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Wednesday 8 February 2006

What A Difference A Game Makes

Hi folks

Really we should be reserving judgment, at least until Saturday's encounter with Fat Sam Allardyce's side, as it's seems like an eternity since we last recorded consecutive wins. But our first away win since Boxing Day was always going to have a positive effect on the gloomy Gooner mood.

Things would've looked even brighter if Spurs had stumbled against Charlton at the Lane on Sunday but I guess we can't be greedy and once we get our own house in order, hopefully everything else will fall into place (or more's the point, Spurs fall a few places :-).

Still after reading about young Theo Walcott's first goal for the reserves in this morning's papers, I am sure I'm not far from alone in feeling a whole heap more optimistic than I did this time last week (not hard, when you consider I had the Samaritans on fast dial!). Up until then the Arsenal were having a dodgy season, as "a team in transition" - such a meaningless expression since every team is in "transition" until they win something and for some this is a very near permanent state!

However when Sol walked out last Wednesday, on top of our first defeat at home to the Hammers in umpteen years, it was as if this was a signal for the flood gates to open for all the "Arsenal in crisis" stories. Taking a realistic view, fifth in the league, with a glamorous last sixteen game against Real Madrid to come in the Champions League and about to move to a marvelous 60 thousand seater new stadium, oh how many other Premiership would love to have our troubles!

Meanwhile thankfully Gooner glasses are suddenly beginning to appear half full, especially if we can finally begin to build on our away win against Birmingham. The way this season has panned out, most of us would now gladly settle for sneaking into the Champions League, finishing higher than Spurs and looking forward to the opening game at the new gaff, with a young squad that's shown signs of promising a future that could be every bit as bright as our recent past.

Although it's hard not to cling to some fantastic Champions League fancies, simply because we've so far saved all the good fortune that appears to have evaded us in the Premiership, for our European encounters. Mind you Gooner gal, Amy Lawrence brought a little reality to this far fetched dream with her piece in Sunday's Observer putting a dampener on my reasoning that if Liverpool were able to win it last season, why not us.

Ever since the season started I've had this feeling that so many years of under achievement might finally benefit us. With our worst ever team on paper, we were for once off the radar as far as all the pundits favourites were concerned and as a result we might avoid much of the pressure which has previously proved so fateful because expectations have eased considerably. However unless Abou Diaby truly fulfils his early promise, almost instantaneously, the big difference between us and Liverpool is that we are without a Gerrard type talismanic leader on the pitch and in this teams recent incarnation, we've failed abysmally to come back from a goal down, let alone three.

After watching a pretty strong Real Madrid side drop out of the Copa Del Rey following a dreadful performance, the Galacticos hardly look like they are firing on all cylinders. Although like us they now have nothing else but the Champs League to play for and Real are just one of four of Europe's finest sides, between us and our fantasies of the big-eared trophy

Still you never know, apparently it still remains "a funny old game"

Big Love

What A Difference A Game Makes

The Arsenal’s lamentable record on the road this season has resulted in a totally understandable loss of enthusiasm amongst many travelling fans. The majority are on the ‘Away Match Ticket Scheme’, whereby in order to guarantee getting into the most glamorous fixtures in the football calendar, we’re forced to commit ourselves to tickets to every single away match. Whether you want them or not, the tickets turn up in the post and the dosh gets deducted from your credit card.

If it wasn’t for the outrageous liberty of having already been taxed for an extortionate 42 quid, for a lousy seat behind the goal, I’m sure there were quite a few Gooners at St. Andrews on Saturday who might not have bothered schlepping to Birmingham. I myself might have wavered, if the game was being shown live on the box. But then I’d feel a bit of an impostor. The whole point of this column is to try and impart a little flavour from the terraces that can’t be found elsewhere and I can hardly take the pulse of the hard core Gooners, from the comfort of my armchair!

Still with my missus still sunning herself in Tenerife, at their annual gathering of the Dublin coterie of the o’MurchĂș clan, getting to the game was plenty of aggravation. Mercifully my Ma undertook dog-sitting duty. So I dropped Treacle off and drove to Watford Junction. Arriving with only minutes to spare, I dumped the car in a drop-off area. But you can’t get on to the platform at Watford without a ticket. So I was forced to stand there tearing my hair out, in a painfully slow queue, unable to believe that I was watching the electronic notice board indicate that my train had pulled in and departed again, before I could purchase a ticket!

At least this meant I was able to move the car and it was well worth the 6 quid car park fee, rather than spending the rest of the day fretting about the possibility of a 40 quid parking fine. However I was then panicking as the next train was due to arrive only 20 minutes before KO. Even if I caught a cab from New Street station I couldn’t afford any delay.

