The Blogger web site now has this facility to upgrade ones template, so that one can now add photos and all sorts of other neat tricks. I was hesitant at first, as being such a technically illiterate nincompoop, I recall how much trouble I had sussing out the HTML code from the original Arsenal template that I pinched, sorry borrowed, in order to make a few minor adjustments, let alone starting again from scratch.
However the thought of being able to personalise my blog and include my own photos, was incentive enough for me to eventually bite the bullet. As a result, I spent most of Friday night arranging the new one and then I was sitting at my laptop today, when I again had a yen to add some more photos (no doubt I will be tinkering with the look, ad infinitum from now on) and with my limited expertise with Photoshop, before I knew it, it was six o'clock and the entire day had passed me by!
And there's me having a pop at the missus because I've no longer got a hope of getting a cup of tea out of her, since she's become so lost in her Second Life world. Ro used to call my laptop, my crack pipe. She’d often threaten to dash it out of the balcony window, because she felt excluded for days on end. Whereas I am now getting a taste of my own medicine, after making the big mistake of pointing her towards Second Life. Ever since then, she seems to disappear into her other online world for days on end.
For example she’s having a snooze right now, after being up early this morning because she wanted to check out the gig Sky News were doing, where they broadcast an hour of the news from a newsroom in SL and where one's avatar could join in, taking a seat in the audience and asking questions. She was freaking out for a while, when naturally her machine crashed just as she managed to access the right place and then she had to wait, because I guess so many similarly minded lunatics where trying to do likewise. Eventually I heard the holler coming from the living room which suggested she’d been successful, as she screamed at me to turn the telly on to Sky News, so I could see her leopard skin attired avatar, with her newly purchased dreadlocks, on the box!
Personally I haven't really got the SL bug, after checking it out a few times. I didn't like the fact that all these snooty folk kept objecting to my animal like avatar wandering around in the nude!!?? But then I suppose if I’d persisted, I could have sussed out an Arsenal kit. In fact I wonder if you can buy replica tops in Second Life, as everything else under the sun seems to be on sale in there. I never fail to be amazed that these entrepreneurial folk seem to be making a living actually selling stuff in SL for hard cash (well actually for Linden Dollars, which you buy with hard cash). And I suppose it would be more surprising if someone hasn’t already cottoned on to selling replica footie tops in SL.
Actually it would be a bit of a novelty for me, as I’ve refused to wear an Arsenal replica top ever since the 70s, when they changed from cotton to man made fibre. As a child back then, I can well recall thinking originally that these nasty nylon footie kits were the sort of snide replicas that one bought from Wembley market on a Sunday, whereas I thought that surely the real thing must still be cotton, as I simply couldn’t believe that professional players would be wearing this horrible fabric next to their skin.
And my opinion has changed little in the intervening thirty odd years, as no matter what high-tech, dry-fit techno gobbledigook the manufacturers try to dress their latest fabric up in, the modern incarnation might have become slightly less nasty over the years, but nonetheless it will always remain “nylon” to me and as a result I cannot bear wearing it next to my skin and I still can’t think if anything worse than having to run around on a football pitch, sweating buckets in one. Never mind the problems athletes endure with nipple rash, but to my mind this material seems cold when the weather is cold and too hot when it’s warm and as a result, I’ve avoided modern replica tops all these years, saving myself another forty quid a season by sticking to my much preferred 71 shirt.
But then I guess the attraction of being able to wear a modern day Arsenal top is probably the sort of psychology that attracts most folk to SL, in the same way that overweight women can totter around in there on the sort of high heels they wouldn’t dare wearing in real life. However as far as I am concerned, until such time as someone organises footie matches in Second Life, I doubt I’ll be getting hooked (perhaps someone already has?)
Meanwhile I hope this redesigned template is well received? I was a little concerned that I might have made it look a bit too busy, after adding more photos today, but it's hard to resist playing with all the new Blogger features. I particularly like the link to the Youtube videos. But then I discovered you have to be careful, as I tried to include additional search terms instead of just "Arsenal" and suddenly my page included some well dodgy videos of a weirdo guitar playing comedian in the USA named Arsène. However considering my tendency for verbal diahorrea, in some of my more long-winded dispatches, I like the idea that folks can click on some Arsenal related colour videos should they find my meandering missives a little monochrome.
