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Tuesday 21 October 2008

Normal Service Resumed?

I was fretting at half-time on Saturday, as my 11-year old nephew had flown over from Dublin with his mum, for his first ever pilgrimage to the Home of Football (Mark II). I was most disappointed for him that we were 0-1 down, after such a dreadfully humdrum first-half Arsenal performance. And with the two of them sitting close to the front, behind the goal, I was gutted that we hadn’t managed to score at their end of the ground, as young Jake would’ve enjoyed a wonderful view, from such close proximity.

It was also somewhat disconcerting to discover through my binoculars that they were only separated from the Everton fans by a thin line of orange-jacketed stewards in the very last two seats in their row. Fortunately, when it dawned on me that my route through the visiting fans enclosure was barred, instead of spending the break scuttling around almost the entire circumference of the concourse in the opposite direction, I realised that I could reach them by hiking upstairs to the Upper Tier, across and down. Luckily Jake’s not a delicate lad and didn’t appear unduly bothered to find himself acting as the net, with all the banter being batted back and forth above his head.

Aisling revealed that at least the worst offender was sufficiently ashamed about the possibility of broadening the boy’s vocabulary. Apparently he was constantly turning the air blue, swapping insults with the Scousers, but after each successive curse he was tapping her on the back to apologise!

Credit where due, as I’m all too often whinging about Wenger’s reluctance to tinker with his team until the last 10/15 mins. Although, in truth Arsène was forced to shuffle his pack at half-time on Saturday, as we were rapidly running short of defenders, with Kolo’s withdrawal. Moving Song to centre-back and Eboué to right-back, he sent Theo on to wreak havoc on the right flank, resulting in the injection of dynamism and directness which led indirectly to the equaliser.

If it wasn’t for our captain’s injury, I wonder if Wenger would’ve maintained his customary patience and left our Wonderboy cooling his heels on the bench, until the last quarter? As it was, the timing of our goal was absolutely crucial, coming only 3 mins after the restart. Without it, as the clock on the big screen began to tick down, our prospects of turning this game around would’ve diminished in inverse proportion to the increased tension, resulting from the growing mood of discontent amongst many Gooners present.

The moment Nasri’s grass-cutter skimmed its way into the bottom corner of the net, I immediately trained my binoculars on Jake. I was delighted to discover that his initiation into the tribe was complete, seeing him give vent to first-half frustrations and the Toffees fans’ gloating, with a rapid-fire succession of one fingered salutes, directed at his new found “friends”. “Go on my son” I muttered under my breath, “give ‘em loads”. I couldn’t have been more proud if he was my own.

I guess as far as he was concerned, our 3-1 victory will have tasted all the sweeter for having been behind at the break. But having taken our seats only moments after watching Chelsea reserves ominous tonking of Boro at the Riverside and with Man Utd seemingly coming to the boil that evening against the Baggies, blessed with so much attacking threat that they didn’t appear to miss £32mill. Tevez, the ruthlessness and the potential consistency of the competition leave me feeling somewhat pessimistic about our own Premiership prospects.

With Liverpool and the Gunners both making hard graft of our games, while the other two contenders cruised to victory, normal service appeared to have been resumed this weekend. Yet as the tension evaporated with our equaliser and we were able to relax, we were transformed into the Arsenal side that is no less an irresistible force than either of our two main rivals

It leaves one wondering exactly what it is that’s responsible for our recent trend towards inertia, seemingly waiting for success to fall into our laps and needing to go a goal behind, to inspire the sort of urgency that’s required to really force the issue. Why we can’t apply ourselves with the same intensity right from the off?

If it’s a matter of complacency then seemingly they aren’t the only culprits, since Saturday’s events would suggest that the lack of aggro at our new gaff up until now has resulted in some of the old bill going to sleep on the job. I’m unsure whether some slieveens in the posh Club Level seats above the away fans were responsible for causing the problem, or if they were reacting to some aggro below, but from the evidence seen since on YouTube, their behavious was reprehensible. Mercifully the fracas occurred towards the back of the Lower Tier, but I spent the last 10 mins focusing on Ais & Jake, terrified they’d get caught up in the middle of it, watching the over-reaction of a copper who’d had his helmet knocked off, trying to make up for the lack of numbers, by lashing out at the Everton fans indiscriminately with his long black truncheon!

This heavy-handedness (or being hit from above) provoked a rabid reaction amongst a few away fans, where I’d have expected to see a squadron yellow-jacketed old bill flooding into the area to quell such unrest. Instead of which, it went on unabated until the end of the game and if I was sufficiently worried about what might happen outside, to dash around to meet Ais & Jake right by their exit, then surely it would’ve made sense to hold the Everton fans back long enough for the crowds to disperse?

Instead of which some of them headed straight out the exit to start attacking all and sundry in their vicinity. Astonishingly there weren’t any police on the scene to intervene. If I was kacking my pants, standing waiting on my tod, heaven only knows what an ordeal it must’ve been for some of the women and kids amongst the civilians caught up in the inexcusable efforts of a small group of Evertonians to seek some retribution!

