Slow Boat From Cairo

Last updated : 27 August 2003 By Bernard Azulay

That and the sight of the Arsenal strikers putting a sock in the mouths of all those in the media who have focused on anything other than this football side's fabulous ability to frighten the life out of opposing defences. The line might read "one of those smiles" but I would travel a million miles for some of those skills and with the Champions League draw this Thursday, doubtless I will probably end up doing so once again this season.

Mind you my aching back is grateful that the demise of the Black Cats means one less trek to the North-East this term. Although the trip to Teeside was a mere trifle for my passenger. He'd travelled all the way from Cairo on a pilgrimage to watch his beloved Gunners. Amr must have thought all his Xmases (Ramadans?) had come at once, as we Gooners sat there gobsmacked by the glorious way in which the Arsenal tore the Teesiders to pieces in those first twenty minutes,

Despite this country's ridiculously inept rail network, mercifully the predicted meltdown on the motorways never materialized on Sunday. I imagine many must have heeded the scaremongering headlines as we positively sailed all the way North on a relatively traffic free road. Nell and I were both shocked to arrive with over two hours to spare. While I grieved for the extra two hours kip I might have enjoyed, my Egyptian pal pondered on the question of his safety as he proposed to strut around on enemy soil in his brand new, bright yellow and blue replica shirt.

No matter what hi-tech, heat dispersing disguise they dress it up in, I have never been able to wear the synthetic shirt material next to my skin and so this has never been a question I've had to concern myself with. Not that I bury my loyalties under a bushel (apart from our annual sortie into Spurs territory), but I lean towards wearing somewhat more discrete cannon logos. I told Amr that he was unlikely to get any grief because by and large Boro fans are a friendly bunch. However wearing a replica shirt to away games can be a somewhat risky business. It is an open invitation to the inevitable over inebriated idiot. An outlet to express their bitterness about the Arsenal being the better team.

I told Amr that if the result should go our way, he might be wary of keeping his head down on the way back to the car. Laughing, he suggested he'd be safe in our company but I couldn't resist pulling his leg, warning him that we would be making like the traditional Islamic couple, with him walking five paces behind! Occasionally during the course of a game the home fans will get stoked up by bad decisions and unfortunate incidents and you have to be cautious on the way out, to avoid being a target for their ire (as much of an animal lover that I am, I would rather their cat got the "good kicking" than myself!).

However in all our travels watching Premiership football across the length and breadth of this country during the course of the past decade, the nearest we have come to being victims of any football hooliganism was when some unruly Foxes' fans threw some coins in our direction. Thankfully these days altercations between sets of supporters are certainly a rare exception, rather than the rule. I am aware that the problem is more prevalent outside of the Premiership, at clubs with a history of hooliganism, where bored bovver-boys think they have a reputation to protect and with only a weekly walk to the dole office, the kids favourite distraction is causing chaos at their weekend contretemps.

Yet the disproportionate amount of coverage in the media given over to what I imagine are really only minor altercations, drives me absolutely potty. No one seems to accept their responsibility for perpetuating any such problems and perhaps even creating trouble where there's been none previously, encouraging impressionable youngsters who might want to imitate their peers.

As far as Arsenal fans are concerned we couldn't possibly want for any antisocial distractions from the dazzling skills of Henry, Vieira etc.,. If the purveyors of tabloid tittle-tattle don't possess the imagination to fill their column inches with insightful comments about the entertainment on the pitch, perhaps they could concern themselves with the important question why the prospect of being present to witness such wonderful football wasn't enough to attract anything like a full-house to The Riverside. I was stunned to see so many thousands of empty seats for Boro's first home game of the season? I imagine it won't just be on the pitch where Gaizka Mendietta (and Mills) will be expected to produce a return on Steve Gibson's money, but also in attracting a few more bums on Boro seats.

A couple of racist scum wasted their unsavoury abuse on Amr. He either didn't hear their disgusting drivel, or didn't understand their Teeside drawl. Yet the majority of the home fans misery was directed towards their own team's dismal effort. Like any real fan of the game, most Boro fans were gracious in showing their appreciation of the Gunners' awesome attacking display in the opening period of the game, just gutted to have been on the wrong end of it. Amr almost disappeared in the crowd, as a Boro fan whose merriness suggested he must have started drowning his sorrows sooner than most, with his plastic pint pot still in hand as proof, regaled our Egyptian pal with his reaction to their drubbing and how they'd been undone by the better team and a striker who is undoubtedly one of world football's greatest talents.

Amr actually turned down a seat on the halfway line, with the suits in the directors box, so that he could wear his new away shirt and sing and shout (and swear in Arabic!) with all us Gooners behind the goal. He certainly wouldn't have been able to wave his Egyptian flag in those more sterile surroundings, in the hope of being seen by his Arsenal supporting compadres watching the live broadcast back home. I was only being funny when I suggested that my old man (who fought in the Israeli army) would be turning in his grave with Amr's suggestion that he might leave his flag in my car, ready for next week's rendezvous in Manchester. I hope he didn't take me seriously.

After such a fabulous first awayday of the season, superstition decrees that I daren't alter any of the circumstances for fear this might affect our fate. I am certain he would love to, but failing being able to keep him in this country to accompany us all season, I might have to requisition Amr's flag. It would present a delightful dichotomy with the skullcap embroidered with the cannon crest that is amongst the mishmash of Arsenal amulets which, unlike my completely tapped out credit cards, I can't leave home without.

Each season I become more certain that according to the law of averages, we must eventually be presented with an opportunity to watch the Arsenal play in the Bernabeu (as one of the few great stadiums I have yet to visit). However it is in keeping with the sadistic law's of sod and Murphy that I am convinced my chance is bound to come now only because I might not be able to afford to take it!