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Monday 25 May 2009

We've Only Got One Song

Hi folks,

First things first. After the pleasant surprise following my last post, where I discovered that some of you must have the stamina to reach the end of my long-winded missives, as I received a couple of almost instantaneous replies, from Gooners looking to take me up on the offer that I tagged on to my post, about Róna's season ticket being available for next season.

However having hopefully found a suitable home for my spare, it would appear that contrary to my previous contention, there continues to be plenty of demand for season tickets, from those stuck in limbo, on a waiting list that barely moves each season, on account of the fact that like myself, everyone is loathe to relinquish their precious seats and in the event that they do, invariably they will find someone to pass them on to, rather than release them back to the club.

I recall flogging Ró’s ticket for one game this season, outside the ground, to a gang of Gooners who didn’t actually want to use her seat, they just needed the card to get in the ground, with one of their number having left a membership card in another jacket. They were telling me that they’d secured a number of season-tickets / membership cards for everyone in their little posse over a period of time, but that these were seats that had changed hands a sufficient number of times that none of them actually knew who the original names on their cards were!

I mistakenly assumed that while there might be a massive (40k) waiting list, the majority of this was made up by those who might have registered their interest originally, but who could be reluctant to lay out for a season ticket now, when they can see so many empty seats at the vast majority of the live Arsenal games they watch on the box. However, despite the evidence of Gooner eyes, all these empty seats are not really representative of the availability of tickets.

As can be deduced from the absolutely farcical attendance figures that are reported for each home game (where I believe the only time the attendance has dropped more than a couple of hundred below the 60k mark is when the visiting team have failed so flog their allocation, eg. Wigan), the empty seats represent (season?) tickets & Cub Level seats that have been sold, but which have gone unused and tragically it would appear that there are plenty of people who have paid for these seats, but who don't appear to go out of their way to try and ensure that they don't go unused.

How sad is this? When you think of the number of youngsters who would give their right arm to watch the Arsenal play live, or even the number of more neutral football fans who would be delighted to spend an afternoon enjoying Arsène's entertaining brand of Wenger-ball, it's downright immoral to think that there must be literally hundreds of Upper Tier and Club Level membership cards that are lying in a draw, accumulating dust for the vast majority of matches, merely because the person (apparently with more money than sense!) who laid out a substantial fortune for them, just doesn't feel sufficiently motivated to ensure that someone enjoys the benefit of them - doubtless because they can write the cost off as a legitimate business expense in many cases (I didn't know there were that many Gooners in the House of Commons!).

So while it has been fairly easy to find seats for many of the less high-profile games this season, it’s not nearly so easy as one might suspect. For example Stoke City are hardly one of the Premiership’s biggest draws as a visiting team, but with Sunday’s game being the last chance to see the Arsenal play for a couple of months, I was surprised to see quite so many empty spaces in Club Level and the Upper Tier. Yet I don’t suspect it would’ve been too easy to buy a ticket for this game.

Moreover, as the chap who wants to sit with me next season rightly pointed out, my circle of Gooners tends to be made up of people who are all privileged enough to have their guaranteed pitch for every game and in fact, although there might be plenty of tickets available for less glamorous home games when next season starts, there remains a massive demand out there amongst those Gooners who would dearly love to have a seat of their own for every single game, so that they can begin next season with a membership card in their possession that will just as easily grant them admittance to see us play both Hull and Man Utd, Burnley and Spurs, with none of the stress of having to sweat it out for a ticket for all the high-profile matches.

If this is the case then it occurs to me that there might be some of you who might be interested to know that I'm aware of at least another couple of pairs of season tickets that are available for next season at face value. One pair in the lower tier and they are even better value than my own seats (as they are a little closer to the halfway line) and another pair in the upper tier at a "relatively" reasonable face value cost of £1199.

