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Thursday 31 December 2009

We've Only Got One Song.....Sadly!

It was only as a result of a couple of extremely gratifying comments on last week's blog entry that I remembered I'd neglected to post out the missive I wrote Sunday night. Having written it for Wednesday's edition of the Examiner, I thought I might as well post it on Wednesday, before the Pompey match, as then I wouldn't need to amend it. But what with working such long hours these past couple of weeks, it was easy to forget.

So it might be a little outdated by now but I guess better late than never (a phrase that will undoubtedly end up inscribed on my tombstone!).

I was gutted not to be at Fratton Park, but I simply can't take the piss at work, having agreed to do this six week Xmas season at the Coliseum. I've got to be selective and pick my battles about which matches to try and slip away for. I should really flog my ticket for Upton Park on Sunday as we've got a matinée that afternoon, followed by an all-nighter, getting out Nutcracker and getting in Snow Queen and fitting it up (which I'm positively dreading as these are the two biggest shows in the companies rep), but I'm still clinging on to it in the feint hope I might be able to get there.

I ended up listening to the first-half of Wednesday's game on Radio 5 live Sports Extra, via an earpiece and my iPhone (with it being a digital station), whilst working on stage and fortunately I was able to keep a lid on my celebrations when Eduardo's deflected goal went it, as otherwise I might've ended up joining the corp de ballet on stage, prancing about with all the dainty dancers dressed as snowflakes!

Fortunately I was able to slip away immediately after the interval change, following the first act. It was suggested by one of my colleagues on the crew that I'd be home in time to watch the second-half. Yet while the motorbike is brilliant for bypassing all the traffic, in this freezing cold, wet weather, it takes me fifteen minutes to get all the gear on and off. So he jokingly suggested I do the interval change in my leather jacket, rainproof coat and trousers, fluorescent band, balaclava, two pairs of gloves and crash helmet. However, instead of being discrete about slipping away early, this might've put a few noses out of joint, by kind of advertising the fact. Mind you, it's not that uncommon that the local crew are so lagging after a long day nipping in and out of the boozer next door, that a crash helmet on stage isn't such a bad idea!

In the end, after a mad dash back, I did make it home in time for the start of the second half and all that effort was certainly worth it, if only to have seen Aaron Ramsey's peach of a goal. It's often the case that I can't work out what the opposition fans are singing (usually the warblings of many of those Northern monkeys), but it's often impossible to distinguish the chants while listening / watching on the box. You often can't tell which end the noise is coming from, let alone what they're singing and on Wednesday I thought I was missing out on the introduction of new material to the Gooner repertoire, until it dawned on me that it was actually the home fans seemingly making most of the noise, or should I say making the noise being picked up by the TV mics, as I've often attended games where subsequent TV broadcasts have failed to represent quite how vociferous we've been.

But I realised that much of what I was hearing was the Pompey fans taking the piss out of their own club's financial mismanagement and it was a real wind up not bein able to work out the words to many of their chants. Judging by this performance, Pompey don't deserve such staunch support. Although it's true that the much publicized problems paying the players' wages could well have been a big factor in the home team's dismal display, to my mind they played as if they'd already accepted defeat before even stepping onto the pitch on Wednesday night.

Mind you if the Pompey players couldn't score in the proverbial brothel, rumour has it that their manager can, as I was told that it was Avram Grant who was the subject of the scurrilous 'red top' story last week. Perhaps more worryingly for Pompey fans, it doesn't say much about the Israeli's management skills, that he didn't possess the motivational powers to gee his side up, to at least come out and try to win the second half. From the little I've seen of the South coast side this season, they've not looked as lacklustre as they did on Wednesday, but if they continue playing in this fashion, they'll be surefire certainties for the drop.

Perhaps with the Inland Revenue's winding up order and the wage problems, we caught them on a bad day (or a good one, from our point of view). Some might suggest that we should've been able to capitalise with a few more goals than the four we ended up scoring. We certainly should've avoided the lapse in concentration that cost us a clean sheet, but in truth, from here on in, all that really matters is the three points. Subsequent opponents aren't going to look at our last result and think it was flattering, they're (hopefully) going to feel intimidated by the fact that even without the influential likes of Fabregas & Van Persie, we still managed to score four goals and continue building some crucial momentum.

Now all we've got to do is to keep this up with Sunday's FA Cup encounter, thankfully against a West Ham side deprived of most of their midfield (including Scott Parker, who I've been particularly impressed with when I've watched the Irons recently). Carlton Cole is also a massive loss for them but Franco and Diamante have also looked quite useful. No matter what side Wenger puts out, we simply can't afford to be complacent because as Chelsea demonstrated with their dip in form, following their exit from the Carling Cup against Blackburn, resting star players and giving the youngsters a run out isn't anywhere near so important as maintaining that winning feeling.

Wishing all you Gooners everywhere a happy & healthy New Year (and hopefully a silverware laden 2010.. you never know?)

Come on you Reds

Peace & Love



With Aston Villa in such fine recent fettle, Sunday’s clash was always likely to be a stiff test. But when the Gunners lined up with our talismanic skipper on the bench, still nursing a tight hamstring, I have to admit that I feared for the worst.

Although I’m highly embarrassed to admit that ‘el capitaine’ wasn’t the only absentee at kick-off on Sunday. I imagine I’d a little more than most riding on this match, after stumping up a hundred quid to a mate to cover me at work in the theatre (someone I could trust not to mess up my cues in the matinee, for example so as not to bash one of the dainty ballerinas on the bonce, when operating the wings of an enormous prop owl).

Yet having set my alarm for Sunday morning, I guess that after grafting for two shows a day for the past couple of weeks, the fact that I’m no longer used to the gruelling nature of touring work, finally caught up with me and I somehow managed to sleep it out! To my horror, it was fifteen minutes before kick-off when I finally stirred.

