Say Hello Wave Goodbye
Thursday 29th October 2015
As much as I agree that when such a huge Gooner away following has spent enormous amounts of time and money getting to Sheffield on a Tuesday night we all expect to witness a performance where there isn’t just one team in it, I do also believe if you choose to support the team in League Cup ties there is always the chance you will get to see a game like that. After such an entertaining night out in the previous round however, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that we went out with such a whimper against a side, who despite playing very well and thoroughly deserving to win, are little more than an average Championship outfit. Our distinct lack of success at Hillsborough continues.
Those regular bad days included many in the nineties and for this piece I am going to take you back to September 1998 and an afternoon where despite our double winning team suffering a defeat, will be remembered throughout football for an incident involving Paolo di Canio and referee Paul Alcock.
The majority of football fans will have seen the incident on the TV or via social media these days but it didn’t look any less shocking or amusing from the away end believe me. The shock was only the fact that seeing a professional football player (and a high profile one at that) push a referee so that he ends up on the ground has always been extremely rare and remains that way to this day. The amusing side came from both the way Mr Alcock stumbled to the ground like someone who had enjoyed too many jars down his local and the way Nigel Winterburn danced like a boxer trying to avoid a punch in the same incident! Altogether not something to be condoned of course but a very amusing memory nonetheless!
The fall out was something like an 11 match ban for the Italian and for Mr Alcock, despite him very kindly agreeing to be a speaker at a future Maidstone Arsenal Supporters Club Christmas do, I detected on the night that even after a number of years he still didn’t really see the funny side! The difference between footballers, fans and referees at times I guess….
Despite the very long drive and the disappointing game, overall I pretty enjoyed my trip to Yorkshire. Like all cities with universities present, the lifestyle is pretty social in Sheffield and consequently we enjoyed the pre-match build up in one of the many options such a city centre provides.
Hillsborough is old school. Traditional, atmospheric and in places, a little bit ‘grotty’ to be honest. Despite the night time cup tie feel very much being present, the Leppings Lane end can do nothing else but evoke graphic memories and emotions for the vast majority of football fans, especially those of a certain age, no matter what your views are about what happened on that terrible day 26 years ago. And for that reason, it did feel a little bit of a strange night at times.
The love for cup ties has always been there for the majority and although our success in this particular competition is limited to semi and final defeats since Stephen Morrow’s winner against Tuesday’s hosts back in 1993, our success in the FA Cup over the last 2 seasons has certainly re-lit any dwindling flame for this kind of fixture. And to have 5 odd thousand travel to Sheffield on a Tuesday night it is difficult to argue with that fact.
The game was as odd for me as it was disappointing. For half an hour absolutely nothing happened. Plenty of passing but little else. Then, with their first soiree into our defensive third, our hosts took the lead. Everything we concede is disappointing, frustrating and annoying defensively of course, but to be fair, I thought it was a decent goal. It certainly meant we needed to improve and pull ourselves together if we were to progress.
The team selection process for these games is a difficult one for me. Mr Wenger has been consistent down the years and depending on the games immediately around each fixture he adjusts his matchday squad accordingly. If we have injuries in the squad he is reluctant to play his ‘first choice’ players. He made 10 changes against Tottenham, but with very few injuries it was still an experienced line up. And we got a night and performance to enjoy out of that.
Tuesday on the other hand was different. He could have picked 10 or 11 first choice players and we might have progressed. But if 2 or 3 of them picked up injuries he would have been slaughtered for it. He chose to only pick 2 or 3, we got knocked out……and we still came out with a couple of knocks. It’s difficult to know how our manager can win in that situation.
On the other hand however, Tuesday did demonstrate one thing. Outside of our ‘main’ squad of 18, we are a long way from putting together a team that could compete on any professional level. That’s not me saying individually these players are not talented and could go on to prove me wrong but ‘en masse’ we struggle. And on the showing the other night it is difficult to argue.
And I’m sorry, but I cannot stand that ‘cup kit’. We looked like clowns on the night. And at times, we played like them too. I sincerely hope we never have to wear it again. Red for home, yellow/gold for away. Wednesday play in blue. So either would have done.
So, our League Cup adventure comes to an end for another season and will be remembered for 2 things. A great great night at the Lane where Matty Flamini slammed in a 20 yard volley to put us through and very much a damp squib of a night at Hillsborough.
And it was the former we discussed as we enjoyed the city’s Tuesday night hospitality until the wee small hours. If nothing else, student night’s certainly give you an option of ‘cheap’ drink deals, whatever your age!! 🙂
The tough trip to south Wales comes next as we visit the Liberty Stadium and take on a team where we have enjoyed a mixed bag of results since their return to the top flight.
There is definitely no reason to feel down after this week I feel and taking positivity into Saturday afternoon is hugely important.
Both on and off the pitch.