Wednesday, 3 May 2006

Thanks For The Memories

Blimey!

After a stress filled and frantic half hour, I finally got through to Ticketbastard to book my tickets for the Champions League Final (doesn't that sound wonderful!!). I spent 25 minutes trying to juggle my mobile phone, the landline phone and the keyboard of my laptop, trying to hit the sequence of buttons on the phone to constantly try and redial, while at the same time attempting to get a booking on their web site using three different browsers on the computer.

I have to tell you, "big respek" to all those season-ticketless Gooners who go through this anxiety attack for every home game, as I was a Ticketbastard virgin until this morning and I swear that much more of all the stress this morning and I would've been guaranteed a stroke (and that's with me being supposedly guaranteed to get tickets with my successful registration, heaven knows what it must be like with the fear the tickets will be long gone by the time you actually get through to make a booking!)

In the end I gave up with the computer, as even when I got through to the booking page, it just would not accept my membership details. So I was then left juggling the two phones and the BT landline wasn't even getting past the BT "try again later" message.

In fact the only reason I am not still sweating over making a booking is that mercifully I received a text from a very kind friend to advise me that he'd got through on a different phone number!

So filled with the boundless joy of knowing my tickets are being sent special delivery (although in truth I will now be fretting until the moment I actually have them in my hand, as the lady issued an ominous warning that there can be no duplicates issued!), I thought I would "treat" you all to my "Highbury Memories" piece which I wrote a couple of weeks back but didn't want to send out until it had appeared in the latest issue of The Gooner

Very best of luck to all those still trying for their tickets to the Stade De Paris, hope to see you all there
Big Love
Bernard
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Thanks For The Memories

Like many long standing Gooners, I've had extremely mixed feelings ever since the plans for our new stadium were announced. For those of us who've been attending Highbury for so many years, it's hard to imagine that we will ever share quite the same emotional attachment with our new Home of Football.

No doubt after a glorious season, or two and as I begin to build a bank of entirely new memories at the grandiose gaffe at the bottom of Aubert Park, I will soon get over it. Yet as The Clock ticks down towards the ever impending demise of a place which has played such an incredibly influential role for much of my 44 years, as the setting for such a large proportion of my most magical experiences on this mortal coil, I may have come to accept the reality of the situation (the much needed extra capacity), but not without suffering some extremely painful sentimental trauma.

As we approach that emotional last match, every time I exit the West Upper and share a comment, or merely a smile with many of the stewards, I am ever more acutely aware of this homely feeling that I have at Highbury. I can't help but wonder whether it’ll ever be quite the same, as I fear that faceless anonymity amidst 60,000 fans, as just another punter with none of the habitual familiarity.

Doubtless everyone who's Highbury memories are associated with a now departed friend or family member, is experiencing a similar emotional trepidation about the impending move and the fact that it will involve ditching many of their most precious recollections of their loved ones.

Almost every time I clunk my way through the ancient West Upper turnstiles, I’m reminded how my old man used to sneak me in, shuffling between his legs, hidden by the ample folds of his winter overcoat. The fact that I've never seen it mentioned elsewhere makes me wonder if I imagined it, but there's a door to the left of the stairway as you enter the West Upper and I’ve some decidedly misty memories of steam and smoke filled restaurant, where we'd all squeeze in on a damp winter's night for a pre-match snack before a midweek game. I seem to recall my old man was on first name terms with the matronly manageress, no doubt doing his best, along with everyone else, to schmooze his way on to a table, in good time to be served and gobble down some grub before KO.

Digging further back into my decrepit grey matter, I can recall a time when I was deemed far too delicate to stand for 90 minutes, amidst the sardines squeezed into the West Lower. If I’m not mistaken, back in the day, along with a rosette and a rattle (whatever became of these old-fashioned accoutrements?), it was quite common for a youngster's match day kit to include a small box to stand on, so they'd have some chance of seeing the action in between the heads of the adults around them.

