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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Stairway To George Graham Style Heaven

A very Happy and Healthy New Year to the Gooner family everywhere

I thought I'd better get Sunday's missive posted before events v Cardiff this afternoon overtake it. Although I was somewhat reluctant because I was forced to bash the following out on my iPad in the back of the motor, on route back from Newcastle, while struggling to avoid nodding out, after a 6am start that morning.

As a result, I was pretty focused on filling my 650 word quota for the Irish Examiner. So the moment I hit the send button and started to engage in some conversation about the match with my travelling companions in the car, I begun think of all the stuff I'd intended to say and soon realised that I'd omitted more than I'd included.

First off, big respect to Jim and Ernie for their sterling stints at the steering wheel for the 560 mile round trip, leaving me feeling somewhat guilty for not pulling my weight as a freeloading passenger. Mercifully we had a fairly uneventful drive North, on what was a brisk but beautifully clear, crisp morning. A brief pitstop at a brass monkey's cold but strangely quaint Woolley Edge services, left me wondering whether I'd should've worn my long-johns but with the sun well and truly up by the time we arrived in Toon Town it was far warmer than expected.

View of the Gallowgate from China Toon
Having parked up, we headed to St James Park via the somewhat seedy couple of streets that constitute China Toon, searching for a suitable hostelry on route, so that Jim and Ernie could slake their thirst with a well-deserved pint. We definitely weren't the only Gooners wearing scarves and other colours in this boozer and while the locals were friendly enough, with the odd one stopping to shoot the breeze, some of the askance glances we were getting left me sensing that we weren't supposed to be there.

Bearing in mind my own preconceptions, based on the fact that it was only a couple of seasons back that I witnessed a BNP anti-immigration demo in the centre of the Toon, I did wonder whether it was Raj's Arsenal scarf, or more base Geordie xenophobia, which delayed Jim's lad getting served at the bar. But Raj revealed that he'd diplomatically removed the scarf prior to queuing and in truth, we concluded that it was just an experienced pint puller behind the jump, who was actually serving everyone in their turn.

It was only when I slipped outside for a ciggie and discovered a Neanderthal bouncer in situe on the threshold that I realised we'd strolled into a strictly "home" fans boozer, as I stood there watching him gruffly turning away assorted other Gooners at the door. I tried engaging him in conversation (of less than two syllables!) in the hope of making a sufficiently suitable impression to ensure he'd let me back in.

But as I stood there, I soon discovered that there was a sports bookshop opposite and wandered over to peruse the window display. No matter how long we've endured in our silverware-starved wilderness, we Gooners should be careful to count our blessings, as the most precious piece of Barcode memorabilia that I could find in the window was a signed team poster from the Toon's 1969 Fairs Cup success, selling for a whopping 275 quid!

Perhaps it's indicative of the Geordie's unfulfilled fanaticism for the beautiful game that The Back Page continues to flourish, where the likes of Sportspages, the once beloved Charing Cross Road haunt of many of the capital's sporting anoraks, has long since gone up the Swannee. Personally, I have to admit to being delighted that this sort of niche book shops continues to prosper in the current all-consuming age of the internet. To my mind, being able to browse books, mags and memorabilia and to tangibly hold them in your hand as you do so, is a completely different and far more satisfying experience than merely clicking pages on a web browser.

So it seems to me that we should be doing all we can to support such places, before they disappear completely, in the face of such harsh competition, from humungous, impersonal, online behemoths. But then I am perhaps a little biased. Unfortunately I didn't linger for long in the Back Page, for fear that the others were waiting for me in the pub and that the longer I tarried, the less chance I had of my bouncer pal letting me back in.

However having shown all due deference to his power, by zipping my coat up over my scarf and removing my Arsenal 'titfer, the bouncer merely shot me a grizzly glance as I strolled back past him. When I returned, Raj enquired whether I'd checked to see if they had my two tomes in stock. I couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to me to check the Arsenal section, to see if my own books were there and while I like to think this is indicative of my lack of ego, it's more likely a reflection on my seriously befuddled brain.

Thankfully, Raj stopped to get some grub at the shop next door when we eventually departed the boozer and so I couldn't resist nipping back to the book shop to check their Arsenal section. Lo and behold, to my complete astonishment (considering the last one was published over a decade ago!), they had copies of both books on their shelves and when I half-jokingly asked the chap behind the till if they wanted me to sign them, he was bang up for this idea (perhaps chuffed to have finally espied an opportunity to be able to shift them :-) and insisted on getting them all out on the counter of a very busy shop, immediately prior to the match, so he could record me signing my moniker for posterity with a couple of pics on his phone.

