Sunday 13th May 2018
That moment. That moment when Huddersfield Town Football Club gave our manager a guard of honour when they absolutely didn’t need to. That moment when shortly after, our manager diverted right, strolled purposely towards the away end, stopped just beyond the goal line and applauded and bowed to all those who were there to witness it. That moment when after 22 minutes every single person in the John Smiths Stadium rose and applauded in recognition of one of the English game’s greatest. Those moments were powerful. Emotional. Respectful. And It was a privilege to be there.
That moment when Marc Overmars latched on to Nic Anelka’s flick to make everyone believe in March 1998. That moment when Tony Adams smashed home Bouldy’s through ball to ‘sum it all up’ a few months later. That moment when we defeated the Geordies at a sundrenched Wembley to clinch the double. That moment when Dennis Bergkamp scored arguably the greatest goal the Premier League has ever seen. That moment ‘it was only Ray Parlour’. That moment Sylvain Wiltord slotted home to clinch the league title in the back yard of the biggest club in the country. That moment that we went to White Hart Lane and won the league. Again. That moment when Patrick Vieira slotted home our 5th penalty in Cardiff. That moment when Leicester went ahead in game 38 and we scored 2 goals to achieve something that has never been equalled. That moment in the Bernabeu when Thierry took them apart. Those moments in the San Siro. All 3 of them. Moments from Wales’ capital city to the London suburb of Sutton. Moments from Bucharest to Belgrade to Borisov. Moments from Vigo to Ostersund to Istanbul. Moments from Warsaw to Hamburg to Rome. That moment when Jens saved a penalty to avoid heartbreak in Villareal. That moment when moving to a new stadium just minutes from our spiritual and historic home rather than somewhere miles away became reality. That moment when Rambo steered home in extra time against Hull. That moment when we destroyed Aston Villa 12 months later. That moment when Olly Giroud chased a ball to the touchline and Rambo nodded home to clinch yet another FA Cup.
Last minute wins with 10 men at Bolton. Volleys from Kanu, Adebayor and Flamini at WHL. 2 cup wins in a week at Anfield. 5-2. Twice. 7 nil victories. More than once. 49 games unbeaten. I need to stop. The list is endless when you put your mind to it.
There have been frustrating, difficult, annoying and soul destroying moments too of course. We all know that.
Today sent shivers up my spine. And no matter how hard I tried for it not to happen, a tear to my eye too. As did all the memories I have mentioned above.
No matter when we got beat I loved it when our manager stuck up for us. In all those interviews when we were being criticised. It’s alright for us to analyse, debate and slate our own when we are together. That’s fine. But nobody else is allowed! And when that happened to Arsene’s face, often moments after a difficult defeat, he stood his ground for our club. And I loved that.
I’m no writer. No talented journalist. I’m a fan. And as a result others have written the kind of tributes that will be far better written than mine.
All I know is over 22 years he has been hugely responsible for some of the greatest moments in my life. And that is powerful beyond belief.
So whilst massively recognising it is time for a change of direction I will never forget the Wenger years at our great football club.
With Huddersfield securing another season in the top flight today was always going to have a celebratory feel about it. But with an icon such as Arsene Wenger about to see the curtain come down it could have been difficult for our hosts to get it right. After all we were at the home of The Terriers, not the Gunners.
I would like to finish by thanking and complimenting Huddersfield Town Football Club and their fans today. They were awesome. And showed class almost beyond belief.
And….we won away from home to boot!
So that’s it. A domestic final. A European Semi Final. A European tour secured for another season. And our manager, our boss, our leader has moved on to pastures new.
A new chapter in Arsenal Football Club beckons.
Exciting yes. Scary too I feel.
Thursday 10th May 2018
Looking back over the years I’ve always found the hardest games to analyse are those with an early sending off. And last night’s is no different. The one thing I can confirm however, is despite the fact I would want my team to win a game of conkers, walking away from a defeat in an irrelevant fixture is definitely easier than the opposite!