I can't remember whether it was just the once, or several times, but I distinctly recall being picked up and passed over the heads of the lower tier throng, to sit with the St. Johns Ambulancemen in front of the hoardings. I remember feeling very special, being able almost to reach out and touch the heroes whose faces were familiar to me from my "Soccer Stars" stickers, the collecting and swapping of which was just about the most popular playground obsession of the era (I still have a complete collection in my 3'6" album from 1968/9 - I wonder what the likes of Ian Ure would've made of the modern game?).

These days, if they can afford the extortionate prices, many celebrity Gooners sit in the Exec. However this exclusive section of the West Upper was originally entitled ‘The 100 Club’. As an impressionable child, naturally my favourite uncle was the one who had two such prestigious pitches at the Arsenal. However while the old man might not have been loaded, he was a silver-tongued devil who could somehow wheedle his way into absolutely anywhere.

Judging by the vast array of indistinguishable autographs I have on my matchday programmes from that era, he must’ve wangled us in there on many occasions. Dad had this amazing ability to sidle up to absolutely anyone and become bosom buddies within the blink of an eye. Don’t ask me why, but of all the signatures I collected, the only famous face which stuck in my mind was the somewhat pockmarked phizog of DJ Pete Murray?

Back then, with my Jewish background, it would’ve been much easier to become a Spurs fan. The old man often alternated between either end of the Seven Sisters Road and in those days I would’ve endured a lot less stick from family and friends if I hadn’t opted for “boring, boring Arsenal”. Perhaps as a full-back myself from a very early age, my instinctive affinity with the Arsenal related to my appreciation of the defensive arts? Then again, aged only 9, the instance when we gave Ray Kennedy a lift back to his parents hotel from WHL on that magical night in ’71, doubtless this assisted in cementing my affiliation to the Arsenal.

Yet I’d hate to think of myself as a mere glory-hunter and I’m almost certain my attachment begun earlier than that, as even to a young child, there was some special aura about Highbury’s palatial art-deco edifice, that just wasn’t present at WHL, or any other football ground for that matter. It’s a feeling of history and tradition which fills the senses and has had many a player stating that they’ve decided to sign for the club from the first second they’ve stepped into the famous Marble Halls.

On the other hand, I might be an Arsenal fan merely because there were padded seats in the West Upper. It’s a tricky business deciding at what age a child is old enough to enjoy an entire match, without losing concentration and needing some additional distraction. It’s mad to think that I might’ve enjoyed more than three decades of delicious Highbury delights, merely due to the fact that my bony little bum couldn’t sit for 90 minutes on the nasty wooden seats at WHL?

e-mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Monday, 1 May 2006

Suffragette City

Hi folks,

Much like the assasination of JFK, the death of Lady Di, I'd guess if you're an England fan you'll remember exactly where you were when you discovered England's World Cup hopes had just hit the fan with Wayne Rooney's injury. It's a repeat of the Beckham saga all over again, as we now face daily updates on the progress of Rooney's foot all the way up to the World Cup. And even if Wayne should end up recovering in time to appear at some stage during the tournament, he's absolutely no chance of being match fit. Moreover Rooney's presence is so important as far as the rest of the squad is concerned, that unfortunately his absence is likely to have the same impact on his team mates as it did in the last European championships.

The strange thing is that with Beckham and now Rooney suffering the same injury, in the lead up to the biggest football extravaganza on the planet, it seems that the whole country has become experts on metatarsal injuries. So suddenly everyone knows that a fourth metatarsal is likely to heal quicker than a fifth metatarsal because of a better blood supply! Personally I've the misfortune to be far more familiar with the anteriror cruciate :-(

In my opinion, after watching the slo-motion replays on the telly, of the manner in which Rooney's boot crumpled as he incurred his injury, I am convinced such injuries are far more common these days due to the fact that football boots have become more like ballet shoes, than the far more sturdy footwear of yesteryear (they don't make 'em like they did.....). I reckon all five of a footballer's metatarsals were much better protected in the less supple footwear we used to play in. Moreover I've a feeling that the new fangled footie boots with blades in the bottom where studs used to be, are another contributing factor to the frequent number of injuries suffered in the modern game.