As far as I'm aware, when we moved to the new stadium, there were quite a lot of people who decided to buy into the Club Level (because if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford them, the Club Level seats obviously offer the optimum viewpoint - in fact AFAIC, the offer of "equivalent" seats was farcical, as the nearest equivalent to our old pitch at the front of the West Upper was the centre blocks of Club Level which necessitated something like an £18,000 lay out per seat, with people having to pay four years up front for a four year contract for these centre block seats!!). However with many of these new Club Level residents being former season ticket holders at THOF, they also took up their option of the so-called "equivalent" seat to their old seats.

I suppose some decided to do this in case they discovered they couldn't afford to renew in Club Level at a later date, while others merely wanted to retain additional season tickets, to be able to use them for family, friends and I assume for themselves, in the event of them having to entertain the ubiquitous corporate punters in Club Level?

However in the current economic climate, there would appear to be many others like myself who are feeling the pinch and who cannot afford the huge expense of renewing season tickets that are no longer essential. But also like myself, they are loathe to relinquish their seats completely and they are also looking to find a temporary home for them.

So if there are any of you out there reading this who are seriously interested in obtaining a pair of seats for the entire season at face value, or should you know of anyone who is interested, please feel free to get back to me, so that I might put you in touch direct with the respective people. If I can put anyone who's after a pair of seats for the whole season, in touch with someone who's looking to place a pair, then I feel I'll be doing a good Gooner turn all around.

Also, as I pointed out to my prospective new neighbour, while "renting" a season ticket for our next campaign might not be quite the same as being offered ones own permanent pitch by the club, the fact of the matter is that because the whole season ticket business is such a closed shop affair, with tickets being passed around, rather than released back to the club, this opportunity is without doubt the best way of getting one's foot in the door, as I myself can testify. Once you are safely ensconced in a seat for the entire season, you tend to get to know those seated around you and this offers you the best chances of being connected to the grapevine, where you might get to hear about someone who's dad has unfortunately passed away, or is not planning on renewing for any other reason for the subsequent season.

I originally "leased" a seat for one season back in 1990 from a mate who was going to work in Hong Kong for a year. He ended up earning so much out there that he stayed and so having taken his seat for a season, I ended up renewing it the season after that and the one after that, until eventually it became my own. Also within a couple of seasons of sitting in the same seat, I heard that the owner of the adjacent seat was not planning on renewing and so there was no way I could pass up such an extremely rare opportunity, despite the fact that we couldn't really afford it. Thus within the space of three seasons, I went from renting one seat for a season, to having two of my own permanently!

I'm not suggesting that such fortuitous circumstances are going to befall everyone, but once you've got your foot in the door, you are likely to build up the relationships and the contacts with other Gooner season ticket holders that are far more likely to result in something more permanent than an annual letter advising you of your negligible movement up the lengthy waiting list.

Being as the deadline for renewals is upon us (Monday), if anyone is genuinely interested, be sure to get back to me ASAP (by email), with a phone number, so that I might put you in touch direct.

Meanwhile, you can judge the hypothermic temperature of the parlous economic climate and the high level of disappointment in the immediate aftermath of the humiliating way in which the humidor was snapped shut so severely on our "close but no cigar" season, by nature of the fact that the first question on Gooner lips, these last few weeks has been "are you going to renew?"

To my mind, this has been quite telling, as in recent seasons, this question would've been utterly superfluous, as season-ticket renewal would've been automatically assumed as usual, unless incredibly extreme circumstances intervened to somehow prevent someone from being able to renew. However while many might have contemplated whether they can continue to justify the extortionate cost of their Arsenal pleasures, I've yet to come across a single Gooner who's willingly prepared to actually forsake their precious pitch, despite the fact that the consensus of opinion suggests that there should be an excess of supply over demand for tickets for the vast majority of games next term.

That is until a modicum of success and the resulting media attention has its inevitable effect on reducing the number of empty seats at each successive match and the glory-hunting Gooners, who were noticeable by their absence from a surprising number of empty Upper Tier and Club Level seats at Sunday's sun-kissed finale, come flooding back, claiming "Who me? I never miss an Arsenal match"!

