Chateauneuf du Pape……Rodney

Saturday 23rd July 2016

This was my 3rd visit to Lens. And like the previous 2, the locals could not have been friendlier or more welcoming. That compliment however, certainly cannot be extended to the help and assistance provided to us away fans at the stadium.

Back in September 1998 approximately 4 thousand Gooners made the short trip into Northern France for what was our very first match in Europe since the European Cup had developed into the Champions League. About 30 of us Maidstone Gooners travelled from what I remember and in what turned out to be an entertaining and incredibly messy day for a number of reasons, a line up that was pretty much first choice in our double winning 97/98 season came away with a point from a game we lead until the very last few seconds. Little did we know that after 6 group games it would prove an extremely crucial and costly goal to concede.

1998 Teamsheet

1998 Teamsheet

Looking back at my memorabilia from the game, the press pack makes interesting reading too, the then Lens manager Daniel Leclercq having attended our previous league fixture at Filbert Street appearing to be not over impressed by Dennis Bergkamp or Marc Overmars. “The Dutchmen didn’t impress me too much……but Parlour did” he said, concluding with “He is the real motor of the team”!

Dennis took the Eurostar to Lille for the match, the reason being described with a line straight out of ‘Google Translate’ perhaps, “Talking of motors, Bergkamp’s allergy to the aerial variety…”!

Leaving home Friday morning just after 6am on a glorious sunny day we were a bit concerned about the journey ahead. Not because I don’t like driving. Following Arsenal all over the UK and Europe would be a tad tricky if that was the case.

But the media warned us all week that Friday was the busiest day on the calendar travel wise and Eurotunnel’s email warnings were dramatic enough to suggest you should ‘bring plenty of food and water’!!

As it turned out we did ok. A quick journey from the south coast was followed by a relatively short delay at the tunnel and we were in France before you could say ‘Bonnet de Douche’:-)

Lens is in another country. But it’s really not very far from Blighty. Less than an hour from Calais it is far easier to get to than the likes of Burnley, Sunderland or Hull.

Consequently we found ourselves munching on a bit of al fresco lunch washed down by a couple of Duvels (or Duvets as Shaunie called them). Very civilised to be honest.

A very fine day all round only spoilt slightly by the lack of help or signage when we got to the stadium. Sometimes you can blame one or two beers for struggling, but every Gooner had the same issue. Not only were there no signs to the away end but none of the stewards or police knew where the entrance was and the normal practice of walking round the stadium until you find it proved fruitless.

The entrance turned out to be at the end of a cul-de-sac that resembled Brookside….although that wasn’t the way we got in.

Away End view

Away End view

Considering it was just a friendly it was a pretty full, colourful and noisy stadium that greeted us, but the game itself couldn’t really be described as gripping.

A one-one draw was just about the right result in a game of few chances, the funniest bit being the fact Shaun missed our goal. Too many Duvets I guess.:-)

I’m writing these notes back on the Eurotunnel train and I have a fat head. A good sign we enjoyed the post match stuff.

No time for hangovers though, the United States await.

And tomorrow that is where I am heading.

Victoria Concordia Crescit

Frank
@stubbsy70

Sun, Fun and Stress!!

Friday 8th July 2016

There are many occasions across the Summer months where I wondered whether I should write my first blog since yet another season came to a close in May. In the build up to the fixtures coming out for example or if not, just after they were released. Maybe when we announced our first Summer signing. Or at some stage during the European Championships perhaps.

In the end I thought I would wait until the TV companies chose their initial ‘live’ fixtures. Not only does this decision give me more subject matter but when you throw in all of the above and the various announcements regarding potential pre-season fare, there is a whole host of things to rabbit on about.

Many of those who have been in contact since the end of last season have either asked or in most case assumed I was attending the Euros in France. Although I am very much English and on that basis will always want my country to win in any event they take part in, heading out for that never even crossed my mind. I see international football as my ‘time off’ you see. Or at the very least to witness what everyone else goes through by watching it on the telly!

By and large I think the vast majority of our players have equipped themselves pretty impressively throughout. Being completely selfish however, I sincerely hope the length of time many of them have been involved doesn’t cause us too many problems with fatigue in the coming season. Realistically it has to be a concern. As for England there’s not a lot more any of us can add that hasn’t already been said. Referring to one of our own however, the decision to take Jack when he’d hardly kicked a ball all season was ridiculous in my book. Of course, his natural competitive nature and pride to wear the three lions would mean he would jump at the opportunity to go. But until he had at least a few months competitive football under his belt that shouldn’t have been his decision in my opinion.

Two new players have joined the Gooner family in the shape of Granit Xhaka and Takuma Asano. Welcome to the best club in the world. As always we wish you every success whilst wearing the cannon on your chest. Like all of us however, I still believe we are a couple of players short. Time will tell if that changes.

