Buckle Up Folks - Looks Like We're In For One Helluva Ride

Last updated : 23 August 2004 By Bernard Azulay

It was a couple of hours prior to the season's curtain raiser at The Home Of Football on Sunday, as the local pubs became packed with Gooners quaffing a few bevvies, before floating round to the Highbury turnstiles on a tide of optimism that today was the day when we would finally equal the astounding achievement of Old Big Head's Forest side (with altitude and velocity determined by the volume of alcohol downed).

With everything setup on a warm summer's afternoon for a Championship homecoming shindig, I suggested to Róna that it would be bloody typical if Sod's Law dictated that Arsène's New Invincibles were to stumble within sight of the finishing line with the Teesiders pooping our very special party by bringing the Arsenal's Immortals back to earth with a bump. Even before this utterance had fallen from my far too big gob, I wanted to take it back, terrified I might have tempted fate with my typical negativity.

For once I was out of the house in good time. I was eager to get to my seat in time to savour the presentation of the specially commissioned trophy to mark our undefeated achievement. With all last season's opponents listed on its base, my Spurs mates and fans of many other teams should be thanking us. They are unlikely to see their name on another trophy anytime soon! Mind you I would have doubtless missed this centre-circle ceremony if it wasn't for the fact that I'd arranged to meet a mate before kick-off.

Walking to the ground I was surprised to see the approaches to the stadium a blaze of red, white and yellow, as Gooners spilled out of the jam-packed boozers. Until it dawned on me that this scene was probably no different to what I would find if I left home a few minutes earlier for every home game, instead of a last minute dash through deserted streets with all the other tardy stragglers. It was when I discovered that the programme seller had disappeared from the corner where I've been superstitiously purchasing my matchday mag for many years, that I became seriously concerned. The fact that I've little faith in the power of such hocus-pocus doesn't stop me pandering to it. So now I am worrying where to buy a programme because a win would mean I'd have to be guaranteed of getting it there every week for the rest of the season (without having to queue for an age). Then the money I had to hand proved insufficient as the price has risen 50p to three quid (it wasn't so long ago that you could watch the match for less!).

I was wondering whether I should go home and start again, comfortably late, as the fates seemed to be conspiring to make me personally liable for our downfall. There was one more moment of anxiety as I arrived at the turnstile and fumbled for my season ticket, only to begin to panic when I found there was no coupon number one. I'd only pulled out the booklet for last season. I began frantically searching for the new one, praying I hadn't left it at home. The chorus of "tutt-tutts" at my schoolboy error from the impatient Gooners behind me ensured my nerves were so shot by the time I found my precious little red booklet that I had to hand it to the turnstile operator to tear out the coupon. You'd never believe I was merely attempting to repeat the same simple ritual of umpteen years!

However all such stress slipped somewhere into my subconscious as I climbed the stairs to the West Upper, cursing as ever my 40 a day Camel habit. I grabbed my customary cheese bagel and a cuppa before heading along the corridor and up the last flight of stairs to the top of the bulkhead for Block X and out into the bright sunlight. I never tire of this brilliant Highbury vista which was even more breathtaking than usual on Sunday, as the Gunners did themselves proud with their efforts to generate a special atmosphere on this extraordinary occasion. They'd literally got the flags out, with flag waving Junior Gunners lining the perimeter of the pristine green carpet that is our blade perfect pitch.

Anyone new to Highbury must have wondered what had happened to our library like hush, as even before our colossal comeback the faithful were far more animated than usual and in serious danger of enjoying themselves for once. In the less patient past, the crowd would have been straight on the players' backs in frustration, as we failed to find the net with a flurry of first-half chances. Yet we watched with openmouthed amazement as we battered Boro's woodwork, not in the least bit worried, knowing that these days the Arsenal's goal scoring opportunities are like London buses, confident there will be another one along in a minute.

However while every other Gooner seemed unconcerned with the profligacy of our supremely confident team, I couldn't help but poop myself that perhaps, just perhaps this was yet another sign that it wasn't going to be our day. I guess it is just a pessimist's defense mechanism. With each successive step on the road to a record which might never again be repeated, the law of averages guarantees that we are one game closer to that inevitable defeat. It didn't look too promising at 1-3 down on Sunday. Bergkamp had just picked up the ball when I turned to my neighbour to tell him that we'd have to get a quick goal if there was any hope of redemption. Dennis must have heard me. No sooner were the words out of my mouth than the ball was nestling in the back of the net.

If there was an unusual air of euphoria in the West Upper on my arrival, they were all going stark raving bonkers by the time Reyes rattled home the fourth only forty odd seconds after the equaliser. I'm not too good with ages but I'd guess my relatively reserved and happily married West Upper neighbour must be pushing sixty. Normally the height of exuberance around us is the exchange of a few high fives. However in this instance the ecstatic explosion as we took an astonishing lead saw my adjacent pal leap into my arms, wrapping his legs around me in a fashion which, if I wasn't completely comfortable with my heterosexuality, might have seemed a bit iffy. Although by then I'd already headbutted the missus in our embrace over the equalizer and no-one gave a monkey's in this multi-orgasmic orgy of supremely sexy football.

Admittedly I've rarely seen my mates in the row in front quite so stocious at a Sunday game, but the stunned faces of the sedentary residents of the West Upper was an absolute picture as they struggled to stay upright in the commotion caused by the intoxicated efforts of these larrikins to introduce everyone to the joys of crowd surfing. The West Upper ain't ever seen the like!

I got the biggest kick from thinking of all my Spurs pals and the fans of our opponents, who must have been delirious for a few misguided moments in the belief that we were finally going to blow it. My day would have been made totally complete if Pascal Cygan had popped up with a headed winner. Not only would it have made up for his mistake, but it would have also put a superb sock in the mouths of some of the Highbury hypocrites. It seems a bit churlish having a whinge in such sensational circumstances but I am gonna have one anyway (in true Gooner tradition). When Cygan's calamitous cock-up resulted in Boro taking the lead, the same fickle folks who couldn't sing their heroes praises loud enough some minutes earlier, were suddenly slaughtering our stars for the sort of football that "just wasn't good enough"

I don't like to have an unreliable centre-back in our side with the turning circle of an oil tanker, any more than the next Gooner but while he's wearing the red & white he has my steadfast support (if only because his game is unlikely to improve when we're giving him stick). Meanwhile everyone else was laying into poor Pascal as if he was going to be personally responsible for us missing out on immortality, which wasn't so far from being the truth but it still didn't merit the distasteful screams of "Get him out of MY team"

When everyone had forgotten their anger after a fabulous few minutes and we were all back to lavishing praise on our Invincibles, I so wanted Pascal to score, just so I could grab this bloke and shake him by the shoulders, demanding "Where's your scapegoat now?" Although I'm not going to let my intense dislike of such disgusting Gooner disloyalty spoil my delicious day. Sunday was a heart taxing rollercoaster ride which could have put many of us in hospital, but like a kid running riot in Disneyworld all I want to do is go round again. Roll on Wednesday!