I wish someone could explain to me exactly what's supposed to be the benefit of these blades, as to my mind it seems as if they're bound to be responsible for far more knee and ankle, ligament and soft tissue strains, as they appear to be that much more prone to catching in the soft ground and instead of swivelling on ones foot, players end up unintentionally twisting joints further up the leg. Not to mention the increasing likelihood of injuring an opponent when making a tackle. I'd imagine the nylon material which makes up these blades can be far more prone to the sort of sharp edges which could cause nasty gashes in a slide tackle.

Then again whether it was studs or blades, it wouldn't have mattered what the Sunderland player was wearing, who needlessly assaulted poor Abou Diaby in the 92nd minute, in an area of the field where such a dangerous challenge was totally unnecessary, let alone a vicious tackle which appeared more like serious GBH when shown in slo-mo. Poor Abou, as you simply have to sympathize with his seemingly serious injury in the dying moments of a dead game. It's pretty likely to have wrecked any chance he had of being involved in a Champions League final in France (especially when such opportunities can often prove to be a once in an entire career chance to play in the final of the most prestigious club tournament on the planet)

If Diaby should end up missing out, hopefully he's young enough and hungry enough to ensure he gets another opportunity to appear in a Champions League final (talk abo9ut greedy, we've not played our first and already I'm hoping to see Abou play in the Arsenal's second appearance on the ultimate stage). But it is a prime example of the extremely fragile line between success and disaster in football. Considering how thin on the ground we are for midfielders, I guess we should all be holding our breath, hoping that Fabregas and Gilberto both remain injury free in the last two league games. Otherwise I really wouldn't fancy our chances if we are left counting on a decidedly unconvincing Song (I honestly can't quite see what Wenger has seen in him to suggest he might cut it in an Arsenal shirt)

Finally, before I fall fast akip and end up nodding out with a fag in my hand and damage the pristine keyboard on my new Powerbook, I was listening to a podcast of Sportsweek a Sunday broadcast on Radio 5, where they interviewed Phil Scolari a couple of weeks back, before he became the FA's first choice for the next England manager. To be honest while I will undoubtedly end up getting caught up in World Cup fever, I am no great England supporter. But even as a not so interested bystander, I found it impossible to fathom why the FA should choose to appoint a man who can hardly speak more than a couple of words of English and who would unquestionably only be able to communicate with his players via a translator.

Moreover why on earth would the idiots make any sort of public announcement, before they were certain that their candidate had committed himself by signing on the dotted line, as now anyone else they approach is going to know they weren't the first choice and this is hardly likely to instill any confidence. The FA nincompoops couldn't possibly have made a more farcical saga of the whole matter if they'd tried.

Most folk with any kind of football nous know that Martin O'Neill would be the best man for the job. However unfortunately I believe O'Neill isn't a sufficient a "yes" man to suit their purposes and thus it's likely they'll end up plumping for the height of mediocrity, by selecting the sort of bland coach who wouldn't say boo to a goose. Step forward Mclaren and Curbishley

"Am I bovvered?" Not in the least, so long as they leave our Arsène alone

Peace & Love
Bernard
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Suffragette City


Watching Spurs v Bolton on the box on Sunday was a weird experience. I can’t ever recall getting so wound up over a game at White Hart Lane, which didn’t involve the Arsenal. For us Gooners it was a window onto the Schadenfreude world of the masochistic Spurs fan. . I’ve enjoyed taking the mickey in recent seasons, over the way their own team’s miserable efforts have left them supporting the likes of Man Utd and even Chelsea, relying on the Arsenal’s opponents for the vicarious thrill of a rare humbling of their most hated enemy.

