By Andrew Crawshaw
Last Thursday I had an e-mail from Arsenal Women asking me to register my membership number with them as a preliminary to being able to apply for a ticket for the WSL game on Sunday between Arsenal and Birmingham.
I clicked onto the link provided and entered a few details and got a membership reference number (3 digits. I was also given a 13 digit number which I was told I would need to access and claim matchday tickets which I would be able to do on Saturday between 09:00 and 11:00. I was back on line on Saturday morning at 09:15 and was able to purchase my single OAP ticket for the princely sum of £2.50 (and no booking fee!).
I was going to watch a football match live. No intrusive commentary, no fake crowd noise and, best of all, no pundits spouting verbal diarrhoea before, during and after. I would be free to make up my own mind on what was happening, able to look at what I wanted to see, rather than what the TV director thought was interesting. In short back to how I believe it should be.
First thing to do was to check how I was to travel to the ground. I live in South-East london, close to Crystal Palace, the ground is at Borehamwood in Hertfordshire to the North of London. Normally a drive to a local station then two separate mainline trains. The Network Rail website confirmed that trains were scheduled to run normally and an 11:44 train would get me to Elstree and Borehamwood in just over an hour changing at Blackfriars. No problem there my normal route and no need for plan B, C or D as is sometimes the case.
Next a check with the Met Office site for the weather forecast – Maximum of 4 degrees, northerly wind making it feel like 1 degree so I would need full thermals. Borehamwood is one of those places which always feel to be cold even in bright sunny weather.
Sunday morning and my usual pre-game checks. Train pass, match ticket, photo ID (the Arsenal web site said i would need it – I didn’t), credit card, flask of coffee, camera, notebook, two pencils all properly in my backpack, Arsenal scarf and hat round my neck and shirt in the backpack ready to put on before exiting the train. Give the cat some food for the day and leave a couple of lights on as it would be dark when I got home again then into the car for the 15 min journey to the station. No need to pay in the Station car park as Sundays are still free and onto the platform.
The station indicator said 11:44 and the train arrives bang on time. 8 carriages too so plenty of space and no problem with social distancing. The train was stopping at Blackfriars which is on a bridge over the Thames giving one of the best views downstream towards Tower Bridge, the skyscrapers of the City of London and Canary Wharf in the distance. In my opinion worth a detour if you are a visitor to London.
A change of platform for the second train, also on time and 8 carriages but busier so not able to fully self distance. A few other Arsenal Uniforms in the carriage I was on but no real chance for chatting with them. Off the train and a 20 minute walk along the High Street to the ground.
Temperature check outside the ground (taken twice as my forehead was too cold but wrist temperature was fine and on to the turnstile where my ticked allowed me entry. I was in a football ground for the first time in something like 9 months Hooray!
In the ground first things first – Jumbo sausage, Onions and a cup of tea £5.20, then to the stand to get a seat. The seats to be used all had a green tick so fairly obvious what could be used. The stand by the dugouts/players entrance was not in use to ensure separation from the players – a sensible precaution. I chose a seat near the centreline and halfway up the stand. Three empty seats both sides of me and a clear row in front and behind. I felt quite safe with the spacing that was set out.
After a few minutes the players came out with both teams being given a good reception, polite for Birmingham and much fuller for Arsenal. The Arsenal team was :-
Lydia Williams (GK) making her debut for the club,
Katie McCabe, Leah Williamson, Jennifer Beattie, Leonie Maier
Kim Little (C), Malin Gut, Jill Roord
Caitlin Ford, Viviane Miedema, Beth Mead (making her 100th appearance)
Subs :- Manuela Zinsbergwe (GK), Lotte Wubben-May, Steph Catley, Ruby Mace, Danielle Van de Donk, Lordan Nobbs and Lisa Evans
Warm-ups completed I had a look at the crowd and it looked like most of the 900 tickets available had been sold.
The game itself was fairly unremarkable. We attacked, Birmingham defended, Hannah Hampton their goalkeeper was probably player of the match as she made a number of good saves including a first half penalty, the Arsenal pressure telling in the second half as Caitlin Ford and Jill Roord scored from open play and Kim Little made her second penalty of the game count to give us a comfortable three nil win.
The crowd made the most of things, politely enquiring the referee why she didn’t issue yellow cards for the more cynical and late challenges. Maria, as ever, led the usual range of chants and there was a rousing response of Red Army when one child at the other end of the ground led that one.
At the end of the game, Joe Montemurro led the whole team over to acknowledge our presence, We gave back as much as we could – It was good to be there and feel that a degree of normality had been re-established.
There was no hugging of strangers, I spoke to those nearest me who all agreed that it was good to be back.
The stewards kept circulating and reminding us to keep our faces and mouths covered, but in a polite way. I need glasses and it was a nightmare for me as I had to take them off every few breaths to demist them and it didn’t make any difference if I had a mask on or used my scarf.
But I was there, and it was so worth while!
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