Eventually a lone mounted copper came clip-clopping along the asphalt to try to separate the troublemakers. Thankfully I spotted Ais & Jake emerging from the stadium and hurriedly shepherded the two of them off, in the opposite direction, taking the long way around the ground to avoid any further incident.

Considering the light-hearted banter I’ve shared with the Scousers for several years now, I would’ve never believed it would end up being Evertonians christening our new gaff with it’s first scenes of violence (thus I have to assume there was some provocation). However by comparison to the sort of sedate, often to the point of soporific atmosphere that is unfortunately the norm at our new gaff, I guess Jake couldn’t have wished for a more fervent occasion for his first ever game, if not all of it particularly pleasant. Still doubtless he’ll have returned to Dublin to impress his playground pals with a barrage of choice invective and the win means he doesn’t have to worry about not being invited back.

Hopefully publication of this piece will coincide with a return from Istanbul with 3 more Champions League points in the bag, in a game which based on form, is highly unlikely to be a boring scoreless draw and where the side with the least inconsistent defence is likely to prevail.

Only Daniel Levy knows whether Juande “Charisma Bypass” Ramos will still be (not so) gainfully employed. According to tradition, the Spurs chairman will eventually lose control of an increasingly squeaky sphincter, 3 days before the derby, in a desperate attempt to salvage a result against us, by sacking the Spaniard. For those Spurs fans who weren’t still hiding behind the sofa on Sunday night, if the advice of messrs Dixon and Keown wasn’t hard enough to stomach (Plug even sounded sincere, suggesting they should stay loyal to their hapless gaffer), how worrying must it have been to have heard Adrian Chiles reveal on MOTD2 that only Southampton have survived such a woeful start to a Premiership season to stave off relegation!

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Anonymous said... in the US and I read almost anything that is written about Arsenal. Somehow, I can never get myself to read any of your articles. they are way to long and they usually go off topic. why do you have to worry about all the other stuff...just get to the point, we want to hear about what you think about Arsenal..shot & to the point

Anonymous said...

I enjoy his articles and I like the story of his "11-year old nephew."

Highbury Prick,
Arsenal fan from Poland

Sir Henry Norris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sir Henry Norris said...

Just wanted to say thanks for giving me something interesting to read at work at the beginning of each week.

I am an Arsenal season ticket holder now living in Singapore and so I only get to go to two or three games a season when I come home to visit. I really enjoy reading your blog and all the details of your matchday experience are what sets it apart from other blogs. For someone like me who now goes to games so rarely, it's nice to remember what each of the premiership grounds are like and hear about visiting them from another supporter's perspective.

I think most people who read this will have watched the game on TV anyway so a simple summary of the game would be pretty boring.

Please don't change anything for the sake of people who can't be bothered to read or want to be told what to think.

Keep up the good work!

Bern said... the US, go to:

where you will find 1000s of articles to read about who kicked the ball to who, or who should partner who in midfield (although I feel obliged to point out that I was complaining about Denilson's tendency to let players get goalside of him, back in my first piece in September, when Lee Dixon only got around to pointing it out on MOTD2 on Sunday night).

Whereas I specifically try to find a more anecdotal angle to write about to try to give more of a flavour of the experience than a match report. The main reason for this is because the folks that pay me (unlike those who get to have a pop at me gratis) for my weekly missives publish them in a sports supplement in Wednesday's edition of the Irish Examiner.

So while I'm writing on a Sunday/Monday, folks are reading it (I hope) on a Wednesday, long after everyone else has picked the bones out of the game itself and I therefore feel obliged to try and find a different slant.

Meanwhile, if you feel like chipping in a few quid, I will gladly give you all the opinion you want about the game, the team and anything you so desire, but until then, as they say, "he who pays the piper....."

I only post my weekly diary pieces to this blog because the knowledge that some geographically challenged Gooners (eg. my new Polish pal - much appreciate your support Highbury Prick :-) get something from it, is far more gratifying than any financial remuneration, although sadly all the gratification in the world won't pay for our season tickets.

Moreover, I'm assuming that as someone from across the pond, perhaps your relationship with the Gunners comes via the cathode ray tube (showing my age, I guess it's plasma/LCD screen nowadays) and you might lack some appreciation of the fact that live football is a whole different ball game and where we are fortunate to get out entertainment on the pitch, for many footie fans, what transpires on the terraces is an integral part of the experience and for fans of less gifted sides, is often far more entertaining.

Now if you were moaning about the lack of booze, birds and bovver in my missives, I would have to concede that you have a point and apologise for the fact that I'm such a boring, non-drinking, anti-social bugger :-)

Your comments nonetheless appreciated

Nuff Love

PS. Only just seen Sir Henry's remarks and I have to admit that it's worth getting slated, if only because of the fact that it inspires such messages of support, as it's these sort of comments that make my humble efforts thoroughly worthwhile. Thanks a million

Anonymous said...

Here here Sir Henry !!
I always enjoy reading your blog Bernard.......... Keep up the great work : )

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Sir Henry, love your blog. It's far more interesting to hear about your escapades on match day than a typical match report, which are two a penny. ;-)