a mate who usually sits in the East Upper, I invited him to come and sit with me instead. I love having someone come and sit with us for the first time, as it often takes for me to experience our amazing pitch through the wonderment of someone else's eyes, so that I'm reminded to fully appreciate quite how fortunate we are to have such a fabulous view of the incredible entertainment we've been privileged to witness in recent years.

We usually nip out of our seats in the 90th minute, to go and sit nearer the bulkhead, ready for a quick exit at the final whistle and although the additional distance from the pitch is a mere few yards, somehow you lose that feeling of being right on top of the touchline, almost able to reach out and touch the players, at least certainly within shouting distance. This is especially the case for someone with my dodgy bins, where the expressions on the faces soon become a blur the further back we go

But it's not until I experience the view through the eyes of someone who's perfectly happy with their own pitch, with a great view of proceedings and the necessary height to enjoy a tactical perspective, but who comments on how brilliant it is to have all that and the ability to hear the crunch of an Ashley Cole tackle, that I realise quite how lucky we are

It's also a timely reminder to savour every single second, as it reinforces the particularly poignant feeling of quite how much we stand to lose when we move to our new stadium. It's hard for me to convey with mere words, without experiencing the view with your own eyes, but while the £18 grand (four years in advance) centre block seats in Club Level are the nearest possible equivalent to our current pitch, even these outrageously expensive seats will offer nothing like our current intimate Arsenal experience

It's the reason I've been prepared to go into such hock (still paying for two seasons back!) as these seats are undoubtedly worth it and it's for the same reason that, while I whinge and whine about the club focusing almost exclusively on the affluent Arsenal fans, I would bite their hand off if I was in a position to afford one of the best Club Level seats at the new gaff.

However as each home match passes, it's hard to believe that we're enjoying this experience for the last few times. As we exit THOF from the north end of the West Upper, you walk out on to a balcony which offers perhaps the best possible view of the new stadium. Yet as we walk down the stairs, we've become friendly with the stewards over the years who stand charge at a door which leads to the North Bank (which is usually reserved for the red jacketed fillies leading their herds of corporate punters around the pitch to the Clock End hospitality).

It must save us about 15 mins, nipping through the North Bank, instead of walking all the way around and battling past the queue for the Arsenal tube station. And each time I pass this way now, I am reminded that there will be none of this personal feeling at the new stadium. We'll have to start from scratch and perhaps we'll develop a relationship with the stewards over the coming years, but I can't help but have increasingly depressing feelings about becoming just one amongst sixty thousand faceless other punters.

Meanwhile my WHU supporting pal who used to be my boss at the ballet, was in touch this weekend. He and his wife return once a year to celebrate their anniversary at the same plush, Docklands hotel. In the past they've shared the first class facilities with the Arsenal squad who used to go there to prepare for home games (I don't know whether the stringent financial restraints on the club have put the kibbosh on such luxurious preparations, but I tend to think otherwise?). On this occasion last weekend it was the Chelsea team who were 'in town'.

I wish I'd known in advance, as we could have had a whip round to see if we could persuade my pal to push John Terry down a flight of stairs :-) Apparently Mourinho was in the bar on Friday night at a table with some of his cronies and an innocent Yank, noticing his tracksuit, enquired "Chelsea.....are they any good? I'm Man Utd myself", at which point according to my mate, the pouting Portuguese manager promptly got up and walked out :-)

Come on you Reds
Peace & Love
Bernard

--
mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Monday, 12 September 2005

Apoplectic Meets Epileptic

Hi Folks

Doubtless this week's rant could easily have continued on for at least
another few thousand words worth of frustrations. But in order that I might
seek some solace in the last knockings of some sensational cricket, I've
decided to spare you lucky bleeders for once

I guess I should also apologise to any of you who've already had the
misfortune to be burdened by various versions of the following moan.