Overall I enjoyed the night if I’m honest. A minor pre-match pub crawl after an easy car journey and hotel check in had us in fine spirits and I was looking forward to the game in an altogether relaxed frame of mind.
And overall I think we were a tad unlucky on this occasion. The two biggest result influencing decisions are a sending off and a penalty. And both went against us. Was the incident that led to the former a foul? Yes, 100%. Was it a sending off? No. With Rob Holding clearly covering it was a yellow. But these referees love to be the headline makers, we all know that. And with the drama of a wannabe grade A celebrity the official could not wait to get the red card out. We spend thousands of pounds and travel all over the country week in week out to watch you mate.
The decision of course benefited the home team and if the boot was on the other foot I would have enjoyed the advantage as much as the Foxes’ fans. So I have no problem with that. But in what was growing into an entertaining affair it completely ruined the game as a contest.
We certainly had a go however, the frustration at the referee’s decision being obvious. And, especially in the second half, despite the numerical disadvantage, we looked dangerous going forward and Auba’s equaliser was deserved.
The penalty decision was soft. Minimal or no contact and a player who couldn’t wait to chuck himself on the floor. But that happens and arguably it was a silly and unnecessary ‘challenge’. But the pleasure the referee got from dramatically pointing at the spot was obvious once again.
So another away defeat in a season crammed full of them, it was a night with a degree of inevitability about it rather than frustration and disappointment. And I enjoyed the fact our players looked like they hated losing last night, even with the irrelevance of the fixture.
Leicester has dozens of Indian restaurants and it was a fine example that finished our evening with some late night tucker.
So, we reach league game 38 and head to a stadium where we have never played a league game. I was amongst those in the away end for a pre-season friendly a few years back so it is not entirely new territory and I recall standing behind the goal on the open terrace at their old Leeds Road ground for a 5 nil League Cup win back in the 90s too.
Sunday is a fixture that could have proved extremely tense for our hosts of course but their result last night securing another season in the top flight means it promises to be an afternoon of celebration. And one week after London N5 came out to salute our boss’s Arsenal career before he departs it will feel a very strange day for Mr. Wenger I’m sure. Especially when that final whistle goes.
A win for his final game? Would be nice.
Monday 7th May 2018
Back in May 1996 we took on Bolton at Highbury needing a win to secure European football the following season. With time running out and trailing 1 nil David Platt equalised and Dennis Bergkamp smashed in a beauty in front of a jubilant Clock End. And I mean jubilant too. It meant an enormous amount to us back then. Little did we know at that time but it was to be our last game with Bruce Rioch at the helm.
Our next permanent manager of course was to be a pretty much unknown Frenchman. Arsene who and all that.
Nearly 22 years on and it feels almost apt that in his final home game in charge we can look forward to our European adventure continuing for yet another year.
Sunday was a day full of great weather, good football, excellent goals, wonderful colour, positive vibes and a whole heap of emotion. And above all else class. Total and utter sheer class.
Emotionally it was a far more intense day than many of us expected. We all recognise for us to move forward the time is right for a change in direction. And those thoughts have created emotions from frustration to anger and from disappointment to apathy. The fighting, bickering and griping amongst those of us who supposedly support and love the club has been the most disappointing aspect at times.
But it was right for all that to be forgotten for one day only. And I felt not only did that happen but the vast majority of us felt like we were saying goodbye to our friend and leader.
There was still a slight edge to the match of course. A defeat would have meant we could still finish in 7th and needing to overcome European qualifying games in mid July as a result. And with our away form hardly giving us confidence that we are capable of picking up points in our 2 remaining games Sunday had importance along with it being the chance for us to thank and celebrate.
But from minute one it always looked like we would take maximum points from the game and so it proved with a handsome 5 nil victory.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal career started at our beloved Highbury. And the stadium he proved so influential in creating for our future as a football club looked magnificent in the May sunshine.
A perfect sight, atmosphere, performance and result for his send off. And the day filled me with pride.
The whole process after the match finished was relatively short, brilliantly respectful and dignified on all fronts, unbelievably emotional and laced with sheer class. Arsenal Football Club at its typical best.