Even though Róna isn't nearly so enthusiastic about going to games nowadays (and no this isn't on account of the additional few hundred yards walk to our new Home of Football!), I would've renewed her ticket without a moment's hesitation if we could afford to do so, just to ensure that we could continue going to games together occasionally. And on those occasions when she's equally happy stop at home and watch the match on the box, whether it be one of her family on a Gooner pilgrimage from Dublin, or numerous other Arsenal supporting friends and family, there's always someone who'd be only to grateful to be able to take her place.

However sadly my dire financial circumstances finally prevailed this time around, preventing us from being able to afford the substantial outlay for both seats for next season. Yet prior to finding the solution which presented itself subsequent to revealing details in my previous post, with my increasing panic over the impending approach of the 1st June deadline, it was suggested to me that I'd have a much better chance of finding someone who wanted a pair of seats and so perhaps I would be better off offering them both, instead of just the one, on the basis that I should be able to sort myself out with single ticket on a match by match basis.

While this might not be a problem for the majority of the fixtures, I certainly wouldn't fancy the stress of having to call in all sorts of favours for the gold-dust of a ticket for the half dozen glamour games (eg. Spurs, Man Utd, Chelsea). And even if this was feasible, I tried to explain that it's been twenty years since I was NFA (no fixed abode) at the Arsenal and I really don't fancy becoming "the wandering jew", laying my Gooner hat wherever I can find a home in our vast new arena for each game. I might not have anything like the same emotional attachment to the our new home of football as I did to THOF (and don't think I ever will!), because the new gaff will never have the same Gooner family feel of sitting with virtually all the same faces, game in, game out, season in, season out.

Nevertheless, as the seasons come and go, even a relatively oblivious, unsociable bugger like myself is beginning to realize that there are a few regular faces around us, with whom I am now on nodding terms. And with some of them feeling comfortable enough to dish out some friendly stick, on those rare occasions that I manage to avoid turning up a little tardy, we're starting to develop a bit of a rapport. With the couple of square feet of my precious thousand pound pitch only now beginning to feel like home because of such familiarity I would no sooner relinquish my seat at the Arsenal, than I would part with my right arm!

The vast majority of us Gooners with a serious emotional attachment to Highbury are all having to come to terms with the fact that we're never going to be able to recreate the same matchday experience at our new home. Yet as we grow accustomed to this entirely different interaction with the modern incarnation of the Arsenal matchday, I'm no less desperate to hand over my hard borrowed readies, in order to guarantee me my own little pieces of the new stadium’s terracing, from which I can enjoy another season of afternoons/evenings hollering my head off, supporting the Gunners.

I'm not so sure I like the cheapskate idea of merely renewing our current membership cards, as this means we're denied that childish, Xmas morning type thrill, on the day our new season tickets (membership cards) dropped on the doormat. However, even though our annual renewals are now nothing more than a relatively remote click of a computer mouse, sad as it might sound, no matter what the sacrifice involved, it's hard to imagine a better (legal) buzz, than the thrill of knowing that you've managed to ensure that the small rectangle of plastic in your pocket is your passport to another Arsenal campaign of footballing pleasure.

Finally, I really don’t enjoy writing this last diary piece of the season for the Irish Examiner, as the limitations placed upon me mean that I can do little more than reflect on matters in the most general of terms, without going into any detail. Thus I’ve delayed posting this piece out because I fully intended adding to it, all those paragraphs I was forced to delete, when I realised that my musings merely about the Gunners midfield, were going to result in me filing something that was twice as long as required.

Still I guess that Barca’s almost total domination of Man Utd in midweek was better evidence than any argument I could’ve made here about the relative strengths and weaknesses of our current squad. Our midfield might be some way from having the experience and the nous of Xavi and Iniesta, but their ability to influence the game didn’t appear to suffer from the lack of the sort of enforcer that we’ve all been crying out for.