Big Love
Bernard

PS. Bloomin' typical, sod's law has ensured that the second I stop to
concentrate fully on the cricket, Pietersen's marvelous innings bites the
dust
_______________________________________________________

Apoplectic Meets Epileptic

How considerate of those SOBs at Sky to arrange a 5.15 KO for one of
our longest schleps of the season (over 500 mile round trip!). As a
consequence it would've been cutting it very fine if I was to catch the last
train home. In fact if I hadn't been fortunate enough to blag a lift back
from a kindly Gooner pal, I probably would have left long before our last
minute consolation goal, along with a smattering of other Arsenal fans who
didn't fancy the prospect of spending all night on a station platform.

I was actually tempted to stop at home and watch the cricket. If I
was more of a patriot, I might well have done so. Murphy's Law would've
guaranteed that my decision invoked the rain which would’ve prevented play
for the entire day and I'd have been responsible for improving England's
chances of retaining the Ashes. Nevertheless as keen as I've been to see
Vaughan and co. stick it to those arrogant Antipodeans, there was no way I
was going to miss out on this particular match. After all Boro's Riverside
home has proved to be one of the Arsenal's happiest hunting grounds in
recent times.

Moreover it might be a doddle getting up and driving to any of our
five London derbies, but no matter what the outcome, it's as if I'm obliged
to endure such dreadfully exhausting outings, by way of paying my dues for
the pleasure I expect to receive during the rest of the season. And boy do I
feel as if we paid in full on Saturday!

I should have recognised that the omens weren't in our favour, from
the moment I realised Henry was out injured (either that or the absence of a
decent bowel movement on Saturday morning!). After arriving on the train I
decided to time my walk to the ground, in case my ride home didn't work out.
But when the plethora of replica shirts on the High Street began to
evaporate, I soon realised I wasn't on the right track. Thankfully a
friendly Teesider showed me the route and as we marched along the mile or
so, I did my best to make conversation.

I recounted that their latest summer signing, Rochemback, had stuck
in my mind ever since I'd seen him score a 40-yard screamer for Barca, in
the Amsterdam tournament 3 summers back. But when I suggested Boro might
have a good chance of beating us, this chap explained that he was more
concerned with avoiding a repeat of the fit he'd suffered at the last match.
"Surely you didn't play that badly?" Apparently the poor bloke suffered a
bout of epilepsy!

In addition to the Boro fans who must’ve stopped at home in their
droves to watch the live broadcast (as evidenced by large swathes of empty
seats), I was disappointed by the absence of the white police horse, which
has been on duty on several recent, far more pleasurable Riverside romps.
Boro fans are in the habit of bringing tidbits for the huge stallion and in
return the horse expresses its gratitude by stamping his front hoof.

Events on the pitch aside (especially Saturday's calamitous example),
as a sentimental old bugger, my season is made up of such trifling awayday
idiosyncrasies. During a time of such drastic change, I suppose I’m all the
more sensitive to their passing. There's no denying the magnificence of the
new stadium, which has risen from the Drayton Park dust to dominate our
North London skyline. Yet as the new countdown clock in one corner of
Highbury ticks away, inexorably, towards the day of our eventual departure,
almost daily, I grow increasingly fearful that I will end up watching
football, but definitely not the beautiful game as I've always known it.

The club can line the walls of the new gaff with the best Italian
marble money can buy. Yet whatever the result, in truth there’s no hiding
from the fact that that it will be nigh on impossible to recreate Highbury’s
certain ‘je ne sais quoi”, that special aura of reverence and tradition
which oozes from the very veins of our old stadium’s ancient stone walls.

What’s more, as the marketing men focus on hiving off all the posh
pitches to the Gooner high-rollers, whilst paying little more than lip
service to the desires and sensitivities of those punters with less than a
couple of grand’s worth of disposable income, I live in absolute dread of a
day when we might end up watching 22 mercenary prima donnas, kicking a ball
around in an albeit spectacular arena, but with less soul than the
Birmingham NEC.

At least there’s some consolation with the imminent upheaval (whoever
said that pregnancy and moving home were the 2 most traumatic events
obviously wasn’t an Arsenal fan), as I’m unlikely to get too hot under the
collar over Saturday’s hopeless effort, while fretting about the club’s
entire future. Apparently the same cannot be said about Arsène Wenger, as
our manager is already showing signs that he’s feeling the pressure.

