With a late KO at Blackburn on a Bank Holiday Monday, I assumed there wouldn’t be a train back to London that night. Nor could I find anyone else meshuga enough to want to accompany me on an eight-hour road trip in the motor, for such a meaningless encounter. The appalling levels of apathetic end-of-seasonitis evident elsewhere, in matches where there was much more to play for, didn’t exactly hold the promise of an entertaining reward at the end of an exhausting Ewood Park rainbow. And yet I’m the sort of masochist who revels in paying my Gooner dues, chasing just such a pot of fool’s gold, in the certain knowledge that such unglamorous outings are guaranteed to sort the genuine Gooner wheat, from the glory-hunting chaff.
There was hardly a surfeit of highlights to show during half-time at the City game. It was only when a mate mentioned travelling by train to Blackburn, that I suddenly remembered that instead of replaying our single effort on target, the big screens revealed details of a surprising Travel Club train trip. It’s been some years since the infamous “Football Specials” formed an integral feature in the awayday landscape.
These charabancs comprised the slowest and most dilapidated carriages amongst British Rail’s entire rolling stock. The sort that couldn’t possibly end up more trashed than they were already. The catering facilities consisted of a mail wagon at the rear, where a steward protected by a wire mesh enclosure served Polyfilla rolls from a couple of postage sacks, lovingly prepared with a nondescript slab of either ham or cheese. The alcohol ban on official outings meant that if we were lucky, this stale fare was made slightly more digestible, when washed down with a can of pop.
However my curiousity as to whether such spartan facilities might have improved in the interim wasn’t about to be satisfied. In looking up the details on the Arsenal web site, I discovered that the train had been cancelled due to a lack of interest!
Up until recently, Ewood Park was the only ground in the Premiership, where one could obtain a cash refund on unused tickets. Sadly Rovers have wised up since. Otherwise there’d have been a long queue of Gooners with wads of tickets at the box office on Monday, wanting refunds for all their mates who’d had the sense to stop at home.
Instead of which, it should the players digging into their own bulging pockets, to offer recompense to all those staunch fans who stay the pace to the bitter end, enduring the sort of tepid, uncompetitive fare that’s a blatant breach of the trades’ description act.
Still, while the participants might be more focused on working on their tans, or self-glorification in South Africa, this doesn’t stop the media from turning up the heat, in their concerted efforts to hype up the climax of this campaign. As the pundits discuss the various permutations for the denouement of all the remaining unsettled business, doubtless my disillusionment is a direct consequence of being an uninterested party in this debate, as demoralised Gooners once again find ourselves with our noses pressed up against the window.
Circumstances which are made even more galling, knowing my Spurs mates are gearing up for their crucial clash against City tonight. Considering I can’t recall the last time our season was over before theirs, I suppose I shouldn’t really begrudge them this rarity. If there was some slight solace to Monday’s defeat, it’s the resulting possibility that our final encounter against Fulham won’t feel nearly so flat, if we are left going into this game still needing a point to guarantee us 3rd place.
The only other comfort in our increasingly embarrassing efforts to scrabble over this uninspiring hurdle is that this half-hearted malaise appears all-pervasive throughout the Premiership. It’s hard to equate our lacklustre mood of late, with the remarkable optimism that abounded early doors, when the pundits were made to eat their words, while we plundered goals with such gay abandon. If the flame of this campaign hadn’t petered out in such a thoroughly disappointing fashion, Arsène might’ve been able to paper over the cracks. Not for the first time, I’m left hoping that our irresolute form in the finishing straight will at least force le Gaffer’s hand, in addressing patent inadequacies along the spine of our squad.
Encouraged by the feats of the likes of Sanchez Watt at Leeds, Emmanuel-Thomas at Doncaster and Jack Wilshere at Bolton, it seemed as if every other player mentioned on the box the Saturday before last was an Arsenal loanee. With Fergie having already secured three of his summer signings, I sure hope Arsène has something up his sleeve. Perhaps the suits will be twisting his arm to ensure the maintenance of their highly-prized Exec Box & Club level revenue streams?
It’s not that we require the sort of wholesale revolution that might be necessary at Anfield. The inconsistency shown by all the other runners & riders suggest that this season was a missed opportunity. Yet the source of my greatest frustration is that despite the makings of a competitive squad, there’s little, or no apparent sign of progress. With the exception of the void that appeared up front following Adebayor’s departure, the deficiencies that exist today are no different to those that we were whinging about at the beginning of this barren run. Instead of remitting next week's missive, I might just as well perm any one from four of the respective end of season reports from our recent unrequited campaigns.
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com