So what has the Summer held for me personally?

Well, off the pitch I have been fortunate enough to get some sunshine for a week in Majorca and also at a wedding in Marbella. Sport has seen me attend the Diamond League Athletics meeting in Birmingham and with international cricket to come in the next few weeks. When the sun is shining there isn’t too many better places to be than a festival and the Isle of Wight’s awesome version has been attended once again. Throw in a ‘Southampton Beer’ variety and 2 more in the shape of Victorious and Bestival to come (more on those later), as well as a little trip to Dingwalls in Camden to see The Struts and overall it has been yet another pretty entertaining period.

Relax

Relax

And then of course there was a little discussed event called the EU referendum, a democratic situation that if nothing else has proved that despite its importance there are many millions in this country that will vote one way or another even if they have absolutely no idea why they have chosen or of the consequences as a result!

With much travel to Europe and the USA coming up in this pre-season the timing of a frustratingly weak pound could not have come at a worse time for us travelling Gooners (and anyone else going overseas in the coming weeks). But with Lens in France, the west coast of America, Stavanger in Norway and Gothenburg in Sweden all due to play host over the coming weeks the UK economy collapsing around our ears is not going to stop us from enjoying ourselves. After all, we only live once folks.

As for the fixtures being released, TV’s choices mean we can finally start making specific plans, until the end of September that is!

Like always I have booked various events where football could prevent me from attending so I was hoping for the dates to be kind as always. And by and large I have been pretty fortunate in the first batch! Liverpool at home being moved means I will be at The Oval on the Saturday for the Test Match and with Victorious Festival at the end of the month, at least we are in London and kicking off at 3pm, meaning I have a good chance of being back for the evening’s events.

Bestival weekend in September has thrown up another London 3pm kick off so I am ok on that one too (although last year’s was particularly painful!) so all in all I am pretty happy with events so far.

Two weeks today and it is off to Northern France as everything gets underway once again. I’ll sign off with that thought and revert back as that day approaches.

So what am I going to do with myself this weekend?!

Relax….that was it.

Frank
@stubbsy70

To Dare is to Don’t

Monday 16th May 2016

As amusing football moments go, yesterday has to be right up there with ‘Lasagne gate’ 10 years ago. But at least the fans of our friends from Middlesex didn’t have a long journey home to think about it. In the most unlikely of circumstances, its happened again guys. 21 years and counting……

Looking back at previous home league encounters with Aston Villa, three in particular spring to mind. The day The Villains won the league back in 1981 is often talked about including in yesterday’s match day programme and I also recall the night we won 5 nil and David Platt went in goal for Villa in front of the North Bank. A game in the double season of 2001/2002 also sticks in the memory, TH scoring a last minute winner after we were 2 nil down.

But on this occasion I’m going to take you way back to the second full season after World War 2 and October 1947. In a year that was to prove ultimately a great success as the league title was won the programme that day makes fascinating reading as always, especially in a world that was a very different place back then. On the pitch Villa were beaten 1 nil through a goal by Ronnie Rooke but alongside the fact Joe Loss & his Band were playing the Finsbury Park Empire that same night it was interesting to see how our opponents performance on their previous visit was described.

“Most Highbury fans will remember the 22 minutes of dazzling, brilliant football served up by the Villa on this ground last season. They scored 2 goals without reply, enough to show us the classic style of old time Villa football still lives and is dangerous indeed”. Scary stuff!

For me however, the most incredible piece came on page 6 of the 8 page publication as part of a piece called ‘Here and There’. It is a little bit lengthy but well worth reproducing here if only for just how incredible it is.

“Tom Whitaker has asked me to say that owing to the very large crowds now assembling at the stadium for first team home fixtures, the danger to children has become a serious problem. The board of directors have decided, after consultation with the Metropolitan Police, to adopt a procedure which is already in operation at many other large grounds for the purpose of discouraging the attendance of boys at big matches. In future therefore the half price admission will be discontinued for Football League matches. The educational value to youngsters of watching the professional footballer in action is fully realized and it is felt that the boys will get this equally well at Football Combination games so the reduced admission (6d) at the Schoolboys turnstiles will continue in operation for Reserve matches in the future as has done in the past”!!

So kids…..you aint coming in! And when I say ‘kids’, I mean boys of course. Girls couldn’t possibly want to go to football!!

No boys allowed!!

No boys allowed!!

Finishing above our geographical neighbours is not an obsession for us Gooners. These ‘bragging rights’ often talked about are all well and good. But until they go 20 years of finishing above us or far more importantly win 13 league titles instead of just 2, that particular situation doesn’t even exist in my book.