With the dreadfully unreliable rail network, especially at weekends, few Gooners had risked this train. But I found a couple of familiar faces to share a cab with. I was so surprised to find myself outside the ground with minutes to spare, that it felt as if I should get the taxi to do a few laps of the disgustingly ugly, concrete colossus of the Bullring to ensure I was traditionally tardy. As ever the subject of conversation in the cab turned to outrageous cost of our tickets. As about the worst culprits in the Premiership, few Gooners will be aggrieved if Steve Bruce’s side should be relegated.

Sunderland supporters visiting St. Andrews in a couple of weeks will pay 17 quid less than us for the exact same crappy view and with most clubs grading ticket prices in a similar fashion these days, it must cost us fans of the high profile clubs considerably more over the course of an entire season than the majority of supporters.

Despite the fact that it’s incredibly unfair, I guess we’ve grown accustomed to the manner in which Premiership clubs increasingly take the mickey, out of the immutable loyalty that makes a mockery of all the usual laws of supply and demand.

Mind you plenty of long-suffering fans stayed away from St. Andrews on Saturday. Even though it wasn’t live on the box, it was far from a sell out and the same must’ve been true elsewhere, as the TV cameras couldn’t avoid vast areas of empty seats, almost everywhere except Old Trafford and St. James Park - and the expanses of uninhabited terracing evident in the coverage of Serie A and La Liga suggest a similar story on the Continent. Whilst others might not make such a public display, I’m certain many can sympathise with the Boro fan who was so desperate to return his season-ticket to the prospective England manager. There was a poignant malevolence to his aggressive manner, as this was a perfect example of the sort of passion, that’s so obviously missing from Mclaren’s side.

I conveniently ignore the fact that I can no longer afford my footie addiction. But hopefully there will soon come a time where no amount of conveniently placed effects mics or strategic camera angles, will be able to disguise the fact that more fiscally responsible fans are being forced to stay away in their droves. Moreover the round-the-clock TV coverage is long past saturation point and since Murdoch’s media monopoly became the Premiership’s paymaster, it’ll only be when the empty stadia start to impact on the viewing figures, that clubs might be forced into a fairer pricing policy, having finally plumbed the depths of out previously bottomless pockets.

Even with the aid of my binoculars, I am more than used to being able to see sweet FA at the other end of the ground at away games. However our Highbury library only offers a maintenance dose for my addiction and I need to get my regular fix of real footie atmosphere by attending away games so religiously.

At St. Andrews I overheard the wife of a couple in the front row complaining about the awful view. They subsequently moved to some empty seats in front of me and when our new Togolese striker bundled his first ever Arsenal goal into the back of the net, she was cracking up about it costing so much and coming all that way, only to have to wait to see it properly on TV!

I tried to impress upon her that the important thing was not whether she’d seen it or not, but the fact that she was there. Additionally, unlike all the gutted Gooners who didn’t bother travelling to Brum, she’s amongst an exclusive club of a couple of thousand of us, who can say we were present to laud Thierry Henry on the occasion of his landmark 200th goal. Thankfully Titi waited until the second half to score his goal and suddenly all our complaints about ticket costs evaporated and the penny finally dropped for this relatively new disciple, as you simply can’t put a price on the privilege of witnessing the mesmerising magic of the maestro, almost within touching distance.

Southern fans are notorious for being more fickle than their Northern counterparts and yet whilst we all whinged in private that for his £100k a week, the least Campbell could’ve done was to turn up and offer the youngsters his support. Nevertheless following a week’s worth of tabloid torture, it warmed the cockles of my heart to hear us running through the entire repertoire of Sol’s songs, throughout the game, demonstrating our undiminished support for out centre-back. It’s the same story with Wenger, who’s built up such a stock of Gooner goodwill, that unlike other clubs in a similar boat, I can’t once recall him or his team being booed during a largely dismal season.

I for one was mighty relieved to see us revert to 4-4-2 away from home and it was a brave move to send out such a young and inexperienced side. It remains to be seen at the Reebok whether we’ve really turned the corner, as young Abou Diaby does his best to fill Paddy’s sizeable footwear. The song of the day points to most Arsenal fans favourite for our prospective upturn in form “Diaby, wohohoho. We signed him from Auxerre, he’s every-f*ckin-where. Diaby….”

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Anonymous said...

Good stuff mate. Appreciate the down-to-earth Gunner view! A shame us overseas supporters NEVER get to a game! HA!

Bern said...

Howdy HIghburied

As they say "from your mouth, to G-d's ear" although he must've "cocked a deaf 'un" on Saturday :-)

As for the Observer ditty, my own (inspired I thought :-) variation on the "oh what fun it is to see the Arsenal win away" theme