Never Mind My Fingers, It's My Legs I Need To Cross

Last updated : 28 September 2004 By Bernard Azulay

However when it comes to foreign trips unfortunately the fangs of raw reality have finally hit a financial artery. Credit card arrears, overdraft agonies and interest rates are bleeding us dry (and no doubt the majority of the rest of the Western world who are encouraged to live beyond their means)!

It's a hard enough juggling act with the yards of plastic obtained in my efforts to stay ahead of the interest free game, especially with the cumulative cost of Euro junkets from previous campaigns. But having added nearly three and a half grand's worth of season ticket renewals to this highly combustible conflagration of credit, I've been forced to keep my plastic powder fairly dry during the opening stages.

After accompanying the Gunners all over the continent during the past decade or so of European competition, it would be an unbelievably ironic catastrophe, if at long last the Arsenal were to stick their flag on the Champions League summit, only for me to be so maxed out on all my plastic that I had to miss one of the most momentous occasions in the club's history. Consequently for once I made the practical decision that instead of forking out a couple of hundred quid for a day trip to Trondheim, we'll be spending a little less on a bargain package deal, hopefully in the sunshine of Greece, for an entire week around the Panathinaikos game. The official day trips with the Travel Club certainly don't tickle my fancy. You often end up being herded like sheep from your flight, to the stadium and back (with a couple of hours "at leisure" in town if you are lucky and the local coppers are amenable), experiencing so little local flavour that you might as well have been to Leicester.

Nevertheless if I could afford it, I would rather go with the club than not at all. Yet if ever there was a game where I will be there in spirit, it will be Wednesday's match against Rosenborg. I should know better by now, but because I am entitled to 2 tickets I foolishly stepped up to the plate on behalf of an unknown Norwegian Gooner. Between his daily barrage of barking mad e-mails and my anguish over the non-arrival of his tickets, it was far more aggro than if I'd actually been going to the game myself. I did my best to convince my new mate that this voyage was far too costly for the club to sell out, but Vidar was having none of it. So I was faced with the bizarre situation of going to the Box Office last Thursday to suss out the situation and in the vain hope they might fish out his tickets. They might not have been referring to a cheque, but the bloke at the counter was just as unconvincing when he fed me the standard line that my tickets "were in the post".

Far more frustrating was the fact that the Rosenborg match was on general sale and I could see the tickets sitting there in his draw. If I hadn't been hurried into making an application, I could have just bought a couple there and then. Instead of which I had to go home and sweat over their arrival in time for the City game, as this would be my best chance of finding a Gooner going to Norway who I could give them to. Thankfully part one of this sorry saga was settled when, to my great relief, they turned up in the post on Friday.

Often around this time of year, those of us amongst "the chosen people" (jews not Gooners!) are faced with a dilemma when games coincide with the dates of high holy days. Saturday's game against City clashed with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, where the basic premise is that with fasting and prayer, we are able to cram a whole year's worth of confession into a 24 hour period. With each passing year I grow all the more cynical about this religious hocus-pocus. What's more, never mind 24 hours, it would take more than a week for me to confess to a year's worth of my transgressions. In my opinion it's the divisiveness of religion which is responsible for much of the world's woes and from personal experience judaism can be particularly racist. So while I continue to make the odd concession manly for the sake of my Ma, these days I refuse to let religion interfere with my one true faith, in the Gunners.

Whereas my usual brother in awayday arms decided to blow me out at the last minute. At the start of the week he was definitely coming with me to City but as the weekend drew nigh, I reckon he must have buckled under some convincing familial coercion. It dawned on him that the train wouldn't get him back in time for the customary family gathering, where traditionally there is a big spread of grub for the starving hordes to steam into as they break the fast (as if they hadn't been sneaking chocolate biscuits on the QT all day!). I guess he decided that he would be better off sacrificing the City game instead of suffering several weeks of censure from his kith and kin. Meanwhile despite the fact that I went to bed Friday night, certain that I could hear the sound of my old man and all my rabbinical ancestors turning in their graves, my Ma is a tad more sensitive to the fact that I have chosen to worship at the Home of Football on the sabbath, instead of the house of the Lord. Besides I had the excuse that I was on a mercy mission to make sure my Norwegian pal would have his tickets for Wednesday's game.

No matter that I consider myself a non-believer, it didn't stop me worrying about incurring the wrath of the omnipotent one. I was counting on the fact that he/she would be far too busy coping with floods and famine to notice my minor indiscretion. I like to think that I decided to let the train take the strain so I could relax on route and not because I was afraid that the car was bound to break down. But you can be certain that if our undefeated run had finally come to end against City, there would be no escaping the conviction that I would've been personally responsible. To which regard I suppose really I should have stopped at home to look after our hound and let Róna go to the game, but as devoted a Gooner as she is, I couldn't see her schlepping all the way to Manchester on her tod.

