by Sir Hardly Anyone
The Toppled Bollard public house next door to Wapping Swamp, home of the UK’s leading newspapers, is the heartland of English football stories, the place where it all happens, where everything is made up, where nothing is real, and members of the royal family pop in for a quickie.
For here you will find a sinister, leering, Underworld sort of animal, the kind that would spit out of the side of its mouth as much as look you in the eye. The type that holds a crayon and scribbles on the floor, telling the newspaper’s junior runner to copy it all down and dictate it to the expecting waiting computer ops who stand by day and night for the latest anti-Arsenal farrago.
“Stan Kroenke’s £1.23bn decision that will leave Arsenal fans wondering where the money is,” screamed a man who looked like Helen of Troy after a good facial, as the junior sub-scribbler quickly writes it down feeling like a man who, chasing rainbows, has had one of them suddenly turn and bite him in the leg.
“‘Get rid’ – BBC pundit urges Arsenal to ditch ‘big baby’ as soon as possible” shouts another drinking a Toppled Bollard pick-me-up which is known to produce immediate alertness in an Egyptian mummy.
“That’s what today’s Arsenal needs, more criticism capable of bringing a player to his knees when he fails to give 110% and letting fellows have it where it does most good so they learn their lesson and play the Arsenal way,” replies Wormwood Scrubs of the Mirror.
“What is the Arsenal way?” asks the office junior, returning hot foot from the bar with a pint of gin for the beleaguered columnist who has run a little dry.
“Screwed if I know” says the Mirror Man, “but I’ve got a report that reveals the real reason why Jose Mourinho snubbed Arsenal for the Tottenham job.”
“And what’s that?” demands the man from the Sketch..
“No idea,” says the blogger, “I haven’t made it up yet. But it got me top of the ‘most read’ charts last time I wrote it. What you need to realise is that Arsenal is like a song that needs to be sung by a man who could reach out for that last high note and teach it to take a joke. Like having Perry Groves who would just pick the ball off the roof of the north bank stand and hold it till the police come round to lock up the stadium for the night. That’s what Arsenal is missing,” and with that he slipped into a coma.
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“Not even watching this one,” said the football columnist of Forensic Medicine. “The board of Arsenal have given the manager a vicarage, and he’s just waiting to become Bishop.”
“What’s that got to do with football?” asked the Director of Certain Things at Millwall, who had popped in for a quick one in 1974 and was still there.
“Everything,” said the man from The Mirror. “Most Arsenal players turn into clerics upon retirement, unless they are caught stealing policemen’s helmets.”
He paused and swallowed convulsively, like an Alsatian finishing off a pint.
“Arsenal confirm 23-year-old midfielder is out injured until mid-2023,” shouted the man from the Mail putting down his phone. “Apparently Emery is a ventriloquist’s dummy. We’re running the story in ten minutes.”
Now whatever may be said in favour of the Mail, it is pretty generally admitted that few if any of the staff were to be trusted within reach of a pint of whelks and a telephone, but nonetheless this story was still run by the half dozen blogs of the far right that the Mail recommend each week so it must be true.
“All a football director has to do is write cheques at intervals, while a lot of deserving and industrious chappies rally round and run up and down the pitch,” replied the football correspondent of Farming Today.
I stood back and not for the first time in the Toppled Bollard felt the curious illusion of having just committed some particularly unsavoury crime and – what is more – of having done it on a morning when I had forgotten to shave.
“Get rid once and for all,” shouted the man from the Boot Room.
“Get rid,” rejoined the BBC pundit as he tried to find something to write the words on so he did not forget them.
“Club to make statement on getting rid,” shouted the guy from the Transfer Tavern.
But the man from the Sunday Express, who never spared himself in his efforts to do Arsenal a violent injury, jumped back in with, “Arsenal board make Mauricio Pochettino decision during Unai Emery snack meeting.”
“Snack meeting?” shouted everyone.
“Snack meeting” said the man from Footballer’s Wives and everyone nodded,
“Arseblog have just said that Arteta and Allegri are in the frame as potential Emery replacements” screamed the man representing TalkSprout, eating a sprout.
And then the man from the Times coughed, and there was silence.
“It has sometimes seemed to me,” quoth he biting on a slice of lemon of dubious provenance, “that to the modern craze for attacking Arsenal at every turn, may be attributed all the unhappiness that is afflicting the world today….
“This is also the cause of the cries for Scottish independence, and the recent unpleasantness in East Sussex. And look at the Cotswolds. Why is there unrest in Chipping Rhubarb? Because its inhabitants eat only an occasional handful of rice. The day when the Aubameyang speaks out in favour of roly-poly pudding and a spot of stilton, you will see the end of all this nonsense of Arsenal not winning.”
“Not winning but whining,” said the man from the Sun looking for all the world like the Conservative MP who has just received an anonymous email saying, ‘All is discovered. Fly at once’. And who could blame him.