Wednesday 25th November 2015
Two things needed to happen last night. It couldn’t really be any simpler. The great news is they did. A productive evening then. I can’t really think of any other way of looking at it.
Finding a similar fixture from our history didn’t throw up a huge choice as you can imagine. But the one it did produced a result that will always be used in our great club’s lists of historical moments.
After winning 3 nil in the first leg of our 2006 Champions League Qualifier, the 2nd leg could be remembered as a fairly low key and uninteresting affair with all the hard work already having been done out in Croatia.
But nothing can change the fact the 2-1 victory was our first in our new stadium. Interestingly on that occasion one player scored who was in last night’s starting eleven over 9 years later! Mathieu Flamini accompanied Freddie Ljungberg on scoring responsibilities and played an equally important role this time round.
A few beers and a meal with a customer preceded the match on this occasion, not my usual routine but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless on an evening that felt strangely low key, probably as a result of it taking place on the back of our defeat at the weekend, our continued bad luck with injuries and the fact the vast majority of us still think it will be something of a shock if we manage to progress.
My vantage point was different on this occasion too and my upstairs view totally changed the way I witnessed the game when comparing it to my normal lower tier season ticket seat.
Overall I feel it is difficult to have anything but satisfaction with our performance on the night. We passed well, were patient, scored 3 good goals, limited our opponents to very few half chances and appeared to come through without any additional injuries.
So our bit was done. Something that would have been completely irrelevant if Olympiacos got anything in the Allianz Arena.
I assume the players were not aware of it but the fact Bayern were a couple of goals up inside the first ten minutes certainly calmed any nerves in all of us sitting in the stands.
So a very good night and a huge positive to take into our trip to Norfolk on Sunday.
Our defeat on Saturday means it is a fixture that has taken on additional importance. And like every away fixture in the Premier League we will get beat if we are not ‘on it’ in every aspect of our game.
See you in Norwich boys and girls.
Monday 23rd November 2015
In a season that gives a sense of ‘stuttering’ rather than ‘motoring’ it feels strange that we are only a couple of points from the very summit of English football. We could and should have been at the very top, even now after the dust has settled on Saturday afternoon’s disappointment but even though it was definitely one of ‘those’ days where everything works against you, we took nothing from a game we definitely should have won.
For today’s corresponding nostalgia trip I’m taking you back to April 1971 and a huge match at The Hawthorns. An O.G and a goal from captain Frank Mclintock secured what was to be an absolutely crucial point with just 3 league matches remaining.
Those of an age to remember that season have plenty of stories to tell and rightly so it what was a momentous time in the history of our great club. One of those refers to The Baggies’ previous match away at title favourites Leeds United. After not winning away from home for an incredible 16 months and sitting just above the relegation zone the Albion went to Elland Road and won 2-1, a result that had it gone the other way could and probably would have changed our whole history. The amusing part to that story was West Brom’s winner was apparently offside. In fact if you believe some people’s description (especially those from Yorkshire), he was so far offside “feckin’ Usain Bolt wouldn’t have caught him”!
In the matchday programme for our visit and amongst the news that the 1971 ‘Queen of the Clubs’ beauty contest would be taking place at the Tipton Club on Wednesday (surely something that should be re-introduced 😉 ), there is an interesting interview between West Brom captain and a local journo. John Wile said, “I don’t really know what all the fuss is about. Maybe Leeds have some reason to be unhappy about the outcome of the game which was vital to their championship hopes, but whatever else is said, Albion fully deserved to win the game!”
Journo replied’ “My sentiments entirely. I thought Albion created enough chances to have won the match by a four or five goal margin.”
So there we have it. Leeds were rubbish.
After we lost at Leeds 2 days later, with 2 games to go (1 in hand on Leeds), our point at The Hawthorns meant if we won them both, whatever Leeds did in their last game, we would be Champions. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Rather than the Leeds (and other) fans always talking about that ‘offside’ incident robbing them of the title there is very little ever said about the fact up to our visit to the Black country that April afternoon we had won our previous 9 games on the bounce, conceding just ONE goal along the way.
And that leads me back to our most recent encounter…..