And on his big day, our manager represented those values in exactly the same way as he has throughout his Arsenal career.
Thanks Mr. Wenger.
See you in Leicester.
Friday 4th May 2018
My flight home not being until Saturday afternoon means I’ve done the tourist bit today. A walk around the parks, palaces and plazas of Spain’s capital city in the sunshine. But a walk accompanied by a massive bout of disappointment and deflation.
There wasn’t a huge amount between the 2 sides in either leg. But ultimately we have been defeated. And that will remain the same no matter how much analysis we throw at it. And whether you are a Gooner who gets angry when we get beat or one who just prefers to hide away in a corner in a dark room, the one emotion we all experience is disappointment.
Our trip has been entertaining of course. They always are. But there are aspects that need to be addressed. They are simply not right.
People who haven’t been on a European away trip tend to have 2 ideas of what they all about. Some think we are all thugs who maraud around their host city causing havoc. And others have this rose tinted view of exotic far off locations full of culture where we are treated with respect.
The staff in our hotel, in bars, restaurants could not have been nicer. Respect and friendliness we hope we extended in the opposite direction. But apparently, when you are a travelling fan, the local authorities have the right to treat you like animals.
Some of the things that happened last night were appalling and as a human being I find it beyond disgusting and against my human rights.
Arriving at the away end we are searched. Again, then again, then again. Not unexpected or a shock as we get that everywhere we travel. But that doesn’t make it right.
My ticket was in row 1. Row 1 was shut. When requesting help from the stewards, they simply shrugged their shoulders. So my and many of my fellow travellers’ seat didn’t exist.
I’m assuming it is due to that reputation we have in the UK of throwing things from the away end but the netting in front of us was outrageous. Unnecessary and seriously view impeding. This for an attending club from a country where such measures do not exist anywhere throughout the land.
And to think if it wasn’t for Arsenal helping with payment these were seats that would have cost us 80 odd quid!
With the game over many needed to use the toilet. It’s what our human bodies do you see. But the police would not let anyone go.
Then on leaving the stadium the local police decided it was their right to start smashing people randomly with their truncheons! This is not some third world country we are in. This is Spain’s capital city. I’m sorry but they are scumbags of the highest order.
Our fantastic reputation is and was irrelevant. They paid no notice. And we were treated like animals.
With plenty of video evidence something should be done about it. But it won’t. We all know that.
I like Madrid as a city. And I will be returning. Very soon in fact. But Athletico Madrid Football Club with the measures they put in place and the authorities they employ, seriously need to be taken to task.
Performance wise we were close. But not close enough. We lacked efficiency in the final 3rd against one of the best defensive outfits anywhere in Europe. But i think we all know we lost the tie in the first leg when we didn’t make the most of our countless opportunities.
Burnley come to town on Sunday for not only our final home game of the season but Mr Wenger’s last at the helm.
Our season needs to end. And quickly. It’s just a massive shame that Sunday won’t be on the back of a visit to yet another final.
Arsenal til I die……preferably not at the hands of some jumped up scumbag of a Spanish copper!
Maybe a bit generalistic. But I was there.
Tuesday 1st May 2018
The dividing lines between being deservedly beaten, only having yourselves to blame and perhaps a tad unlucky are often very thin. But looking at the current league table, with Huddersfield to play we have not beaten any of the bottom 10 teams away from home. And across the season that set of results cannot be described as anything other than abysmal.
We played pretty well on Sunday afternoon I felt. And to lose a point in injury time was a little bit harsh. When you look at the consistency in our away form however, it doesn’t matter how well we played the current crop of players are doing something wrong. One offs happen and form can be temporary. But across the course of the whole season the facts do not lie.
Thursday is a massive game so I am going to leave the domestic form there. It’s not a time to be negative. We enter the tie’s second half as big underdogs of course but for me we showed enough in the first game to give us a chance.
The rules with European football’s knockout stages make it like nothing else. And it’s the unpredictability that gives us hope.