One point I can’t help but ponder is that if it wasn’t for injuries and suspensions, their club captain (& Silvinho!) might’ve only made it on to the bench. To my mind the presence of Puyol was pivotal in this encounter. For all Arsène’s claims that he has a team of captains, where to my mind this merely confirms that none of our squad have YET to demonstrate themselves to have developed to personality or the presence to truly stand out as a genuine leader, the performance of Puyol, haring into the box on his aged legs late on, still eager to achieve immortality with a truly memorable swansong, despite the game already being won, I’ve rarely witnessed more definitive proof of the importance of an individual who acts as a focal point for all his team mates.

Bearing in mind, that in Rome on Wednesday we only saw the Catalan captain leading his team to glory. Such was Barca’s domination following Utd’s fruitless forays in the opening moments, that we didn’t get to see the Puyol who galvanizes his troops when the going gets tough

I’m sure I wasn’t the only Arsenal fan watching on Wednesday who couldn’t help but find themselves musing, perhaps illogically, on the possibility that an Arsenal v Barca final would’ve made fare more entertaining fare. But if I don’t stop now, I will doubtless continue on for another couple of thousand words, until the FA Cup Final is finished, when I’ll have another few thousand words to write, rueing several more “if onlys” and “what ifs”.

You never know, despite this season being nearly done & dusted, if the mood should take me, I might get around to posting one more missive, where I can get off my chest all the thoughts I didn’t have room to include below. Either that or I’ll save them for the preview for next season’s (hopefully more successful) campaign,

Four thousand words, without nary a mention of the marvellous achievements of Brady and Bouldie’s bairns, which culminated in a fitting 20th anniversary at Anfield the other night. I guess I’ve got to write one more diary piece, if only to do their exploits some justice.

Meantime, here’s hoping the Toffees can chew up Chelsea and spit them out this afternoon, just to make a wonderful week full of sensuous Schadenfreude complete

Keep the faith

The positive aspect to the media’s efforts to promolgate the recent rumour linking Wenger with Real Madrid was that it proved a wake-up call for all those Gooners who’ve started to take the great man’s efforts for granted. Even the perennial whingers seated around us at Sunday’s curtain call against the Potters were begrudgingly admitting that the club would have to go a long way to improve on the current incumbent: “who’d we replace him with…Sam Allardyce!”

At the shareholders Q & A last week (which was nothing like the hostile salvo suggested in the media – as unlike all the journos who revel in inventing such negative nonsense, I was there!), Arsène revealed how he understood that he was facing his stiffest test, at the start of the new stadium project. Unlike other clubs that have nosedived as a result of the consequences of such massive investment off the pitch, le Prof is rightly proud of maintaining a team capable of competing at “the top, top level” throughout this period of upheaval, with the light at the end of this tortuous tunnel shining on a stadium fit for footballing kings, a training facility that is the envy of many, while hopefully still preserving the sound financial foundations that will guarantee the Gunners future.

Such a judicious, long-term managerial vision might not be fashionable amongst an “I want it now” generation, where we are all used to living beyond our means and worrying about the consequences tomorrow. I’m sure the vast majority of success hungry managers wouldn’t have given a monkey’s about where the Gunners might be in twenty years time, after they’d mortgaged the club’s future on the sort of multi-million pound gambles, capable of feeding the insatiable monster of the fans silverware obsessed gratification.

We can’t underestimate how fortunate we’ve been to have a man at the helm of the club during such a pivotal point in the Gunner’s history who’s had the courage of his own conviction and who’s happily put himself up there these past few seasons, to be shot at by the media and the more fickle radio phone-in ranters, singlehandedly shouldering the burden of expectation that’s been inflated by his earlier success, without ever looking to shift the blame onto the board, or his fragile young squad. While other more unscrupulous managers might’ve been leaking tales to the tabloids left, right and centre, to ensure the world was made fully aware of the sort of miracles that were being expected of them.

