These humbling moments remind me of why football, even for a fully grown human, can make the heart sink or the joy burst within us.
Tonight is a bad night for Gooners.
I will take my seat on Sunday, I wont hide. If we give them the guard of honour I’ll watch our squad closely, see if they feel the shame I feel. Will they embrace their erstwhile captain, will they wish him the best? Or will they stand stoic, save their platitudes for the end of the game. Who will dare take his shirt?
The new season begins on Sunday. There’s a lot broken in this squad, we don’t seem to have many bad losers anymore. Ferguson doesn’t see us as a threat so patronises us with faint praise. I want him to hate us again. This is the way it should be. But sad to say, we are not at their level yet. Let’s be clear, this is a pretty poor Manchester United team, but their manager sets them apart. You might loathe him, but he can get the best out of an average clogger (look at how lame the John O’Shea’s are when they leave) and he isn’t afraid to chop a superstar’s legs away and sell him. He always maintains a high standard.
And we’ll have to hear it from those cockney reds, who’ve been to Old Trafford less times than you, who don’t really know what it’s like. But this sense of superiority wont be a solace. We can only hope that next season we really will get rid of all the dead wood, the disgraceful high earners like Squillaci, who even refused to go on loan to Brighton because, I assume, he didn’t want to abandon his chic cafe culture in Hampstead. Or will they all go out on loan again and come back like dog farts infesting the curtains (N.b – I don’t own a dog, so I’m not sure if this is a realistic metaphor). Good riddance to them and their comfy chairs and silken drapes. Go. Leave us. Gel your hair and bleach your bum’ole somewhere else.
But this is a subject for another blog post (Arsenal squad problems, not bum’ole bleaching). Tonight - and I promise it gets fun later, bear with me and my Ingemar Bergman existentialism for a few paragraphs - is about the Shame, the Sadness and the Success.
In recent memory, two other defeats sit heavy in my gut. Losing the David Rocastle FA cup final against Liverpool in 2001. There was a lump in many a throat as Ryan Rocastle led out the Arsenal squad. But football is cruel. The Henchoz handball, the Michael Owen winner after we’d absolutely battered them. That night was so tragic nearly a dozen of us barricaded ourselves in a hotel room with a crate of beer and played Who Wants to Be A (Fucking) Millionaire on a laptop as the bar was full of dancing scousers. It feels embarrassing even writing that. But we did it. Oh the shame!
And more recently, the champions league final. We were in the first few rows, the rain pelted us the whole game. For an Arsenal fan, and it’s all relative of course, other teams have never been to any cup final – it was a lesson in humility. Almunia played like a terrified newly born calf, his big dead mackerel eyes, dull and staring, his Ronald McDonald hands throwing shapes in front of his face and his sullen jowls floundering as he tried to communicate to his defence. Oh and Eto’o was offside. But what can you do. This is football.
What makes Sunday sadder is no matter the result, it’s out of our hands. There is nothing we can do. Even if we win, it’s only to further our own ambition to finish in a Champions League place. We cannot change who the champions are. So this feels raw and horrible.
Which brings us on to the fun bit. Not many teams can count these good times on enemy turf.
- We won the league at Anfield.
- We won the league at White Hart Lane twice, which is as many times as Spurs have won the league in their whole history (A fact which can be rolled around the palate and savoured like a good Rioja).
- We have won the league at Old Trafford. I was there. We had to sit with the home fans, with tickets marked “Manchester United South East Asia Supporters Club”, but we were there… six of us. Me, Des, Danny, Kev, Mark and Sean. We were the double agents, the South East Asia Supporters Club. We still are.
When we got back to the hotel bar that night, we watched the highlights on the telly and recreated the scene where Wiltord celebrated his goal. Mark King (@mzk90) was the leaping Kanu and I was Wiltord. Wiltord on the telly watches on. It’s one of my favourite photos. It was taken on a piece of crap disposable camera as well so the photographer (I think it was Danny) deserves praise for capturing the moment.
That night we were the gloaters, the piss takers, we were the Kings. It will happen again. So chin up Gooners.
(Read more at The Highbury Library)