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely don’t like losing to them. But then again, I don’t like losing to anyone. But if you do finish higher in the league table the only relevance for me is what benefit you actually get from that league position. The current Champions League format means if you finish 2nd or 3rd you get exactly the same thing. So yesterday to me really didn’t matter.

To us Gooners that is. And I feel that is the point as to why yesterday was so intensely funny. Not necessarily satisfying. But very very funny.

Deep down I don’t think any of us felt that lot would not get a result up at St James’ Park. After all, a number of their players had expressed quite vehemently how important it was for them to finish above us. Their manager couldn’t do an interview all week without mentioning us. And their fans have been in our faces yet again. And along with the fact we knew the Geordies would be getting passionately behind Rafa, it is that whole combination that meant they might just blow it. Obsessed with us as always. Rather than worrying about themselves.

Some have said the cheers around Arsenal yesterday, the almost party atmosphere at times, showed we felt the same. But if you were there you would realise the whole situation was born out of sheer hilarity. Finishing above Tottenham is not considered an ‘achievement’ you see.

Of course, even if they managed to get beat, we still had a job to do. And although it was comfortable in the end, it wasn’t like that all game.

Villa must be absolutely sick of the sight of us. Our last 5 matches have seen us score 18 and concede none. But unlike in the Cup Final for example, overall yesterday’s scoreline probably flattered us a little.

I felt we played well for the first 30 minutes but only had one goal to show for it. But for the half an hour split by the break we were very poor. Saying that, we kept our defensive shape relatively well and Villa had few opportunities even when we were not playing well. And once news came through the men from Middlesex had gone 3-1 down and Olly smashed in our and his 2nd for the best goal of the game, a laughter filled mini party started in the sunshine. And I would be lying if I said we didn’t enjoy it.

I remember when we went to Newcastle a couple of seasons back and saw the Sky Sports TV coverage of their lot celebrating as if they had won the league because the Geordies had scored. Even more amusing as they hadn’t. And still haven’t. Yesterday they did though. 5 times. Five. Cinq. Funf. Cinco. It’s the same in any language. Against a team relegated, with 10 men from 2-1 onwards. Embarrassing really. Almost humiliating in fact. Especially as they had emphasized not just how important it was, but how there was no way they were not going to make it happen.

Funny. Did I mention that?

We are not stupid enough that we don’t realise if things hadn’t have worked out as they did, the ‘lap of appreciation’ may well have been a bit of a damp squib. But with Mikel Arteta, Matt Flamini & Tommy Rosicky all saying their good byes I am delighted it wasn’t. A good way to conclude I feel.

So, somewhat surprisingly, we have finished in 2nd. I’m a great believer that the league table never lies, certainly not when all matches have been completed. Leicester have been incredible and are deserved champions. But we are the best of the rest. And that is in a season where we have every right to be disappointed. But its not all bad. 2015/16 will be looked back as the one that got away I feel. And if you believe the media we genuinely haven’t been very good at all. So….in a poor season….we have finished 2nd. Above Man City. Above Chelsea. Above Man Utd. Above Liverpool. Above everyone bar The Foxes in fact.

And imagine if in your best season for 20 plus years you still managed to finish below your neighbours in a season where they have been ‘rubbish’. I say imagine. As you need to look deep in your memory bank to remember when it happened. If you are old enough of course.

I will leave you with the following thought (kindly passed to me by one of our fellow Gooners)….

If you had bet a Tottenham fan £20 in 1995 that we would finish above them in the league, then doubled or quits with them ever since, they would now owe you £20,971,520.00.

Still can’t stop laughing.

Thanks for reading my thoughts over the months as always and enjoy the Summer boys and girls.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Perspective

Monday 9th May 2016

I choose to pay for Sky Sports and BT Sport and have done ever since they or any of their predecessors were launched. But once you pay it is also your choice as the bill payer to choose what you watch. And I will never watch a Tottenham game for as long as I’ve got 2 eyes, 2 ears, a nose and a mouth. My choice. And for the amount it costs why would I want to make my lounge dirty.

Yesterday I was in our usual pre Manchester game abode and they showed the game from White Hart Lane. Their choice. I didn’t watch it but with the commentary blaring out the speakers I had no choice but to listen. Before a ball was kicked the host stated both Leicester and Spurs had enjoyed a ‘fantastic season’. What a load of absolute rubbish.

Apparently our season has been one of disappointment, turmoil and under achieving. Now whilst I agree with that to a certain extent this weekend’s results mean we could, although unlikely, finish above our geographical rivals yet again.

And even if we don’t we have every chance of coming away from our season with exactly the same as them.

But remember, they have had a fantastic season.

Only one club have enjoyed that. Leicester City. Simple.

And ours has been ‘rubbish’ of course.