Then again I bloody well hope you like the changed look, as after spending all Friday night at it, I ended up falling asleep on Saturday afternoon, only to wake up at about 9pm to discover that I'd missed a phone call, which involved an invitation to last night's AISA Gala dinner at the new stadium. I was absolutely gutted that I'd blown it and I was still thinking of throwing some clothes on and dashing around there. But I thought it would be an even bigger wind up, if I eventually rolled up, only to find people were already beginning to leave!
Naturally I was straight on the blower this morning, to find out what I’d missed and I was even more disappointed to discover I could have spent the evening sitting on the same table and chatting to celebrity Gooner, Alan Davies. As much as I might take the mickey out of this sort of blatant ligging, when it comes to it, I guess I am just as guilty as anyone else. I've communicated with Alan Davies via e-mail a few times, as he's occasionally on the hunt for the odd away ticket. Yet I would've liked to have met him in person, as unlike many of the celebrity footie fans these days, who all seem to claim long-standing allegiances to a football club since before they were out of their prams, merely because it's advantageous to their careers, Davies comes across as far more genuine and doesn't appear to try and make mileage out of the fact that he's a Gooner.
As a result get the distinct impression that he's truly old school. I didn't read it myself, but I recall thinking that there is a man after my own heart, when I heard something about him turning down TV work (could it have been an entire series of Jonathan Creek?) because it interfered too much with the fixture calendar and would involve missing too many Arsenal games.
So I was gutted that I ended up snoozing through the entire evening, instead of attending what was likely to have been the last Arsenal related event of the season. I’ve been to a few of these type of charity doos in the past but I really wanted to go to this one because it was the first of its kind in the new gaff and I was looking forward to checking out the new facilities.
Moreover the organisers had the sense to make it casual attire. I must admit that the effect of everyone turning up in the sort of penguin suit seen in my picture above, with George Graham and David O’Leary, does still lend a certain touch of glamour to this sort of occasion. However in this day and age it is downright ridiculous to make “black tie” obligatory. I know I didn’t make it there anyway, but I believe if I’d needed to hire evening dress in order to attend this event, I don’t think I’d have even bothered considering it.
The best chariddy doos I’ve been to have been those where the players who’ve attended have been spread out across the room, so that everyone has one on their table. Apparently there was quite a good turn out last night of old-timers like Mickey Thomas, Smudger, Kenny Samson, Bob Wilson (of course since I believe it was in aid of his Willow Foundation) but they were all sat at a top table. I don’t know if any of the current squad had been invited, but if they were then I guess they all had better things to do than to spend an evening giving a little bit back to their fans (without demanding astronomic amounts in return for their presence!).
It occurred to me that if I wanted folks to check out the new look of my blog, I had better think if something Arsenal related to write about and it was after I’d heard some details about last night’s event and when I started to look at photographs to use for my blog, that I began to think about quite how much football has changed, not just over the course of decades, since I was in short pants, but the drastic changes that have occurred in the last few years.
My pal who invited me to last night’s event was recounting how Kenny Sansom had really choked up when his turn came to say a few words and he was revealing details about leaving the Arsenal for the Toon, a few short months before the sensational events of the 89 season. I also mentioned in my last post about how Bob Wilson had got so emotional when he came to mentioning the photos of Alan Ball at the auction in midweek that the tears began to roll down his face.
Both Bob Wilson and Kenny Sansom are far from unique as far as players of their day are concerned and the emotion they display when talking about their time at the Arsenal is not only representative of their strength of feeling about the club, but it also gives us some sense of the amazing spirit that was present in the Arsenal squad during their time. It is the sort of spirit that develops in a squad where there is this unspoken awareness that their whole is so much greater than the sum of the individual parts. It’s a spirit within the dressing room which is both crucial to their success and which develops even further with hindsight, with the growing realisation that it’s been responsible for having carved themselves a piece of Gooner history.
