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Monday 19 May 2008

Anyone For Tennis?

Howdy folks

You will have to forgive me but I completely forgot to post last week's final missive of the season after our trip to the Stadium of Light and it was only when Wednesday's Irish Examiner arrived in the post on Saturday and I was thumbing through their end of season Premiership supplement, that I saw my piece and realised that it had slipped my mind.

I also wondered what exactly I had missed, when I noticed Usmanov listed amongst their top ten list of richest chairman and directors!!

Doubtless the following is somewhat outdated by now but having written it and since it is probably my last posting for the next couple of months, I thought I should at least get it posted, prior to digging out the sawn-off and the stocking mask, as once again I begin to fret about finding the renewal cost of our season tickets. I suppose if I can't find a suitable bank to rob, I could always shoot myself :-)

I enjoyed Saturday's FA Cup Final, if only from the point of view that it made a change that for once it appeared to be a "fans' final" without the usual large proportion of seats occupied by all those liggers on corporate jolly ups. Although I would've at least liked to have seen Cardiff score just to have given their loyal faithful something to get excited about. As for this weeks Champions League final, in another end of season questionaire for the Observer, I suggested that deciding who I wanted to win this match was almost as bad as choosing between Boris and Ken for London mayor.

Man Utd wining a double would be absolutely insufferable but it would go completely against the grain to want Chelsea to win anything. Then again, considering the way in which the Blues fans continue to belittle the ability of their own manager, in this one respect, it would be quite amusing to see Avram bring home the (kosher) bacon. Coming from an Israeli society which runs largely according to "the one who shouts loudest, gets served first" principles, the Chelsea fans should really be counting their blessings that their mild mannered manager appears to conduct himself in a manner that's contrary to this obnoxious stereotype and it would indeed be interesting to hear whether they will still have the gall to slag him off so badly if he leads them to a European title. Moreover with the final being in Moscow, you can't help but wonder if the script has long since been written, with it being such a fitting setting for Roman to see some return on all that investment.

Doubtless I will be watching on Wednesday, like a masochistic moth drawn to a footballing flame, but I'm sure that along with most other Gooners, as far as the winner is concerned, I couldn't really care less.

Having fortunately remembered to book a seat online on Saturday, to see the Gunners play Juve and Real on the 2nd and 3rd of August, before they all sell out, personally speaking, the summer can't fly by quick enough as far as I'm concerned, as I'm already eagerly anticipating the day when the riveting roller-coaster ride begins anew. Until then....

Big Love

With about ten minutes left on the clock at the Stadium of Light on Sunday, the couple of thousand Gooners gathered behind one goal broke into a chorus of “we love you Arsenal, we do”, which we went on to repeat ad infinitum, relentlessly, right up until the ref blew the final whistle on the 2007/08 season.

I’m sure that even the boisterous Black Cats’ fans must’ve been impressed, as this was their party after all. But the home fans’ opportunity to show their appreciation for a season, where success was defined by their ability to maintain their Premiership status, would come after the final whistle. In the meantime our incessant repetition of this chant saw it develop into a sonorous mantra, inspired by some sort of spontaneous, deep-seated desire to invoke the footballing gods.

Despite, or perhaps because of our lack of any tangible reward for all our efforts, as one, we all grasped this last opportunity to pay proper homage for such a wonderful season, in the only way we know how, with a vocal display which served as an indisputable reaffirmation of our faith in the Arsenal football club and more importantly, the Wenger way.

In truth, for many of us it was merely a good excuse to jump up and down, in order try and get some feeling back into limbs, after we’d all made the mistake of travelling to the North-East attired in the sort of shorts, t-shirts and sandals that befitted the balmy weather conditions in the capital. I’m unsure about the Fog On The Tyne, but the fog which came rolling off the Wear into the Stadium of Light was bloomin’ freezing!

I was actually pleasantly surprised to see so few empty seats at our end of the ground, after most of us had bid the boys adieu during the lap of appreciation at our last home game. I suppose if we’d been beaten and the Toon had suffered a 4 goal drubbing at Goodison, the Black Cats could conceivably have ended up as top North-Eastern dog. Moreover a potential £1.5 mill difference in Premiership prize money was not to be sniffed at. But nevertheless, it remained a relatively meaningless match and a particularly healthy turn out, compared to the huge swathes of empty terracing down the road at Boro.

