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Thursday 7 January 2010

Slip Sliding Away

Hi folks

I checked in with the AFCi web site at lunchtime to see whether this evening's game against Bolton had been postponed and found that the club were stating that the game was still on, but they advised for us to check back mid-afternoon, for a final decision.

I was on stage in the Coliseum, finishing the final touches of the fit-up of (coincidentally) The Snow Queen ballet at about 4pm, when one of the local crew advised me that the game had been postponed. I guess that with the snow coming down at a substantial rate at that point in the afternoon, this was perhaps the principle factor to force the club's hand in making the decision to call the match off.

It was a difficult predicament, as whatever they did, they were bound to end up causing displeasure to some folks, but personally I think that if they felt that the game was able to go ahead earlier in the day, they might've been panicked by the heavy downfall into deciding to call it off and if they'd waited a couple of hours, the snow would've stopped, without any more of it settling (on the roads at least).

Moreover, when you consider that most of the travelling Bolton fans would've either had to have left at lunchtime or earlier and that the vast majority of home fans wouldn't be leaving for the game until later in the afternoon, or early evening, having said that the game was going ahead right up until after lunchtime, I reckon that they might as well have left the final decision until around 6pm, as calling it off at 4pm was too late to stop Bolton fans travelling and by 6pm, they might've made a different decision.

As usual, it's not the pitch that's the problem, but the surrounding areas. Although the photos of the stadium suggested that the terraces were clear of snow, I imagine that is was the concourse areas around the stadium that were the club's biggest concern.

Myself I always find it a little amusing how almost every time is snows in this country, it becomes such a massive drama and the rolling news channels go into overdrive, as if the entire country is in danger of being flooded by a bleedin's Tsunami! However it's a sad fact of life that we've become such a litigous nation that the Arsenal have to consider the chances of the club being sued should someone slip on the snow and ice, as a principle factor in making their decision as to whether the game should go ahead.

It's akin to the radio tales I've been hearing about the shopkeepers who are afraid to grit the pavement in front of their premises in this weather because if they do put grit down and someone ends up falling over, they have a case to sue, whereas if the business owners don't bother doing anything, it's not their problem and as a result, they are afraid to take any action to ensure folks can go about their shopping!

Mind you, the folks at the Britannia Stadium last night didn't appear to give a fig for such petty concerns, as evidenced by the wonderful TV pictures last night, showing a youngster having great fun, sliding down the snow on the terraces at Stoke, before the game versus Fulham went ahead despite a relative snow blizzard!

Watching what was a positively storming second half last night, with an absolute wonder volley from the Yank in Fulham's front line, as they tried to pull themselves back from a three goal deficit, I thought to myself that hopefully the fact that this match had taken place, it might end up being held up as the example that would force everyone else to play their games, instead of postponing them all, on the basis that if they managed without any problems in the worst of the weather, then surely so could everyone else.

However (fortunately for the Stoke and Fulham fans) perhaps it is the case that the more emotive powers that be at Stoke are more in tune with the desires and needs of their fans and the tiny hardy band of travelling Cottagers, compared to sort of mature "businesses" that have becomes of the majority of Premiership clubs, who would've perhaps turned to level-headed lawyers for a decision, based solely on the possible financial consequences?

There was a point around lunchtime this afternoon, where I was hoping that the game against Bolton tonight would go ahead and our rehearsal of the Snow Queen at the Coliseum would get cancelled, so that I could go to the game without any bother. However then when the game got postponed, I thought that the laws of Sod & Murphy would absolutely guarantee that there was no rehearsal, just to wind me up a little more.

As it turned out, the only concession to the bad weather by the ballet, was to arrange for taxis to take everyone home after the rehearsal at 10pm. Obviously ballet is deemed an essential service and the show must go on! Mind you this was no small gesture, as with over 100 dancers and I guess at least 30 odd stage crew, wardrobe mistresses etc. etc, travelling to all four corners of the capital and beyond, it must've cost them a fair few quid.

Thus, as much as I would've liked to cash in on our three points for our game in hand this evening, in the end I was quite relieved, as not only should I be available to go to the rearranged fixture, but hopefully so will Alex Song and a far few others amongst the Arsenal squad who are currently unfit (although by then we might have a whole heap of other injuries to contend with?), thereby perhaps improving our prospects of beating Bolton.