We’ve grown accustomed to the sight of our inscrutable gaffer giving
nothing away on the bench, often claiming in the interests of diplomacy not
to have seen the most controversial events. Whereas we witnessed him totally
losing his rag on the touchline this weekend, gesticulating with wild
indignation over at least a couple of Riley’s dubious decisions. Perhaps
he’s taken a leaf out of Fergie’s book by trying to influence the ref. Or
was Wenger merely venting his own anger at the failings of his selection
policy. No matter how often Arsène assures us of our ability to mount a
credible challenge, we remain a long way (9 points to date!) from having
Chelsea’s rotational luxuries. Quite frankly these days even Spurs squad
seems to have more depth in strength! A fact which leaves few of us actually
believing in the fiction of the £30 million war-chest supposedly at Wenger’s
disposal.

As a result Arsène simply cannot afford to disrespect the likes of
Boro by “resting” Ljungberg, Senderos and Fabregas, especially without Titi.
I believe we’re obliged to play our best XI at all times. If some tinkering
is unavoidable, then at least not at centre-back, where Touré and Senderos
require the necessary constancy to develop an intuitive relationship,
whereby each instinctively knows what the other will do in any given
situation.

Unlike all those Gooner who might want to strangle Cygan, I’ve some
sympathy for Pascal. He might’ve been guilty of the almighty blunder which
gifted Boro their 2nd goal, but at least you can’t accuse our lumbering
Lurch of any lack of commitment. With Pires and Cole both looking like they
are merely going through the motions, all the others are having to graft
that much harder.

It’s also becoming increasingly obvious that even at less than 100%
for the past couple of years, Paddy’s immense stature and presence lent the
relative schnips alongside him in midfield a focal point. Since Vieira’s
departure, as far as the opposition is concerned, the Arsenal present a far
less daunting prospect. I’m beginning to feel like a broken record, but
unless Hleb has an impact beyond our wildest dreams, or Giberto, our
“invisible wall”, suddenly becomes incredibly visible, the Arsenal will
continue to lack the sort of leadership necessary to turn a game around.

Admittedly the confidence that Boro so obviously lacked at kick-off,
was boosted by taking the lead with their first shot on target. However most
depressing was that in the past the Arsenal would’ve been sufficiently
piqued, to apply a tidal wave of pressure. Whereas on Saturday, I sensed the
game was already up. Without a player with the strength of personality to
lead the fightback, this costly loss felt almost inevitable from the moment
we conceded.

‘Am I bovvered?’ With Henry out for up to a month and Paddy putting
the boot in by scoring for Juve, you can bet you’re sweet bippy! A faith
restoring party with the Swiss part-timers on Wednesday won’t be a panacea,
but it would serve as a bloomin’ good palliative!



--
mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Monday, 5 September 2005

For As Long As Ye All Shall Live!

Driving past our magnificent new stadium you can't fail to be impressed with the mammoth structure which seems to have sprung forth from the Drayton Park dirt, to dominate the local skyline. Even me, as one of the most selfish disbelievers, having been safely ensconced in my West Upper pitch at Highbury for the past umpteen seasons, with none of the tiresome
Ticketmaster struggles of trying to secure myself a regular seat at Highbury, I have to admit that it appears as if we are going to have a fitting new home in the near future, for a club which hopes to secure its place as a major player on football's world stage. And that's a big leap of faith for someone who's so stuck in his ways. I've been petrified that our departure from our beautiful and historical Home of Football is bound to sever the sentimental ties which have bound me to the Arsenal for the vast majority of my life. As far as I'm concerned, it might still be football, but certainly not as I've always known it.

However, while I've grown to accept the move as an inevitable fact of life, if the Gunners are to continue to flourish, that doesn't make me any less desperate to cling on for dear life to that certain "je ne sais quoi" which has always distinguished our club from the rest of the Premiership dross. Whoever said that childbirth and moving home were the 2 most traumatic events in a person's life, obviously wasn't a footie fanatic in mortal fear of having their entire heritage stolen out from under their feet!

