I arrived early by my standards to find that by 1 p.m. the 'Arsenal World of Sport' now selling from their new catalogue, was eight deep at the counters, The 'Gas Light' was six deep on the pavement and Blackstock Road was a sea of red and white choristers. Never have so many street traders sold so many double winner t-shirts in the history of the beautiful game. If there was any beer left in any pub by midnight within a five-mile radius I'd be astounded. We met outside 'The Gunners' who were only admitting match ticket holders. It was our pleasure to drink Champagne with Jenny dispensing plastic cups from a pocket in a manner that only a fan of a Championship winning Club can pull off with such aplomb. Also there were Marion who had taken the Champaign to Old Trafford, John who proved more Champers today, Martin, Val, Gareth, Ian, Kev, my fellow TV star Jude, Michael, Andy and about 10,000 others I don't know by name but was happy to share our celebrations with. Passing Evertonian coaches generously applauded the mad, singing Gooner throng.
There are some three-story buildings opposite 'The Gunners' where the Fleet Gooners, according to the huge banner, were up on the roof letting off a succession of fire crackers to the delight of the massed Gooners below. If the guy on the roof taking the photos of us from above reads this I'd love to see the pictures. Down below we were streaming in and out of the pubs or queuing outside 'Highbury Wines' to replenish our fellow fans with another round of drinks. When not toasting the entire squad or management team we were busy reworking the words to the Freddie song - 'We love you Freddie 'cos you said feck on Sky, we love you Freddie 'cos you made Chelsea cry. ' I would have happily stayed there all afternoon but it would have been a shame to waste match tickets that even the touts couldn't get hold of for once.
New issues of 'The Gooner' and 'Highbury High' fanzines had somehow managed to find identical pictures for their covers of Freddie and Ray at the Millennium Stadium. While the match-day programme went with Ashley and Sol wearing those Gold shirts that I intend wearing for every future visit to Old Trafford - the home of the team that won nothing. Inside the ground we found little red or white flags on our seats proclaiming us to be Double winners 2002. I'd missed some of the presentations which I imagine included Arsene manager getting of the month, Freddie picking up player of the month plus Dennis for his goal of the season. But was in time to see the great Bob Wilson enjoy his last moments on the pitch before retirement from coaching. Not everyone gets to retire at a carnival.
The team news saw a line-up that included Lee Dixon as captain. Lee was retiring after 14 years at the Club and what a way to go, also playing his last match was Gilles, who is off to pastures anew for some regular first team football. Richard, Oleg and Igors were also in the starting line-up with Patrick, Stuart, Francis, Freddie and Ralph on the bench. 38,254 happy souls packed Highbury and I have it on very good authority that some of them might have been sober.
'Champions, Champions.' 'Arsene Wenger's magic he wears a magic hat and when he saw the double he said I'm having that.' Thierry has a long range shot and his first attempt to beat Hasselbaink, Van Diver and Shearer to the coveted Premiership Golden Boot for the League's top goal scorer. 'We won the League, we won the League, in Manchester, in Manchester, we won the League at Old Trafford, we won the League in Manchester.' 'Stand up for the Champions.' Edu was chopped and former medal winner with our club Kevin Campbell fouled Dixon. The one song the Club want us to change the words to 'Hey, heyey Yiddos, I wanna know where your captains gone' was rattled out next, just before Dennis gave us the lead.
A move down our left which involved Sylv and Thierry, got as far as Ashley who appeared to lose it only to win it back with a tackle come cross to Dennis who coolly picked his spot. 1-0 Arsenal and the inevitable 'There's only one Dennis Bergkamp.' Rocks around the ground followed by 'One nil to the Champions.' I'm lucky to have seen the goal as the red Freddie wigs proudly worn at Old Trafford by the season ticket holders in row 17 seats 57 and 58 of the West Lower were a work of art but difficult to see around, but what the hell.
Igor's mistake as he passes across his own box, a hanging offence under GG, was costly as it allows Carsley to score. 1-1 but no worries at least we've scored in every League game this season. Campbell (K) is offside from Radzinski's pass, marginal. Great tackle by Ray on Alexandersson as Everton have a spell during which Ray appears to be the only Gunner giving his all. Dixon across to save the day. Great header by Elvis, or one of them, in the East Lower. Radzinski shoots wide but looked offside. A Radzinski solo down the left leaves Lee trailing and he slots it past Wright no problem. 1-2 to Everton and this definitely wasn't in the script I read. 'We love you Arsenal we do.'
Dixon heads back with a lucky header to Wright. Edu starts a break which goes through to Dennis in a left hand channel, he works his way through for a scoring position but checks and unselfishly clips back the perfect ball to set up Henry with a chance for the Golden Boot. 2-2 to the Arsenal one for all and all for one. Thierry and Dennis combine again to set up Edu with a long-range shot. 'We won the League, we won the League, in Manchester, in Manchester, we won the League at Old Trafford, we won the League in Manchester.' More Arsenal fast breaks follow and our football flows, much more like the Arsenal we've loved watching for most of the season.
Cole to Henry who wins a corner, from which Gilles tries a near post header. Almost the last move of the half sees Henry on the left almost find Dixon on the far post but the fairy tale ending for Lee is not to be. One minute of added time follows before we go in on level at half time. Arsenal having played in the lower gears so far and with some top names earning some relaxation on the bench. The crowd however are in top form, did anyone see a Gooner who didn't have a stupid grin right across their face. I certainly didn't.