Back in March 1980 we headed into the back to back terraced streets of Moss Side and to Maine Road for an important fixture in a season that was simply full of them. It is arguably up there as one of our greatest seasons even if it was to prove unsuccessful in the most heartbreaking of ways at the very death.

3 nil to the Arsenal

3 nil to the Arsenal

The programme that day was all about one player having joined City earlier that week. Kevin Reeves was his name, a promising talent that in the end is pretty much remembered for his price tag above all else. Costing a cool million quid he became the 3rd highest transfer fee paid in the history of English football. On the day his team mates that included the late Tommy Caton couldn’t prevent the Arsenal from winning 3 nil thanks to Frank Stapleton and a double from Chippy.

It was extremely hot in Manchester yesterday. Yep, you are reading that correctly. And after 2 days in Dorset at a beer festival our flight from Southampton would not fall into the ‘pleasant’ category. Nor did the walk up to tier 3 at the Etihad, a new experience given that tier has been added since our last visit. But It wasn’t pouring with rain and that’s a bonus in itself in this part of the world!

View from up high

View from up high

I thought we did ok yesterday. We showed a little bit of bottle when trailing twice. And a point is a decent result.

But we have definitely played better. Man City were good on the day but not fantastic. And we were not much better. But a draw definitely suits us better than it does our hosts.

We certainly didn’t come out of the blocks and City deservedly took the lead. But Olly’s header saw us back on level terms and it was game on.

Every goal we concede will disappoint. Every single one. But in a tight game where margins for error are particularly thin, conceding when your opponent are not appearing to be posing any threat is hugely frustrating. City’s 2nd felt like that. It was crucial at that stage we didn’t let the game run away from us.

But again we got ourselves out of a hole and that is equally as pleasing, Alexis’ superb finish from Olly’s excellent lay off had us adding to the sweat high up in the away end.

It was long old day I have to admit but it was a decent result to put the icing on the cake of a hugely entertaining weekend.

And then there was one……

Our very last game of another season. And we still have something to play for of course. And that is pretty cool I feel.

But remember…..Tottenham are excellent…..and we are rubbish.😉

Forever in our shadow.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Opinions

Monday 2nd May

Looking back at Saturday evening’s fixture in the future it is hugely unlikely it will be remembered for the action on the pitch. We got the hugely important three points and that above all else was and is hugely important. But it certainly wasn’t a great game.

When reminiscing this season my decision on a previous corresponding fixture has generally been whether to talk about a game in the last 40 odd years that I attended or pick one from even further back.

Quite a number of home games with Norwich spring to mind but I have chosen one back in 1989 that is memorable for a number of reasons. Firstly David O’Leary became our record appearance holder that day and not only that, in a feisty old encounter he managed to get himself on the scoresheet.

For me the game is more remembered however, for a bit of argy bargy in the goal net in front of the North Bank right at the death! Having already scored one penalty Lee Dixon had the chance to double his tally in the last minute with the scores at 3 all.

Bryan Gunn saved the kick but Dicko managed to scuff home the rebound and after the ball trickled over the line there was some serious handbags.

Funny, memorable and secured three important points against a Canaries side including Andy Townsend, Robert Fleck, David Phillips and Andy Linighan, the latter’s moment of glory coming 4 years later on a wet Thursday night in May at Wembley with the cannon on his chest.

Punch up

Punch up

If Saturday’s game will be remembered for little more than Welb’s important winner there was plenty of interest created off the pitch.

The 5.30 kick-off meant a number of our lot enjoyed the hospitality of some of central London’s hostelries and the football side to the day hardly even got a mention. Not of course because we didn’t care, just that the social side of a day at the football is equally as important to many of us.

There was a small protest as we all know. People expressing their views as every single person is entitled to do. But it was also interesting that the vast majority in the stadium chose the same moment to show their support for the club. I’m not sure what that means to be honest but it did give a sense of pride that ‘Victoria Concordia Crescit’ is still very strong.

As we head into May we have just 2 games to go. And with both Manchester teams dropping points this weekend it means we still have another European Tour within touching distance.

If we can get that under our belts it’s a positive. And I think we could all do with that Summer break.

See you Sunday in Manchester.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Fun, Frolics and Frustration

Monday 25th April 2016

If only yesterday afternoon’s game was as entertaining and satisfying as the weekend our group have just enjoyed. Then again when does the North East ever disappoint when it comes to events off the pitch!? Norwich and Tyne & Wear’s 2 biggest clubs are all battling to avoid the drop of course, a fact that is a real shame if you go all out to enjoy the hospitality of those destinations. If The Canaries go it will only be one that goes down with them…..leaving the club staying up to celebrate and look forward whilst their biggest rivals are left to lick their wounds. If the boys from Norfolk hang in there however, it will be a dark day for football in the far North East. And those of us who enjoy going there will miss them too.