Then again, with Premiership football have coming so far from its region specific precursor, it’s evident nowadays, from the range of accents other than Cockney that one hears, that any slack in away match ticket sales is usually picked up by those geographically challenged Gooners who are grateful for any opportunity to see their Gunners play live. Additionally there were plenty others present on Sunday, who contrary to my own last minute lifestyle, had planned their trips months in advance, booking flights way back when we’d all been mislead into believing that the last match of the season might prove to be the positively umissable moment of our crowning glory!

I’m unsure how game I would’ve been if the last competitive match of the season had involved a tortuous 10 hour coach trek. Mercifully my mind was made up when a mate offered to use his air miles to fly the two of us to Newcastle. The metro ride on our return to the airport confirmed the impact of the Keane/Quinn double act on Sund-Ireland. In addition to the smattering of jet-setting Gooners, the train was packed with two plane loads of red & white striped Paddies flying back, both to Dublin and I assume all those with the broader West Country accents were heading home via Galway.

We witnessed more evidence of the ever increasing international appeal of the Premiership product on our arrival, as my pal flogged his spare ticket as we strolled into the terminal, to an Arsenal supporting Pole, who was hoping for an opportunity to cast an eye over our somewhat slight in stature, reserve keeper, Fabianski.

There were momentary interludes in our end of match mantra, in order for me to confirm the fates of all the other clubs, via my terrace tranny. Thankfully the survival of Fulham compensates for those of us travelling fans who consider promotion/relegation issues solely from a mileage perspective, but despite the additional schlep to the North-East, I am delighted Sunderland beat the odds by staying up. The Stadium of Light might look like a poor relation, compared to the grandiose glass and steel aspects of our new gaff, but what goes on inside a stadium is far more relevant than mere aesthetics and with everyone on one level, Sunderland’s ground is often far more atmospheric than most.

Sunday’s party mood ensured that we all enjoyed the merriment, entertained at one stage by a huge line of Black Cat fans conga-ing along the concrete walkways. One is invariably greeted by a genial vibe on Wearside, amongst fans who truly appreciate such aristocratic footballing fare and who definitely don’t take their highly-prized Premiership status for granted.

As the metro ride from the airport became ever more cramped on approaching the stadium, the conversation turned to the extremely pertinent subject of ticket prices. Aside from far more affordable season tickets, Sunderland fans doubtless benefit from the trend for categorising matches, while we Gooners invariably have to pay a premium. But then I guess that according to the modern day credo “you gets what you pay for”!

No sooner has the season ended than I’m already panicking about finding the two grand required for our renewals, prior to the looming 1st June deadline. Yet despite our lack of trophies and increasing concerns about Hleb following Flamini out the door, the demand for a seat at the Arsenal will be no less intense.

Like fans of every club, we started out this season brim full of renewed hope but with few actual expectations. Our subsequent sense of “so close, but no cigar” disappointment stems from the fact that we were mislead by the period spent straddling the Premiership summit, into believing that we had already reached the Promised Land.

It wouldn’t be football if we were all in constant agreement with Arsène’s actions. Many might contend that splitting our centre-back pairing and playing Touré at right-back was the cause of our agonising Champions League exit. I prefer to think of it as evidence of Sagna’s importance and the cost of his untimely injury. There are others who simply cannot fathom our manager’s continued reliance on Eboué at right-wing, as the ill-fated Ivorian has become everyone’s favourite boo boy.

Along with every other footie fan, most of us would love to see Wenger break the bank and spend big, namely on a keeper, a centre-back and perhaps a winger. But ultimately, for the vast majority of us, our faith in our manager remains constant and we all know this isn’t Arsène’s style. With a relatively small squad compared to some, if it wasn’t for long-term injuries to the likes of Van Persie, Rosicky and Eduardo, it might well have been a different, far more successful story. Myself I rest assured that with a minor tweak, here and there, Arsène’s young squad will start next season and continue on an upward cycle that holds the promise of great things to come.

Meanwhile, while I might moan constantly about the mercenary “show me the money” nature of many of our modern stars, I now have my faith in their feeling for the club renewed, after it was revealed to me that Adebayor spent an entire afternoon going through Gooner memorabilia, amongst the huge collection at the home of one particular Gooner. So bear this in mind, the next time you read in the media that the Togonator is taking his boots elsewhere!

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