Boo To Be a Gooner

Last updated : 25 November 2004 By Bernard Azulay

In an age when we are so privileged to be watching some of the greatest ever talent treading the hallowed Highbury turf, personally I find the number of folks heading for the exits before the finish astounding (although considering the fact that I turn up late so frequently, I guess many of them could say exactly the same about my tardy tendencies). With match tickets so hard to come by and prices so prohibitive, you'd think we'd all want to squeeze every last drop and savour every second of each game during an era which will definitely be viewed with hindsight as historic.

Personally I want to wallow in every wonderful moment at my Home of Football, as I consider that the countdown has begun to that ominous day when football as I've always known it will be obsolete. It's perhaps a little selfish but to be perfectly honest I am dreading the eventual move to our modern, state of the art arena. My match day experience is going to be totally different and undoubtedly not nearly such an intimate experience. The Gunners' football on Saturday might have been lacking some of the incisive attacking, precision passing and the overall entertainment level might not have satisfied an Arsenal "audience" which has grown so used to us scaling such incredible peaks in recent months. But on a miserable autumn afternoon I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else in the world but Highbury.

I often refer to a character who sits a few rows behind us and spends virtually the entire 90 minutes of every single match slagging off the officials. He's useful in the sense that he's a benchmark by which I know when to reign myself in, if my own vituperative verbal volleys aimed at the officials begin to sound anywhere near as vitriolic as his venomous "hope you die of cancer" type hysterics. Although there have been many occasions when I've lost it to such an extent that my mates in front have rightly teased me with our own little "Arsenal loony, loony Arsenal" chant, I would hate to think I might really be deserving of barmy Buster Blood Vessels personal title.

On rare occasions the Arsenal Loonys outrageous utterances can be amusing, but mostly they are just plain embarrassing. As visitors turn around in shock to discover the villain responsible for some of the worst of his rabid ravings, you can regularly see the residents of the West Upper in his immediate vicinity making like turtles, trying to retract their heads as far into their coats as possible, to ensure they aren't mistaken for the culprit. However as horrid as he can be to the poor beleaguered men in black (green, yellow and assorted other colours these days!) and as bemused as I am as to why he doesn't find himself ejected every week, during the occasional lull in Saturday's action it dawned on me that he'll probably be another aspect absent from our brave new footballing world in future - although I guess I might just be the unfortunate sod who's allocated a seat right beside him!

If not, I will undoubtedly miss him. I'm usually made aware if he's not present at a match when someone comments that its strangely quiet. And even if we do end up in the adjacent seat, I doubt he'll last long in the new stadium. By the look of the blue blood vessels threatening to burst from his phizog, he's already a prime candidate for a stroke. So he's bound to blow a fuse trying to make himself heard when we are all that much further from the pitch!

You might wonder if I haven't got more important matters to worry about in a week which could prove to be as crucial as they come in footballing terms. We go into tonight's game in Eindhoven requiring a win which will ensure our Champions League fate remains in our own hands, without a clean sheet in ten successive games, against a PSV side five points clear in the Dutch league and who've not conceded a goal in ten successive league games. Then returning to face a long schlep up to Liverpool to face a side with more Spaniards than Scousers, stung by their torment on Teeside and buoyed by the return of the talismanic Stephen Gerrard.

As I passed Highbury this morning I could have sworn I saw them taking delivery of a crate of that Califig gear. We certainly could do with some sort of tonic to "regain our rhythm" as our aura of invincibility evaporates with each successive upset. Teams are turning up at Highury no longer merely hoping to come away without a hiding, but suddenly believing that our increasingly jittery defence might be there for the taking.

Yet if it's a worrying week on paper for nonplussed Gooners, much like Le pragmatic Prof I'm not overly concerned because I m able to put matters into their true perspective. For no particularly logical reason other than the fact we enjoyed ourselves so much the last time we were in Eindhoven and because we always seem to raise our game for recent encounters with the Scousers, I happen to think we'll win in Holland and at Anfield . And I'll be extremely happy to think it won't happen in front of the unbelievably spoilt minority of Arsenal ³supporters² who I am led to believe booed their heroes off on Saturday.

Such ingrates obviously weren't around during the seventies. Unlike the Aussie Gooner who e-mailed me this week to remind me of the 7 successive defeats he experienced before he departed these shores. At a time when the only gratification to be had at Highbury was from the likes of the Arsenal Loony and when bored Gooners were so thin on the ground on a bitterly cold night on the North Bank that they began lighting fires for both warmth and entertainment..

We might not have left before the final whistle but we didn't hang around long enough to hear any booing. We head towards the back, for a seat nearer the exit just on 90 minutes, where Gooners are in the habit of a playing a game of one-upmanship which requires precision timing, as the object of the exercise is to grab an aisle seat in order to be quickest out the door. Yet on Saturday there were seats aplenty as Highbury was half empty by the final whistle. I guess I'm just as guilty as everyone else but I find it quite shameful we've grown so blasé, even if we've played brilliantly, that few fans hang around to applaud the Gunners off the pitch. As a result the team hardly bother to reciprocate with anything more than a token gesture.

My excuse is that I do my bit at away games, where there's an all together different vibe. It's very rare for the players to forget to acknowledge the travelling faithful perhaps only after a particularly terrible result. However their apathy is understandable at Highbury when the vast majority of fans have their back to the pitch, far to busy hurrying for the exits. Even during our undefeated run we grew so accustomed to winning that few fans lingered to show their appreciation. Whereas they are all far too quick to express their disapprobation!

Don't forget that this is the same team that was wowing the footballing world only a few weeks back . At the lightning speed this side plays their football, the difference between stunning success and abject failure can often be a matter of a fractionary moment of mistiming. There was a brief period after Pires scored when I thought we were about to click back to being that fluid unit which started the season, as space appeared when West Brom were forced to show slightly more ambition. If we'd scored a second, the swagger would've retuned and we might have had a hatful. Instead of which a couple of chances went begging and the nervousness of 11 disparate individuals enveloped Highbury again. We Gooners have grown far too accustomed in recent weeks to there being this air of inevitability about the equaliser, to the extent that we're all almost resigned to this fate.

Nevertheless we need not panic as there is so much ability within this Arsenal side that if they don't come good again against PSV, then perhaps it will happen at Anfield. And if not at Anfield then hopefully the following week. However you only had to see Henry running around like a blue arsed fly to realise that their relative failure isn't for the lack of effort and so long as they are grafting their socks off they deserve our unstinting support. Whilst waiting for the cream to rise to the top, we just have to pray that there are enough Bolton's around to keep the competition in check.

Arsène Wenger's unruffled attitude has me wondering whether it's all part of Le Prof's masterplan to lull Mourinho into a false sense of security so we can absolutely stuff his Blues when he shows his arrogant face at Highbury in a few weeks time!