Conscious of the fact that by now, my pals would be standing on the corner, waiting for me, I was in a dreadful rush to oblige, but I left the Back Page, with an ear to ear grin, after my unofficial book signing. Fortunately I found their web site and managed to contact Dave, whereupon he very kindly forwarded copies of the photos. Obviously match day is their busiest time and he revealed that they had Ben Elton in there after the game, as apparently his son is a Gooner (now what I wouldn't give for a mere fraction of Elton's royalties :-)

Meanwhile KO time v Cardiff rapidly approaches and so fortunately for all of you, without further ado, if I don't hit the button soon, this missive will end up sitting in my drafts for all eternity, waiting for me to ever get around to finishing it. Here's hoping that despite all the absentees this afternoon, we've still got enough about us, to ensure we don't fall victim to new-manageritis yet again, as the Cardiff players are all basically playing for their future. Not to mention that with it being a stinker of an afternoon and with the awful weather not looking likely to clear up any time soon, you've got to fancy the miserable conditions might favour our guests. Since it's hardly an afternoon where our footballing talents are likely to shine, I fancy it's going to take another gutsy performance for us to beat the Bluebirds.

And if there's any Gooners with their painted pillow case banners buried somewhere back indoors, be sure to dig these out, in order to paint the ground red and white when Spurs come a calling on Saturday and join in with Red Action's efforts to decorate the gaff.

Come on you Reds


Stairway To George Graham Style Heaven

It was a massive boost before KO at Newcastle to hear that Koscielny had been restored to the line-up and considering the game of attrition that resulted versus the Toon, it subsequently proved significant. Unlike at Upton Park, our first-choice defence returned to performing at their composed and resilient best and (providing no dramas on the long schlep back to London) just about the only dampener on what might prove to be a significant success at St. James Park, was the sight of Kieran Gibbs limping off in the second half.

We're doubtless to blame for having tempted fate, as we'd only been reflecting in the car, on the 280 mile trip up to Tyneside, quite how impressive Gibbs has been so far this season, with the conclusion that it's the first time in ages that our fragile left-back has managed to remain injury-free for any length of time!

Here's hoping it's only a brief interlude for Kieran, since a fit and settled back line is likely to prove crucial to way in which this season pans out. By contrast, it came as no surprise that Mezut Özil hadn't travelled to Newcastle and that he'll be missing for a couple of games through injury. I joked that the German probably has a winter break written into his contract. But it was reassuring to discover via Twitter that our nonchalant star man was sufficiently engaged in the Gunners cause, to be at home watching his team mates on the box. I wonder if Vermaelen was doing likewise, or whether our captain had more pressing matters at the Bond Street Xmas sales?

Meanwhile, credit to those who did travel, as although the Gunners might've avoided putting nearly so much strain on our nerves, with a more dynamic display, it was marvellous to see them putting themselves about, in order to cling to this smash & grab triumph, especially in the face of the Barcode Brick Sh*thouse, Tiote. I'm all for refs allowing a game to flow, but from our perspective, high up in the gods at St. James Park, it appeared as if Probert was letting the Toon's midfield destroyer get away with blue murder.

Credit also to Wenger, as after his impressive efforts, coming on as sub at Upton Park, we were all baying for him to bring on Podolski in the latter stages, to freshen things up. Especially after Walcott failed to put the game to bed, with a positively feeble attempt to score a second. But as ever "Arsène Knows" and instead chose to shore up a good old-fashioned "1-0 to the Arsenal", of the sort that would've made George Graham proud.

Personally, I was convinced that the Toon were bound to nick an equaliser at the death, as the Gunners settled for holding onto what we had and invited pressure. Mertesacher's headed clearances kept falling invitingly just outside the box. I was certain one of these would eventually fall, for the likes of Ben Arfa or Cabaye to find the sweet spot and smash it into the top corner.

Still, hang on resolutely we did, even in the face of our clown of a keeper's harebrained attempt to take Remy out and blow the three very precious points, which made all the effort of dragging ourselves out of bed even before the crack of dawn, well worth it. Not to mention guaranteeing that the long trek home seems far shorter than it would've been, if we'd been left bemoaning a Sczczny brainstorm.

Thus we head into the New Year STILL sitting atop our Premiership perch, which may, or may not be a good thing, as we Gooners spend the next month wondering if it's worth holding our breath waiting for Wenger to offer us some much needed reinforcements? Knowing there'll be a lot more desperate clubs across the Continent than us and that Wenger won't countenance involvement in a Dutch auction, I'm not exactly optimistic he'll add the firepower that might enable us to go the distance, especially so long as the Gunners continue to prove their detractors wrong.  

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les crang said...

Always good to see you put up an all to rare post. Happy New yearancprod