My flight early tomorrow morning to a city I have visited just once before, accompanied by a promising weather forecast and of course the 2nd leg of a European Semi Final in a stadium we have never been to before make up an attractive package.
And along with the fun we will inevitably enjoy, emotions will be crammed full of nerves as much as anything else.
Buzzing for it.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Thursday 26th April 2018
For those of us who use the Piccadilly Line from Arsenal station, that driver’s announcement gives a proper sense of normality to every home game. And it’s one accompanied by differing emotions depending on our result. Tonight’s is full of deflation after a result our performance didn’t deserve.
Some will argue the colour and noise created before a home game of a certain magnitude proves detrimental to the team. Adds more pressure perhaps. And there is also the argument it shouldn’t be required. If us alone can’t create an atmosphere we might as well give up. The whole ‘you wouldn’t see that at Anfield’ bollocks. You also won’t see the fans acting with class and respect when their opponents turn up on the coach at Anfield. But that’s another discussion altogether.
Overall I felt it worked tonight. It looked tremendous and the vast majority joined in to add the noise to the colour. A bit corny but overall those involved in the effort to help in the creation of an atmosphere for the occasion that is a European semi final deserve credit in my book.
Playing against 10 men only becomes easier if you are winning and your opponent needs, at some stage, to gamble to get something from the game. Those gaps appear and in the vast majority of cases, the numerically stronger team goes on to win the game.
But if your opponent will be quite happy with a 1 nil defeat things are very different.
Breaking down a mass defence is just as hard in that situation as if against eleven.
Travelling home tonight I’m asking myself if I would change anything about the way we played. And my answer is a definite no.
For the first half an hour we were excellent and nobody could have suggested we were not worthy of a 2 or 3 goal lead had we taken our chances. But having not made the most of our domination it was essential we remained patient.
The second period continued in the same fashion and pressure eventually told when Laca’s towering header from Jack’s fine run and cross broke the deadlock. A stadium that had been rocking all night throbbed beyond belief.
With plenty of time left we kept pushing to try and increase that lead and our visitors offered no threat at the other end admittedly influenced by our numerical advantage.
And that beyond all else is the most frustrating thing about the whole night. We were under no pressure and the last 20 minutes or so were totally about whether we could break Athletico Madrid down and increase our lead rather than anything else.
A tough second leg with a one goal lead and no away goal conceded has become massively more difficult. But we are not out yet.
I am proud of my team tonight and the way they played. On another night we could have been 4 or 5 to the good and with one foot firmly in the final. Certainly our performance deserved a huge amount more that a 1 all half time scoreline.
And it’s Old Trafford we head to next for arguably a fixture with less relevance than any other involving our 2 teams in recent memory.
But I still want to win.
Come on you yellows! (I don’t do blue or pink I’m afraid).
Tuesday 24th April 2018
I was at an auction on Friday morning. No particular reason, just my mum had never been to one before and it ticked it off her ‘bucket list’. About half an hour in and my mobile phone started to buzz like crazy. Taking a quick glance the main reason was obvious of course. The other I will come to in a minute.
With Mr Wenger being in the latter stages of his long and illustrious managerial career we all knew it was coming sooner rather than later. But, in a way that is so typically and professionally Arsenal, it was an announcement that absolutely nobody expected or predicted.
My reaction lacked shock. But it felt weirdly full of emotion. Full of a heady mix of fear and anticipation looking ahead. And a combination of smiles and shivers as I looked back. Reality has kicked in. The man at the helm of our football club for an entire generation will be leaving.
A man who at his very best steered his squad to the double on 2 occasions and a whole league winning season unbeaten and if his last season can be described this way, to a domestic cup final and at least a European semi final at his worst, would no longer be our leader.
It meant heading up to London N5 on Sunday for the visit of West Ham also felt strange. We’re not a club with an uncertain future, hiring and firing manager after manager. We leave that to other clubs. But, whilst completely recognising the vast majority will admit we have reached a time where change is required, being completely unsure as to what happens next is as unnerving as it is exciting.