When we were discussing Sansom emotional display and decrying the dissipation of this special team spirit in the modern era, my pal was contending that it was perhaps still present to some extent in the 98 squad. But then Wenger’s first flush of success was achieved with a team that contained the defensive dinosaurs who were remnants of the Graham era, in Adams, Keown, Winterburn and Dixon. And I have always argued that Wenger was fairly fortunate to benefit from a magical chemistry present within this squad that was the catalyst for everything that followed, whereby the old-school Gunners were inspired to live up to the professionalism and athleticism of the new regime and where such arrivistes as Petit and Vieira found themselves falling in love with a style of football which they hadn’t experience in France (or Italy), where the game was played with ones feet.
Theirs was a love affair with football played with ones heart and soul and they discovered a commitment in their team mates which motivated them to play with the sort of intensity and selfless commitment that wasn’t instinctive in their careers to that point, playing without an emotional attachment to teams, where their involvement was merely a job of work.
As a result I think it’s probably fair to say that many of the players from that squad will look back on their time at the club with a certain strength of feeling that they won’t associate with any of their other employers past or present.
However it’s very hard to think of too many of our current squad coming back to gala dinners in years to come, to shed a tear with their former teammates about their experiences at the Arsenal. Obviously success is a very important factor in the way any player feels about their time at a particular club, but while team spirit was once the most integral factor in a team’s success and that success augmented the spirit, in the modern era we’ve witnessed how the huge sums of money in the game have been used by managers to create a more synthetic type of team spirit because they no longer have the time or the patience to risk waiting for a natural, organic spirit to develop within their camp.
Consequently it is hard to imagine many of the current Chelsea players arranging annual reunions in the future to celebrate their recent success. Yet similarly the same might be said of our recent team of Invincibles. Hopefully the likes of Bergkamp, Henry and perhaps even those such as Pires and Freddie will look back in years to come with misty eyes when they recall this astonishing feat and you’d hope that they will continue to retain some affection for the Arsenal, no matter how much time elapses. But in the main, as far as this particular achievement is concerned, in my own somewhat unbalanced mind, it is stored as an image of a not so sentimental statistic, rather than in terms of the humans who attained such incredible heights - although perhaps this is merely the net effect upon my subconscious of seeing that Nike “WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWD etc.etc” sticker on the rear window of the motor, every time I look in the rear-view mirror?
Then again, I am not suggesting the modern day players are the only guilty parties, in what was once a culture of belonging to a football club, rather than it becoming merely a place of ones employment for a couple of seasons. There would be absolutely no difference in the attitudes of the career long, one-club players of yesteryear, if they were playing nowadays for the businesses that have become of our one-time footballing institutions, where the balance sheet has become the be all and end all.
I always refer to the example of Dennis Bergkamp when it comes to the whole issue of loyalty and commitment to the Arsenal cause. Here was a world class player, coming to Arsenal whilst still at his peak and virtually single-handedly setting the tone for all the amazing success that has followed since, as this announced the club’s intent to dine at the game’s top table. However if it wasn’t for the fact that his family was so settled in England, Dennis could’ve probably chipped off to Italy or Spain at any stage during his long spell at THOF and banked a substantial signing on fee, followed by the sort of mega-money wages that the Arsenal couldn’t begin to compete with.
Whatever the factors involved in Dennis’ decision to remain at THOF and provide us with some of the most seductive entertainment we are ever likely to see from anyone in an Arsenal shirt in our entire lifetimes, when his contract eventually expired and suddenly the boot was on the other foot, whereby the suits at the club had the upper hand, knowing that Bergkamp’s age meant he was no longer in a strong negotiating position, what sort of example did they set to demonstrate to his team mates how the Arsenal rewarded the sort of loyalty shown by Bergkamp, but to offer him a ludicrously embarrassing pay-as-you-play contract for the following season, at something like a third of his existing wages!
