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Monday 21 January 2008

Feel So Made Up, Don't Wanna Go Home

Hi folks,

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I managed to miss Adebayor's first goal on Saturday. I would've been there long before, if it wasn't for the fact that the parking pitch I've used in the past no longer exists and as I frantically drove around looking for somewhere else to dump the car, I didn't dare risk being towed away. What's more I could see the traffic wardens eagerly ticketing all those motors in the immediate vicinity of the ground, who's owners had failed to take note of the matchday restrictions that allowed a maximum of an hour on the 'pay and display' bays. It occured to me that if I drove around for very much longer, I wouldn't need more than an hour!!

I eventually gave up and headed over onto the other side of the Fulham Palace Road, knowing it would mean a bit of a hike back but at least, after emptying all the rifle in my pockets into the 'pay and display' ticket machine, I wouldn't spend the match (or the remainder of the match!) fretting about a fifty pound parking ticket.

Believe it or not, I almost missed Ade's second goal as well. As I stood there chatting to a couple of mates, getting the SP on what I'd missed so far, it eventually dawned on me that there was no milk in the coffee I'd bought on the way in. With it being close to half-time, I was heading up the stairs to nip out a get some before the break, but fortunately I hesitated long enough to witness the attack which resulted in our second.

Even if I had missed them both, it would've been worth the short trip to Fulham to enjoy the communal singing that went on for most of the second half, not to mention the most entertaining forty-five minutes of football we've witnessed since Villa Park.

When I got home, I found a text message on my phone from an Egyptian Gooner pal, who wanted to know exactly what we were singing (see below), so I guess it must've sounded quite good on the box. When I got back to him with the details, Amr told me that he'd be reporting back to Kolo and Eboué, when checking their passports the next day. According to his response, I was dead envious to hear that he was singing our new chant from his villa on the beach in Sekondi, accompanied by the sound of the Atlantic lapping on the beach below.

I believe Amr's old man is a bit of a CAF (Confederation of African Football) bigwig and so if it wasn't bad enough that he was out in Ghana for the African Nations (as I would absolutely love to get to this tournament one of these days), but it just about took the biscuit to hear that he was getting paid to be there, as an organiser at the Sekondi venue.

Ho hum, I guess I'll just have to draw the curtains, shut out a grey, miserably damp day in London and make believe, as I settle down to cheer on Kolo and the rest of Les Elephantes (although in truth I should perhaps be supporting their opponents, in the hope that the contingent from the Gunners get sent back sooner, rather than later!)

Peace & Love

After an utterly exhausting week involving a killer, 100 mile commute through the Blackwall Tunnel, right across the capital to the ballet’s new stores in Kent and back, every day (never mind the scenery schlepping in between), if not a home game, I was relieved that we only had a short hop to Fulham’s riverside home in West London on Saturday. Yet even with the bliss of a bit of a lie-in, I still struggled to haul my far too rapidly aging bones out of the sack, walk the dog and get out the door in good time to make it to the match.

In fact with it already being 2.30pm when I headed out past our new stadium, I was half tempted to stop and watch the “beamback” at our place. At least I’d be guaranteed of seeing the entire game. But with a ticket for the real thing in my pocket, it seemed barmy to pay a further 15 quid to watch the match, on one of the two giant screens - although I’m curious to know what the atmosphere is like (if there is any?) at one of these live broadcasts of away games, which I guess they’ve introduced to try and make maximum use of the facilities at the new gaff.

However I wasn’t about to blow out what’s recently become one of the most enjoyable awaydays of the season and besides, with a favourable wind and some good fortune on the parking front, I might just make it to the Cottage in time. Sadly I neglected to take into account the fact that the weekend traffic across the capital has become dire, ever since the introduction of the congestion charge on weekdays. As I inched my way along the Marylebone Road, I soon had to come to terms with the fact that I was going to miss the kick-off, in order to avoid getting too stressed out and falling foul of the infuriating proliferation of speed cameras on route, or finding myself involved in a road rage incident with a dawdling weekend driver.

Mercifully at least our match was live on the radio and as I became more frustrated with each passing minute, with my progress hindered by a procession of ostentatious Chelsea tractors (as in those driven by Sloanies rather than Stamford Bridgies, although these it’s hard to differentiate between the two!), I heard tell of how the Gunners were similarly impeded in their pre-match warm-up, as apparently Al-Fayed insisted on walking right along the path of one of Pat Rice’s exercise routines. I assume the Harrods boss is far too shrewd to believe his slapstick buffoonery to be a viable alternative to him bankrolling Roy Hodgson’s rescue mission. Subsequent events demonstrated that Mohammed’s pre-match party-trick might have included taking a pitch roller to the legs of our entire backline and an extremely fragile Fulham still would’ve struggled to beat us.

Personally I believe Fulham are shooting themselves in the foot before they start, by allocating all 3,800 seats of the Putney Stand behind one goal to their visitors. With the availability of tickets, the proximity of the Cottage and the nostalgia of one of the few remaining old-fashioned grounds in the Premiership, our annual trip to Fulham tends to attract all the old Gooner faces out of the woodwork, along with thousands of other part-timers.

