(if you’ve no need of my couple of thousand word cure for insomnia, please feel perfectly free to skip my overly loquacious preamble, by scrolling all the way down to my diary missive)
Having pandered to a mid-life crisis by purchasing a motorbike (courtesy of the same tax rebate from HM Customs & Revenue that rescued us from the annual nightmare of coming up with two grand for our season ticket renewals), this was my first opportunity to take advantage of my new toy to travel to an away game (ideal for an unsociable bugger like myself!). A couple of holiday rentals apart, I haven’t ridden a motorbike since turning my right elbow into a jigsaw puzzle and busting up my left shoulder, in an extremely painful life lesson as boy racer 16 year old.
A mate let me take a spin on their relatively fast motorbike proper and I was so blown away with the adrenaline rush of all the horse power, compared to the speed restricted limitations of my puny moped, that it wasn’t long before I ended up splattered on the kerb. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the crash was the fault of a car driver who failed to stop, sadly my injuries weren’t the only punishment, as the old bill went to town on me and the resulting prosecution for no license, no insurance, no L plates ended up with me acquiring penalty points before I even had a license proper!
Consequently as a result of my contretemps with the concrete some 30 years back, I’m understandably more than a little timid driving on two wheels again, especially on sections of road like the Westway flyover on the A40, where I find myself hanging on for dear life, as every gust of wind scares the crap out of me. Hopefully I will begin to relax in time, as the bike is an absolutely a blinding means of getting to games which don’t involve too long a drive.
Where in the past I would’ve inched my way along Fulham Palace Road with all the other football traffic, on Saturday I sailed down the outside, arriving for once in my life, with loads of time to spare. Having just avoided a parking ticket when I returned to the bike the other day, just as I was about to be penalized for parking on the pavement, I’ve become a little paranoid about parking, not really knowing what I can and can’t get away with.
As a result I spent ten minutes trying to decide whether I dare leave the bike beside a block of flats within spitting distance of the stadium, before bottling it and heading away from the ground and stopping 3 more times before I felt sufficiently comfortable that I’d found a safe pitch. However I felt a little foolish on a 15 minute trot to the ground, having failed to take proper advantage of my two-wheeled transportation and even more idiotic when I eventually stopped to read one of the parking restriction notices in the streets immediately adjacent to the stadium and it dawned on me that these had ended half an hour before kick off. But at least this meant that I ended up returning to the bike and actually making the most of it by eventually driving to a legal parking pitch that would’ve been the envy of all my Gooner pals, who are so competitive about finding the closest parking that it often feels as if this achievement is more important that the actual result of the game!
In recent times Fulham has fast become one of my favourite awaydays. Aside from the relatively short hop from Highbury, which ensures that several thousand Gooners make the trip, traversing the capital from north to west, the stadium’s suburban setting is reminiscent of THOF and I invariably get a nostalgic pang, on strolling up to the few remaining examples of the Premiership’s traditional stadia. Unlike all the glamorous modern grounds, there’s no escaping the sense of walking in the same footsteps of generations of footie fans.
In his programme notes Fulham’s new chief executive writes about it being “a friendly, family oriented club” and I sometimes wonder if they’re shooting themselves in the foot by being so friendly. Perhaps they’d struggle to flog the seats otherwise, but it occasionally feels as if they are forfeiting their home crowd advantage, by gifting visiting fans the entire Putney Stand behind the goal, as we’re able to create such a great atmosphere at the Cottage that I sometimes can’t help but wonder which of the two sets of fans is more likely to afford their team that 12th man advantage.
Don’t get me wrong, as I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that the suits at Fulham, or at any other club where they trumpet affordable ticket pricing policies, have a greater social conscience than the Arsenal board. Reduced prices for kids probably wouldn’t be available in all areas, if they were guaranteed of flogging them all at full whack.
However, whatever the motivation, compared to the apparent pensionable age of the majority of fans at our gaffe, it was a welcome sight to see so many dads & sons (mothers & daughters) combos in the crowds outside the Cottage, when so many Gooner parents are denied the pleasure of indoctrinating their offspring with the joys (or the curse!) of an addiction to regular live footie, either because they can’t cope with the military planning required to gain access to reduced price tickets in the family enclosure and/or they simply can’t afford to pay through the nose for full price tickets for their kids on more than a once a season, special treat.
Meanwhile, it’s an argument I’ve made several times over the years, but I’ve always contended that even from a strictly financial and unemotional point of view, it makes sound economic sense to constantly rejuvenate our crowd with a younger audience, rather than suffering 60,000 of us rapidly ageing regulars all growing old together!
With revenues through the turnstiles (for regular seats at least, as opposed to corporate and club level) supposedly accounting for an ever decreasing slice of a football club’s overall income with each passing season, the reduction in gate receipts from offering child discounts would surely be more than offset, for example by the merchandising sales of a new replica top every couple of seasons for each new youngster introduced to the Arsenal faith. Not to mention that each one might become a potential season ticket purchaser, at some point in the future.