I can fully appreciate the feelings of all those Gooners who believe the world will be a better place, when they can simply buy a ticket to watch their beloved Arsenal play, without the sort of military planning required to try and bag one of the limited number of precious pitches available at Highbury, 2 months in advance of every match. Nevertheless my concerns continue to mount almost daily at the prospect of us ending up at some point in the future watching 22 overpaid prima donnas kicking a ball around in an albeit spectacular arena, but with little more soul than the Birmingham NEC.

Go to a night game in Milan and the lights of the San Siro give the ground's silhouette the look of a spectacular prop from the Close Encounters movie. Yet turn up during the cold light of day, when there's no match and you'll find little to connect this deserted concrete tribute to architectural modernity, to the great footballing dynasties of AC or Inter Milan, other than some guttersnipes' coarse graffiti. The system of sharing stadia in Serie A ensures that the majority of their most well known grounds might be great stages for Italy's most glamorous footballing occasions, when they are filled with enthusiastic 'tifosi' and adorned with spectacular. But if the Arsenal's ancient old arena is humble by comparison, at least it feels like OUR Home of Football, rather than the somewhat impersonal venue that is merely the location many Italians share with their most hated local rivals for their live (if a little boring) version of the beautiful game.

Despite me being an incorrigible romantic, I know only too well that the days are long gone when a young footballing prodigy could walk across the threshold to our hallowed marble halls and want to sign on the dotted line, without giving a monkey's for the terms of their contract. In the past, players were just desperate to associate themselves with all the tradition and the magical scent of success, which continues to ooze out of every vein of the Arsenal's ancient marble. It's hard to imagine that the 'have boots will travel' type mercenaries currently plying their trade in modern football, are the least bit worried about anything else but the wonga and being enticed by the sort of wage packets which could eradicate Third World debt.

Chelsea's recent title triumph contradicts the suggestions that you cannot buy success. It might no longer be sufficient to make players want to turn down the prospect of earning twice as much, but mercifully there remains an intangible quality of tradition and reverence around Highbury's stately environs, which is beyond the taint of Abramovich's filthy blood-stained lucre. You simply will not find that special aura which is encapsulated in our old world entrance hall, amongst all that new money fuelled glitz at Stamford Bridge. Peer beyond the temptations of their garish pots of gold and Chelsea just lacks the substance that one senses instinctively at Highbury.

Meanwhile the club can line the walls of our spectacular new stadium with the best Italian marble money can buy. But all the ostentatious finishing touches in the world won't guarantee that they are able to bring that essence of the Arsenal's heart & soul a few hundred yards along Aubert Park. At the end of the day, it won't be the standard of haute cuisine in Club Level, or high-class half-time comestibles which will distinguish our new footballing temple from the fairly bland experience of watching the game in decidedly homogenised, but none the less well-built modern grounds such as The Reebok and St. Marys.

Don't get me wrong, from our wonderful West Upper perch, where we pay the best part of 4 grand for the privilege of watching the Arsenal, some sort of reverse snobbery would be more than a little hypocritical. Moreover I'm conversant with the harsh economic facts of life which have to date seen our club focus almost exclusively on promoting the fabulous facilities available to the considerable contingent of the Arsenal's most affluent punters. I've been led to believe that between the Exec Boxes, Diamond Class and Club Level, the club are expecting that the vast sums received from these income streams alone, will pay for the entire ambitious project over the course of 9 years. It is therefore completely understandable that they should be concentrating on marketing these packages to the Arsenal's poshest punters.

However I'm becoming increasingly dismayed that this decidedly blinkered focus is going to prove to the detriment of the vast majority of loyal Gooners. I might not be blessed with deep enough pockets to have jumped to the front of the new stadium queue, by buying a bond a short while back. Nor have I a hope of affording a little short of 40 grand necessary to
pay 4 years up front for the two centre seats in Club Level (which are in fact the closest true equivalent to our current fabulous pitch). Nevertheless the club might not consider me one of the highly prized mug punters, with several thousands worth of disposable readies to stump up for one of the new stadium's more highly desirable seats. But if I sat down to work it out, I've little doubt that over the years my total investment in the Arsenal will amount to far more than the 'paltry' sums being paid for these luxury pitches in the short term.

