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Wednesday 21 January 2009

To Hull And Back

Hi Folks

As usual, the limitations of the requirements of the Irish Examiner have forced me to be so discerning that I'm sure I've left out more than I've written about Saturday's outing. And as ever I planned on adding a long preamble before posting this out. But on the basis that something is better than nothing, I thought I'd better get it out now before the week gets away from me again

Here's hoping for the excitement of a good old-fashioned FA Cup tie in Cardiff this weekend

Come on you Reds

The dreadful weather made for a hair-raising drive home from Hull late on Saturday night. My hands gripped the steering-wheel in terror, as we crossed the open expanses of the Humber Bridge. In a howling gale and with the torrential rain leaving large amounts of surface water, along some dangerously dark sections of the A1, it was a case of “point and pray” as the car aqua-planed through the puddles at 70mph.

Mercifully we made it back to London in one-piece, around midnight, which was more than can be said for some Gooners. With no trains back to the capital after the late kick-off, my passenger would’ve also been stranded in the North-East overnight, if he hadn’t been fortunate to blag a lift back with me. Apparently he wanted to get home because his prospective in-laws had turned up for a surprise visit. I guess this was indicative of his impending nuptials. Give him a few years of “wedded bliss” and he’ll probably be delighted to have this sort of perfect excuse, to avoid returning home until after the in-laws have left!

Meanwhile under the circumstances, I was glad of the company and our return journey was made a whole lot more bearable, by nature of the two goals the Gunners had banged in, in the last ten minutes. If I’m entirely honest, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve never been to Hull’s KC Stadium, after an exhausting week at work, in which I’d already driven the best part of a 1000 miles, I would’ve been sorely tempted to stop at home and watch the live coverage, with my feet up in front of the box.

If any proof was necessary, the scheduling of this fixture was evidence of absolute disregard of the demands placed on the travelling fans. Yet after their surprisingly successful start to the season, with Hull currently dropping down the table like a stone, I guess that like myself, there were many Gooners who didn’t want to miss out on what might be their one and only opportunity to visit the KC Stadium. As I hauled my already aching backside back into the car around midday on Saturday, to head off on the 450 mile round trip schlep to the North-East, it felt like the sort of unglamorous, arduous football outing that comes under the category of paying ones Gooner dues.

Fortunately a traffic and trouble free drive North resulted in me arriving in Hull half an hour before kick-off. Thankfully the rain held off until the second half, but as I sat in the parked car, listening to the dying throes of the afternoon’s earlier encounters on the radio, trust Man Utd and Chelsea to put the dampener on my mood, with their crucial last minute goals. As we exited our respective motors, both myself and the Tiger’s fan, parked beside me, bemoaned Man Utd having the luck of the devil.

In an age of decidedly bland, homogenous football stadia, where it’s hard to distinguish one ground (with its almost obligatory adjacent retail park) from another, by comparison, the KC Stadium has quite a distinctive and attractive feel to it. With no history between the two clubs and their fans, of the sort that often involves long harboured grudges, I got no sense of any animosity inspired by the sight of my Arsenal hat & scarf, as we all hurried towards the ground, huddling together, doing our best to use each other as windbreaks, from the biting breeze blowing in off the North Sea.

Wearing their black and amber colours, the Tiger’s fans swarmed from all different directions, like bees, eagerly anticipating the prospect of the sweet delicacy to be found inside the Hull City honey-pot. After a lifetime of less tasty lower league fare, it feels as if the Tigers are just grateful to have their noses in the Premiership trough (forgive me for mixing my metaphors) and to be entertaining the likes of the Arsenal. Having already humbled their more illustrious opposition in our previous meeting at our place, I got the distinct sense that they’d have been delighted to get anything out of this game.

In spite of the last gasp goals at the Reebok and the Bridge, there was much merriment amongst us Gooners behind the goal at the KC, with the news that for his next trick, Harry Houdini had our North London neighbours propping up the entire Premiership table, as we teased the Tigers that they were “going down with the Tottenham”.

Shorn of all their early season bravado by a succession of defeats, the home side posed a far less formidable test than the team that beat us back in September. Although I held my breath every time we conceded a free-kick around the area, or whenever Geovanni was in shooting range, in truth, for all their earnest endeavour, Hull posed very little threat to Almunia’s goal.

Nevertheless, with this Arsenal side’s propensity to shoot itself in the foot with our defensive failings, our recent spate of 1-0 wins has done little to assuage the sense of foreboding that one goal isn’t going to be enough. Mind you, I never imagined a previously dependable Gael Clichy would develop into the principal culprit. Watching Armand Traore rampaging down the flank for Pompey against Spurs on Sunday, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wondering whether we made a ricket letting him go.

Hull were perhaps guilty of showing us a little too much respect and we looked to be in control of the game, until Clichy failed to close down Mendy, to thwart the cross which resulted in their equalizer. The goal lifted the home side and their fans and once again we looked in serious danger of letting what should’ve been a fairly routine away win, slip through our grasp.

As the rain started to pour down in sheets, the KC pitch became no place for the feint-hearted. But as has proved to be the case in several games of late, Hull had expended so much energy, trying to deny us the time and space to hurt them that it was inevitable that fatigue would begin to take its toll. With the added firepower of Bendtner up front and aided by the build-up of lactic acid in defensive legs and the delicate promptings of Van Persie, we suddenly looked far more potent going forward.

Having been handed more responsibility, Van Persie seems to have matured considerably in recent times, compared to the more selfish hothead, who in the past has managed to thrill and infuriate in equal measure. Robin was amongst the first to come over and throw his shirt to the fans at the final whistle. Whereas, by contrast the immature spoilt brat that is Bendtner appeared to make a show of marching straight off the pitch, with the sort of body language that suggested he’d no intention of showing his appreciation to those fans who’d given him the bird in previous games.

Although I very much appreciated the display of grit and determination that earned us the three points on Saturday, I’d have much preferred to have cruised to a stress free victory for once and Bendtner’s antics aren’t exactly indicative of the sort of team-spirit and togetherness needed to reclaim the position of genuine contenders.

Whatever might transpire in the transfer market (and I’m definitely not holding my breath), our manager gives me the sense that the good ship Arsenal is in a holding pattern, whereby we’re merely doing our best, under trying circumstances, to hang on in there, until our squad is bolstered by the return of those players capable of creating some real momentum.

In the meantime, considering the effort involved in getting to games such as these, in the absence of Gary Lewin (who in the past would’ve pointed players in the direction of the travelling faithful), someone needs to sit Bertie Big Bollix down and remind him of his obligations….I was going to say “who pays his wages” but then nowadays that would mean him wandering over to applaud the TV cameras!

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Anonymous said...

cool summary. Feel like I went. Cheers.
Willo NZ.

Bern said...

Thanks for taking the trouble to add a comment Willo

Your brief remark constitutes just about the most gratifying comment anyone could make about one of my missives and make my humble efforts feel utterly worthwhile.

If I've managed to bring just a little flavour of my outing, to geographically challenged Gooners such as yourself, then as far as I'm concerned that's job done

Nuff Love