Quite frankly I was disgusted by the club’s apparent effort to con us into believing there’d be more reduced price tickets at our new home, when in fact they’ve continued to restrict kids tickets to a family enclosure which only accounts for a marginally larger proportion of the new place, than the old enclosure at THOF and which I’m led to believe is only slightly less impossible to obtain a ticket in there as a result.
When I was asked about Newcastle tickets the other night, I was somewhat taken aback to discover that tickets for our next home game were still on sale on the Arsenal web site. I’ve always believed that the novelty of our new stadium might wear off after a couple of campaigns, once the “I want what I can’t have” Gooners who couldn’t get into THOF, begin to realize that it’s no longer quite such an exclusive club
While I certainly wouldn’t wish it upon us, this effect would only be magnified if successive fallow seasons result in us beginning to shed all the glory hunters. Doubtless no matter what transpires on the pitch, the club will continue with their fairly pointless, 60 thousand plus attendance announcements (when the empty spaces all over the place are patently obvious to all present). Yet should silverware continue to elude us, the only up side might be that the sight of so many empty seats will force a the club into a rethink on their ticket pricing policy?
Meanwhile it was also only a few nights back that I offered to eat my hat, when Róna told me that she was chatting to a Gooner online who suggested we were about to sign Mikael Silvestre. On occasions when I’ve seen Silvestre play, I’ve always felt that the French defender was Man Utd’s defensive weak link. Considering Arsène is so tight with the club’s money that one could believe it was his own wedge, I simply couldn’t imagine he’d want Fergie’s sloppy seconds.
Then again, as a Gooner pal of mine contended, surely Silvestre (or anyone!) was better than us having to rely on playing Senderos against the likes of Drogba, or any striker who seems to have the lumbering Swiss defender’s number and who leaves poor hapless Phil looking like he has the turning circle of an oil tanker.
But then only this evening I received a text message which I assumed must be a piss take, on reading that the Swiss stopper was apparently having a medical at AC Milan. I want some of what Carlos Ancelotti is on, as it surely must be something special to have left the Italian so out of his mind that he believes Senderos can hack it with Kaka and co. in Serie A
Nevertheless, as much as I’ve had to accept that big Phil is a liability, I’d be sad to see him go, if only for that fact that he’s been the only person at the club in recent years with the sort of personality of what I’d call a proper club captain. Sadly personality doesn’t count for much unless it’s matched by an adequate level performance.
Who knows, hopefully this attempt to get some other mugs to pay the centre-back’s wages, is a book balancing exercise in advance of Arsène adding some much needed maturity to a bench, where on Saturday the Arsenl kit man, Vik Akers could’ve been forgiven for wondering if anyone’s nappy needed changing in the event of their introduction!
Meanwhile mercifully there’s always supporters who are worse off than oneself and at present it’s all the more amusing that it’s mob down the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road who are in meltdown mode. I assume the disparaging tone of my Tottenham pal’s phone call was related to the picture in the Sun of Berbatov doing a Paul Ince, autographing a Man Utd shirt whilst passing through the airport in Sofia.
For all we know this scene was staged by the slieveens who sell their soul for a byeline in the “Currant Bun”. But it was funny nonetheless and according to my mate, it’s indicative of the shambolic conduct of the club’s affairs by the bozos on their board. It must be a record, as even before Saturday’s first home defeat of the season against Sunderland (one game into the season), my pal has convinced himself that he won’t be renewing his season ticket next term!
Having mentioned Paul Ince and while I attempt to bring this far too long-winded preamble to a swift conclusion (is that a phew I hear, or is anyone actually still with me?), with sufficient time to encourage the Arsenal reserves to score an equalizer for Pompey against Man Utd, I couldn’t help but notice whilst watching the Rovers manager’s home debut on MOTD, that I couldn’t spot a single non-white face anywhere in in the Ewood Park crowd (or at least the bits of it we saw on the box).
In light of the multi-national make-up of the Premiership, a black Premiership manager is testament to the progress in a sport, where positions of authority were previously a white anglo-saxon bulwark. But sadly, what does it still say about the not so beautiful game, when a club in such a cosmopolitan county as Lancashire is one of the few remaining bastions of an all white domain?
Finally as I write with one eye on tonight’s live game, a repeat of the sort of incident we witnessed on Saturday, where at the Cottage the home fans were braying for us to kick the ball out, in order that their player could receive treatment, but where the responsibility now lies with the referee, in accordance with the “Get On With The Game” initiative, I’m all for leaving the fraudulent malingerers rolling about on the ground.
Hopefully they’ll soon start getting to their feet (and might not be quite so prone to hitting the deck in the first place), once it begins to dawn on them that the game’s not going to get stopped. But surely the authorities need to issue some very public guidelines, confirming that it’s no longer contrary to sporting etiquette not to kick the ball out, otherwise it won’t be long before the terraces erupt when someone scores a goal with an opposing player on the deck and in the words of the Kaizer Chiefs “I predict a riot”!
