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Wednesday 24 January 2007

Sleeping With The Enemy

I was only a gnats whisker away from the possibility of facing the unenviable prospect of watching tomorrow night's encounter at White Hart Lane in the midst of the enemy. Aside from the fact that I would've absolutely begrudged handing Spurs 72 quid of my hard earned wedge for a West Upper seat, to watch our reserves play, I am sure it would've been tantamount to putting my life in the hands of some of the scum fans.

It's been some years since I was faced with having to watch the Arsenal play when sat amongst the opposition supporters. To give you some idea how long ago it was, David Platt was playing in red & white and I believe the occasion was Platt's first return to Villa Park since he left Birmingham several years prior, for the pots of money on offer on the continent

I can't recall how it happened that I'd missed out on a ticket with the Gooners, but with our allocation entirely sold out and with me still desperate to go, for some reason I'd been forced to get my old man to pay for a ticket with the home fans, on his credit card. However there was a cock-up on the day and arriving late as ever, I discovered an enormous queue at the ticket collection point, stretching off miles into the distance.

I found out that everyone was queueing because all the tickets purchased on credit cards had yet to be delivered to the club and they were still waiting for a motorbike messenger to turn up with them. With the match about to kick-off, I suddenly remembered that on my way around the ground, I'd paased a small kiosk where (contrary to the myriad of modern day all-ticket regulations), Villa were selling a few remaining tickets on the day.

It occurred to me that it'd be at least half-time, before I got to the front of the queue (assuming the motorbike ever turned up) and so I walked back to this kiosk and paid what I recall was a ridiculously reasonable amount, for a restricted view seat in the lower tier of their main stand (is it the Doug Ellis?). Thankfully I wasn't wearing any colours, so I didn't feel too conspicuous as I took my seat, surrounded by hard core Brummies, but it wasn't long into the match when my succession of stifled groans and moans gave the game away to most of those around me.

As usual I was wired for sound, attached to the earpiece of my terrace tranny, listening to the radio commentary on Five Live and when of all people, David Platt popped up with our first goal, I completely forgot myself and where I was, and automatically jumped up! It was only on getting to my feet and realising that everyone else had remained in their seats, that, to my horror, it suddenly dawned on me quite what a massive mistake I'd made!

I was sitting behind this enormous ugly docker who actually stood up and turned around and literally had his arm cocked and was about to lamp me with a right hander. But luckily for me, his girlfriend who was sitting next to him, was hanging onto his arm, doing her utmost to restrain her feller, warning him that they'd only end up being chucked out

I spent the remainder of the half sitting there quietly, seriously regretting my rash act of lunacy, overhearing this bloke and a few others around me, coating of the "f***ing Cockney bastard" in their midst. And so long before the half-time whistle I'd decided that discretion was the better part of valour and slipped away to seek anonymity elsewhere.

For the second half I found a different empty seat, right down the front, almost next to the Arsenal dug-out. They've rearranged things at Villa Park since, to ensure that there is a little more segregation between the home fans and the benches, to prevent any further aggro with the visitors dug-out. However back then I could virtually reach out and touch Martin Keown and there was a bloke beside me who spent almost the entire second half, incessantly repeating the same mantra "Arsenal are so boring. They are boring, boring, boring".

This bloke was intentionally trying to yank Snowy's chain, giving him brain damage, with this constant barrage of earache (I bet he used to do the same to all the visitors). I know I was getting so wound up, that I wanted to stick a fist in his gob, to shut him up. So heaven only knows how Martin managed to show such restraint. But then I didn't fancy a repeat of the previous incident, as I'd nowhere else to go. In truth, I just wished I'd had the balls to lean over and whisper some words of support to one of my all time favourite Gunners, just to let him know that I was on his side.

Meanwhile I can't possibly imagine what a nightmare it would've been watching tomorrow night's match sat in the West Upper at White Hart Lane, having to bite my tongue all night long. What's more it would've been even more mortifying, if the result doesn't end up going our way, as I'd have had to suffer some almighty stick from my Spurs mates and I almost think that watching the game on TV would be preferable to watching with the enemy, especially those who I have to speak to every day.

