Never Mind Snow, Nine Points Will Do Me

Last updated : 03 January 2005 By Bernard Azulay

I could have caught another couple of hours of much cherished kip and awoken at my leisure to savour an afternoon of footballing pleasure, courtesy of Murdoch's broadcasting conglomerate, whilst lounging about in my slippers, in the comfort and warmth of my living room.

Truth be told I'd already made the fatal mistake of turning over in my pit, pretending I could get away with forty more precious winks. Which was how I discovered that my all singing, all dancing phone upgrade can hardly be trusted to run my entire life, when it can't even cope with the crucial task of getting me out from under my duvet. Then again it would be a tall order even with ringtones containing an infinitesimal number of phonics, when more often than not these wonders of modern technology will continue to have more chance of raising the dead than stirring me from my slumbers!

I was in the process of handing Santa a manilla envelope stuffed with an orang-utan (a serious monkey!) in lieu of my down payment for a contract to rub out Lampard and Robben, when the persistence of my pal Nell eventually pervaded my dream time. He was phoning to tell me that they were already waiting at the Gunners pub around the corner. Mercifully he and Alex were dependent on my motor for their passage to Pompey.

Otherwise common sense might could have prevailed and I might just have stopped at home instead of schlepping down to the South Coast to experience the joys of freezing my cods off on tumbledown terracing, open to the elements at a decrepit Fratton Park. Although with memories still fairly fresh of this Arsenal side at their artistic peak in last season's '-5 cup thrashing and what with having recently recovered from our relative trough, I don't think I'd have dared risk missing a reprise.

Compared to many long distance Gooner jollys, the journey to Pompey is a doddle. But circumnavigating the capital from North to South to get to the motorway, is invariably a bloomin' nightmare. Liverpool had just taken the lead by the time I legged it out of the house (late as ever!) and the final whistle had gone at Anfield before I could put my foot down on the tarmac artery to the South-West. With only 40 minutes to kick-off it wasn't looking good.

We were approaching Southampton at the appointed hour but sadly Pompey was still more than 20 miles away. At my follically challenged age I could do without the hair raising driving. And yet considering I was seriously concerned we were going to miss most of the first-half, I was quite impressed when the floodlights loomed into view with only 15 on the clock. The fact that the booing of Pires was the loudest noise coming from the radio coverage meant that we'd missed little and this was confirmed by the queue of those who'd already left their seats for a hand warming hot drink.

Few Gooners were disappointed to hear that Reyes had been ruled out. In recent weeks Jose hasn't looked anything like the voracious player who started the season. Perhaps an enforced rest will renew Reyes' appetite and we were all curious to see Clichy getting a run out in midfield. Although the French lad got a rare starting place in a decidedly unoriginal game which hardly registered on the entertainment Richter scale, thankfully we were present to witness the best 15 minutes before the break.

Sadly far too many of our lot sent their shadows out for the second half. What's more the lack of fervour from our terrace suggested that it wasn't only some of the Arsenal players whose demeanour might have led one to believe that they would have rather been elsewhere. I was praying that captain Paddy's display might also demonstrate the benefits of his enforced two game break. But I was destined to be disappointed by yet another somewhat ineffectual effort from Vieira, who continues to appear some way short of the player who would have previously dominated in Pompey's less than exalted company.

Thankfully we were able to count on Sol Campbell's determination and commitment not to come home empty-handed. Personally I can't recall the last time Sol had a shot on target, let alone actually score one with his tootsies. It has also been a while sine we last nicked an old fashioned "1-0 to the Arsenal" from a less than emphatic effort, of the sort which had my Spurs pals labelling us "lucky".

Nevertheless I am pleased that I at least made the effort. As the nearly complete shell of our state-of-the-art stadium looms ever larger on the local horizon, one can't help but notice the inadequacies of our ancient Home of Football (compared to the sort of facilities which are de rigeur these days for entertaining the "prawn sandwich" punter). A half-time bagel and a cup of splosh might be more than enough for my unassuming needs, as it's only on the pitch where I am interested in having my appetites satiated. However in contrast to Pompey's p*** hole Highbury remains positively grandiose by comparison.

I distinctly recall feeling somewhat discombobulated wandering through the glory hunting hordes gathered in the West Upper at half-time during the previous Sunday's clash of the Titans. I struggled to find the few familiar faces of those Gooners who would be looking forward to a somewhat nostalgic opportunity to ignore the seats and brave the elements, whilst standing for the entire 90 on Pompey's crumbling terraces, surrounded by corrugated iron, barbed wire and genuine footie fans.

In an age when football's addicts are increasingly disconnected from their heroes it's somewhat symbolic that there are increasingly few opportunities to stand within the tight confines of one of our stadia and almost reach out and touch Almunia's goal net. Never mind an array of gleaming modern toilets, it's almost worth crossing ones legs and queuing for an age to stand in the puddles of pee. Now there's an "amenity" where you wouldn't want to do anything but "stand up for the Champions"!

And on such a comforting image might I wish you all a Merry Christmas. Who knows if we've all been good Gooner boys and gals it might just be Chelsea and Man Utd who join the turkey in getting stuffed some time soon!