So it was that I sat here on Sunday with my mobile phone in hand, anxiously awaiting that moment when I might be able to tap out a text message, pointing out to my pals that the goal they’d just conceded was a direct consequence of Carrick’s bad karma, following his failure to put the ball into touch against us.

I set great store by Newton’s third law of motion, whereby every action has its equal and opposite reaction. Thus there were a couple of instances where Carrick gave the ball away in crucial areas on Sunday and I was convinced he was about to pay for his misdemeanour the previous week. But unless he ends up culpable for sort of monumental cock-up at Upton Park in Spurs last match, I guess I’ll have to give the young midfielder the benefit of the doubt - despite all those who contend that Carrick’s hesitation on the ball at Highbury was confirmation of his awareness of the circumstances and proof of a conscious decision to keep the ball in play?

However all this is water under the bridge and I’m more than a little surprised that such a gentleman as le Gaffer hasn’t found a means of recapturing his customary pitch upon the moral high ground, by issuing some semblance of an apology for his uncharacteristic attack on Jol. This might only have required a typically cute, backhanded reference to his remorse. But I’d have expected Arsène to have made some attempt to appease the media hounds, perhaps with a comment which might’ve at least repaired the relationship between the two managers, to the point where they could shake hands without losing face.

Perhaps le Prof believes it unnecessary, in a week when his little faux-pas has been buried under a media mountain of meshugana headlines. Although by remaining schtum, Arsène leaves himself open to accusations that he’s neglecting his responsibility to avoid any additional cause for antagonism between the fans. Especially at a time when the slightest little thing could literally set us at each other’s throats.

Alan Whiley certainly isn’t a Gooner and after Bolton had failed to capitalise on all their early pressure, when this incompetent ref then ignored Stelios’ penalty shout (perhaps not so surprising after seeing the slow-mo pics that show quite how guilty the Greek was of gilding the lily), I wouldn’t be surprised if my caterwauling could be heard a couple of miles away, at the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road. My rabid ravings certainly put the frighteners on the poor dog, as Treacle tried to disappear under the table.

Still no matter how incensed I was about this injustice at the time and, how desperate I grew for a Wanderers goal, as the game wore on, I wasn’t about to waste a precious prayer to the footballing gods, on a measly 4th place prize. I had to resist the temptation to close my eyes and implore the deities for some divine intervention, as I’d better save all such begging, for the ensuing battle against Barca. Between 4th place and Champions of Europe, it’s obvious only one of these two merits covering all the theistic bases, with my Arsenal embroidered skull cap, Róna’s crucifix and naturally my lucky hat with it’s FAI shamrock badge attached.

Doubtless by the time we get to Paris I’ll have an entire suitcase full of assorted fetishes. Heck, in this instance the stakes are so high that I’d happily have Mohammed himself on the bench, if the prophet brings a powerful shot to the Stade de Paris party. I get a little confused when it comes to all the Catholic saints. But I’ve gleaned enough over the years to hope St. Jude can keep his tracksuit on. Then again all such holy relics can remain in reserve, so long as the genuine Gooner messiah makes his mark on the day!

Meanwhile following the final whistle at White Hart Lane on Sunday, I was surprised to find myself feeling quite philosophical about the prospect of falling short on the domestic front. In fact, considering the season on season suffering of my close Spurs pals, if we can actually achieve European glory, I’d almost feel happy about throwing them our Premiership crumbs.

Watching the post-match lap of honour at White Hart Lane, you’d have thought they’d actually won something. But instead of any silverware, Spurs fans will be queuing up during the summer to have their photo taken with the league table! As they paraded a large “See you in Europe” banner around the pitch, with many of the watching fans wearing their newly acquired Barca shirts and scarves, I couldn’t help but view this scene with some hilarity.