However it very nearly came to one or the other, after I missed out on the sale of our allocation of tickets to the match. I'd been keeping an eye out for ticket news but when the resulting arguments over ticket prices and allocations, ensured that it was delayed, I was absolutely horrified when I logged on to the AFCi web site on Saturday night, to discover that I'd missed the priority booking period for away scheme members, a whole THREE days prior.

Myself I think it's outrageous that Spurs greed for their share of our 60,000 gate (40 oer cent?) left them not wanting us to follow our recent policy of reducing prices for the Carling Cup. In recent seasons these games have had a special, decidedly high-pitched atmosphere all of their own, which has confirmed the presence of thousands more youngsters than usual. I know for a fact that while they might not have bothered giving away revenue for a sell-out game against the scum, at previous, less high-profile Carling Cup encounters, the club have given away blocks of tickets to local schools. What's more I am sure that the low prices probably mean that some families look forward to these occasions, as the one opportunity they have to be able to afford to take the entire family to a match. It was marvelous at the game at West Brom to find ourselves absolutely surrounded by family groups, dad and sons, for whom this is likely a once a season treat. What better way to have introduced ones offspring to our new stadium, but with a highly charged derby match.

Meanwhile it would appear that our tight-fisted neighbours have lived up to the stereotype, by insisting that both legs are category B matches (which punishes there own fans, as my mates were none to happy at having to pay an outrageous 72 quid for their posh pitches). While we appear to have got our own back by refusing to allow them the standard 15 per cent ticket allocationn for the second leg. It seems we've used the excuse that we've never had so many visiting fans at our place and that they are not sure they could cope with segregating so many as 9000, when to date the most has been only 3000. Apparently the compromise they've offered Spurs is 5000 tickets, allowing us the chance to ramp up the number of away fans gradually, so that perhaps next time they will be ready to cater for the 15 per cent figure that is part of the regulations for knockout tournaments in this country.

Personally I reckon it was simply a case of the suits at our club not fancying 9000 scum fans, doing their utmost to wreak havoc in our new stadium and ensuring that they leave it in nothing like the pristine state they find it, smashing all the karseys and graffitying everywhere. What's more, 9000 of their lot would have made for a far more intimidating atmosphere on the night and might have thrown away any home advantage. My Spurs mate is extremely angry "just another reason to hate your lot" as the limited number of tickets means that he won't be entitled to one.

I was up most of the night waiting to watch the pay-per-view broadcast of the Ricky Hatton fight. I always end up regretting pressing the button on the remote to pay for these live fights broadcast from the US and invariably I am struggling to keep my eyes open by the time they get to the main event and then usually I end up falling asleep the moment the protagonists enter the ring, waking up in the armchair with a stiff neck, having wasted an extortionate fifteen quid and desperate to know who won!

I went through a myriad of emotions sitting here, as at first I was incredibly angry with the Box Office, thinking that it couldn't possibly have been three days since I'd last looked at the web site and so they must have put out of date details up anyway, despite the fact that the tickets had gone on sale later than was stated and instead of a priority booking period, it must have been a complete free for all. In the end I was just gutted with myself for the shambolic lifestyle which had ensured that I'd forgotten to keep an eye on the matter and I sat here with increasing dread, more and more convinced that by the time Ticketmaster's computers were up and running at 6am, the match was bound to be a sell out already.

I couldn't go to bed without having an answer and after reloading the page on the web site all night and phoning Ticketbastard umpteen times, I eventually received the confirmation I feared, that all three thousand tickets had sold out.

It's only thanks to an extremely kind soul answering my desperate plea to the Arsenal mailing list that I've ended up with a ticket amongst us Gooners for tomorrow night. However I'll be very pleasantly surprised if our trip to White Hart Lane proves fruitful as I rather suspect that our youngsters might well struggle against the Spurs first XI.