In glorious sunshine patience was the key on Sunday. Firstly because the big story from Friday had definitely taken centre stage ahead of the action out on the pitch. But secondly because when you play any team desperate for points they never simply just roll over.
As a result the first half was a fairly cagey affair with few chances for either side, a header from Laurent and a good save from David Ospina the main incidents.
We seemed to step it up a gear in the second period, only being guilty of not increasing our lead once going in front, something we were ultimately to pay for when our visitors equalised. What followed was probably West Ham’s best spell but we defended well and eventually tore into The Hammers in the latter stages to achieve a scoreline that whilst it arguably flattered us a little it could have ended up being 6 or 7.
So 4 goals and 3 points from a day that felt unsurprisingly different.
In my role as a supporters club secretary ticket sales for home games have been quite tricky of late. And for the first time in 20 years or more. If that doesn’t also demonstrate we are coming to the end of an era then nothing does.
Whatever my views are on people not turning up, if they do not want to go to games then so be it. But I would rather they just said that. I find it remarkable how many could not make the Burnley home game because they were ‘busy’ that day yet all of a sudden they can now attend. I can only assume whatever was making them ‘busy’ has been cancelled. Quite a coincidence that. And the other reason why my phone was buzzing away in my pocket in Friday morning’s auction.
Any thoughts and tributes to our manager I will make at the end of the season. There’s work still to do at the moment I feel.
And that starts with the first leg of our European semi final against Athletico Madrid on Thursday night. A big game of course.
And we can play our part.
Come on you mighty reds!
Sunday 15th April 2018
One of the most popular Arsenal fanzines over the years has been ‘One Nil Down Two One Up’. And I’m pretty sure it was as a result of our results in the latter stages of the 1987 league cup winning run. Well, this season we have certainly perfected the complete opposite.
I felt pretty ok boarding my train at Kings Cross this morning. And given the ‘couple of beers’ in the area ended up being a few more I probably shouldn’t have. And the journey with great company was as enjoyable as ever.
Crossing the Tyne into the city is quite a feeling. It’s when you realise Newcastle away is quite iconic. And that’s why we like going to this fixture.
But normally we win. And today, shock horror away from home in the league, we got beat after a promising start and taking the lead.
So it wasn’t a good day. Simple.
I’m on my way home now. Finally, after leaving Tuesday.
And I’ve got the ‘ump. Coz I don’t like losing.
West Ham at home next.
Come on you reds.
Saturday 14th April 2018
There are obvious reasons why coming to Moscow right now could be considered anything from risky to foolish. But the astronomical cost aside, if we lived in a media free life we would genuinely have not known there was anything to ‘worry’ about. It has been a fine trip from start to finish.
I’ve been here 3 times before, all following our team and all my memories are lengthy and positive. But in the 12 years since our last visit there is no doubt the city has changed considerably. I recall it feeling a city with a very rich side (ie; someone pulling up in dark glasses and a red Ferrari) and a very poor and regimented side (ie; millions of people, all dressed the same in dark overcoats going about their daily business). I remember there being police everywhere, many of them looking for any excuse to stop you, request to see your ‘documents’ and only letting you go after accepting a cash payment if they felt you done something as illegal as crossing the road in the wrong place.
But not this time. It couldn’t have felt more different in fact. A city fully of affluent types, classy shops, restaurants and bars and very friendly people appearing to be happy you were visiting their city. It feels kind of weird with everything that is going on right now that a city where I really didn’t fancy coming back to has become one where I’d have no hesitation in returning.
Initially I’m writing these notes on my train back to Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, a service that didn’t even exist last time we were here. And it brings to a close what has been a fine few days.
Our journey out on Wednesday couldn’t have been smoother and after checking in to our hotel 10 mins walk from the Kremlin and Red Square we settled into a nearby pub that was to pretty much become our ‘local’, an establishment that was not only full of friendly people but it did a mighty fine pint of IPA to boot!
Next we headed to a bar called The Snooty Fox where we got to meet some of the local Gooners from this part of the world and enjoy some good food and refreshment to complete a highly enjoyable and successful first day.