If this financial investment doesn't carry any weight because I don't currently have enough cash for my opinions to matter a jot (along with the rest of the masses), then it should be our emotional investment which the suits at the club might really want to concern themselves with. After all they are merely the caretakers of our club and since football remains a cyclical sport, the feelings of the 50 thousand plebs and our matchday experience must matter as much as the 10 thousand watching from their lofty ivory peaks, because we will still be there long after the corporate hordes have hitched their wagons to another more attractive train.

Although we shouldn't be surprised at this short-term lack of any true footballing nous. It seems to prevail in everything the club has done during this desperate dash for cash to fund the project. According to those with a knowledge of such matters, the deal to sell off our birthright to an Arabic airline will be worth diddly squat in the long term, compared to the value of enhancing the club's image around the world with The Home of Football. Even when the marketing whores in Manchester were beholden to their shareholders, they didn't cash in for the sake of a quick dividend by flogging off The Theatre of Dreams.

I continue to pray that someone, somewhere will pull their finger out and stand up to represent our opinions, during a period of the greatest upheaval we are going to experience in our entire Arsenal lives. Although in truth we've just about relinquished our rights to have some input on the matter. By failing to open our gobs over something so significant as the fact that brand new bond holders were to receive priority over season ticket holders, some of whom have been carrying this club since the old King died, our apathetic response basically gave the decision makers carte-blanche to do exactly as they please without fear of any real protest.

When I think back to how militant we Gooners were when it came to uproar over the North Bank project, plans which eventually proved to be quite petty in the great scheme of things, I am absolutely flabbergasted about the way in which we've sat back on our big fat arses and let the whole new stadium development pass us by, with nothing more than a token input.

Personally I get the distinct impression that there must be some sense of shame over the fact that the club has been quietly hiving off all the fancy seats at our unfinished stadium to all the most affluent punters. Otherwise, one would have thought that they are rightly so proud of this magnificent project that they'd be marketing it in 6-foot high neon letters, along the length of Avenell Road. Instead of which they've been touting all the best tickets out of an extremely anonymous office in a commercial backwater off the Cally. If you phone Highbury, they will admit to the existence of the Reservations Centre, but no one could give me the address. Despite knowing the area well, I drove up and down Brewery Road three times
before I eventually got through on the phone to discover the exact address (by the way it's worth a visit, if only to get ones picture taken with the huge "Immaculate Season" poster, listing our unbeaten run).

So in the near future when you poor prejudiced Clock End season ticket holders end up choosing their new pitches from the last knockings of the remaining available seats in the North end of the new stadium, please don't come crying to me. Moreover I don't mean to imply that occasional visitors make any less contribution to the atmosphere at Highbury (let's face it, it wouldn't be hard to make more noise!). But it would appear that instead of the administrative aggravation of having to move fans from one end of the ground to the other, on the mere few Cup occasions where the visitors get an increased allocation, the entire area behind the south goal has been given over to general sale. So in the future when much of this crucial area of the stadium ends up occupied by footie tourists, ticking off the Arsenal on their itineraries, I wouldn't go expecting them to suck the ball into the back of the net on our behalf. Nor are they likely to be leaping to their feet and pressurising the ref into awarding a penalty.

If in a few years time, when the initial rush of 'I want what I can't have' Arsenal fans have had their fill of the new stadium because it's such an expensive family outing, don't say I didn't warn you when on a miserable wet Wednesday night in the deep mid-winter, there's nothing but a smattering of away fans at one end of the ground watching Arsenal v Wigan (or whoever happens to be that season's lamb to the slaughter!).

