About a Bore?
As we joined the motorway north, accompanied apparently by the majority of north Londoners, the sun was splitting the trees, creeping up into a clear blue sky. I felt a bit of a party pooper, with virtually every other passing vehicle part of the marauding Arsenal army, proudly flying scarves, flags and banners in and out of windows. I soon striped off my sweater so that my (hopefully lucky?) t-shirt, chosen carefully from my massive Arsenal collection, might at least be visible. Merging with the masses was the odd Boro charabanc, bedecked in identical colours. It was as though we were all part of one continuous, brightly coloured cavalcade, where one might find Arsene Wenger and the lads at its vanguard. His head would be poking out the top of a half-track with an arm outstretched, screaming "Forward to Old Trafford, to the Final and onwards to the title!"
Grateful for a gorgeous day and a fairly clear road, I waited until we'd passed Birmingham and the scene of the second semi, before making a pit-stop. We headed straight for the petrol pumps. Passing on a service station, positively swarming with all those who had set out at a similarly early hour, in the hope of avoiding the tortuous traffic tailbacks suffered on previous semi-final sorties. I felt for the poor unfortunate female at the cash till, as we paused briefly for a caffeine pick-me up. It was criminal that no one had bothered to convey a warning about the invasion of hordes of football fans, with the inevitable hooligan element. She was distracted from her duties, by the task of writing down the registration of every single vehicle at the pumps. In response to my query, she revealed that she had found out the hard way, having already been ripped off by several rogues doing a runner!
No need for signs up north, it was the first few splatters of rain on the windscreen that signalled we were approaching Manchester. In a little more time than it took Haile Gabrselassie to lose the London Marathon, we had our feet up in a hotel room overlooking Old Trafford. As we settled down to some pre-match entertainment on Sky Sports, I was afraid that so far, it had all gone far too swimmingly for my liking. I first felt some feelings of foreboding a few days prior. It was the presumptuous attitude of many Arsenal fans which preyed on my mind. On the internet, some seemed to believe that beating Boro was such a foregone conclusion, that they were already counting their Cardiff chickens, with their concerns that Arsenal should not be allocated the unlucky end in the Final. I continued to fret more fervently with each pundit on the box, who gave Boro the hope of the"Bob" and "No" variety.
Old Trafford is a stadium on such a scale that one could easily spend fifteen minutes sprinting around the perimeter, in search of the turnstile shown on ones ticket. So when we eventually exited the hotel, only a few minutes before kick-off, to find ourselves directly facing the correct entrance, I wasn't sure whether to be grateful, or gutted. I was terrified that this might be the sort of trip, where absolutely everything might be marvelously tickety-boo, apart from the main event. According to my mad logic, I was almost ecstatic about the Everest like assault necessary to attain our exorbitantly priced seats, somewhere in the gods. The cover on the stand prevented us seeing any higher, as we were wondering whereabouts on the roof were those poor Gooners who had paid fifteen and twenty quid less for their tickets! Perhaps they'd been seated strategically, to secure a roof that hasn't been raised by such a wonderful atmosphere for many a Mancunian moon?
Give me a grotty seat any day, if it will guarantee us a good old-fashioned "1-0 to the Arsenal" (considering mine was broken as well, I only wish I'd come prepared like some, as I could have stuck it together with the stickers many brought to remind the regular occupants who is top of the league!). Of late we've become so accustomed to scintillating football, that watching the Arsenal grind out a gritty result was almost a rare treat. It shows how far we've come, when not so long ago we would have been begging our players to hang onto possession in the eighty-ninth minute, no matter how slim our lead. Whereas on Sunday you might have heard the moans when Kanu was sent on at the death to take the ball to the corner flag from a free on the edge of the area.
These days, against a side like Boro, there's a sense that we are better than that and I was certain that our failure to attempt to kill the game off would be punished by an equalizer, extra-time and capitulation to penalties. But then I've always been a "nothing's over, until it's over" type of pessimist. An all too brief interlude of heavenly euphoria at the point of victory was soon impinged upon, by the purgatory of apprehension and all those worst case end of season scenarios. Albeit should the silverware end up on the Arsenal sideboard, you can be sure you'll hear about it ad nauseam, for the next decade or so.