Apparently Dennis is one of the game’s shrewdest with his dosh (or perhaps his financial advisers are?) as I believe he owns serious chunks of property and perhaps the Arsenal suits (such as Edelman) assumed they could get away with this outrage because Bergkamp wanted to remain in North London and didn’t exactly need the money. Mercifully it seems that his agent had the good sense to shame the club into a more decent proposal, by making the whole matter public and exposing this misdeed in the media. Yet in my humble opinion the damage was already done, since this was a signal to players everywhere to look after number one and to screw their employers for all they can, before the time comes when old age and the expiration of their contract catches up with them and they are forced to bend over and bite the pillow, while they get shafted by their employers.
Meanwhile footie fans everywhere are forced to get more and more used to having players and managers breeze into our clubs, with Lampardesque type “my club, my people”, utterly fabricated false loyalty (with the Lampard family’s historical association with the Hammers, I can only begin to imagine how fat Frankie’s post FA Cup pitchside comments must have irked Irons fans), remaining just long enough to capture the hearts of us eternally naïve mug punters and to learn a few lines of a foreign language, before breezing out a couple of seasons later, to cross the continent and convince the minions at their new place of employment that “Espanol es un pais encantador”!
However this is merely one symptom of the drastic changes that have seen the beautiful game evolve into the massive business that is in its current incarnation almost unrecogniseable from the game I grew up watching. It remains to be seen what will be the long-term consequences of the current revolution? You have to assume the suits must envision a profitable future, as far as top flight clubs’ all important balance sheets are concerned, as this seems to be the only logical reason that Premiership clubs have suddenly become the latest must-have accessory for every self-respecting billionaire.
Yet in thinking about the ex-Arsenal players who turned up for last night’s AISA dinner and as I pulled out some photos from an album, to choose which ones to scan and include in the header of my blog, I found myself reflecting on a far more insidious change that’s occurred in recent times and one which has had and is having a particularly influential effect on us fans and our relationship with the game.
If I look back through my collection of programmes from my childhood, there are loads of footie programmes, boxing night dinner menus and various other chariddy publications, which have only been saved from my missus’ absolutely relentless attempts to unclutter our lives and the miniscule storage space in our little flat, as a result of some illegible scribble somewhere on them. If Rona had her way, she would doubtless bin absolutely everything, whilst I am a dreadful hoarder, desperately hanging on to every single bit of crap, whilst constantly trying to convince her that an uncluttered home is one which no-body lives in!
A few of these scrawls have my childish handwriting underneath them, where I’ve written in pencil who the signature belongs to and I only wish I’d had the good sense to have done likewise with them all, as it’s now impossible to discern who the vast majority of these signatures belong to and doubtless some of them might be quite valuable.
As far as I was concerned, my old man was the next best thing to G-d when I was a kid, for his ability to wangle us in absolutely anywhere. When taking me to matches, he’d often blag our way into the players’ car park after the final whistle, where we’d wait patiently so that I could collect my heroes’ autographs. He was also famous for coming out with these absolutely outrageous stories but over the years both my sister and I learned to know better than to challenge some of his outrageous claims, as invariably there would come a time when they’d be proved true.
Like the time he claimed to stopped to offer England captain, Bobby Moore a lift. Now it comes to repeating the tale, I wonder if perhaps I imagined it, as it sounds far too bloomin’ bizarre to be true. Or perhaps my old man just enjoyed taking the Mickey out of his offspring, to see how far he could stretch our credibility. Then again, from experience, the most likely scenario is that he was telling us as it happened but sadly he’s no longer around to confirm, or otherwise.
It was far-fetched enough that World Cup winner Mooro should be walking alone in a London street and accept a lift from a perfect stranger. Although no doubt the old man would have said that Bobby and he were best of pals, as was his tendency when talking about anyone famous, as he was the most gregarious geezer who would strike up conversation wherever he was and who would usually end up having his target guffawing with laughter at some of his jokes and by his credo, once someone had laughed at one of his jokes, they were good mates.
However the punchline of his Bobby Moore tale was that we were left wondering just how it came to pass that a pair of Bobby Moore’s pants happened to fall out of his kit bag and be left in the old man’s car. But if you were going to invent a story, you’d hardly concoct something quite so incredible. If only we still had the pants concerned, with some sort of certificate of authority. Imagine what they would fetch today on eBay.