As a result I met up with a mate from the Internet mailing list who snapped up my spare ticket. It was only when I turned up at the turnstiles that I discovered I would be taking charge of his ten year old son. Unfortunately we were separated from his dad and another lad, as their seats were in the upper tier. Despite the fact that I'm a step-grandad I'm still a selfish and irresponsible bugger who's not used to having young kids in my care and therefore not in touch with their needs. However while I might have turned my nose up initially, in all honesty I have to admit that I enjoyed the experience, as there was a certain refreshing naivety, seeing the game through the eyes of a ten year old. Considering this old-fashioned '1-0 to the Arsenal' was perhaps the least entertaining (excluding PSV) of our encounters to date, it was the perfect occasion for the added vicarious attraction of young Richard's pleasure. For spoilt Gooners who've grown far too accustomed to three or four goals a game maybe, but try telling Richard their was anything tedious about this combative contest.

It would appear that City have done away with their costly credit card type tickets but their replacements still contain the omnipresent microchip. Such priceless technological innovations tickle me. While they've done away with turnstile operators, they now require two stewards at every entrance. One to hold the tickets up against the yoke that recognises the chip and gives you 20 seconds to get through the turnstile and ridiculously another to reactivate all those tickets which malfunction and all those where we've stopped to marvel at this innovation only to miss our brief slot to gain admittance.

Thankfully Richard is a bright kid, otherwise he would have been in big trouble if he'd have waited for me to ask him if he required the loo before the game kicked-off. I was a bit concerned that at his age he might lose concentration but he was completely enchanted with the whole experience for the entire ninety. As a spanking new ground the sightlines are superb from every seat in the City of Manchester stadium, that's if everyone keeps their bums on them. But there is an unwritten law when seated behind the goal in the lower tier which guarantees that you spend much of the game like a bleedin' jack-in-a-box, having to jump to your feet like the bloke in front, every time your team brings the ball to that end. Worried that this young Gooner was going to miss much of the action as a result, I instructed him from the off that he should be prepared stand on his seat, suggestng he grab my shoulder to steady himself. Thankfully in every crowd there seems to be a smattering of dedicated "Siddown!" -ers who take it upon themselves to ensure that shortasses don't spend the entire match struggling to see the game. However Richard seemed to take to his exertions as part of the enjoyment, sitting there almost with one foot already on his seat, relishing the challenge of bouncing up without missing a single kick, while stuffy old me worried about him breaking his neck.

He borrowed my binoculars to see better what was going on at the other end (and naturally to check for his pop and his pal in the Upper Tier), doubtless saved some of my teeth by helping me to demolish a pack of pastilles, joined in enthusiastically with all the songs (albeit hesistating with those that include any rude words) and he kept me on my toes with a barrage of unusual questions that could only come from the mouth of a child, like why do the teams change ends at half-time. I was amazed that not only did he understand the principle of the foreshortened view of events down the other end of the pitch, but before half-time he was explaining to me that while Gooners around us were screaming "shoot", the City supporters along the sides could see that we were too far away from goal. Before I knew it, it was half-time and I realised I'd totally forgotten about the tickets in my bag.

I'd the phone number of the only bloke I could find who was travelling to Norway but sod's law ensured that I was also separated from him because he was in the Upper Tier. I'd been looking forward to finally relieving myself of the weight of this responsibility but I was rapidly coming to terms with the fact that this was destined to be a never ending saga. So when I eventually found myself talking to a Gooner on the train home, who made the mistake of telling me about his trip to Norway, despite feeling just a little guilty about lumbering him with this lunatic who was going to be on his case from the moment they set foot in Scandinavia, I couldn't hand the tickets over quick enough.

Oh and as for the incidental matter of the actual match, Sol Campbell obviously looks a little ring rusty but there is absolutely no mistaking the air of calm reassurance that he brings to our back line, if not the entire team. What's more with the timing of Paddy's tackles suggesting that he is somewhere close to being back to his domineering best, I certainly wouldn't fancy supporting any of our upcoming opponents! There's no doubt from Saturday's evidence that we have to guard against complacency. Yet contrary to Arsene's comments about the Arsenal's scalp becoming a trophy that every team wants to win, to my mind with every successive match the respect we're shown seems to increase, to the point where teams appear afraid to even attempt to tackle us.

There is a downside because it is becoming increasingly hard to crush our opponents spirit with a second goal and put the result beyond doubt. Even when opponents go behind, we're denied the room to take them apart as they refuse to chase the game, preferring to wait and hope they can nick an equaliser, rather than letting themselves be totally embarrassed. To be perfectly honest I am looking forward to pitting our wits against a side that really fancies their chances, as only then will we really be able to find the room to turn on the sort of razzle-dazzle football which one can feel oozing from every Arsenal player's pores, as they patiently wait for the appropriate climactic moment when they can let rip. Bring on the Man Utds and the Chelseas before it's me who wets my pants with anticipatory excitement!