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.
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!
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! 🙂
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!!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!