In January 1965 our great club were in the latter stages of the longest trophyless period in our history. There was no sign of that ending any time soon as we sat in mid table and the month was to end with arguably one of the lowest points of that era. Peterborough United were also languishing in mid table……but in Division 3. But on FA Cup 4th round day they overcome the mighty Arsenal.

Two week’s previous we had headed up to Sunderland’s Roker Park and goals from a young John Radford and Joe Baker saw us take the points. Like this season our host’s were facing a relegation battle at that time and our victory completed a double that season over the Black Cats.

No roar at Roker

No roar at Roker

The programme that day had an advert suggesting we all read what Brian Clough had to say in the News of the World or spend 19 shillings and 11 pence on a ‘Cossack hat in simulated astrakhan’! The North East of England can get very cold in the Winter!

It would be another 3 years where success appeared just around the corner for us, a couple of League Cup Finals being followed by that famous 1970 night against Anderlecht.

Friday evening I set off for our latest trip, a hotel in Southampton the intended destination. An early flight on Saturday suggested a relatively early night would be the best idea but how often do those plans not quite work out!? A live band and a few local ales in a fine pub meant we slept well if nothing else! So it was a slightly bleary eyed group of 6 that checked in the following morning, all in good spirits nonetheless.

I have certainly by no means been a regular attendee of our reserve, youth or academy games down the years, the odd friendly at a stadium I haven’t been to and some fixtures in the FA Youth Cup pretty much making up my record but we had decided attending our under 18s game at Sunderland on Saturday morning might be a good idea for a couple of reasons. A trip to Eppleton Colliery Welfare FC in the small town of Hetton-le-Hole was definitely something different and in addition, there was a chance it would keep us out of the pub!

That decision however, was taken away by an incident at our departure airport. On our aircraft and ready to leave on time the airport was closed. The reason? There wasn’t a suitable qualified fire officer on shift to allow any arrivals or departures! Brilliant. I could have had an extra hour or so in bed! Almost 90 minutes late however, we were away and the short flight saw us arrive in Newcastle to glorious sunshine for the second time this season.

The delay meant our plans were to change of course but once checked in to our hotel on the banks of the Tyne we went for a stroll……and to a pub. C’est la vie.

Arguably one of the worst English breakfasts later we headed up one of the steep hills into the city centre and enjoyed the hospitality of a few establishments we have experienced in the past whilst keeping an eye on the other football activity taking place all over the country. It had us all in that banter filled mood we all love so much and continued when we headed to an area of the city we have not visited before. A lad from Consett, County Durham suggested we head across to a place called Ouseburn so this we did and thoroughly enjoyed a couple of hours in 2 pubs far enough out of the city centre to be different but close enough to have life, atmosphere, fine ales and some cracking views along the river. The picture below might have you thinking otherwise but believe me, they were well worth a visit!

Don't forget to wash your hands

Don’t forget to wash your hands

Saturday night in Newcastle never fails and consequently I would be lying if I didn’t say my memories are a mix of clear, mixed and downright non existent but think pub, pub with an excellent live band, a busy fun club and an early hours kebab and you pretty much get the picture.

I admire anyone who has run a marathon and I have both family and friends who have done just that, including this year. Turning on the TV early Sunday morning I struggled to make the bathroom let alone run 26 odd miles but me and my roomy did chuckle at the thought of how funny it would have been to tune in and see a couple of Kenyans and my Gooner mate from Essex battling for the lead! Well done for achieving it Thomas….you joggy C you😉

Tyne & Wear’s excellent metro system means you can get straight to The Stadium of Light from Newcastle city centre so here we headed next for the excuse for us being in this part of the world. Quick and convenient it might be but add in nausea to the discussions trying to piece together the previous night’s antics and you get the picture.

Again I emphasize my thoughts surround my journey. Match reports and opinion tend to be found elsewhere. But like everyone else I can’t possibly be anything less than disappointed at our overall performance. Certainly in the first half it could and should have been different but not turning our dominance into a lead is becoming an extremely repetitive story I’m afraid. Our hosts are battling for their Premier League existence so I expected them to fight for every ball and in the second period their half chances certainly outnumbered ours. And although I feel we probably should have been comfortably ahead at the break, overall it was a fair result.

Chewing the cud in Sunderland city centre over a couple of post match pints came next before we headed back to Newcastle Airport for our return flight. Another hectic but memorable weekend with good company following our team over land and sea. It was just the bit on the pitch that was forgettable unfortunately.

Champions League football in the following season has become the norm for us Gooners. And although we want more than that (and rightly so) the fact we have it every year shouldn’t be underestimated. But there is also no doubt it should be a bare minimum target not the be all and end all. With other opportunities now gone this season however, we need to do everything we can to get over that line. The hundreds of memories I have of European jollies need to continue! And we now have just three games to achieve it.

