By Tony Attwood
Last night, me and the Arsenal team went to Luton Airport.
Unfortunately we didn’t bump into each other but of course we might have done, and in these days of football journalism even a 1% chance is worthy of a headline claiming it happened.
I was there to meet Mandy who was flying in from Ireland, the lads were there to fly to Norwich International Airport. (I love these names. Norwich International, presumably to distinguish it from Norwich Parochial just down the street. London Luton rather than Luton in Beds. Very odd). And while I was paying £17 for the privilege of 40 minutes in the short stay car park, they were whisked away through a side entrance (London Luton Airport does very well in side entrances) ready for the 15 minute flight. (Although they might have got there earlier or later, I didn’t actually see them. But we were definitely at the same airport.)
Cue shock horror stories. Arsenal single handedly destroy the world’s ecological balance. (Seriously there were environmental shouts of horror about this in the Telegraph, but although hugely in favour of of protection of the environment, I can’t make a fuss on this one having twice flown to and from Australia, and currently being delighted that my youngest will shortly be flying back from Topsy Turvy land for Christmas).
But actually I think Arsenal flying to Norwich is a Good Thing. I go to Norfolk maybe three or four times a year (it has the nearest beaches to where I live. and I like the seaside, especially in winter when it gets all stormy), and I don’t think I’ve ever done that journey without actually getting stuck inside a gigantic traffic jam.
However since I am taking up space with personal tales I must tell you this one about me, the Arsenal, and Earl Spencer, the father of Princess Diana, one-time wife of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.
It was my first trip to Norwich and I didn’t know where to park, so I followed a sign saying football car park. And it didn’t lie, for it was just a 20 minute walk from the ground. After the game, I duly trotted back to the old vehicle, started up and tried to leave the car park. It took 90 minutes to hit the road, and another fifty to get out of Norwich onto what the locals with their exaggerated humour called the “main road”. (To be fair it has improved since, and Norwich is a nice city to visit, but in those days…)
Now normally I can take this sort of situation, but the problem was that my ex had arranged for a group of us to go to a high cost meal in the old ancestral home, which wasn’t that far from where we lived at the time. So I was banking on a swift get away in order to get back, change into the silly formal attire that posh people wear for such occasions. However recognising what the traffic in and out of Norfolk is like (and of course the difficulty of getting through customs at the Norfolk border – it has always regarded itself as an independent state), I had packed the fancy dress in the car.
Thus I arrived late, and knew that I was really going to get it in the neck (this was, of course before the days of mobile phones so I had no way of letting the advance party know.)
Anyway, I got there, quickly changed in the car park, secure in the knowledge that if I was caught with my trousers down I would just be able to claim to be one of the aristocracy out a-hunting, which in those days was considered normal for nobility, or hushed up if it went too far.
Then at the last second, despite knowing I would really get it in the neck for such rebellion, I added to the black tie get up, my trusty red and white scarf, and marched into the house.
Just as I arrived there was the old chap coming down the stairs ready to go in and make his appearance in front of the assembled guests who had paid a fortune to be there. There was me peering around, and him a-tottering, he saw me in the red and white, and to the horror of the flunkies who quickly appeared on the scene to escort him inside, said, “hello dear boy, just back from the rugger”.
Not having a clue who I was addressing, I told the truth. “Back from the football actually,” I reposted. He asked who, I said the Arsenal, and he then regaled me with ten minutes memory of watching Arsenal in the 1936 cup final, complete with a run down of the team.
The flunkies stood back, doing that funny cough that the servants of the almighty do when they want to get attention, and he said, “Ah they want me to go in and greet the guests. Have you got people in there?” I said I did, and he put his arm around my shoulder, showed me to my table and told my assembled in-laws that he had found me “lost in the hallway. He’s been to the football dontchaknow.”
Now I must admit, that given how long ago all this was, and since I didn’t ask the old boy’s name, it might not have been Diana’s dad, but I can tell you he was Pretty Important and Very Upper Class, and it caused quite a to-do in my household. But more importantly it shows why it is vital to fly to Norwich.
Although if we get another price rise for tickets next season it will probably be because Arsenal parked the coach in the short term car park at Luton.
The annivesary choice.
29 November 1998: “Perhaps we gave our fans too much by winning the Double. Once you’ve eaten caviar, it is difficult to go back to sausages.” Arsène Wenger.
Derby literally took the fight to Arsenal with O’Hare at one stage punching and kicking Graham repeatedly. As players tried to pull O’Hare off, the referee checked with the linesman and then spoke to Gemmill and Simpson. It was that sort of display. Arsenal in the 70s: part 7