The reason I include this odd tale is to highlight the difference between now and then, when no matter how high a pedestal we put our footballing heroes on during their 90 minutes on the pitch, they came down after the final whistle to return to be mere mortals who one might bump into in Tescos.
Perhaps this hasn’t been the case for many years now and back in the early nineties we were just fortunate to have a few quid so that Ro and I could afford to travel on the Exec trips to away matches in Europe, where we could mingle on planes and in airports with the Gunners of the day.
We had a wonderful couple of seasons during those two Cup Winners Cup runs, travelling with the team all over Europe, climaxing on the night represented in one of the photos in the header above, when after an utterly mundane Arsenal side managed a magnificent ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ triumph over a star studded Parma side. When we climbed on the plane on the way home from Copenhagen, much to the concern of all the Arsenal employees on board, Tony Adams simply passed the trophy back for the hundred odd supporters at the back of the plane, for us to enjoy.
There were so many great photo opportunities during that two-season period, in airports and on planes, that we eventually got a little blasé, as you can only drive Wrightie mad so often for a photo. Although I was gutted not to have a camera with me for the most perfect photo opportunity. Believe it or not, back in those days, after a successful midweek result, many of the players were in the habit of downing close to a crate load of those tiny quarter pint cans of beer during the flight home. So with their almost non-stop drinking, it was obvious that the first port of call as soon as we landed was the karsey and I recall walking off the plane once and needing a wee myself and when I walked into the loo, there was virtually the entire Arsenal squad lined up at the urinals along two opposite walls. I’d have loved to have a camera and had the balls to whistle as I’d walked in, as it would’ve made for an absolutely wicked photo with them all turning around at the appropriate moment.
The other amusing incident I recall was when George Graham got caught short and ended up in the karsey as the plane came into land. We all had a good giggle when the plane eventually taxied to a halt, as GG appeared from the lav and some bright spark piped up “they should change your name from Stroller to Dribbler”!
Similarly there was quite a long period after the old training ground burnt down, when the players were using the health club at Sopwell House hotel in St Albans as their base for showering and changing after training. This meant that virtually anyone could turn up at the hotel at the right time of day and be able to mingle with the players and staff after they’d finished training and whilst some of them fulfilled their media obligations to the press, before dashing off in their Jaguars and Aston Martins.
There’d often be a small gaggle of Gooners hanging around by the barrier at the entrance to the hotel property, waiting to collar the players as they drove out, with their photos to be signed and their autograph books. However without wearing a replica top, it only required the merest bit of front and a relatively respectable appearance (as evidenced by the fact that I was able to get in), to be able to stroll in, as it was a public hotel and there was no reason why one shouldn’t be able to buy a drink at the bar.
It was a brilliant period for the liggers amongst us. I well remember going up there one day when it happened to be the birthday of one of Rona’s sisters in Dublin. Grainne had a bit of a thing for TA and thus she was absolutely blown away when Ro phoned her up and passed the phone for Tone to have a chat with her.
Having had a couple of collections of my weekly Examiner columns published in two books, there was the odd friend of my sister who would automatically assumed that I must be in a position to get the odd autograph. In fact she works for a design company and as a result she was able to get one of her colleagues to design the cover of my book. Mercifully I managed to sort him a couple of tickets in lieu of my gratitude, but my sister told me that he said the one thing he’d really like was a cover of the book he’d designed, signed by the players who’s images were portrayed on the front and back.
Yet I’d have needed to carry the book cover around for a couple of seasons, in the hope of an opportunity to collar the players for a signature. The only one we used to see occasionally was Patrick Vieira, when he came into San Daniel, the restaurant we occasionally frequented after midweek matches and as I told my sister, apart from Paddy and perhaps the odd other player, the opportunities are very few and far between for us fans to come into contact with our heroes.