Then again, so long as we keep winning, I want the games to continue coming thick and fast, to build on the momentum that I hope we are beginning to gather. What's more, I was hoping that tonight's match would give us an early opportunity to prove we can cope without the presence of Alex Song, as the longer we have to wait to play without him, the more that will be made of it in the media and as a result, the more chance the players have to focus on the issue.

Meanwhile, I imagine that some regular readers might be getting a little tired of hearing me whinge about the way in which my current stint working on the Xmas season at the Coliseum continues to impinge on my Arsenal pleasures. With this in mind, I didn't even mention the saga of this weekend past in my diary piece below. Besides, with only a 1000 words to play with, there's definitely no room for me to digress and I couldn't have possible described what transpired in less than a few thousand words at the very least!

Nevertheless, although brevity has never been exactly my strongest suit, I will do my best, as I can't let the details of the hardest ever diary pieces in my entire ten years of weekly ravings, slip past without relating some of the details.

Somewhat selfishly (but then it wasn't as if tickets were so hard to come by for Sunday's game at Upton Park, in light of the fact that West Ham were sending emails out to all their members to try and encourage a decent turn out - unlike the Arsenal, West Ham season tickets do not include any Cup matches), I hung on to my match ticket, in the feint hope that I might be able to slip away from the theatre and dash to East London on my motorbike.

Despite the fact that the master carpenter at the ballet and his nephew (also on the stage crew) are both Hammers season ticket holders, usually my boss wouldn't mind if I made my excuses and slipped away from Sunday's matinée, as I could've got one of the local crew (employed by the theatre, whereas we work for the ballet) to cover my cues during the show, because he understands that I have my weekly column to write for the Examiner. Unlike the rest of the ballet's stage crew, I don't normally tour with them and am only working on this Xmas season because they were short-staffed and where the rest of the crew are used to putting everything else on hold whilst the company is performing, I have other commitments which have to be accommodated.

However this weekend was the changeover from Nutcracker to the Snow Queen, the two largest (and heaviest!) shows in the companies entire repertoire and this meant that the moment the curtain came down after Sunday's matinée and the dancers had cleared the stage, all hell broke lose, as everyone steams in, to try and get the show down and out of the building and the new show unloaded and in, before the shutter had to come down at 11pm that evening (due to constant complaints from local residents). If I'd gone to the game, I would've been guaranteed to miss an hour or more of the "get-out" and since this is the hardest bit of work we do and the main reason we get paid the big bucks, I would never have even dreamed of asking to miss any of it.

I guess I was half hoping that my WHU supporting mate might take pity on me and suggest I got to the game and just get back as quic as possible. But then he's in a bit of an invidious position, as he can't be seen to be showing favouritism and there would have been some noses that would've been put seriously out of joint if I was getting paid for an all-nighter, whilst missing out on some of the hardest work.

So not only did I not get to go to the game but I only got to listen to snatches of the live radio commentary. If I recall correctly I listened to most of the first-half, while the matinée was on and it was half-time when the curtain came down at the theatre, with West Ham 1-0 to the good.

I have to admit, that as I joked with some of the other lads, there were times on Sunday when I seriously wondered whether I might be better off hoping for West Ham to win, as then at least our guv'nor would be in a good mood and might let us go home early (so he could watch the highlights of the match!). Contrary to any number of health & safety guidelines, most of the crew are used to me working on stage with radio headphones wrapped around my head. Most of them are glad to have someone to keep them up to date with the scores of all their favourite teams and I only stick an earpiece in, every now and again, when there's an opportunity to do so without me being a danger to myself or anyone else.

We were in the middle of breaking up this massive house truck, at a stage where two people are required to stand beside two upright metal sections to ensure that they remain upright, while the rest of the house truck was unbloted, broken up and carried out. I think my WHU pal was being kind to me, allocating me this job, as it meant I was left standing there, waiting while everyone else around was busy and able to listen to the commentary. As it so happened, we equalised while I was standing there, with what sounded like a good goal from Aaron Ramsey and naturally I let out an exuberant yelp, which needed no explanation, as everyone on stage knew that it meant that the Arsenal had just equalised.

But when Eduardo scored what proved to be the winner, only five minutes later, I thought it best to keep schtum. Not only did I not want to rub it in for my mate and his nephew, but I didn't want to have everyone else getting on my back for being responsible for putting the boss in a bad mood.

