21 And Counting Before We Lose Our Keys To Highbury's Doors

Last updated : 03 May 2005 By Bernard Azulay

.... complete with strenuous sci-fi sound effects, contorting his mush to conjure up the sort of monstrous sounds which would've stretched any modern day synthesizer. Personally I was never a big fan of the Dr. and his sci-fi escapades. At least not until this past weekend, when I was reminded of my schoolmate's amazing performances as I found myself escaping into Saturday's episode involving the nostalgic return of a Dalek.

With the Murphy clan coming over from Dublin to celebrate my missus' half century and my sister coming out of hospital, plastered up after an ankle operation, I was torn between social obligations and plotting up in front of the TV to see if Bolton could prolong the agony. After enjoying a leisurely snack with the out-laws, soaking up the Camden sunshine, I made my way over to my sister's only minutes before kick-off. I'd very nearly given up on the game, believing that perhaps it was for the best. Wired for sound as I am most weekends, with an earpiece connected to my tiny tranny, I was going to settle for snatching radio updates from the Reebok. That was until more visitors turned up at my sister's with 3 kids in tow who were all highly allergic to Treacle's dog hair. I took this as my cue to hare home, hoping neither net would bulge before I'd made it back. It certainly wasn't going to be worth hurrying once the Blues bagged the goal which would virtually guarantee this game became an agonising procession.

With typical pessimism, I suspected Bolton might manage a stay of execution for another week, only for us to bequeath the title to the Blues by stuffing it up against the Baggies. Mercifully my dash back wasn't a total waste as the Wanderers held firm for an hour, during which I clung to my feint dreams of a most unlikely denouement. However once Frank Lampard found the back of the net at the Reebok, even this sucker for punishment couldn't stomach the thought of a Premiership epilogue involving pictures of Mourinho's mob cavorting around the pitch.

While all over the South-East my Gooner compadres made their plans to go into hiding and spend the summer avoiding the spiteful invective of their Spurs and Chelsea counterparts, I lasted a full '6 minutes, seeking refuge in the good Dr's exploits the moment Frankie spanked home a second. Never mind "Eliminate the Doctor"; with a couple of tweaks of a Phillips screwdriver I wonder if we could persuade this upturned dustbin to "Eliminate the Gobster"? Still it was fun while it lasted and at least they won it without the Gunners gift-wrapping them the trophy by losing to Tottenham earlier in the week.

Walking around to Highbury, last Monday's game took on an importance of immense proportions as my radio reported on the news crews and cameras congregating in the Kings Road hostelries to cover the hoe-down that depended on our demise. What's more Spurs fans were so hyped up that one might have thought their team was playing for the Championship itself, rather than merely a minor role in their efforts to hand the title to the lesser of two evils.

It's nothing like the intimidating atmosphere we experience when we visit White Hart Lane; where bus loads of additional old bill in full riot gear, some with big, barking, Alsatians with the sort of fearsome look that suggests they could take your leg off with a single bite, makes one feel as if you've walked onto the set of a Hollywood movie involving a South American military dictatorship. There's a more circumspect approach to policing the reverse fixture, with not nearly so many rozzers and minus the menacing outfits. However the reverberating throb of the helicopter hovering non-stop above Highbury is an unmistakeable indication of the annual influx of Tottenham's Neanderthals onto Arsenal territory.

The significance of the outcome ensured that the tension was racked up a good few more notches than usual. On my habitual pre-match stop at our local late-night shop, I suggested to Mrs.Shah that she might want to bring the shutter down early tonight. It had occurred to me that as the penultimate North London derby and with Highbury set to host only 22 more league encounters prior to the big move, there won't be too many more evening games at out ancestral home with the library at its liveliest. In honour of having commenced my own reluctant countdown, I'd for once headed off in good time to make KO. I honestly can't recall the last time any trouble impinged on a match day but I'd bet on it being another Spurs game.

I should probably blame my early arrival as much as the Spurs scum, but Sod's Law ensured that as we turned into Highbury Hill our progress to the West Upper entrance a couple of hundred yards away was halted by a line of coppers across the road. They would only tell us that there'd been "an altercation" outside the away fans entrance and we were being kept back for our own safety. As the game kicked off, I was tempted to try and blag our way into the North Bank and hope to find the friendly steward who let's us use a shortcut from the West Upper on our way home.

There were mixed emotions listening to the radio commentary as Reyes missed an absolute sitter. Having made a rare effort to arrive early I would've been gutted not to have seen such a crucial goal. Boiling over with resentment, I shouted out to the old bill to make them aware that most of those being held back had paid over sixty quid to see this match. Naturally the copper who responded couldn't appreciate the irony, as he suggested that I might be better off arriving for matches a little earlier in future!

Nevertheless there was no earthly reason that we should be punished for the crimes of others and thankfully we weren't made to wait much longer. After legging it up the road, this entire gaggle of Gooners had to queue up at the one remaining open turnstile. Thus it was several minutes in before we finally took our seats. I felt like the boy who cried wolf, as I responded to the exasperated glances with yet another tail of tardy woe. It wasn't long before all such thoughts of aggravation were obliterated by a barrage of some of the best footie Highbury has seen all season. Even a Spurs pal was left begrudgingly admitting that at times it was like watching Barnet v Brazil.

If only we'd hit such a rich vein of form a few weeks earlier, as we saw glimpses in this game of the Gunners back to their very best. Including perhaps the goal of the season that never was, as Reyes smashed his finish into the side-netting following a flowing one-touch build-up, brimming with chutzpah that included two cheeky backheels. It was a move of such simplistic beauty that it brought the stadium to its feet with breathless admiration.

Spurs' glut of goals in a relatively meaningless squabble for European morsels on Sunday is as surefire a sign of summer approaching as the sound of Greensleeves from the clapped out ice-cream vans. Whereas against us it felt as if even they were hoping we might put them out of their misery. Robbie Keane set a few hearts a fluttering at the prospect of him pinching a last minute equaliser, but it was almost worth the strain on the nerves, knowing that there were so many Blues perched on the edge of their seats not a million miles away.

It was a rare old night when the roof was raised on even the library's West Upper reading room, as we revelled in the thought of this premature gathering of the Blue rabble on the Kings Rd, tearing their hair out, rapidly taking on their Pensioners mantle under the full glare of the media spotlight. Meanwhile after our bloomin' marvelous evening of Spurs baiting under Highbury's floodlights, it remains to be seen if we're sufficiently hungry to secure second spot, in a fight against a Baggies side tanked up with testosterone as they battle for their Premiership survival?