Our next visitors need a result. And that makes them dangerous. Their lowly position suggests it shouldn’t. But it does.

And its a bank holiday week. Result!:-)

Frank
@stubbsy70

Football on a Thursday

Monday 22nd April 2016

Last night’s game finished at approximately 9.40pm and I walked through my front door around 1am. This is pretty much the norm for midweek games and like all of us Gooners who have that kind of time to gather their thoughts I found my mind wandering off to seasons in the past. That was far more pleasurable of course with three important points in the bag.

Let me take you back 34 years or so…..

26th January 1982 – Brighton at home – Attendance 17922
2nd February 1982 – Wolves at home – Attendance 15163
13th February 1982 – Notts County at home – Attendance 18229
16h February 1982 – Middlesbro’ at home – Attendance 13738!!

and

16th March 1982 – West Brom at home – Attendance 15799

Those of us that remember back then always look with fond memories. But, Highbury being less than a third full was the norm for a period and the football at times was pretty dire too. Our opportunities to win domestic honours were an occasional cup semi final appearance and European experience was limited to the odd early Uefa Cup round fixture.

Through all that however, our club remained committed to its values of tradition, solidarity and class and the fun and games we all enjoyed off the pitch was because when it came to what we all followed we were as one. And that, in my opinion, that support and sense of belonging combination should never change. If people choose to not turn up for games I’m not too bothered to be honest. Success is not a devine right and if you feel it is you shouldn’t be a ‘supporter’ of our great club, or any other for that matter. Go and be a bandwagon riding glory hunter elsewhere.

Back in 1982 The Baggies came to North London for a midweek fixture kicking off at 7.30pm (remember them?!) Raphael Meade and Alan Sunderland netted our two goals in a 2 all draw against a West Brom side containing the likes of Derek Statham, Ally Brown, Gary Owen and former Gooner Brendan Batson.

43 thousand short of capacity

43 thousand short of capacity

The programme that night included a picture of George Wood collecting a ‘Golden Glove Trophy’ for keeping 4 clean sheets on the bounce. In a period where there was no other ‘silverware’ to talk of, what we would give now for a similar period where defending was a success! Elsewhere the Travel Club was selling the trip to Coventry away but possibly more intriguing was their Easter shopping trip to a Calais hypermarket! As for the letters page, a Mr Redmond from Essex congratulated the club on being the only one in the top flight to not erect fences around the pitch. As always with Arsenal Football Club, a decision of real class, integrity and dare I say it, foresight, made under considerable pressure from the football’s authorities.

Back to April 2016 and like in all games where there is some kind of background revolt I thoroughly enjoyed last night. Good banter with all my mates who would have been there even if we were bottom of division 2 is why I go.

And the reason?

Because when things aren’t looking so good (relatively speaking of course), not only do we still have a crack, that feeling of us against the world is absolutely awesome. And that camaraderie, that sense of belonging, that ‘Victoria Concordia Crescit’ is something I wouldn’t change for anything in the world.

And I don’t apologise for that.

There wasn’t a massive difference between our latest performance and Sunday in my opinion. Maybe our passing was a little crisper and we were a tiny bit sharper. But I’m not convinced that wasn’t because we got a lead so early in the game.

And that can be looked at in 2 ways. Either Sunday wasn’t so bad or last night wasn’t much better.

Above all else and moving forward we scored a couple of goals and got those massive three points.

And not only am I happy with that I am delighted I was there to see it. In fact, like the vast majority, it never even crossed my mind not to be there.

Arguably we head up to the Stadium of Light at the worst possible time. They are simply battling for their Premier League lives. And if their neighbours’ performance at home to Man City was anything to go by the other night, I don’t expect anything other than an extremely tough encounter.

My journey involves a flight early tomorrow morning and that means a Friday night in Southampton Airport Travelodge. That’s the ‘rock and roll’ lifestyle of following your team home and away folks!😉

Miss it? Are you having a laugh?!

Arsenal through and through.

Come on you mighty yellows!

Frank
@stubbsy70

No Clean Sheet Again

Monday 18th April 2016

I do wonder whether those who were questioning why Petr Cech wasn’t picked last week when he was fit enough to be on the bench will now ask the question as to whether Ospina would have saved Palace’s equaliser. I doubt it. As that would mean admitting the player they demanded being back’s error arguably went a long way to us losing 2 crucial points.

That’s not me being critical of one individual, it would take something seriously out of order for me to go down that line, not just a mistake. We didn’t play well enough as a team yesterday from the first to the last minute unfortunately. And although that is definitely the most worrying aspect, one fact remains more important than all others. The result.