However the head fly-man at the Coliseum is a Gooner and there's at least one, or even two Gooners working alongside him. I believe they must've had a TV on and were watching the game, live on ITV, up on the fly floor, forty odd feet above our heads. Or at the very least, they had a radio on with the live commentary and so as I heard the commentator describe Eduardo's goal in my earpieces, the entire stage crew heard the exclamation of joy coming from above our heads.

It was obvious from the downhearted expression on the master carpenter's face that he didn't need telling that his beloved Hammers had just gone a goal behind (in a former, far less civilised incarnation, as a young hoolie associate of West Ham's infamous ICF, my boss ran with the sort of unfriendly mob who used to leave business cards on their victims which stated "Congratulations. You've just been introduced to a member of the Green Street Café Society"!).

Standing making sure this metal structure remained upright, but being right in line with the ice cold blast, blowing down the ramp from the open shutter, I was growing increasingly numb from both the cold and the fact that I was stuck standing in one position for so long. When me and the chap holding up the other side were subsequently left for a further fifteen minutes, I was beginning to wonder if I was being punished by my mate, for the Gunners taking the lead and I could sense bad vibes coming from the bloke beside me, as if was beginning to feel that he was an innocent victim in the consequences of a game he couldn't care less about.

Some time later, when we'd eventually been released as the time came to let down the structure we'd been holding up and plenty of stamping and rubbing had begun to restore some feeling to my numb arms and legs, this same chap asked me if the game had finished yet, to which I replied that it was still 2-1 to the Arsenal, with four minutes of injury time to play. At the time I thought he wanted to know if the match had finished up 2-1 to the Arsenal and it was only some time later that it occurred to me that he might actually have been having a snide pop at me and was actually implying that we were involved in a dangerous bit of work and wasn't it about time that I put my radio away.

From where he was standing alongside me, he could see the headphones around my neck but couldn't see that I didn't have either of them in my ears and I in fact had to stop and put an earpiece in my ear to see if the game had finished yet, in order to answer his question. I'm sure some of the lads must talk behind my back, moaning about how dangerous it is for me to be listening to the radio whilst working on stage, but it's no different to when some of the lads have the in-house Motorola earpieces in their ears, to hear the cues being called. Not to mention, it's far less dangerous than all those times when, as one of the few people in the theatre business who doesn't drink, I've been just about the only sober person on stage, with so many of the others more than a little worse for wear from having spent so many hours in the pub!

Additionally, as I made sure to point out, I always take the earpiece out of my ear whenever we're doing anything that requires me to pay attention (as you need to have one's wits about you when there are bits of scenery flying in and out all around you), basically because if anything ever goes wrong and a heavy lump of scenery begins to break, or fall down around us, I want to be the first to hear the warning "run!"

After the shutter came down at 11pm, we carried on working, building the Snow Queen until 4am and it was about 5am when I finally flopped out on the couch and put the Sky Plus recording of the game on. I'd taped the hour long highlight package and the whole live match but instead of being sensible and watching the former, I tried to watch the entire game. However I really couldn't keep my eyes open at this stage and I kept nodding out and kipping through the second half and waking up to find the recording had finished, or waking to find I'd missed the Arsenal goals and having to rewind it back to half-time.

With my diary piece to write, I don't like commenting on games I've not been at in person, but I definitely didn't want to pass judgement without at least having seen the whole game on the box. Persistent bugger that I am, I must have started watching the second half about twenty times and it was about 9.30am before I finally managed to stay awake long enough to see Eduardo's winner and the final whistle.

With every fibre of my body aching from grafting through a gruelling all-nighter and with at most, only about an hour of sleep, slumped unconsciously in front of the TV, I still had the following diary piece to write, so that I could file it to the Irish Examiner, before heading back to the theatre for 2pm and another eight or nine hours of more agonising "collar"!

Consequently, I was quite surprised that the end result was the least bit lucid. Whereas usually my diary missives are an absolute labour of love, in this particular instance, I was just relieved to get it done. I will leave it to you to decide whether it's a decent read.

A happy & healthy New Year to you and all yours
Big Love

Ah the magic of the FA Cup eh? With the TV tail wagging the football dog, forcing games to be spread out over the entire course of the weekend, so that ITV can squeeze every last drop, out of their paltry domestic coverage, it’s no wonder the competition continues to lose more of it’s sheen with each passing season. I feel quite nostalgic for the days when the enduring images of the first weekend in January were those steamy pictures of a half-dressed team of giant-killers, huddled around a dressing room TV at 5pm on a Saturday, whooping with delight at the continuation of their dream, as the balls were drawn out of the hat for the next round.

