By Tony Attwood
There have always been some people who like to leave the ground early, but this strange and eccentric habit seems to have got worse and worse and worse in recent years.
I suppose it was harder to get out when we had a ground that had large standing sections, and for those people who wanted to avoid the rush, it was less of an issue at Highbury with only 38,000 instead of 60,000 present.
But now it seems to be an ever-growing desire – to get out before everyone else. And of course because everyone else wants to get out before everyone else, the leaving gets earlier and earlier and earlier.
Of course it is not just Arsenal – it happens everywhere. Jürgen Klopp said he started to feel rather lonely when he saw it happen at Liverpool. Mind you if I was forced to watch Liverpool week after week I think I might….
But no, that’s still no excuse. For it doesn’t matter too much what the score is or what’s going on. Yes, if it is ten minutes to go and Arsenal are a goal down, throwing everything into attack, and then the opposition break away and score, there will be a mass exodus. But otherwise it seems to happen no matter what. 5-0 up, 1-1, 0-1, they leave early.
The curious thing about this is if you stay in your seat at the end of the game, you’ll be able to watch some of the players walk around and applaud the fans. The centre backs are particularly good at doing this, and usually we get five or six players giving their thanks back to the fans. It only takes a few minutes, but once it is over, the exits are quite a bit freer.
If you stay even longer you’ll be amazed how quickly all the exits clear – it really is just a case of a few minutes. If you visit the Arsenal shop, or go and have a drink after the game, you’ll find it is only a matter of 15 minutes from the final whistle that even Arsenal underground station is pretty clear.
Trying to evaluate all this, it struck me that the number of people who take it slow in getting out of the ground is probably the same as the number of people who exit before the end. Which suggests that the early leavers, on time leavers and late leavers are actually different personalities. You never know they might even have different genetic make up – but since I never was much good at biology, let’s be safe and stay with the psychology.
I’ve met some of these early leavers in other walks of life. They always have to be there first. If there’s a queue they have to try and worm their way to the front. If people are moving at a regular pace they try and go faster. Driving along a regular English A road with one lane going in each direction and a standard national speed limit of 60mph (just under 100km per hour) they try and overtake even though it is illegal and often extremely dangerous.
But above all these people have never realised that even in the unlikely event that they manage to go at 70mph for 10 minutes on a 60mph road they will only have only got there about one and a half minutes earlier. They will have used more petrol, it will have cost them more, and anyway they will either have gone through a speed trap or they will have got stuck behind a truck or in the worst case scenario had an accident which will be utterly their fault, because they were breaking the law.
And still they keep doing it. There’s no benefit, they just keep doing it.
People who leave at the whistle sometimes get stuck in queues, but just take it as the norm, while those who stay behind most certainly have an easier exit and probably easier journey home. But either way these people will see the whole game and end up a lot less hassled.
Now that we know that Jürgen Klopp was surprised by the Liverpool walk out, I guess it is a cultural thing as well – the Anglo Saxon disease of always being in a rush rush rush for absolutely no reason. It was probably true in the Dark Ages, King Alfred saying, “come on I want this country unified and the Danes kicked out by Thursday”.
I mean, what do these people who leave early do with the extra ten minutes they gain? Anything?
But that brings me back to watching the game on TV. Does an early leaver get up before the end to make a coffee or get a beer, in case there is a sudden rush in the kitchen?
Certainly, as I walk the mile or two up the Hollway Road to Archway, I know that all that is happening around me is one big traffic jam. Quite often I see a bus, think of getting on it, decide I could do with the exercise, and then get to the tube station at Archway before the bus. (Mind you the road is reduced to one lane each way near the overground station, and that doesn’t help.)
Thankfully the other public events to which I give my patronage (the theatre and the cinema) don’t have a similar exodus, although I’ve noticed of late that in certain parts of the country the amount of getting up and down during the movie has increased dramatically. I suppose it is the effect of the endless need to graze that some people now have.
At dances there are early arrivers, later arrivers, early leavers, and those who leave after the DJ has announced the last track – but here it doesn’t really inconvenience anyone else. I have left early sometimes when the quality of lady dancers is a bit disheartening, or when I have danced so much, so many days running, I can’t lift my feet any more. Often I’m one of the last out. I love my dancing.
But dances are different. Plays, films and football matches only make sense if you have a fixed start and a finish. (Some dance clubs keep playing the music as long as there are dancers on the floor).
But then I thought: what does this say about the endless moaning about high ticket prices? I think I pay around £45 per match with my season ticket, assuming I make it to every game or manage to sell on my ticket if I don’t. That means the game costs me 50p a minute in performance time. So leaving ten minutes early would cost me £5. Even if there were a refund it wouldn’t seem like a good deal.
Are the people who leave early also the people who ask for lower prices I wonder. If Arsenal reduced every ticket by £20 throughout the season then the club would lost £30m a season. Enough to buy another Alexis. But I suppose if you leave early you miss some of the goals so maybe that doesn’t matter.
But is it just us fans that are besieged by this early leaving? I once sat behind Alan Smith, the ex-Arsenal centre forward who became a writer with the Telegraph and was astounded when five minutes before the end of the match he closed his laptop and started a lively conversation with the reporter sitting next to him.
In that game he was right in one sense, nothing much happened in those last five minutes, but still it would have been amusing had there been a total turn around in the game after he had powered down.
But maybe best of all those early leavers ought to be encouraged to watch the Saturday afternoon football on Sky Gillette Soccer Saturday with Jeff Stelling. They always manage to build up the last five minutes of the games into higher and higher levels of excitement making me wish I was there, rather than sitting on the sofa, because Arsenal are away, or because our game has been moved to Sunday.
However, like crazy speeding on our highways, leaving early for limited benefit now seems to be ingrained in the English psyche as one of the multiple personality quirks that seems to have eaten into our national being.
But at least I get a laugh each time Arsenal scores in the last five minutes thinking about all those people who paid the same as me, but missed the last goal.
Anniversary of the day
11 November 1930: Racing Club de Paris 2 Arsenal 7. This was the first in the series of games to honour and raise money for those who gave their lives in the first world war, each game played on or close to Armistice Day.
The latest meanderings from the History Society….