There are some out there that believe a professional footballer should never miss a penalty. Although I agree to a certain extent, the sheer athleticism of goalkeepers these days and the availability of various kinds of media enabling them to study how every player takes a penalty evens those odds up in the modern game for me. The one thing you cannot allow for however, is if your standing foot slips away from you at the crucial moment. Even the world’s greatest players have experienced that down the years and it is down to nothing but bad luck. Crucially for us on Saturday afternoon, Santi experienced one of those unfortunate moments.
A win would have put the icing on the cake of a very fine weekender. Our usual pre-match haunt was enjoyed in the expected fashion, the sun was shining on a bitterly cold day and we enjoyed a fine night out in Britain’s 2nd city after. The reason and ‘excuse’ for us being there however, was very disappointing and frustrating.
Even though we totally dominated virtually all of the game and came close time and time again, it is the few moments where we conceded goals that concerns and disappoints me. I compare defending to a test match cricket batsman a little bit. You can be in the form of your life and not looking under any threat of losing your wicket for hours on end. Yet one second where you show a lapse of concentration and all your hard work can be undone in an instant. If we are going to challenge for the title this season, it is an element we need to eradicate from our game. And fast.
I can’t help but look back to that 1971 double winning season and that 9 match unbeaten run. 8 times our opponents got nil. That takes among many many things huge concentration along the way. And if The Baggies had got nil on Saturday we would have won. And probably by an even more handsome margin.
Tomorrow night is huge. Whatever our opinion as to whether we are good enough there is no other way to describe it. And I don’t just mean our game. If things go well for us in London N5 and in Munich we still have a chance, hope and probably most importantly, positive momentum.
And we can do our bit as always.
Come on you mighty reds!
Monday 9th November 2015
Like every Gooner I want to beat that lot down the road every time we meet. Every single time. But do you know what, going into the International break, yesterday’s result is certainly no disaster.
Munich away, like pretty much every European away trip, especially in Germany, was a ‘heavy’ old few days. And as a result I headed into the weekend seriously feeling it. Aches, pains, sore eyes, UDIs, lethargy and general misery!
Sleeping by a cool swimming pool in the sunshine would have been perfection. But work and normal life stuff got in the way. How dare it?! 😉
Football is the ‘norm’ in my life as well. But playing against that lot never feels like the ‘norm’. Season after season, year after year, it never changes (except in the mid seventies when they got relegated of course). But they don’t like to talk about that. Nor the 54 years since they last won the league of course. Or our 13 league titles to their 2……etc etc etc.
Back in April 1984 we welcomed them to Highbury after already beating them twice that season on their own patch. A 2-1 league victory was followed by a nice Christmas 4-2 spanking where I remember ‘Jingle Bells, jingle Bells, jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to see Arsenal win away” echoing into the sky from the away end. It was important we joined in with the whole Christmas spirit thing you see.
After visiting Wembley in 3 successive seasons we were very much going through a rebuilding process and developing and relying on our successful youth set up to launch our next assault on English football. Those days came just a few seasons later when George arrived and have pretty much remained ever since. Tottenham however, were still very much crowing about their early eighties FA Cup successes and telling the football world how they were ready to end that long long wait to win a league title. That, surprise surprise, never materialised.
In a relatively non productive league season for both clubs, those derby days took on even more importance (if that’s possible!) and having won the previous two it was a fine opportunity to complete a memorable 1983/84 season treble.
On a warm and atmospheric Easter day I watched the game from the standing enclosure in front of the West Stand, reserved at that time for Junior Gunners, a membership I held when just about young enough in it’s fledgling years. As well as all the other memorabilia and benefits membership included, it meant I could get in for £1!
Not all derbys live up to the hype but this was certainly one such occasion. Stuart Robson and two memorable goals by Tony Woodcock and Charlie Nicholas completed that treble as part of a 3-2 victory and made for a very Happy Easter.
Coming back to the present day other games have an ‘edge’ to them. But nothing like this one. And you could feel that in and around the stadium as kick-off approached just like back in 1984.
We knew we had been on a good run. But so have our visitors. And with many players missing right now it made it a hugely difficult game and result to predict.
We started fantastically well against Man Utd a few weeks back and added 3 great goals to our dominance. The first 20 minutes on Sunday was similar……but without the goals for our hard work. And that formed an accurate pattern for the game as a whole. Our best spells were in the first 20 mins of the 1st half, and the first and last 15 minutes of the second. And during those periods we did not make our chances tell, the usual combination of woodwork, goalkeeper and poor finishing keeping us out.