Come on you Reds
It didn’t occur to me until Saturday that the seats at the far end of the Putney Stand at Craven Cottage, afford visiting fans the opportunity to contemplate the gently lapping waters of the river Thames and the pleasure craft and wildlife serenely cruising by one of the Premiership’s few remaining old-fashioned stadia. Doubtless the Arsenal estate agents would ramp up the prices for seats with such “exclusive riverside views”.
It’s easy to appreciate why Fulham have been fending off the property developers these past few decades and why their charismatic chairman has tussled with his own instinctive tendencies to want to turn a profit. Unfortunately the “landmark developments” that were intended to offset our massive debts (up until “the credit crunch”!) do not offer prospective investors the benefits of anything like such a highly desirable location.
The nearest one gets to nature at our new gaffe is an adjacent patch of waste ground, laughably known as the Gillespie Park Nature Reserve (considering it’s smaller than some people’s back garden). Driving past Islington’s somewhat more modest answer to Whipsnade almost daily, I was vaguely aware of its existence, but it only impinged on my consciousness when it became a troublesome thorn, in the side of the club’s convoluted efforts to obtain planning consent. This tiny island of green aside, there’s nary a blade of grass to be seen poking up amongst the surrounding sea of concrete that includes the recently completed apartment blocks, running along almost the entire length of one side of Drayton Park.
As the displaced former occupants, I also seriously doubt that rats and assorted other scavengers rate a mention in the ubiquitous glossy brochures, advertising “luxury living”, in an area that was previously a nondescript industrial estate, only known to local residents as the site of the nearest rubbish dump!
Meanwhile, as I pondered the contrasting settings of the two London clubs, I should’ve realised that the depressing reality-check of a defeat was on the cards, considering the Arsenal’s utterly anaemic inability to impose themselves (in one of our least intimidating away trips!) wasn’t even engrossing enough to prevent me from drifting off with old Father Thames, every now and again.
Sadly I wasn’t alone with my momentary lapses of concentration, as our captain switched off for the set-piece that gifted Hangeland his goal. But then such sloppy play was symptomatic of a first 20 minutes, where we were second best all over the pitch. I can forgive anyone an off day and it certainly doesn’t bode well when the remarkably consistent Bakari Sagna starts giving the ball away. But I simply cannot stomach an Arsenal team failing to turn up, with the sort of focus and intensity that’s essential to overcome most every Premiership opponent nowadays.
The kick up the arse of going a goal down shouldn’t be needed to remind the Gunners that there are no easy games and the one thing we have a right to demand in return for their obscene wage packets, is that they at least work their socks off when required, rather than strolling around in expectation that superior natural ability will out. Usually I'd be up out of my seat, screaming my head off, mentally kicking every ball, in my anxiety to encourage my team to get back onto level terms. Yet it felt as if my Arsenal mojo had gone AWOL, along with all too many of our players, as even going a goal behind seemed to fail to put a match to the Gunners canons.
In truth, after savouring the absolute privilege of two tremendous weeks watching genuine athletes who’ve spent years, literally slogging their guts out, in pursuit of their Olympic dream and the pride of winning a relatively worthless bit of tin, I feel little sympathy for the Premiership’s mollycoddled prima-donnas. Similarly the “citius, altius, fortius” (faster, higher, stronger), tenacity of the competitors in Beijing has been so inspirational that it might take a few more matches for me to rediscover my Shankleyesque “it’s more important than that” enthusiasm for the beautiful game.
Our poor performance against Fulham was hardly the torch needed to ignite this flame. I can’t imagine there’s a Gooner on the planet who’ll have predicted we’d be starting the season with Denilson and Eboué as Arsène’s chosen midfield pairing. Their lightweight display only reaffirmed our dependency on Fabregas. Aside from having a mare, sadly to date Denilson doesn’t appear to possess the necessary genius to unlock the opposition with one game changing touch.
Equally frustrating is Arsène’s apparent continued aversion to natural wing-halves who would offer an alternative to the proliferation of players who’s instincts are to try to plough a far from lonely furrow through an all too congested middle.
I wouldn’t have wanted young Jack Wilshere to come on as a sub and promptly sink without trace, in the manner of Alex Song a couple of seasons back, when the burly Cameroonian’s rehab took many months, after he bore the brunt of the blame for our last and far more costly lapse at the Cottage. Thus Wenger couldn’t have wanted for a more patent demonstration of the obvious limitations of an entire bench that’s not only lacking in the experience of a 5 o’clock shadow.
It occurred to me that Almunia’s pre-season form might’ve convinced le Gaffer that he need not break the bank to bring in a replacement for Lehmann. Similarly, with the transfer window rapidly sliding shut, if Wenger has been vacillating about dusting off his all too under-employed cheque book, a win at the weekend would’ve only encouraged his belief that, unlike all the competition, the Arsenal can get away with putting all our eggs in the emergence of youth basket.
Saturday’s defeat might prove a blessing in disguise, if it comes with a silver lining that sees le Boss cured of any such delusion, just in the nick of time!
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com