And short of totally boring you with my repetitiveness, if you don’t concede there is always a very good chance you will go on to win the game. Yet again however, we were unable to achieve that and that has lost us two more points, no matter how badly we played or lacked the creativity to match our considerable possession.

Continuing my light hearted look back at corresponding fixtures down the years, neither scoring or not conceding were a problem 25 years ago when a Palace side containing the likes of Nigel Martyn, Geoff Thomas, Mark Bright and someone called Ian Wright were thoroughly spanked 4 nil at Highbury.

Everyone has a ‘nearest game to their birthday’ situation and on this occasion this was mine. Not only was it my 21st and we had bumper numbers in our group on the North Bank that day but little did I know as we tore the Eagles apart that my family and friends had arranged a surprise party for me that night when we returned home. I always think it is strange how if your train of thought is completely off the scent in this situation, you genuinely have no idea. Even when one or two of my mates completely forgot the plan and said, “see you tonight” when we parted company after the game!

The season was to prove one of memories, some of them were not so good such as getting docked 2 points due to the Old Trafford ‘brawl’, our captain doing a ‘stretch’ and a cup semi defeat when another potential double was on but ultimately winning the league title is always going to far outweigh anything like that. The Palace at home win was another step to adding that historical achievement to that already lengthy list, one that has got longer and longer ever since.

3 months from glory

3 months from glory

As for the matchday programme, his manager’s notes saw George revelling in our success in the FA Cup up at Leeds the previous week, our 4th attempt to overcome the men from Yorkshire and progress to the 5th round and the right to take on Shrewsbury at a sodden Gay Meadow. Elsewhere the Highbury Mailbag contained a letter from a fan quoting the line ‘I hope we don’t have to get used to TV dictating the fixtures’! Oh dear!! The info page advised umbrellas were now banned from the stadium whilst Commercial Corner confirmed shell suits were now in stock in the club shop. “But please hurry because demand for the first consignment was very intense!” they warned us!!!!

I think I’ve still got mine.

Coming back to the present and taking a bag to a football match is never easy, especially one of any size. An entertaining weekend involving Muse at the o2 on Friday night and a visit to friends and fellow Gooners up near the Essex/Cambridgeshire border dictated I had little choice on this occasion, especially with time being of an essence if I was to get home at a sensible hour after the game.

Today’s understandable additional security of course makes the whole situation even more of a grind. Consequently I have fatigue in bundles accompanying my considerable frustration and disappointment.

So what went wrong?

It’s difficult to pinpoint to be honest. But we definitely lacked sharpness, creativity and ability on the day to overcome an extremely average Palace outfit despite having ridiculous amounts of possession as is the norm in the vast majority of our games.

Our powerful performance at Everton, the trouncing of Watford and even our efforts at West Ham made it difficult to see it coming to be fair, although if you analyse our whole season it has probably been our most inconsistent of recent times. Match reports and further debate can be read in many hundreds of places of course, with opinions ranging from the considered to the ridiculous. But too many games this season have been similar to yesterday. Where we have dominated the possession, usually conceded and failed to take the three points. And that has cost us. Possibly in fact, from winning the title.

What the long term future holds remains to be seen.

In the short term however, a win on a Thursday is completely essential.

Keeping that faith.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Sausage Roll

Sunday 10th April 2016

West Ham’s long haired Geordie injury prone centre forward went home with the match ball yesterday,. And good luck to him. When I used to play football every team had a player who was tall and powerful enough to be dangerous if you allowed him to have a run at penalty box bound crosses. And the Hammers’ striker can hardly be called fresh news.

Without being offensive or condescending he has little else. But, even without watching TV replays of yesterday, 2 of his goals demonstrate if you are not clever enough to pick him up or block him, he will damage you.

With it being the last time we ever go to Upton Park I am going back to my first visit.

Late season 1987 to be exact and a defeat that from a personal point of view will be remembered as a match attended by all Gooners totally on cloud nine on the back of our Wembley League Cup victory against Liverpool but a night where a Liam Brady painfully inspired West Ham beat us and those there will remember it was a lively old night in the surrounding streets too.

Hangover

Hangover

Adverts in today’s matchday programmes tend to consist of those from huge multi national companies, a fact that mirrors the incredibly high amounts of money involved in today’s game. Back in 1987 the commercial pages saw local TV & video rental companies, garages and pie & mash shops filling the spaces!

League table mediocrity didn’t over shadow our trophy winning season, something that has definitely changed in recent times, especially off the pitch, but a 3-1 defeat in any game is not much fun, the considerable hangovers from the previous weekend’s Wembley success probably contributing to our performance on the night!

Yesterday we needed a win. We all knew that. And for 44 minutes, not only did we look like winning but everything about what we did suggested that is exactly what we would do.