After all the trouble I’d been to, in order to get to this game, I couldn’t possibly not make it. But instead of missing much of the first-half while scurrying around to the ground, I decided to watch it on the box and to bomb around there during the break. The way things subsequently transpired, this proved a most sensible compromise.

An in-form Eduardo might’ve instinctively stabbed home his early opportunity. Instead of which, Eddie’s tame effort was probably a matter of him trying too hard to make it count. Despite a lack of incisiveness, the first forty-five was anything but dull. Still I was delighted to be dashing out the door with the game still delicately balanced on a knife-edge at 0-0. Mind you, I’m not sure my arrival on the scene was quite so significant as Cesc’s second-half appearance!

Hurrying along Highbury’s deserted streets I heard it mentioned on the radio that, while it was business as usual for the Gunners, with Wenger having the lads in for training on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Martin O’Neill had given his Villa side a couple of days off.

We can only speculate on whether this had any impact on the outcome of Sunday’s encounter. Even in the theatre business we get Xmas Day off and with all the other major leagues closing down for the festive period, you’d wonder if our lads might resent having no break whatsoever. Especially when most of the players in this Arsenal squad are at the sort of tender age where they’d otherwise have been up half the night waiting for Santa and along with what seems like every other kid in the country, desperate to get their grubby mitts on their new Wii games.

A stout but invariably stalwart Richard Dunne certainly doesn’t appear to have skimped on the mince pies. But when you contrast the ‘goals against’ column for Dunne’s former and current employers, the £5-million O’Neill paid to Man City was a blinding bit of business. Personally I was just relieved that one of our three left-backs has returned to fitness, as I’d envisaged a torrid afternoon for Sylvestre, being tormented by Young and Downing, if Traore hadn’t been available.

From what I’ve seen of their recent performances, I expected Villa to pose more of a threat going forward. The sight of John Carew always reminds me of his gut-wrenching goal for Valencia that deprived us of a Champions League semi. It’s only when seen up close, towering over the likes of Sagna, that you appreciate quite what a colossus Carew is. But he, Heskey &Agbonlahor all proved pretty ineffectual on Sunday.

After the success of their ‘smash & grab’ tactics against us last season, perhaps O’Neill was guilty of being overly cautious in his efforts to produce a repeat performance. Still the visitors toiled so tirelessly to deny us time on the ball that it was inevitable that their efforts would eventually take their toll, with the masterful introduction of Fabregas and Walcott having the maximum psychological impact.

Fab proved to be a ‘special team’ all on his own. Only last week I bemoaned the fact that we’re bereft of a Gerrard type player, with a personality big enough to singlehandedly grab tight games by the scruff of the neck. Our young captain couldn’t have provided a more timely response, with the way he wrapped up this most welcome of three point Xmas pressies, with Abou Diaby adding a bow on top.

As if we needed reminding, Cesc once again proved himself to be the conductor, capable of encouraging a veritable symphony from Wenger’s orchestra. We can but hope that this 28-minute cameo hasn’t taken too heavy a physical toll on his hamstring. However the euphoric scenes of jubilation on the terraces confirmed how essential his contribution was, to such a significant triumph.

Optimistic Gooners will claim it keeps us in the frame for a title push. Perhaps more importantly, so long as we remain the pundits dark horse for a title challenge, we’re definitely not being dragged back down into the dog eat dog battle for fourth below.

The Tigers’ laudable display inspired some false hopes but the prospect of Hull helping us to hang onto second was always an unlikely illusion. Surely we can expect Man U to kick on in the New Year, but in their current insipid guise, without some sort of dividend on the £32 mill invested in Berbatov, we’ve little to fear from Fergie’s mob.

We’ve once again witnessed a weekend of football where less acclaimed clubs have demonstrated sufficient quality and determination to upset the odds. Yet while we can catch anyone in a sprint, for all the current inconsistency of Ancelotti’s Blues, it’s hard to have total faith in us matching Chelsea’s strength in depth over the course of the entire marathon.

We might cope with Fab’s absence if Diaby can continue his fine recent form, but it remains to be seen how our defence holds up with Song away on ACN duty. As an almost ever-present this season, Alex has matured into his role as a muscular, protective screen in front of our back four. I hope he’ll forgive me if I pray for Cameroon’s premature exit from the competition, when his absence could prove as significant to us, as Drogba’s might be for Chelsea.

Meanwhile, I was chuffed to bits to be returning to work wearing a wide, smug smile. With everyone aware of my absence on Sunday, the level of mickey taking would’ve been absolutely unbearable if we’d lost. Then again, I must be grateful as this would’ve been small potatoes, compared to the sort of mirth to be had at my expense if I’d managed to sleep my way through the whole marvellous occasion!

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wondrinfree said...

Bernard, I was at the Pompey match and sat in the Pompey stands as did many fellow Gooners. I have to say I was surprised when commentators commented on how well supported Pompey were as they were totally dominated and out sung by the away stands. Compared to their normal standard Pompey fans were muted prompting Gooners to sing "where's the legendary atmosphere" and at the mass exodus after the 4th goal "Is there a fire drill?". Excellent match which was dominated off the pitch as well as it was on it.

Bern said...

I envy you being there "wondrinfree" and we both know that the sound effects on TV are often not representative of what it's truly been like, being there in person (especially in the middle of the Gooner end). I can only assume that the commentators were referring to what they could hear over their headphones.

I'm not certain where the commentary position is at Fratton Park any more. Before they finally put a roof on the away end, the Sky team was in a glass-fronted box right above us, as I well remember a match a couple of seasons back when we spent much of the game serenading Ian Wright, Wright, Wright up there.