Spurs fans were absolutely disgusted with their defeat at our place a few weeks back. It wasn't so much the getting beat (as they are more than used to having the mighty Gunners kick sand in the faces of their succession of weedy outfits), as the manner in which they were beaten, as it was felt that the majority of their team that afternoon were guilty of simply not turning up (with the sort of fire in their bellies that we've all come to expect from our Derby day encounters)

As a result, having been suitably admonished, I feel certain that they'll be well up for tomorrow night's meeting. What's more you can be sure Jol is bound to use the fact that they'll be playing our reserves, as a motivational tool. Not to mention that with Chelsea waiting as the opposition in the final, this is without doubt the very best chance Spurs have of securing themselves a guarantee of European footie next season (although I am afraid that with their recent bye into the next round of the UEFA Cup, after Feynoord were kicked out, I can't help but wonder if their name might not be on this Mickey Mouse trophy this season?). With their strong record at home and against the team Wenger is likely to put out, you'd have to fancy they'll be favourites?

Without doubt our best chance of securing a decent result will be if we can hold our own for the first half hour. I watched the Spurs v Newcastle game the other weekend, where Spurs came out of the traps like a greyhound and really should've been 4-0 up within the first twenty minutes. If it wasn't for the feats of Shay Given in goal they probably would've been. As I told my Spurs mate, I've no idea how they ended up losing that game, as their performance in the early period of that match was about the best I have seen a Spurs side play in donkey's years (although it only ensured I was left laughing even harder at their misfortune!).

I imagine we will face a similar onslaught tomorrow evening for the first 15-20 minutes and if we can contain them long enough to quieten down the crowd and have their fickle fans begin to lose patience, only then will I begin to feel somewhat more optimistic about our prospects. Although I guess we should be glad that Ledley King is still out of action, as according to my Spurs mates, their defence is some way short of watertight without their best player. In fact from the awe inspired tone with which they speak about their big centre-back, you'd think he was another John Terry!

Personally I'm just relieved that Tom Huddlestone still appears some way short of footballing puberty, as I can't hide the fact that I've great admiration for this youngster and have felt that he looks some prospect, ever since I first caught sight of him playing in an England U21 shirt. I can remember saying back then that I couldn't believe a player of such apparent promise was struggling to make it into the Spurs first team.

I actually committed high treason a couple of weeks back, when I was offered a spare ticket to see Spurs play Charlton. The thing that most surprised me, was that it wasn't until I saw Huddlestone in the flesh that I realised quite what a massive "shtureka" he is, as he's built like the proverbial brick outhouse. Whereas usually midfield players with his sort of passing ability are often stereotyped as being quite slight of build. Thus it was quite a shock when I saw his hulking great frame appear at White Hart Lane. Such a shock in fact that I turned to my Spurs pal for confirmation that this was in fact Huddlestone.

Personally I'd be extremely happy if Wenger was able to win Huddlestone over and persuade the youngster to follow the path previously trodden by Sol Campbell, as I feel he'd fit perfectly in our midfield. From what I've seen of him in the last few weeks, thankfully Huddlestone's decision making still appears to be somewhat suspect. However having served an apprenticeship at White Hart Lane, it would be wonderful if Wenger could pinch him just as he was reaching maturity.

If we're unable to prevent Spurs scoring during the first half hour of tomorrow night's encounter, the home side will be sufficiently encouraged that I will truly fear for our ability to turn the match around at that stage. However if, heaven forfend, we should fail to secure a sufficiently satisfying result, the really interesting thing will be whether Wenger has the bottle to stick by the Carling Cup kids for the second leg, or whether Cup fever will result in Arsène resorting to pulling out all the stops, by slipping in some more of our big guns?

Personally speaking, win, lose or draw, my feelings are that having brought us thus far, with such truly accomplished performances, as the ones we've witnessed to date at West Brom, Everton and Anfield, Wenger should stick by the youngsters. As in their shoes I'd be absolutely gutted to have got all that way, only to miss out on the prospect of playing my first ever first XI Cup semi-final, on such a grand stage as our new stadium. I'd feel incredibly cheated if it was me.

I am sure the temptation will be great and it would be absolutely horrifying to have to face the prospect of the sort of verbal assault I'll be in for from my Spurs mates, if they end up being the first team to record a victory at our new stadium (even if it is only against our reserves!). However it will be peanuts compared to the ammunition I will have for endless weeks of piss-taking, if the likes of Traore, Denilson and Walcott end up trotting out together at our new stadium, with a deficit from the first leg and with the 5000 Spurs fans present, all with a scent of the last Cardiff final in their nostrils, only for the kids to come of age, turning it around and cheating the scum out of their little bit of glory.

