Preamble to the Obliteration
If the tube service to Russell square is out today it has to be because the train hit me on the way home from the Arsenal match last night. It’s the only thing that explains this feeling I have in my head.
I started the evening out rationally; I met with blog contributor Chary and two of my American readers for a pint at the Arsenal Tavern ahead of the match. After Gary and his wife left for the ground, Chary introduced me to some of the guys from le Grove and the folks who run Arsenal Arsenal. We all walked from the Arsenal Tavern to the ground together and had a chance to talk.
If you let it, traveling to another country and talking to others should open your mind to other points of view. I’ll be honest, this is the first time I’ve come here and had a chance to mix with a variety of real Gooners. You all know that I’m a wild eyed optimist: I support the team, I support all of the players (even Almunia) and I support Arsene Wenger’s project. You also know that I tend to get down on people who moan like a drain about Arsenal. Most of the time a lot of us (me included) dismiss them as Johnny come lately supporters, or unrealistic, or stupid, but here’s the thing, I think I finally understand where the moaners are coming from.
The guy behind me yesterday spent the entire match putting down Almunia and Bendtner:
Did you see that? Almunia CAUGHT the ball! He didn’t try to punch it out or flap at it, he CAUGHT it! Arsenal have the worst goal keeper in the league.
There’s our “star” striker, all right. Look at him, how can he miss that. Bendtner is just crap, when are we going to sign a real striker? He’s never going to be any good, I just can’t see it.
On and on he went, moaning about Arsenal. He’s a 50 something year old man who is a life-long Goonah so he’s seen the best and the worst that Arsenal has had to offer. He also supports the club financially; he buys the merchandise and he pays top pound to see the team live. Basically, he’s lived a life supporting Arsenal and if he wants to have a moan about the squad well I say let him. He clearly doesn’t love Arsenal any less than me, he just has a different way of expressing it.
And on the day, who can blame him? Bendtner really, REALLY had a nightmare. From where I was seated (within smacking distance of the Burnley supporters) I think I saw Bendtner miss three chances that could be called “sitters.” If he’d have taken his chances Arsenal could have temporarily topped the table on goal difference. As it stood though, Bendtner had a day much like Adebayor used to have three years ago and while I disagree with the notion that “he’s crap” I can understand the frustration.
The funny thing is that same guy behind me stood and applauded with the rest of the stadium when Bendtner came off saying “good work, son.” Because despite Bendtner’s profligacy everyone appreciated that he put in a really good shift. Personally, I’m inclined to stick with Bendtner. I don’t think he’s one of those magical players who can turn it on and win a game, like Cesc, but I think he’ll be a good squad player and as long as he works as hard in practice as he did on the pitch yesterday, then he’ll only get better.
No player epitomizes my “wait till he gets better” philosophy than Theo Walcott. Unlike Bendtner, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Theo Walcott is one of those magical players who can come into a game and turn it on its head: the goals against Germany, the hat-trick against Croatia, his first goal against Chelsea, the amazing run against Liverpool, and even yesterday’s game all prove that Theo is a special, special talent.
The funny thing about yesterday’s game was that it followed on the heels of being slagged off by Chris Waddle as not having a “footballing brain.” Maybe he needs some of that, I don’t know, but whatever put the bug in Theo he was just magnificent yesterday. I’m not sure what you all got to see on television, but sitting 15 feet from Theo as he made run after run and put in dangerous cross after dangerous cross was amazing. He really is quick and up close he’s even quicker than you think. His pace meant that Arsenal could have basically played the entire game though him down the right side, the Burnley defenders had to give him room because once he beat their full back the defense was opened wide.
Again, but for Bendtner’s profligacy it would have been a Theo Walcott as winger masterclass and Theo runs away (at pace) with my Man of the Match award.
The first goal from Cesc (set up by a slick chip from Nasri) was a huge relief. As I’ve already said, I was seated LITERALLY in the first seat of section 19, the section which abuts the away supporter’s pen. Right there, front row, I got to see Cesc’s goal up close and immediately turned to the away supporters and (along with the hardcore supporters who sit on the other side of them, behind the goal) starting chanting “who are ya” right in their faces.
You’d think that sitting that close to the away supporters would be in the “bad” category but actually, they heightened the experience for me. Seated all the way in the corner where I was I got to look right into their faces and sing “one-nil to the Arsenal” when Cesc scored and throughout the match (like when they pegged one back through Silvestre’s insanity) the banter was light-hearted (mostly) and fun. Overall, the Burnley supporters were top notch and even after a heavy defeat sang for their team and seemed to really enjoy themselves.
Sure, they sang stuff like “same old Arsenal, always cheating” after Foy tried to kill Theo Walcott with a brutal tackle, or when Nasri was clattered by Jensen but I didn’t get the sense there was any real malice in it. In fact, as the game finished I tired to get the Arsenal supporters to sing “Same old Burnley, go home losing” which the Burnley supporters thought was funny.
It was a beautiful day in the sun, Arsenal won, and even the away supporters were fun to banter with. What more could a man ask for?
I’ll tell you what more a man could ask for; the right to take a few snapshots of the match in action. If you ever get a chance to come to see Arsenal, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are going to get photos of the game from the front row. As soon as I sat down, I was informed by the steward (stewardess?) that photography during the match was not allowed. I could take shots before the game, after the game, and at half-time but not during the match. And since the stewards were literally 3 inches away, I couldn’t even sneak a picture.
I’m a life-long sports fan, I understand that the various leagues want to control their image and the right to sell their image to others but I was still very frustrated by the policy.
What that means is that the only pictures I have are of before the match and I wasn’t allowed to record any singing or video of the game or the Ramsey banner. Though I did manage to get this shot before the Steward said something to me.
On Tuesday, I might be able to sneak a shot or two of the match because I am further up and hopefully far enough away from the stewards that they won’t notice my pocket camera.
I better be able to gods damnit!
Seated where I was meant that I was basically the last person out of the stadium. I was stuck there in the corner waiting for all of the other supporters to leave. That meant that I was in the main bundle of people who left the stadium which is sort of fun in it’s own right. As we walked toward the Highbury and Islington tube station, there were loads of supporters singing everything from “Harry Redknapp’s got a twitch” to “We all live in a Perry Groves world.” It was a good humored crowd.
Just as I got to the Highbury and Islington tube station I got a call from Chary saying that I should meet him and his friend for a post match meal and a pint. Well, I was quite hungry and who am I to turn down beer? Unfortunately, it meant that I had to walk all the way back across Highbury fields, down to Blackstock road and back toward the Arsenal tube station.
I’m glad I did! I was just on the verge of lamenting the fact that I didn’t have anyone to talk about the match with after the game and Chary and his friend were perfect company. Plus, the food would set me up for what came next.
After we departed company I came back to the hotel, changed out of my Vermaelen shirt, and headed out for more pints. Let’s just put it this way, there’s a reason this blog isn’t being posted until 1:30 GMT. I spent the night drinking with some angry Canadians and a couple from Denmark who had been at the Arsenal game. The couple were lovely, the Canadians, well, they were angry young men which only fueled the consumption of many more pints. We closed the bar down and I went back up to my room and passed out only to wake up at 8am with this massive, massive hangover. Like I said, there’s a reason the blog is going up at 1:30 today.
I really need to get some food and go see some antiquities. First stop, food, then antiquities stolen from all over the world, and then I think some food, followed by paintings. It’s about a 3 mile walk round trip and the fresh air might just do me some good.