--
mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

International Imbroglio

In the recent past, an encounter between Ireland and France would've
presented a conflict of interest as far as I was concerned. I'd be desperate
for Ireland to qualify, but I wouldn't want to witness a poor performance
from France's Arsenal contingent. In my over-crowded cupboard, amongst my
huge collection of t-shirts, I have a particular favourite, which portrays
the front page of the Daily Mirror and the memorable headline "Arsenal Win
The World Cup". It was produced in honour of the major contribution of
Vieira, Petit, Pires and Henry, in winning the final for Les Blues back in
1998.



In the years that have followed the majority of Arsenal fans have maintained
a keen interest in the success filled exploits of the French national team.
In truth, aside from the incredible talents of the likes of Zinedine Zidane,
for the most part it has often felt as if we might as well have been
watching Arsène Wenger's outfit. Moreover invariably the football on offer
has been far more entertaining than anything the home nations have had to
offer.



After suffering England's sorry excuse for a performance on Saturday
afternoon, it was a pleasant surprise to discover live coverage of Les Blues
on TV5, a satellite channel, later that same night. The Faroe Islands ain't
exactly top notch opposition, but with 'Zizou' and the other International
retirees returning to the French fold, in the twilight of their careers, I
jump at any opportunity to witness a performance of such a special player.



Zidane reminds me of the likes of Pele and George Best, as the sort of
artists that genuine fans of the beautiful game will pay to watch no matter
where or when. I might not have been old enough to fully appreciate the
other two, but these players perform with a balletic grace, where the ball
is merely an extension of their feet. It's more akin to a gymnastic display,
with the ball attached to their boots by an invisible bit of string. It’s as
if we’re the privileged witnesses to the perfection of the sort of trickery
they’ve been practising since childhood, whereby their pleasure suggests
that we might just as well be watching the kid playing with his mates on a
rough patch of ground near his home.



Despite the negative effects of all the fame and fortune in the intervening
years, it’s obvious that they remain most at ease with the ball at their
feet. The joy of watching them perform is heightened by the fact that they
continue to retain that childlike buzz of enthusiasm.



Wayne Rooney first barrelled onto the world stage with a bang, with similar
youthful exuberance. But Sven seems to be turning all his England youngsters
into sanitised Scandinavians, perhaps a little bit too focused on their team
related tasks, to allow any room for individual brilliance. Only the odd
interchange between Gerrard and Rooney, and Ryan Giggs valiant efforts for
the Welsh kept me from falling asleep in front of the TV on Saturday
afternoon. My sympathies to those who stumped up hard cash and endured the
tortuous and never-ending schlep to and from the Millennium to watch this
dross. I sincerely hope they made it home in time to enjoy the light relief
of an unfettered French performance.



However when Thierry Henry was substituted midway through the second half,
with ex-Gunners Vieira and Wiltord still involved, it was some time before
the shocking realisation dawned on me that their wasn't a single Arsenal
player left on the pitch. In light of the memorable events in Paris in ‘98,
who could've possibly imagined that in a few short years, with Arsène Wenger
still at the Highbury helm, we'd be witnessing a French national side which
didn't include any Arsenal involvement. Especially when you consider the way
the tabloid media has focused on the Arsenal's close association with the
frogs, to the extent that some misguided gurriers must’ve imagined us all
turning up for matches in our stripey shirts, on our 'bicyclettes' with
berets on our heads and a string of onions or garlic cloves around our
necks!



Once the shock had subsided, there was the silver lining that while I
wouldn't want Henry to endure a confidence sapping experience, I will be
able to cheer on the Boys in Green at Lansdowne Road tonight with little of
the usual conflicted feelings. Come Sunday, I was able to enjoy Eurosport's
live coverage of Ivory Coast v Cameroon. Neither Lauren or Eboué was
involved for either side, but it’s strange to think that there could
feasibly come a time in the future when you might hear us Gooners hollering
“It’s just like watching Les Elephantes”!



I wasn’t too happy about Drogba getting the boost of bagging a couple of
goals but I was more disappointed when Cameroon sneaked a late winner. The
Indomitable Lions have already enjoyed participating in the World Cup.
Whereas the war torn Ivory Coast is in far more need of something positive
to focus on, instead of the differences which have resulted in eternal
post-colonial disputes that have destroyed this beautiful country and left
the population even more poverty stricken than the rest of Africa. What’s
more Germany 2006 would be a better place for the boundless fervour of Les
Elephantes and their fans and it’s a great pity they’ve probably blown it.