An enjoyable Stubbsy walking tour commenced matchday before we started the build up back in our local. It all added up to a metro trip up to the CSKA stadium for the main reason we were all here.
CSKA’s away goal meant we all knew the tie wasn’t over. But we were also aware that we were probably just 1 goal from putting it to bed. And not in any of my previous 3 visits have I seen us win in this city. So although our feelings were positive, they were graced with a few nerves too.
The first half hour of the game passed by with very little happening. And when you are 4-1 up that pretty much suits to be honest. But not making the most of the possession and good positions we enjoyed almost came back to bite us.
Out of nothing and not after a spell of pressure or anything that worried us we found ourselves a goal behind. And in a week of European comebacks it very much made it feel like game on.
One became two and we looked in trouble and one particular strike that sailed past the post springs to mind as to when the unthinkable could have happened.
But we all knew just one goal would see us home.
And then, a quite superb bit of play from Welbs matched only by the equally excellent through ball from Mo, and that goal came. Cue a jostle in the away end graced with relief as much as anything else.
Into the last 4 we go then. Happy days.
A few celebratory beers with fellow travelling Gooners followed meaning Friday morning began accompanied by a degree of discomfort but a stroll round a sundrenched Kremlin, a couple of liveners in our local and making the most of the city’s Friday night offerings were enjoyed to the fore.
Getting in after 4am hurts at my age if I’m honest. And yes, I should know better. But going for a quite incredible lunch in Moscow’s famous Cafe Pushkin today has me back in the game. That’s rock n roll that is.
I’ll finally get home late tomorrow night of course. Newcastle away dictates I can’t get there if I head home tonight. So a night in a Kings Cross hotel beckons before my early train departure tomorrow.
So why the title to this piece? Well, although it is definitely a ‘you had to be there’ moment one of our travelling party (Strawberry Blonde) decided to get his picture taken in front of the Kremlin with some people dressed in traditional Russian clothing. Upon us asking how much it cost him he said, “about 3 quid initially…….but then Stalin got involved….”.
Silly….but not a line you hear every day of the week!
Goodbye and thanks Moscow. It’s been a pleasure.
See you if I make it up all those stairs to the away end at St James Park!
Come on you mighty reds.
Sunday 8th April 2018
Whilst completely and totally recognising it wasn’t the best of performances or the greatest of games I thoroughly enjoyed today. Why?
Well it felt a bit like the old old days. Those ‘old days’ many pine for. The ones where only those who really want to be there turn up. Those where we all know it ain’t that great right now, but the whole day out is far more important.
Writing these notes is far easier given we got the win out of a five goal game of course. A smile at the end of a cracking day out works in all walks of life. But it genuinely felt like one of those days from back in the ‘glory’ days of the mid eighties. When we were very mediocre.
It felt like Stoke all over again early on. It was genuinely awful. But whilst recognising if I was a striker I would be rightly chuffed with my involvement in the first goal, defensively it was proper bad. And I stand by the point I’ve made many times before, it doesn’t matter how bad you are playing going forward if you keep it at nil nil at the back you are massively in with a chance of a result.
To be fair, we turned it around with a couple of good goals and we went into half time both buoyant to be winning but happy with the fact we were on top and controlling the game.
But it didn’t change the fact we knew, with The Saints desperate for points, we were in for a tough second period. And so it proved.
We come out of the game with a 3-2 win and 3 points. That is accurate whatever the analysis. The best thing for me however, is the way I feel about the day.
Great banter, genuinely not giving a shit about those who couldn’t be bothered to turn up, not having to listen about how this is better and that is the answer etc etc etc…..and overall a thoroughly good day out.
Flights and hotels booked, the overall cost of a visa to go to Moscow is a proper kick in the teeth. But our small band of hardy Gooners have bitten the bullet and we are on our way this week. To go with 3 points under our belts is satisfying. And makes me all the more happy to be full of anticipation for what the week ahead holds, both as a tourist and when meeting the many Gooners in that part of the world.
Come on you mighty Gunners!