Our visitors on the other hand did get their goal during one of the two periods where they were on top.
We looked tired at times, almost a little ragged but we dug in when it mattered most and got something from the game. Hugely important not only on the day but it takes us into what for the first time I can remember is a welcome international break sitting joint top of the league. On that basis and considering how both the day and the game panned out, all in all a draw is ok. Not outstanding, but ok, especially as we were still losing with time running out.
Our visitors had their own chances in the second period too so it could have been a worse day. But it could have been better too.
Once this fortnight away from the domestic side to the beautiful game comes to a close we head to The Hawthorns next, another away day that is always enjoyable off the pitch. A win and it will make sure that enjoyment is graced with even more satisfaction of course.
Enjoy the break.
Thursday 5th November 2015
Remember Remember…..I’d rather forget it if I can!
Knowing that we have seen our team defend extremely well at times this season makes being taken apart in the Allianz Arena all the more difficult to take. They can do it. They’ve proved it. But at times last night we looked like we were playing together for the very first time.
Yet again it has been a marvellously entertaining trip off the pitch. To be fair they are rarely anything else.
Tuesday we did the culture bit with a walk through a sun drenched city and to one of the outdoor bars in the huge ‘Englisch Garten’. A lazy lunch and few beers got us back in the mood after Monday night’s exploits and consequently preceded an equally lively old night in one of the city’s many hostelry offerings.
Matchday arrived with the usual delicacy and on this occasion we joined the German Gooners in one of the most traditional bierkellers in the city. And as a result the pre match build up was enjoyed with gusto.
The Allianz Arena is hugely impressive inside and out, the latter in particular on night games.
It does feel like a fair old trek to get there though. Alright as a ‘one-off’ but I can’t help but feel if we hadn’t been able to find a location so near to Highbury and ended up with a similar situation to our hosts, getting to every home game would be frustrating and irritating.
As always the travelling Gooners were large in numbers and noise.
It is extremely difficult, downright impossible in fact, to claim anything other than we were well beaten when you lose 5-1.
But along with the things we did badly, there were some snippets of good going forward and we definitely didn’t have the rub of the green either.
The opener was millimetres from being offside, our ‘equaliser’ could definitely have gone in our favour on another day. The 2nd took a deflection and the killer 3rd might have been a foul in Santi.
Santi could and should have scored and we did create other good opportunities, especially in the second half.
Not excuses, but fact.
The other fact however, is we were extremely poor defensively and beaten by a better side on the night.
Olympiacos’ late winner (again) was the final kick in the proverbials and it means we need a minor miracle to progress.
So, extremely disappointing but these Euro trips are always little orbs of joy and we rarely let any disappointing result spoil the fun off the pitch.
Football humour and that love of a jolly prevails, “we’ll do you in the final” one such comment heard on that lengthy walk back to the metro.
Each time we have lost in this season’s disappointing Champions League campaign we have bounced back immediately in our next game.
Once again that is hugely important as we welcome our ‘friends’ from Middlesex on Sunday.
Keep the faith.
Tuesday 3rd November 2015
Lufthansa is an airline I have used a few times now. I like them. Unsurprisingly they give off an air of efficiency. But one thing really amuses me. A few years back a slight delay was described as due to ‘London’s inability to get us away on time’!! And any delays being due to a fault in England has been a regular occurrence ever since!
Yesterday it was mentally foggy. In England and from what I understand all over Europe, including Germany. Naturally, it caused delays and cancellations. But as we departed a satisfactory (all things considered) 45 minutes late, an apology was offered. ‘Sorry for the delay ladies and gentlemen, this is due to the weather London has managed to produce’! Priceless.
The in flight magazine offered something new. I have never been on a plane where you could purchase not only the usual perfumes, jewellery and souvenirs but a hedge trimmer, washing machine and a trampoline. Not a Toblerone in sight though. That’s just not on.
Nothing that a few in flight ‘Warsteiners’ couldn’t sort out of course!
Given how many flights were cancelled or seriously delayed, arriving slightly later than scheduled into an equally foggy Munich was definitely no inconvenience and once our jolly airport to hotel transfer lady efficiently got us to our destination and we’d checked in all was extremely rosy.