The facts though are there for all to see. We were strong, powerful and clinical in the first 44 minutes and deserved our 2 goal lead. But at half time that hard work meant little. Losing a 2 goal lead does happen in football. But when you analyse it, not very often.

We'll never play here again

We’ll never play here again

Shortly after the break we were behind and the whole game changed. Our original shape was not enough against a side defending their lead.

Mr Wenger threw that dice and it genuinely was ‘shit or bust’. Laurent slammed in a deserved equaliser and we pushed for a winner that wasn’t to be. And only that winner would have taken away the disappointment of losing a 2 goal lead, whatever way you analyse the game.

I haven’t seen the highlights but I have been told that Carroll’s challenge on Gabriel was downright nasty early on and could have been deemed a red. Turned out to be quite crucial that.

I have also been told one of our host’s disallowed goals was on onside. A different decision there might have changed the whole game.

But 2 goals ahead, you don’t expect to be looking at 2-2 one minute later.

As a result there was an air of being shell-shocked at half time. A winning position had capitulated and we feared the worst.

A draw at a West Ham side who have been strong at home is not a terrible result but given the majority of Hammers fans I listened to on the way back to our usual haunt were stating if you are 2 goals down you have to be happy with a draw it probably emphasises why having been 2 goals up we are all extremely disappointed with just a point.

And why the title? Well…..in a light hearted moment one of our lot explained post match how he threw his half eaten sausage roll when our first goal went in. He said if he’d have known what was going to happen next he would have kept hold of it. And I couldn’t think of anything better.

Palace at home next.

See you on Sunday afternoon.

Frank
@arubbsy70

Stung

Sunday 3rd April 2016

Any hope of winning the League this season is of course very thin. Totally out of our hands we can only do one thing. Win our games. Saturday afternoon was certainly a good start.

Watford’s visit back in December 1983 was a memorable day for a couple of reasons. In a largely forgettable season we approached Christmas in the lower reaches of the league and shortly prior to this game manager Terry Neill parted company with the club. The familiar ‘message from the chairman’ replaced the usual manager’s notes on page 3 of the programme and Don Howe took charge of the team, a temporary role that became permanent before George Graham joined in the Summer of 1986.

Raphael's finest hour?

Raphael’s finest hour?

In other areas of the programme Gus Caesar ‘lashed home a 35-yard thunderbolt’ in the FA Youth Cup whilst Gunner on Parade Stewart Robson described how he enjoys ‘switching round the stations on his car radio’ in his Volvo!

Elsewhere Gary Lewin was awaiting his physiotherapy exam results from Guys Hospital and probably the most famous referee of his era Clive Thomas would be officiating that afternoon it what was his final season.

On the pitch it was to prove a memorable game for young striker Raphael Meade. Graham Taylor’s team containing the likes of John Barnes and Mo Johnston proved no match as Raph grabbed a hat-trick in a 3-1 win.

It was to prove a relatively happy Christmas for us Gooners, a 4-2 win at White Hart Lane on Boxing Day meaning we had won there twice that season but there was little more to celebrate in what was definitely a transitional period for our club.

If the clocks changing over the Easter weekend was the first indication that Summer is on its way the weather in London N5 was definitely another sign.

Despite the glorious sunshine however, I felt the atmosphere in the pub and surrounding streets was quite subdued to be honest. Probably as good an indication as any that none of us are confident that a league title is still within reach.

Some games the vocal support and general atmosphere can definitely help. On occasion however, it can be the team that lifts the spirits rather than the other way round. And the way we came out of the blocks it was definitely one of those.

Some of our football was superb at times and when we didn’t have the ball we were good too, much as we were up at Goodison 2 weeks ago.

Our achilles heel at various times this season has been not turning our considerable dominance and possession into goals. Watford’s last visit was the perfect example and could not possibly have been more costly as we all know.

But Saturday, that crucial side to any game accompanied the rest of our play in what was overall a fine performance.

Alex Iwobi’s was probably the pick of our 4 goals, slotting home after a fantastic passing move.

We need to keep winning and hope the 2 teams above us drop points. One of them did that this weekend so with the latest round of matches complete we are in a slightly better position.

Without being disrespectful to the Hornets (especially given they knocked us out of the cup!) West Ham away next week is a far more daunting fixture than Saturday. And of those of us in the upper reaches of the league our game will be the first to take place.

It will be tough as we know but if we can come away with another three points it will mean the others around us will be under pressure to match our result.

It is also of course our last ever visit to the Boleyn Ground (or Upton Park as we usually call it). Like Highbury it is a stadium that oozes history, tradition and atmosphere, located amongst terraced houses.

And Saturday lunchtime we will walk those streets and go through those turnstiles for the final time.

And to walk back out again with three points has to be our aim.

Come on you yellows!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,802 other followers