Hallelujah! The Library's Lambs Finally Let Rip

Last updated : 20 April 2004 By Bernard Azulay

Meanwhile the final act of football's annual passion play reaches its climactic conclusion. Sporting junkies like myself are mainlining on a massive overdose of intense action, before the silverware sorting curtain calls signal the coming of the cricket bat. Oh the agony and the ecstasy of an entire season's worth of sweat and toil condensed into a positively priceless, point saving goal-line clearance, or a single scuffed shot sliding centimetres wide of its mark. It's a time when football's fortunes tend to favour the brave and the bold and hopefully it's the teams full of no-mark narcissists which get nuked. A viewing prospect made all the more pleasurable from the comfort of my living room couch, in our privileged position sitting atop an insurmountable Premiership cushion.

When I eventually came to a halt in Highbury Quadrant sometime during the wee hours last week after an exhausting 550 mile round trip to Toon Town, I pulled up the handbrake and laughing in the face of my lassitude, I let out a long sigh of satisfaction. The nightmare schlep to Newcastle was the last game involving hard graft on my part (Pompey's a piece of p*** by comparison!) which meant the end was very nearly nigh. Aside from our date with Harry Redknapp's south coast coquettes, all our remaining matches are on my doorstep. During the course of another marathon season I've clocked up countless miles amidst Arsène's army of fanatically faithful foot soldiers. Having paid my supporter's dues, hopefully my reward for services rendered will be the scintillating skills of a relaxing, six game run-in. romping to the title at White Hart Lane, condemning Spurs to a relegation struggle, not to mention that momentous undefeated record, could all come as exceedingly good icing on one of Mr. Kipling's finest.

Leeds certainly lived up to my billing and our Friday night match made for a reminder why I love my missus. With double the dog-sitting duties due to her son's injured pooch, Róna decided to suprise the lad who lives downstairs with her ticket. Apparently her heartwarming recompense was the youngster's rollicking reaction as Jamel literally exploded with joy. While she watched the live broadcast on the box, listening to the sound of this season's most exuberant atmosphere wafting through our living room window, Jamel got to witness live another glut of goals from the magical feet of the Arsenal's goal machine. Albeit that there's nothing mechanical about the maestro's organic grace. As the records accumulate each week, it's becoming harder and harder to find words which really do justice to Henry's dumbfounding feats. But he's like a highly strung Lipizzaner (high-stepping) stallion, who leaves dray horse defenders like Duberry petrified of his unpredictability, not daring to even attempt a tackle lest he be left trailing in Titi's wake when he bolts.

However Leeds hardly merited the slating they received from some quarters of the media. Depleted resources forced them to resort to the unimaginative likes of Radebe in midfield. As they say, Onuff said! Nor were the Arsenal entitled to such slavish eulogies from the tabloid sheep. In fact Leeds impeded the Arsenal's flow to a trickle for the first thirty minutes. Until then our entire efforts only amounted to two attacks. Unfortunately for the visitors both ended with Robinson picking the ball out of the onion bag. Avid Arsenal watchers can confirm that aside from our scintillating selection of quicksilver, counter attacking cameos, the Gunners have struggled to find top gear recently. This actually makes the season's achievements and the margin of our success all the more brilliant. The prospect of how much more there might be to come from this particular side makes me feel positively breathless.

Far from complaining, Friday's encounter was without doubt this season's most enjoyable home match to date. Lishman last scored back-to-back hat-tricks at Highbury in '51 and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's been a similarly long time since the West Upper whingers last gave it such enthusiastic wellie! There have been many times when I've listened enviously to the two stands behind the goals serenading one another with alternate choruses of "We're the Clock End/We're the North Bank Highbury", with the occasional interjection from the East Stand opposite. For the first time in my living memory I didn't have to resist the temptation to pipe up with "I'M the West Stand", as almost everyone appeared to enter into the spirit of the competitive alternate choruses, rising to a doughty crescendo which left me pinching myself in utter disbelief. Confirmation indeed, if any was needed, that something very special is coming to pass.

I was concerned that Jamel might think this amazing atmosphere and the sensational skills were an ever present feature at the Home of Football. I explained to him that I'd served a thirty year apprenticeship including many fallow seasons full of mediocrity, for him to be able to enjoy the very best the beautiful game has to offer. It's a difficult enough task trying to evaluate players in different positions, but you're on a hiding to nothing comparing those from another era. Nevertheless there's absolutely no question that Titi is capable of the most dazzling entertainment I've ever witnessed on a football pitch. It is such a privilege to be in the presence of such greatness that the sight of Gooners genuflecting is no longer such a laughing matter. In his post-match interview we saw what a gracious geezer he is, when an egocentric outlook is often the stock in trade of most star strikers. We must be careful not to put Henry too high up on the 'perfect' pedestal, especially in a week when the England captain has been dashed from a similar perch for displaying the simple human flaws that are denied to such heroic icons.

Coincidentally my West Upper neighbour also brought a nasty lurgy back from Newcastle last week and we were both laid up for a couple of days (not together!). As a result I probably could have benefitted from a bowl of my Ma's chicken soup, but unheard of Friday night footie forced me to take a rain check on my restorative dose of jewish penicillin. Mercifully Ma appreciates that as much as I love her soup, it wouldn't have been worth the sacrifice of five wonderful goals on such a memorable evening. Although if the rumours prove true that our traditional family dinners are to be disturbed more frequently by Friday night fixtures in the future, she'll be far from alone in raising her voice in protest.

Admittedly I only saw highlights of the subsequent dispassionate performances last weekend but the apparent lack of incisive play served as a poignant reminder of how much Man Utd and Chelsea raised their game against us. My heart goes out to Ró's nephew back in Dublin. He would have been dead jealous of Jamel, as Shane was over for the semifinal. His pilgrimage proved so disappointing that Ró decided to extend his stay and donated her seat at the Champions League disaster, in hope of a happier outcome. Poor young Shane might possibly have seen the Arsenal's only two meaningful defeats all
season (Boro doesn't really count). I am sure he probably appreciates my superstitious decree that he doesn't get invited back without a dead cert guarantee of him breaking the 'bok'. Sadly he'Il doubtless be waiting for us to be favoured with the likes of Leamington Spa in the 3rd round FA Cup draw!

Whereas with a mouth full of his post-match hot-dog, Jamel was only too quick to point out that he's never seen the Arsenal lose, chancing his arm perhaps that with his lucky mascot status he might wangle a seat at White Hart Lane. He can join the queue including Uncle Tom Cobbly and all the thousands of other Gooners wishing they were able to run the hooligan gauntlet in Tottenham High Rd. with one of the gold dust tickets for Sunday's game. I had to explain that my missus' extreme benevolence doesn't quite stretch to her being stark raving bonkers. If moolah is no object I expect one might find a ticket, as Spurs fans attempt to save themselves from the possibility of having to suffer '71 revisited, whilst seeking a fair amount of solace in perhaps being able to fleece us Gooners for the entire price of their season ticket renewals. I trust the laws of karma won't condone it but can you imagine their glee if the result went against us, knowing it entitled them to an entire season's worth of footie at a Gooner's expense, particularly when many would protest at present that it should be Spurs paying their supporters to suffer the frustrations of following that shower!