I’ve mentioned before I am totally aware of how fortunate I am to be in a position to follow my team over land and sea but I am writing these notes lying in a bed in Munich. And my eyes and head are unsurprisingly sore.
My plans for all European trips follow a similar pattern and have done for many years. If we are playing on a Wednesday I try and leave early Tuesday morning and come back Thursday evening and if we play on a Tuesday leave Sunday back Wednesday evening.
There is some personal logic to those plans including wanting to avoid being in the air during 9 til 5 work hours as much as possible, leaving room for error if any delays are experienced and giving time to enjoy the sights and sounds our host city has to provide.
Living on an island as I have done for 5 years or so now throws up its own transport challenges, one of which being if you take an early morning flight it is likely you will need to stay overnight somewhere before you fly. The ‘middle of the night’ ferry options are a little bit limited you see.
This trip was one I found so rather than stay in one of those soul destroying airport hotels I put it to our travelling party of 12 that we take a Monday night flight and consequently ‘wake up’ in Munich on Tuesday morning.
That seemed a great idea on paper.
Until the nearest bar to our hotel stayed open until 5am.
Needing to be awake at 9am UK time latest……that was always going to hurt.
And despite the gloriously blue sky I can see out of my hotel window, it does.
That’s rock and roll I guess.
A life not fulfilled is one not worth living.
Wack that on my gravestone when time runs out please someone!
The Bavarian city of Munich awaits.
And in 24 hours time it is matchday.
Over land and sea.
Sunday 1st November 2015
Although ultimately extremely satisfying, Saturday afternoon was a much tougher affair than the scoreline suggests. The difference between both halves in fact was quite remarkable.
Previous trips to this part of the country have yielded a variety of results. Our most recent encounters in fact have produced defeats both home and away. That along with our lengthy injury list were comfortably enough to give the fixture a real difficult feel to it.
For our previous fixture this time round I am going back to May 1966 and a testimonial.
Taking place 4 years before I was born it is not a fixture I can claim to have attended and there is little I can tell you about the game other than we won 3-1!
Fifty odd years later however, so much has obviously changed for yesterday’s hosts. The ‘Town’ part of the name was ‘upgraded’ back in 1969 in recognition to Swansea being awarded city status at that time and they left their Vetch Field home in 2005.
The programme notes described the ‘Mighty Arsenal, for many years Britain’s finest sporting ambassadors. In village and township throughout the World, the game of soccer, at its finest, is synonymous with one club. ARSENAL’
No change there then….. 🙂
As for Brian Hughes, his testimonial for which we made the trip to south Wales had been awarded for the usual ten years service, a career where he made well over 200 appearances for The Swans.
Our journey west proved trouble free but whilst enjoying our pre match fare in our usual haunt, I wouldn’t say the air amongst the travelling Gooner army was filled with confidence. It is difficult to work out exactly why given our recent League form but our injuries, recent results against Swansea and the media vultures waiting to pounce if we lost our second game in a week were all enough to approach with a certain amount of trepidation if not negativity.
Even though it is extremely obvious by the 8 or more team changes we make for every League Cup tie I find it amazing how the media don’t seem to recognise that fact. Our ‘first choice’ team went into Saturday on the back of 4 successive league wins, a run that included beating arguably the best side in Europe and that could only give an air of confidence. Yet had we lost against The Swans we all know the media would have created a sense of mini ‘crisis’ despite there being 2 completely different teams playing in the 2 competitions.
We created a couple of chances in the first half but generally we could be nothing but delighted to go into the break on level terms. We had been second best throughout, dug in and rode our luck at times. We could and possibly should have been losing. But most importantly of all, we weren’t.
Playing like that again in the second period we probably would have lost. But from minute one it was obvious whatever had been said in the dressing room, it worked.
Olly’s header, Laurent capping another great performance by tapping home and Joel Campbell finishing well on his full League debut gave us 3 quality away jostles and secured those massively important 3 points.
Mesut was my man of the match though, he simply purred in the second half and produced the kind of football I could watch all day long.
A great result then and celebrating long into the night felt the right thing to do. So I did.
Online check in is my next job this evening as Munich is our destination. A city we have visited on a number of occasions now we have proved we can match Bayern in our previous encounters. We are also aware however, getting another result is a hugely tough ask.
Enjoy the usual German hospitality if you are joining me in attending…..and make some noise as always.
Come on you yellows!!!