Obviously, better still would be to demolish them 3-0 again tomorrow and for the return leg at THOF2 to be a foregone conclusion, an absolute celebration of our total and utter superiority over our insignificant North London neighbours

Come on you Reds
Big Love


Anonymous said...

So you go and watch Spurs in your spare time Bernard?... All is becoming clear.. Always find your posts self-serving and ignorant. All you've talked about is shitting yourself at Villa and coveting a crap player from the spuds.. See you at the lane tonight, Will you be wearing your Tottenham or Arsenal shirt?!

Anonymous said...

Watching your ow team from the opposition terraces is always a tough call.

My first visit to Old Trafford was with a Manc fan, and we were at the top of the East Stand. We went one down, and no-one noticed me, but when we equalised, it bacame apparant that I was one of 3 Gooners in the whole of the stand, and the others were too far away for moral support - jumping up and screaming - surrounded by 15,000 Mancs is a silly game of chance.

I was saved by the fact by half time we were 5-1 down, and had to spend the rest of the match being offered patronising comments - but I wish I could have been up there this season, so see their faces when we beat them.

Bern said...

Now if you were of a certain age, like myself (unfortunately), you'd know that there was a time back when footie was a more affordable pursuit and before all-ticket matches, when it was fairly common practice for folk to go one week Arsenal, one week Spurs. What's more, believe it or not, seriously partisan fans of every persuasionn were able to sit with one another and enjoy the "game" without the slightest hint of violence.

I've never hidden the fact that my old man often took me to watch both teams when I was a kid and yes, aged nine, I went to watch Spurs v Arsenal in 1971 with an Arsenal rosette on one side of my little chest and a Spurs one on the other.

Needless to say, by the time we bumped into the match winning (title winning) goal scorer in the players car park after the game and gave Ray Kennedy a lift back to his parent's hotel, the Spurs rosette had long since disappeared, in the post match celebrations where we completely took over White Hart Lane, enjoying the first part of our Double and the moment when we'd finally silence the Spurs fans with their taunts about the double winning feats of the "Glory, glory Lilywhites", which back in 1961 folk said would never be repeated.

While the old man was a Gooner, he was first and foremost a football fan and as such was just as happy to whether he was at a stadium watching with 60,000 others, or telling jokes with a handul of mates watching non-league Wingate on some wind swepted delapidated terrace.

As a result I am embarrassed to admit that he even took me to see Spurs play away on several occasions (I recall being present at Maine Road when he heard the crack ring around the ground from Cyril Knowles' broken leg (of "Nice One Cyril" infamy). Therefore, although I always try to convince myself that as a young left-back myself, I had an instant affinity with the defensive durability of the Gunners in those days, I also often joke that the only reason I ended up a Gooner was because of the padded seats in the West Upper, compared to the uncomfortable wooden ones at White Hart Lane, which I found unbearable to sit on for an entire 90 minutes with my bony little "tuchus"

Then again, me and a mate who lived in our street were sitting in the back of the car that magical night saying "they'll never believe us at school tomorrow" at which point Ray Kennedy provided me with my most treasured piece of memorabilia, by signing my programme "To Bernard whom I travelled home with after the game"

I guess this might have helped to persuade me in the right direction!!

Anonymous said...

The internet is a powerful tool and as a result, a blog like this is in an unfortunate position being able to reach out to a lot of readers. As a result, please do not use bigotted stereotypes born out of nothing more than ignorance. Arsenal is a football club that embraces all races and all religions. I would hope all supporters do the same.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like we're from the same era Bernard. I remember playing against Wingate. Didn't Miles Spector play for them? Anyway, the beauty of the Lane in 71 was it was pay on the gate, if you were lucky enough to get in. The days of proper derbies with a 50-50 split in the crowd are sadly long gone. Enjoy yourself tonight fella.

Ryan said...

£72 for a spuds ticket to watch Carling Cup....come again???!!!

That is incredible, despite it being the biggest game of their season!