For the first time in more than a decade the Lilywhites are likely to achieve a higher league finish than their most hated rivals. Yet they find themselves having to temper their celebrations, with the knowledge that they’re about to endure a long couple of weeks, waiting for the game which might ultimately decide their fate. Despite the prospect of their long awaited and decidedly limited success, once again Spurs fans’ entire season is going to come down to 90 agonising minutes spent in front of the box, enduring yet another glamorous encounter for the Gunners, whilst praying for the Arsenal’s demise. At least they’ll be more than familiar with going down on the Arsenal by now (genuflecting in prayer naturally!)

Even if we are to win our last 3 matches, it’s hard to envisage Spurs slipping up against a Hammers side that’s bound to be focused on their forthcoming FA Cup Final. Some might suggest it’s a blessing in disguise. The further 4th place falls from our own grasp, Arsène is going to feel that much more inclined to give the lads a breather, instead of exhausting them with a futile battle. In which case we should arrive at the Stade de Paris feeling well rested and refreshed, rather than the leg-weary lot that left the field at El Madrigal.

Yet while I might advocate this argument to wind up any Spurs fans, with a 10 day gap between our last league game and ‘the Big One’, we might be better served by at least starting with our best XI (always my preferred option) and only rotating players once we’ve secured a lead. In this way we might arrive in Paris on the back of 3 confidence boosting, wins with everyone up to speed, flushed with success, as opposed to the sort of indifferent displays where players could go off the boil and perhaps end up fatally struggling for form when it matters most.

Meanwhile with fearless youngsters like Fabregas and Eboué in the Arsenal squad, as we’ve already demonstrated in the earlier rounds, I’m convinced we won’t be the least bit intimidated by the fact that Barca are the bookies favourites. Whatever transpires, I’ve great faith that we won’t suffer from the sort of inferiority complex, or big stage nerves, which might prevent us from doing ourselves justice on the night.

Mere words cannot describe how wonderful it would be to begin a new era for the Arsenal, with the most prestigious prize in club football, finally completing our silverware collection with the big-eared prize which has eluded us to date. But whether or not we are triumphant in Paris, we can rest assured that thanks to the Arsenal ladies’ supremely dominant Double feat, the club can renew their order for Duraglit. Their peerless success ensures that we already have plenty of baubles to keep the cleaning staff busy in our sumptuous new stadium’s well-stocked trophy room.

However before thoughts turn to Barca, it will be time to dig out my most inconspicuous screwdriver and assorted other tools. If I should end up absent without leave next week, no doubt it’ll be due to me having had my collar felt, whilst failing to surreptitiously save my own souvenir of The Home of Football, from the extortionate auction that’s bound to marginalise all but the most affluent Gooners.

If it wasn’t bad enough that I’m condemned to spending several days fretting about whether I’m going to be one of the fortunate few to be entitled to apply for a ticket to the final – it’s a fairly typical outrage that each club has only been allocated 20,500 tickets, while the remaining 30,000 are destined for the dubious hands of the decidedly nebulous relatives of ‘the football family’ – can you possibly imagine if I end up unable to claim my precious Paris prize, after falling foul of the club’s “Positive Arrest Policy” This is to be implemented at Highbury on Sunday, no doubt to ensure we don’t get too carried away during the climax to the “Final Salute” celebrations and deprive the club of a few quid, by carrying off any items that are all due to go under the hammer (or the internet equivalent)

It would appear that every possible step has been taken to ensure this highly emotionally charged afternoon has been organised to the nth degree, in order that we should enjoy the occasion, but only in a civilised and orderly fashion. I don’t know whether they’re expecting the Arsenal’s sedate crowd to start ripping out the seats (which are also being sold online!) but I’m already afraid that the unsympathetic, shekel obsessed suits at the club are expecting me to pay tribute to an entire lifetime of extremely sentimental memories with a polite round of applause, before passively heading for the exit. I should coco! Now where did I put those handcuffs?

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e-mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com