I only hope the same isn’t true of Ireland and that the sloppy lapses in
concentration, which ended up in Israel scoring equalising goals in the 45th
and 90th minutes, don’t eventually cost us a place in next summer’s
competition. It is very painful to think that the single act a player
switching off for the last few seconds of a half could have such calamitous
consequences over a year later for the entire country! But I suppose the
beauty and the beast of this game of ours is encapsulated in these brief,
gut-wrenching cataclysms.



As much as I savour every opportunity to watch the artistry of the
likes Zidane and Thuram, I wouldn’t be too disappointed if Saturday’s
injuries prevent them appearing in Dublin. With both sides dropping four
points to the Israelis and qualification in this tight group balanced on a
knife edge, each of the 3 remaining fixtures are massive, with both managers
futures firmly resting on the outcome. My close family ties to Israel have
caused an additional conflict of interest to date, but so long as it’s not
the Swiss who end up profiting from the failure of the two favourites, it’s
a bit of a no lose situation as far as I am concerned.





For Israel to qualify for their first ever World Cup would be a
miracle which Moses himself would’ve been proud of and in Germany of all
places! I guess the ideal scenario for me would be for Ireland and Israel to
qualify, so that Thierry Henry can spend the summer recuperating on the
beach, returning for the following season reinvigorated. However I don’t
expect I will get as much mileage supporting either side as I might have
from following the French. Yet I would guess that it’s the German
authorities who are fretting most about the possibility of the Israelis
involvement and the prospect of the sort of massive operation which would be
required, to prevent any repeat of the nightmares of the Munich Olympics.



Even if the Swiss should come up trumps, I’d have the slight solace of
supporting Philippe Senderos. I suppose there has to be some up-side to
having so many different nationalities in the Arsenal squad. Although it
would be little consolation for losing players for pointless International
friendlies and spending these two weeks worrying whether they will come back
fit. To be honest if it wasn’t for the diversion of the wonderful contest in
the cricket, I’d probably be spending the entire time expressing my outrage
about such a dreadful disturbance to our domestic competition, only a couple
of weeks into the season.



I never thought I’d be so eager for an arduous trip to Middlesbrough, which
has ‘thoughtfully’ been arranged for a 5.15pm KO, without giving a monkey’s
for the Gooners who might have to leave 5 minutes before the final whistle
if they want to make it back home on the train the same night! Sadly it’s
not at home, as otherwise I’d be off to see the reserves tonight, using the
excuse to check out Sol Campbell’s progress as a substitute for a proper
footie fix!

_______________________________________________________

Hi folks

It is probably a blessing that you get two for the price of one this week,
because with the Examiner's Arena supplement coming out on a Wednesday (if
anyone wants the edited version of the following, check out http://www.examiner.ie and you'll see the link to "Arena" under "sections"),it seemed sensible for me to focus on the big match in Dublin between France and Ireland.

So in order that there is a little more Arsenal content, I have also mailed
out a piece I've just written for the next edition of the Gooner. Although
to be honest, many of you might have already read the sentiments expressed
in my whinge about the fact that we seem to have had so little input in the
development of OUR new stadium, in some of the comments I've posted to the
mailing list

To be honest both pieces proved to be a bloomin' nightmare. I've been
downloading lots of movies recently, since my broadband connection was
upgraded to 8mb (can highly recommend the movies Crash and Sin City) but
while Apple computers and especially the latest OS X software are usually
extremely reliable, I have a feeling that either my tinkering with my
connection settings, or the peer-to-peer sharing and downloads have caused
some sort of problem

You would've thought that after all this time, I would have learnt my lesson
and either got in the habit of saving my work every now and again, or use
Microsoft Word to write with, because it has an auto save setting which
ensures that your work is saved every few minutes and so of the machine
should crash, it will ask if you want to revert to the last version of the
document which was saved prior to the crash

However as a result of all these clever additions to MS Word, the
application is very memory hungry and so if I am browsing, in order to check
some facts, or downloading a movie at the same time, it can slow down the
machine quite considerably.