The disappointing sight of so many thousands of empty seats up and down the country, on what was once guaranteed to be one of football’s most exciting weekends of the season, suggests that the current guardians of the oldest knockout competition on the planet aren’t particularly competent. Some might point to a recession as a significant factor, but I always thought that hard times and football attendances increased, in direct proportion, as footie fans were all the more desperate to escape their woes and lose themselves on the terraces.

Nevertheless, despite the FA Cup’s ever-waning lustre, mercifully it invariably manages to retain some residue of the romance of old, as an annual testament to the lemming like response, when it comes to this country’s much beloved tradition of honouring the underdog. Don’t get me wrong, I spent my Saturday evening being regaled by radio tales of the 72 coach loads of fans travelling to Wearside, when apparently 1500 is a big crowd for a Barrow home game and the trans-Pennines travails of the York City team coach and their fans, some of whom endured such a tortuous trip that they eventually made it to Stoke, just in time for the final whistle!

Yet with genuine upsets so few and far between nowadays, I guess we cling to these anecdotal tidbits as the last vestiges of FA Cup enchantment. At least Leeds ensured that it wasn’t an entirely upset free weekend.

In the media’s efforts to hype up the Old Trafford encounter, I was asked to comment on whether I miss Leeds Utd. But the distaste I once had for Don Revie’s “dirty Leeds” side of the 70s has largely given way to ambivalence. Thus I responded with the allegory of an ancient joke about the priest, standing at a graveside, expecting someone to say a few kind words about the deceased. Eventually he loses patience and pleads for a volunteer from the mourners. After a further, lengthy period of silence, finally a voice pipes up from the back “his brother was worse”!

I didn’t dare revel too much in Man Utd’s demise at the time, for fear of tempting fate to serve up a similarly depressing experience for our own youngsters. Although I did find myself wondering if there was any significance to the fact that Fergie seemed to fail to inspire his troops into producing a ‘fire & brimstone’ second half response?

Meanwhile at Upton Park, Arsène’s selection of a strong defence was perhaps indicative of his desire to ensure the Gunners maintain our momentum, after witnessing the ramifications of the run of poor form that followed Chelsea’s Carling Cup exit. Alternatively, with nine first team players out, perhaps our backline was dictated by necessity, not choice? The obvious lack of cover at centre-back, should Gallas or Vermaelen get crocked is a problem which might give credence to the rumours of a return for Sol Campbell.

After training with the Gunners to maintain his fitness these past few months, I’ve heard on the grapevine that Campell was at the training ground on Monday for a medical. But then with the modern day health & safety madness, for all we know, this might just have been to ensure Sol’s fit enough to conduct stadium tours! If it proves true, the timing would be slightly ironic, considering Sol walked out on the club, halfway through an embarrassing defeat to the Hammers.

Despite appearing in our nondescript white strip (which is only slightly less abhorrent than the abomination of a blue kit), we managed to build on that “winning feeling” by coming from behind to beat West Ham on Sunday and earn ourselves, hopefully a less problematic trip to the Britannia later in the month than the one York endured last weekend. In light of the incredible amount of hype, there’s always so much anticipation surrounding Jack Wilshere’s rare first team outings that I imagine the lad must feel the weight of expectation for him to produce the goods and it’s perhaps not surprising if he buckles somewhat under this burden. Especially when he’s thrown in with the likes of Merida (who has yet to really demonstrate the full scope of his ability). Personally I’d much prefer to see Jack given an opportunity to shine amidst a proper first XI.

Yet again Arsène timed the introduction of Diaby and Nasri to try and take advantage of the fact the Irons had expended so much energy, that they were bound to begin to flag. Our bench looked like a bunch of experienced pros compared to the home team’s subs, who highlighted the limited resources afforded to Zola by the Hammers parlous boardroom plight.

The fact that Eduardo beat Upson in the air to score the winner with his head should prove a shot in the arm for the Croat’s confidence, as he begins to recover his ‘fox in the box’ instincts. I pray Eddie continues to show such sharp goalscoring form as we approach Wednesday’s long-awaited match with Bolton. Not only will it prove a massive anti-climax if we don’t make our game in hand count, but with it being the first game following Song’s departure for Africa, it’s crucial we put a marker down and quash any thoughts that we might not cope with Alex’s absence.

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nutcracker said...

Quality as usual

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Great post. I was going to write something similar. Will check this blog more often I think.

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.