Does The Fat Lady Like A Cigar?

Last updated : 22 March 2004 By Bernard Azulay

Basically you're stuck with it for life. Considering the sort of sensational football this Gunners side are capable of at the moment, I certainly I wouldn't want to be supporting anyone else. Still I often declare my jealousy of others, such as the fabulous Pompey fans. Hail or shine they turn up week in, week out, season in, season out, knowing full well that their chances of winning anything are extremely feint. Yet they continue to express their loyalty by "singing their heart out for the lads" for the entire duration of every ninety.

I suppose it has something to do with different expectation levels but I often have cause to comment that if we were getting beat anywhere near as badly, far from supporting our lot in such a staunch fashion, the Highbury crowd would be getting on the players backs and booing them off the pitch. It might be somewhat churlish of me to be having a moan at this point in such a majestic season. After all we've just carved out yet another notch on the cannon barrel of this record breaking run by equalling the undefeated feats of those illustrious Leeds and Liverpool sides of yesteryear. What's more even if we fail (heaven forbid!) to secure a single point in the final nine Premiership fixtures, we couldn't finish below 4th and have thus guaranteed our crucial Champions League place. But there was hardly a murmur of approval from the Gooner "audience" making their way out of Highbury on Saturday.

OK so the West Upper heart of the Highbury Library isn't exactly renowned for its exuberant support (with the exclusion of yours truly). However I refer to our "audience" because the majority of those exiting the North Bank were wearing the hangdog expressions of folks who could have just forked out 30 quid to sit through a woeful West End play. I always find this absolute lack of Gooner good vibes flabbergasting.

On Saturday we heard one solitary fan attempting to savour the moment by trying to start a chorus of "Who the f*** are Man Utd". I am usually so spent after 90 minutes of shouting my head off that I rarely join in with the post match rejoicing that is more commonly heard away from home. However I offered this lonely enthusiastic Gooner my vocal encouragement, in the vain hope that our introverted fans were just waiting for someone to start them off. However it was like preaching to the unconvertible and as we passed my singing partner, I hollered out "You've got a hard audience there mate!"

Róna reckons its a London thang (but then recent experiences on the capital's raging roads have made her particularly cynical about the actual existence of the cheerful, cheeky cockney chappy!). Yet I am sure my adjacent colleagues have similar complaints about the complacent crowds at Old Trafford and Anfield. Perhaps there are plenty at Highbury who have become far too blasé to bother acknowledging anything less than the sort of success which will result in our lot running around the pitch with a plethora of silver pots. Last week's minor treble of Manager of the Month, Player of the Month (shared by Bergkamp & Edu) and a trophy for Thierry Henry as the first Premiership hotshot to break the 20 goal barrier, hardly merited a mention.

Personally I believe the principal problem is the fact that football has become such an expensive hobby that our stadia are increasingly populated by the ³prawn sandwich² brigade. A few moments scanning the passionless miserable mugs scuttling along Avenell Rd. confirms the meagre amount of uninhibited youngsters attending home matches these days. My Arsenal experience might never be the same again when we eventually leave my "Home of Football" for the last time. Yet I am praying that the powers that be won't just be pander to the well-heeled with a plentiful supply of pound notes, or concentrate solely on milking the corporate cash-cow for all its worth, when they open the gates of a 60,000 seater Ashburton Grove. I fervently hope that a blinkered focus on making a fast buck doesn't result in a failure to take advantage of a fabulous opportunity to foster the long term lifeblood of the club, with considerably more concessions for kids. Currently you are more likely to get an audience with the Pope than a half-price seat in Highbury's extremely humble family enclosure.

Hopefully unlike those publicly listed clubs who have to pander to shareholders demands for dividends, the Arsenal's private status might permit a less greedy pricing structure from Gooner guv'nors who purport to have the club's interest at heart. Additionally a policy of attracting lifelong punters in their teens is not the purest form of philanthropic altruism. What I will never understand is that 3,000 relatively affluent Gooners (you can't follow the Arsenal around this country and the continent these days without having a few quid!) are only to happy to sing their hearts out on their travels, but are all too often nowhere to be heard at Highbury.

After thirty years of watching the Arsenal, I get so wound up that I sometimes want to shake Gooners out of their silent stupor, screaming "Do you have any idea quite how privileged we are?" After cutting my Gooner teeth on the tedious triumphs of the infamous flat back four, I fully appreciate the Wenger inspired miracle of a side which includes both an indomitable spirit and such scintillating skills, in equal measures. In the last 20 on Saturday, I am not sure whether it was the media hyped millstone of the undefeated record weighing heavy around our necks, or more likely, having lost the momentum after Allardyce had obviously bawled out Bolton for showing us far too much respect, fatigue became a factor in our struggle to retain our grip on the game. Perhaps it was the positively tangible air of tremulous tension transmitted from the terraces to the pitch?

Whatever the cause, it was all too apparent that we could have done our bit to drag the Arsenal along another few anxiety ridden miles on the road to Damascus, with a rare reprise of our twelfth man role. If we weren't in the West Upper, where I would have to be waving my willie around to provoke any sort reaction, I might have been tempted to turn around and try to orchestrate the singing myself (as least I wouldn't have required a baton!). I couldn't understand how 30,000 Gooners could resist an opportunity to have a direct influence on proceedings. How much more satisfying would Saturday's match have been if we'd been responsible for an atmosphere which might have inspired an adrenaline rush to obscure the effects of the lactic acid in the player's legs, for one last push, flying to the final whistle in typically fine style, instead of a terrifying scramble.

After the gung-ho tone of last week's epitaph to Sir Alex and Bolton's poignant reminder of our perfunctory imperfections, perhaps I should offer Gooners a timely reminder that back in '91 Chelsea proved to be the single solitary blemish in an otherwise unbeaten league campaign. Moreover, Spurs fans might cling to the memory, but history won't recall that we were perhaps only a Gazza free-kick away from reaching the FA Cup final and the possibility of another memorable Double. It doesn't matter how close you come, without the silverware to show for your efforts, there's still no cigar!