By Tony Attwood
So, what was it actually like, actually being there, at the Emirates, watching a game like Arsenal v Newcastle?
It is, as it is most of the time with Arsenal, amusing, jolly, funny, friendly, interesting, warming…. It is in fact exactly the opposite of what you might imagine if you ever read some of the blogs or the newspaper reports. There’s lots of laughter, there are warm greetings of friends meeting up, and bizarrely there are always people sitting in the wrong seats.
If you haven’t been to the Ems, or maybe just go once or twice a season (and I don’t mean that as a criticism – I’ve had three seasons when I simply could not make it to a single game) it is hard to understand what is really going on in the stadium. Especially if your main experience is the league cup, when many of the regulars don’t make it.
Certainly if you read the chit chat around the blogs you would never guess what the pubs feel like before the game – the camaraderie, chatting to people you don’t know, the exchange of what we are told is called “banter” (although I’ve never heard anyone outside the media use the word), the smiles, the laughter….
I’ve discussed research degrees with two academics standing in a queue for fish and chips in a tacky shop in the Holloway Road, as I have discussed tactics and bad fortune with a Fulham fan in a totally Arsenal pub, and walked to the ground discussing a topic that lasted 10 minutes with an Irishman whose natural accent combined with alcoholic intake was such that I never understood a word. It’s how it goes before a game.
As for games at the Ems I know there are some who are under an impression that the place is quiet – the word “Library” is used to signify this, and yet it isn’t, and indeed last night it wasn’t. Even Newcastle fans made some noise, (although not that much and a lot of it negative). But credit to them, at 8pm on a monday night. 284 miles and five and a half hours from home on a night when there was a tube strike, they took up their allocation in the ground. I imagine some are still trying to make it back.
And here’s something else you might not know if you aren’t able to go. We do songs – and lots of new songs these days. The old “Stand up if you hate Tottenham” seems confined to history now, thank goodness. There’s the sedate and charming “49” song which got quite a few airings last night. And of course
It’s happened again, it’s happened again…
Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again…
It suddenly started, that song, about half way through the second half, and I suspect many people who haven’t sung much since “North London is ours, North London is ours, fuck off to Stratford, north London is ours” to the same tune, all joined in. It was just that funny.
Each year since 1996 (there’s an article on this in the Arsenal History Society blog) Arsenal have finished above Tottenham – although I can’t remember singing this song before. But maybe that’s just my memory.
And all this is what you don’t get from the TV and the commentaries written by bloggers with an anti-Arsenal agenda. That with something like 42,000 season ticket holders there, this is fun.
It is the fun of the fact that even with something like 55,000 hard core Arsenal fans in the stadium you still get chance meetings, like Drew and I bumping into James and his pal from the north as we walked round the stadium to Entrance D. (James, Drew, Ian and I were last together on saturday afternoon for Corby v Bedford – what are the chances of passing each other outside the stadium?)
There’s handshakes, laughter, and as I said before always people who sit in the wrong seats. Why do they do that? I really don’t know. I know my seat, know the landmark, know who’s around me. When someone isn’t where they should be, it feels odd.
But it gets sorted, no one is unpleasant, and if any of those bloggers who endlessly call for Olivier Giroud to be replaced ever turned up, they would be bemused. Because inside the stadium he’s really appreciated. The Giroud song rings round the ground, he does his stuff, and he’s very close to Henry’s season two total now.
Özil that supposed useless failure is loved too. His song is a bit of a dirge, but he is adored by the crowd, almost as much as Aaron Ramsey who seems to be approaching the god-like status previously reserved for Henry and Brady.
The more I think about what I experience at each Arsenal home game, and how it contrasts with what I read in the press and blogs, the more bizarre it seems. As if there are two games going on – one, the real thing, inside the stadium, played in front of those of us who pay our money and turn up, and one played out to journalists and commentators who never make it.
Unless you were there, you also wouldn’t know that Alan Sunderland put in an appearance and talked at half time about the Man U cup final when he scored. He was lovely, an elderly gent who lives on the island of Gozo in the Med, really enjoying being back. The interviewer asked him what he was shouting after he scored the Wembley goal that won the cup, while reminding him that children might be watching. Alan grabbed the mic and replied, “Blank, blank, blank, blank, blank, blank, blank brilliant”
So we will end above Tottenham for the 19th successive season – and as we celebrate this I’ve even seen some people writing that this shows the limit of our ambition. How to reveal that you don’t understand Arsenal’s soul – just say that. Even Lukas Podolski who has no history in our region knows the meaning of “St Totteringham’s Day”.
Even the Telegraph, which today does mention the crowd in its commentary for once, gets in its snidey dig, “They still need to move on from this “fourth is good enough” feel.”
What drivel. There is no “fourth is good enough” feel about Arsenal you silly Mr Winter. The feel is “fourth and winning the cup is good enough this season”. We’ve got our stadium and had years of privation to get it – something Liverpool and Tottenham haven’t experienced yet. We have got a very good team. Give us a few more top, top players to overcome the battering we get each year from the thugs unrestrained by referees, and we might well be able to keep going through the year. There is a feeling of “we are close”.
We are also close to a 17th successive season of Champions League football – will the money hold out at Chelsea and Man City ever to get there? I’m not too sure. For us to miss out Everton have to win both their games (including the one against Man C) and we have to fail to win both. We’re almost there again.
Of course we want to win the League again, but en route to doing that, we are still singing, still having fun. You’d never know it from reports, but really you do have to be there to get it.