So I am in the habit of using the most simple word processing software on my
machine which unfortunately doesn't have these "auto-save" features.
Consequently when my machine crashed for the first time during my writing of
the Gooner piece, I ended up losing everything I'd written during the
previous few hours and all I had left was the first paragraph. The most
annoying thing is that whenever this has happened, one tries to rewrite
everything as quick as possible, whilst it is still fresh in the memory and
no matter what you end up writing, for some reason it always feels as if it
doesn't read quite so well as what you'd written previously

I am sure it's probably all in the mind, but I always end up tinkering over
the rewritten paragraphs for hours, convinced it doesn't read quite as well.

Having finally finished my piece for the Gooner on Saturday morning, I
eventually got around to beginning my piece for the paper on Sunday night. I
was in the process of downloading the Life and Death of Peter Sellers at the
same time and I'd written the first couple of paragraphs of my piece when
the computer crashed again.

This time, with the warning message telling me the computer had crashed,
sitting on top of my document on the screen, I grabbed Ro's laptop and
managed to write an e-mail to myself, typing out the words I could see
behind the warning message and guessing at the ending to all the lines which
were half-hidden.

With two crashes in such a short space of time, you'd think I would have
learnt my lesson, but no, I continued on undaunted. And so when the machine
crashed for a third time at about 3pm this afternoon, I was screaming blue
murder. I was most annoyed at myself for not having saved, or better still,
begun working with MS Word. I guess I've got a natural aversion to anything
related to the all-consuming Bill Gates conglomerate and so in addition to
hating PCs running Windows, I always tend to avoid using Internet Explorer,
MS Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc.

Although I have to admit that I've relented in recent times and now use MS
Entourage for my e-mail instead of Apple's own Mail application. But at this
point I was absolutely gutted, as I'd intended copying the work I'd done so
far into a Word document, so that I could count on the auto-save feature,
but I simply hadn't got around to it.

Again I grabbed Ro's machine - luckily she was out taking her
daughter-out-of-law to the hospital for them to do a scan to check the
progress of her second grandchild, as otherwise Ro usually gets a little
shirty when I want to use her machine because she's convinced that even if I
don't end up messing around with it, changing all her settings and somehow
creating some sort of glitch with all my messing around, I am bound to leave
grubby fingerprints all over her pristine machine, which is understandable
when you compare her shiny aluminium Powerbook to my scruffy iBook that
hasn't been anywhere near its original white colour for many months! :-)

However on this occasion again all I could see on my screen was a couple of
paragraphs and so having written these out in an e-mail to myself, I ended
up losing everything I'd been writing for the past few hours. I sat there
for a few moments, unable to quite comprehend the painful fact that I was
going to have to begin rewriting everything else all over again. I think I
was reluctant to hit the necessary keys to reboot the computer as it meant
admitting the fact that I'd lost everything and perhaps I was hoping for
some sort of miracle which might redeem the situation

But eventually I accepted defeat, hit the forced reboot keys and after
getting the e-mail with the first few poras, I began again frantically
adding as much as I could recall, as quickly as possible, both before I
forgot it all and in order that I'd get it to the Examiner before I started
receiving phone calls from them to enquire why I was late as ever.

It's funny because I ended up finishing at about 4pm and I was almost
tempted to wait for the phone call before e-mailing it over to them, just so
I'd have an opportunity of telling them about all my travails, as otherwise
they'd not have a clue quite how much effort had gone into getting my piece
to them

Meanwhile, at least I know that all of you will be suitably grateful and so
having sat at this keyboard for more hours than I care to think about and
with poor Treacle sitting here, patiently waiting with her legs crossed for
the past hour or so, I am going to let the poor hound relieve herself before
disappearing off on another tangent that leaves me writing another few
hundred words

Peace & Love
Bernard



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mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com