Nevertheless, as we reach that increasingly onerous time of the year, where I’m expected to conjure up a couple of grand, in order to guarantee our seats for another season of footballing pleasure, along with every other Gooner, I would like to see the increased prospects of a more tangible reward, than just the promise of a bright future.

The best laid plans of mice and managers oft gang awry and Arsène admitted that it was a blow to lose the limited amount of experience in the Arsenal midfield, with the summer departures of Flamini and Hleb and the loss of Rosicky for the entire season. Right from game one, the writing was on the wall, as while Samir Nasri is undoubtedly a skilful footballer, he was never going to bring to the party the sort of stature and physical presence that our lightweight midfield was crying out for.
You only had to look at the TV pictures of the unintimidating presence of the team lining up in the tunnel prior to a game, to appreciate why the humble likes of Hull and Stoke fancied having a go at us. In truth our Premiership race was already run in losing 5 of the first 14 encounters, before Alex Song’s physicality helped to shore up our positively porous midfield.

Yet with Song having reverted to centre-back in the past couple of games, we’re reminded that Wenger was forced to use him as a defensive midfielder because he didn’t really have anyone else in the squad who fitted this bill. Denilson continues to blossom, but I have my doubts whether he’ll ever quite have Fabregas’ creativity, or the dogged destructive talents, to be that vital ball winner to complement all our ball players.

Another diminutive, ball-juggling deity would’ve hardy topped most Gooners Xmas wish list, but I got the distinct sense that Shava arrived in the January sales, more as a panacea to fan pressure on the Gunners purse, than as a specific piece in the Wenger jigsaw. Mercifully Arshavin looks set to prove that he’s far more than a placebo and perhaps Arsène’s biggest ricket of the season was to deny the Ruski his big day out at Wembley.

With hindsight, it was more good fortune, than good football which took us to two semi-finals and perhaps being within touching distance of the big-eared prize, Wenger committed the cardinal sin of forgetting to focus one game at a time. Another “close but no cigar” season was made all the more painful due to the humiliating way in which the humidor was snapped shut so severely in both semi-finals. Still, if Villa hadn’t run out of steam, we might’ve struggled to qualify for the Champions League!

Hopefully there a cotchel of potential leaders amongst the kids who are about to cruise to an FA Youth Cup victory at Anfield on Tuesday, on the 20th anniversary of that magical Micky Thomas moment and so I guess that unlike the vast majority of clubs that are destined to end every season, entirely empty-handed, we must be grateful for small mercies.

The ultimate litmus test is one’s preparedness to once again put oneself into hock up to the eyeballs, in order to pay for renewals and like all those freeloaders in the media who claim that they’d be prepared to put their hands in their pockets to watch the Arsenal, I remain convinced that in an insecure world, the return in terms of unadulterated footballing pleasure ensures that a season ticket at the Arsenal is one of the soundest investments I’ll ever make!

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Merida's No1 Fran said...

Excellent article. Very long, so you have to really hook the reader for them to feel they should read the whole thing. You managed this expertly. I hope to be a season ticket holder one day myself, when i hit the big time!

From and Arsenal supporter and aspiring Journalist.

Bern said...

I'm from the "why use ten words when a thousand will do" school of blogging and thus succinctness has never been my strong suit :-)

But delighted that you enjoyed readin g it as this is the sort of gratification that makes my humble efforts worthwhile.

Look forward to reading your own efforts in the future

Also "Fine Whine" should you read this comment, be sure to drop me an email, in case I can put you in touch with someone who might be of some use to you for ant future Arsenal pilgrimages from the Emerald Isle


I Hate Dunphy said...

Please Mr Bernard ,can i have another post please.Sick of the shit on other blogs

I Hate Dunphy said...

ps i do hate dunphy ,but love listening to the motherfucker.