I might have had an opportunity for a few words with Theo Walcott in midweek at Bob Wilson's charity auction, but this was the first time in several seasons that I'd managed to speak to a current Arsenal player and that was only because I was fortunate to be the invited guest of someone who stumped up a small fortune for "a golden ticket" (but then I guess the moral of this story is that if you have sufficient moolah, you can get to meet up with anyone!)
Sure we still see photos in our matchday programmes of the players making the traditional Xmas visit to the kids in hospital. But ever since they built the new, state of the art training ground, the fences and electronic gates that are designed to keep unwanted visitors out, are in fact a metaphor for the way footballers at the very highest level have become so totally detached from their adoring fans.
I would guess that the consequences cut both ways, This almost constant state of seclusion prevents us from having the sort of occasional contact that we might have enjoyed in the past, where any kid, so long as he was patient and persistent enough, could obtain the signatures of his heroes, thereby preventing us from being able to pass on the sort of anecdotes which would enable us to relate more to modern day stars on a personal level. And where as a result we might not be left wondering if they went home after a defeat feeling as miserable as those of us who’d watched the match from the terraces, as we’d have likely heard some confirmation to prove that the Arsenal’s success means as much to them as it does to us.
You often hear players these days stating that they don’t want to autograph items and others who will only give their signature if they can make it out to someone personally, because they don’t like the idea that someone might be making money out of their name, by selling these items in bulk either online, or in a shop somewhere (more’s the point I imagine that their actual objection is to someone making money out of selling their autographs without paying them a cut!).
Yet while I can understand the players wanting their privacy, rather than being bothered by the public all the time and the club wanting to create an environment for them, where they don’t have any such unwanted distractions, to my mind they all might benefit from just a little regular contact with their fan base. Without it, they can easily get away with turning up for every game as if it was a job of work and doing just what is required of them and no more. Whereas if they were confronted on a regular basis by the deep seated emotions of us Gooners and got to know the odd one or two of their fans on a personal basis, perhaps the sentiments might rub off a little, in as much as they might know that they couldn’t face such an individual on a Saturday night if they’ve had a stinker.
Doubtless I’m just a sentimental old git who’s desperately clinging in vain to the hope of watching an Arsenal team at our new stadium, confident that the eleven players on the pitch are no less eager for an Arsenal win than I am. But if this is a little naïve of me in these mercenary times, when players change clubs more often than their underwear, then I am pretty certain that if the current status quo is maintained, or becomes any worse, not only could it have a negative effect on ticket sales, with punters reluctant to pay astronomic prices to watch a team perform that’s full of players, to whom the fans simply cannot relate and where it feels as if the majority are merely turning up to endure the ninety minutes of football that separates them from their hefty pay packets, but the players are also likely to lose the little sense that remains of what it means to their massive audience. So that they can return home after the weekend’s match to laugh and relax over their evening meal, with exactly the same level of enjoyment whether they’ve won, lost or drawn that day, without the slightest inkling of the resultant weight of disappointment felt by millions of Arsenal fans when they’ve lost, because they are so sequestered from the heart beat of the club.
But that’s more than enough depressing drivel from me, as hopefully I’ve at least achieved my own objective of getting a few people to see my new looking blog. It’s funny as I assumed that with the end of the season and the fact that I no longer had to file my weekly Examiner pieces, I’d have little cause to write anything Arsenal related this summer. But to the contrary, having been freed from the restraints of my weekly thousand word missives, it appears that the resulting liberation has enabled me to babble on ad infinitum….you poor things :-)
Then again, it could be worse, as I've probably got at least another couple of thousand words in me about our season ticket woes (with the 1st June deadline looming ever closer). But with it being a rainy Bank Holiday Monday, with little else to get excited about other than what the pundits are calling "the most lucrative one-off match" in football history, with supposedly the sum of £60 million riding on the outcome of the West Brom v Derby game at Wembley this afternoon, I might still find time to drone on some more.
With an average of about a thousand hits per post to my blog, I suddenly thought of a barmy notion that perhaps I could persuade readers to stump up a pound a pop in order to encourage me to desist from writing another word, thereby solving our season ticket renewals in an instant
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