N'er Cast a 'Clout' till May is Out

Last updated : 16 September 2002 By Bernard Azulay

I found myself screaming at the TV when the most pompous of the three pressmen around Hill's bogus breakfast table, posed the rhetorical question "Can anyone seriously suggest Tony Adams wasn't a better player after treatment for his alcoholism?" No one can dispute that it was in his best interest, but you will find few Gooners who will agree with this particular biased view from someone who I believe was Adams' sponsor at AA!

Adams was referred to as this "holier than thou" hack's example of how alcohol was at the root of all Roy Keane's problems. You couldn't find a more unlikelier person than myself to come to the defence of this Red Devil. Yet as these media vultures picked over the bones of the far from extraordinary events at the Stadium of Light and dissected a didactic interview in the Observer, with their coffee and croissants, I couldn't help but have some sympathy for the man we Gooners love to goad. That Keane is a first-class "gurrier" is a given as far as I am concerned, but it was befitting that he referred to boxing as "the best sport in the world" in this interview, because I perceive some poignant parallels between him and Tyson. Patrick Vieira, Roy Keane, Mike Tyson and all such sporting gods are the modern day equivalent of gladiators. Some might even go so far as to contend that they go to war in sporting competition, to exorcise man's instinct to do so in real life.

Whatever the case, we are happy to hail them as heroes for their commitment, their combative nature, their win at all costs qualities, but are only too quick to castigate them when they offend our moral sensibilities because they can't keep the lid on their passions. Their greatness is borne from these instincts and has been fostered since childhood by their coaches. So how can we be so incredulous at their inability to turn it off like a tap?

If these judge and jury journos in Jimmy Hill's kangaroo court weren't bad enough, a few hours later we had to contend with Andy D'Urso casting himself as Caesar, giving the thumbs down to our afternoon's entertainment. I wouldn't have minded so much if his was a walk on part in the last act, but D'Urso was determined to stamp his authority the minute the curtain went up. Forty quid is nowhere near enough for somewhere to lay your head with the batty prices at Ken Bates Blues motel, nor is it sufficient for a decent seat, with many of us away fans getting a lousy letterbox view of the action from the East Lower. Even the Arsenal don't have the front to finagle such fancy prices from such easy prey as the long-suffering away fans, whose limitless loyalty rules over the regular laws of supply and demand.

To pay such exorbitant prices only to have D'Urso do his utmost to diddle us out of a decent game of football is downright ridiculous. We are prepared to cough up the cash, in the hope of witnessing a passionate London derby. Whereas we get lumbered with officials like D'Urso who appear to be on a mission to make ours a non-contact sport. In a game which finished with seven yellows and one red, there wasn't a single malicious tackle. By booking the first two innocuous challenges in the opening moments, he made a rod for his own back which virtually guaranteed the subsequent sending-off. I wouldn't feel quite so justified in my criticisms if there was some consistency. If anyone deserved an early bath it was Wiltord and yet for a blatant shove and a wilful body-check, he wasn't even booked. Considering poor Patrick has to put up with the opposition trying to get his goat in virtually every game, most Gooners are in awe of his efforts to exercise self-control ever since he was handed the captaincy. In fact there are many who would prefer to see him lose it every now and again, just to confirm it still matters quite so much as in his early days, when walking away was not in his make-up.

Aside from the sordid spitting incident, the majority of Vieira's red cards have been received as a result of over enthusiasm and his unfettered desire to be first. I can't recall a single incident involving malice aforethought. Having strived so hard to improve his image, there should be no surprise if he has something of a persecution complex. Considering it was only a couple of weeks back that Birmingham's Cissé had his red card rescinded, it appears nothing short of double standards, or pure bloody mindedness that D'Urso refuses even to reconsider an almost exact repeat of this incident.

Nevertheless, just like on so many occasions last season, in the light of our improved performance with ten men I guess we should be grateful to D'Urso. Moreover Vieira's misfortune proved something of a boon to young Kolo Touré, with a backs to the wall situation in which he positively thrived. If there is a silver lining to the passing of a prodigal Premiership and the imposition of a transfer deadline, it is the improved prospects of our young prodigies like Touré, Pennant and Aliadière. Managers like Wenger can no longer afford to splash their cash in order to bolster their squads with a bench load of proven utility players. As a result they are being forced to show some faith in their youth programme, where once they might not have dared risk their prospects of Champions League qualification (or Premiership survival) on a youngster still learning his trade. Ashley Cole apart, we have been crying out to see more of the Arsenal's Brady Bunch for some time. Liam's lads have perennially shown so much promise, only for the careers of some of his brightest stars to flounder on the frustration of their lack of first team progress. Fast tracking them on to the bench as reserves might carry some short term risk, but I have no doubt of the long term benefits of homegrown talent who's loyalty runs deeper than the couple of years on their contract.

Meanwhile if Sunday's draw felt like a victory at the time, our failure to garner all three points guaranteed that my phone was literally hopping come Monday morning. It vibrated right off my bedside table, with incoming text messages from Tottenham fans, making the very most of a rare (and hopefully brief) opportunity to lord it over us. After 41 years without league success, they are counting the hours at the top. To think is was only a month ago that they were up in arms about their new shirt. It wasn't just the fact that they were designed for Italian six-packs and aren't quite so flattering stretched over Spurs' fans party packs, it was the colour of their sponsor's logo which was tantamount to treason. It would appear that all it took was a touch of Gooner red, for the success to begin to rub off!