Our last half of competitive football for this fabulous season on 2001-2 starts with Dennis finding Edu, who almost breaks through. Henry flies through and tries one with the outside of his boot. Henry incidentally had his right leg heavily strapped but still looks faster than a speeding bullet. Dennis to Thierry to Sylv to Edu who's shot on the turn is held. 'Stand up for the Champions.' Sylvain is back in our box to work it away. It was great the Sylv scored at Old Trafford because he's worked his rocks off all season and didn't stop during the party either. An absolutely brilliant ball from Edu on half way finds Henry on a run but Everton cover.
'We won the League, we won the League, in Manchester, in Manchester, we won the League at Old Trafford, we won the League in Manchester.' Everton manager David Moyes was obviously out to enhance our party because he sent the overweight Ginola out to warm up. Ginola waddled up and down in front of the West Stand trying hard to ignore the ritual abuse. 'Your just a fat Tottenham wanker,' Henry tries one with his left foot which drifts wide. 'Thierry Henry.' Cole slams into Radzinski. Henry offside. Dennis just offside. Oleg in well.
Wright makes a save. Dennis and Henry break fast but the ball in is covered well. Our latest anthem rings out again and again 'We won the League, we won the League, in Manchester, in Manchester, we won the League at Old Trafford, we won the League in Manchester.' Don't you just love it when we win the double? Wright catches a cross from the left and a corner s given from which Pembridge clips our bar. 'Sol's a Gooner.' Cole comes away with the ball. 'Arsene Wenger's magic he wears a magic hat.' Vieira warms up to the 6th million rendition this season of 'Vieira woaho woaho, Vieira woaho woaho, he comes from Senegal and plays for Arsenal.' Oleg's tackle stops Carsley. Francis Jeffers replaces Ray Parlour who should be going to Japan. Vieira comes on for another recent hero Sylvain Wiltord.
'Super, super Rob, super Robert Pires.' 'Oh Rocky, Rocky.' Good save by Richard from Carsley. Kevin Campbell chests one from close range. 'Stand up if you hate Tottenham' - note how far down the play list that song has been relegated. The Scum finished 37 points behind us and are of no consequence, in fact they got 50 points in total this season - that's just 3 more than we got just away from home. Meanwhile back at the match they're trying their best to set up Jeffers against his old club, Dennis tries but Jeffers squanders it. 'Who's that team we call the Arsenal.' Henry gives us the lead again following a brilliant ball by Edu on halfway. Theirry took it on well and slotted home nonchalantly to make it 3-2 to the Arsenal, we were still on for our 13th consecutive league win.
The fans go into overdrive once more. 'We won the League, we won the League, in Manchester, in Manchester, we won the League at Old Trafford, we won the League in Manchester.' Brilliant touch by Edu. Henry is too good for Everton. Henry spurns a hat trick to set up Francis who's shot is saved, Dennis skims the bar following up. 'Boring, boring Arsenal.' Freddie warms up just so we can give him the 'Freddie' song yet again. Ginola comes on so Lee can whack him for one final time in his final game, what a perfect end to a fabulous career with The Arsenal. 'We won the League, we won the League, in Manchester, in Manchester, we won the League at Old Trafford, we won the League in Manchester.'
The ever-nasty Carsley kicks Henry on his way through. Balloons on the pitch do more to stop our Frenchman than the boys in blue. Henry to Edu to Jeffers in space. Then he finally gets one. Our central midfield work the ball right to Dennis who is out wide, he finds Thierry wide left near the goal line. Henry's cross just beyond the far post finds Francis who heads home. 4-2 to the Arsenal. Party on dudes. Stuart Taylor arrives with a massive grin to replace Richard Wright for a well-deserved 10th League game and the subsequent Championship Winners medal.
The ceremonies eventually began and Tone lifted the umpteenth trophy of his illustrious career. Every squad member was presented; even those who were not having a medal hung around their necks. Each had their name chanted and none more so than Arsene Wenger who looks set to become the greatest manager in the history of the Club. Rob was last player up and he received the ultimate accolade from his team-mates as the lay prostrate in front of him in the 'we are not worthy' pose.
There were flags, silly hats, balloons and banners in abundance. The North Stand upper tier did its famous Championship bounce as it flexed to the rhythm of the deliriously happy Gooners dancing in it. 'Le Maison de Champions' could be seen in the North Stand lower as could a very professional looking 'Man Who?' The 'Old Trafford - Champions Section', the work I understand of Lee Palmer, was also at the home of the Champions. Elvis wigs and shades were worn by more than one of the team on their way around the adoring fans. Arsene looked relaxed, probably because he's already got next season's signings sorted out. Lee finally went down the tunnel for the last time, at least in a competitive match.
Championship parties are a continuing way of life in our patch of North London, indeed we are the only part of London to celebrate any meaningful Championships for some 41 years now. There is indeed only 'One team in London' and has been for ages but right now there is only 'One team in England' and we're it.
This was my sixth Championship celebration and I've loved every minute of them all. 'The Worlds End', amongst many others was rocking well into the night and if we all had a pound for every time the Freddie anthem rent the air we'd all be a long way towards funding next seasons season tickets. The streets around Finsbury Park were rammed and the great Arsene Wenger himself, for it was he, struggled to drive past 'The Gas Light' in his huge silver Merc. The fans just had to pay homage one more time and he gave the thumbs up as he struggled to drive through at one mile-per-hour. The mob of happy revellers blocking the road in order to thank him personally for a wonderful season and so they should. David Dean in his black Maserati then followed Arsene through the massed Gooners to similar acclaim.
You could tell that both men were Gooners, they both had that ear to ear grin that's gonna last every single one of us all summer long. Makes you so proud doesn't it? That's it then, my last match report of the season, I hope you've enjoyed them as much as I've enjoyed watching the Arsenal.