Recently some others clubs appear to have cottoned on to the benefits of bunging opposition fans way up the in the corner of a stand, as far as possible from the action, rather than offering their visitors the traditional prime pitch behind a goal, where their raucous encouragement might exert some influence over the proceedings. By contrast, perhaps in their desire to flog a few more tickets, Fulham appear to have failed to appreciate that cost of a few unsold seats is relative peanuts, compared to the fortune they stand to lose if they should fail to retain their Premiership status. With the exception of last season’s aberration, in recent times their hospitality has ensured that Fulham has felt more of a fortress for us guests, than anything generated by their genteel home fans.

As a succession of awayday pals have fallen from the path of full-time, righteous devotion to the Gooner cause, I occasionally wonder what it is that motivates me (other than my obvious obligation to Examiner readers!) to make the personal and professional sacrifices necessary to ensure that for eight months, year in, year out, my entire life revolves around the Arsenal fixture list. Could it just be habit? Would the sky fall in if I didn’t make it to a match, or worse still, would the Gunners get beat (would we be top now, if I’d bothered schlepping back up to the North-East for the Boro game)? However as caffeine is to coffee and nicotine is to cancer sticks, it’s the unforeseen that is footie’s addictive ingredient. Even after all this time, I never fail to be amazed by this “funny old game’s” unerring capacity for unpredictability.

After Man Utd leapfrogged us last weekend and with me fully expecting both Utd and Chelsea to roll-over Reading and Birmingham, while we faced a return to the scene of last season’s cock-up, with the Cottagers set to benefit from Hodgson’s vast wealth of experience (albeit annoyingly nasal!), could this be the weekend where our title bid finally began to show (the pundits much predicted) signs of becoming a bit frayed around the edges?

Instead of which, as the radio reported on our two rivals struggling to exert their superiority in both ‘away bankers’ and following a relatively uninspiring first forty-five, which truth be told, was a tale of two crosses, two headers, two goals, the Cottagers confidence continued to crumble before our eyes. Fulham proved to be the perfect antidote to a malaise which has afflicted us for the past month and which made for a brand of football that was more Wimbledon than Wenger-ball. The two-goal cushion resulted in a transformation after the break, where we were back to our imperious best, stroking the ball about with the renewed authority of genuine title contenders, compared to a penchant for more “hit & hope” practices in recent weeks.

Although it might still be something of a novelty that we’ve been blessed with a tall centre-forward who can truly hang in he air, to score with his head (even if we continue to fail to threaten from corners), it was our third goal which was a thing of beauty. A trademark, mazy passing move, followed by some fabulous trickery in Eduardo’s approach play, but most positive of all was the sight of Rosicky, arriving late in the box to stab home, √† la Pires and Freddie at their best. Fabregas should’ve followed this up with a fourth, as an absolutely breathtaking demonstration of Hleb’s ability, in leaving half of Fulham’s bamboozled defence for dead, as he cut in from corner flag directly in front of us, truly deserved to be finished off with a similar flourish.

However it was wonderful to watch a Gunners side playing with a smile on their faces. Obviously I will be gutted if the title comes down to goal difference, as we might regret not being a little more ruthless in the face of such feeble opposition as Fulham. It might well have turned into a massacre, if we’d truly hit top gear, but I adore the fact that instead of whinging when he scuffed his shot wide, Cesc joined a a gaggle of the Gunner’s art appreciation society in a moment of backslapping, as they paid all due respect to the sublime skill of Hleb’s virtuoso contribution in the build-up.

Sadly both our rivals eventually overcame stubborn resistance to achieve predictable results. Yet it proved to be a significant weekend in the sense that all signs of a potential derailment have disappeared, as the Gunners got back on track with a timely return to being arguably the most stylish exponents of the beautiful game in the Premiership (if not the entire planet?). But if our trip to the Cottage goes down in Gooner memory, it will probably be for events on the terraces.

Time was when terrace wags would conjure up a witty new chant almost every other week, whereas nowadays it’s become an all too rare event for a new ditty to be added to the somewhat staid Gooner repertoire. As we all craned our necks on Saturday, trying to discern the lyrics of the chant emanating from the far corner of the terrace, there was a “by jove he’s got it” moment, as almost as one, the remainder of us caught on and were able to join in, without that embarrassing pretence of mumbling the unknown lines.

The vast majority of efforts to introduce a new chant invariably sink without trace, but as demonstrated by a melodious 20-minute rendition of “Adebayor, Adebayo...oo..oor, Give him the ball, And he will score” (to the tune of the Beach Boys “Sloop John B” - I wanna go home) sung by virtually all 3,800 of us, this one is definitely a stayer that’s set to resonate across the Premiership landscape, so long as our lanky Togolese striker continues to do the business.

Meanwhile if we’re going to get to sing our new song at Wembley come February, compared to their flaccid display in the first leg, the youngsters are going to have to raise their game considerably at White Hart Lane on Tuesday and how can I possibly not be looking forward to two games against KK’s Toon. Keegan’s hardly been employed to park the bus in front of their goal and so at the very least, the week ahead holds the promise of some terrific entertainment.