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And so I’m back and a big thanks to Tom for filling in. Having to write yesterday’s blog must have been a chore and a half but having read it last night when I got home it was tops. Better not give him too much credit though or he’ll be off to set up tomblog.

So where to begin? At the beginning is always a good idea so here’s the Champions League final trip report. As this is going to be quite long it’s best if I keep it short on the homepage. Just click ‘more’ below to continue.

The journey there

Well, as I explained it was a long journey there. I set off around 4.30pm on the Tuesday and arrived in Perpignan around 7pm. My train from there to Paris didn’t leave until 10pm so I had three hours to kill. So basically I just drank beer and read my book. It’s a funny place. Everyone there looks like Nicolas Anelka or Mike Tyson. And that includes the women. There weren’t too many Barcelona fans when I arrived but by the time there were lots of them singing and wearing jester hats.

‘Right’, I thought. ‘I’ll have another few beers on the train then conk out’. Sadly there was no bar on the train which meant I had to just go to sleep in my compartment which was shared with three other people. An elderly Tottenham fan (seriously) and his wife on the way back from Benidorm and a bald Frenchman (not Pascal) who snored like a fox. Eventually I got to sleep and woke up around 7am as the train was approaching Paris. Got off the train with my Arsenal scarf on amongst all the Barcelona fans and one Parisian thought this was tremendously amusing.

“You are zee only Ars-en-al. Haw, haw, haw!”, he said. He was right though.

Then it was a €5 coffee while I waited for my mate Chris to arrive from Madrid. We met up then tried to get a taxi but trying to get a taxi in Paris is like trying to convince Angelina Jolie she really needs to clean your mickey with her mouth. Relatively hard work. Eventually we got one. A taxi and headed towards the Arc de Triopmh area. Picked up tickets, got lost in some amazing mansion then met up with the fabulous Amy Lawrence from the Observer and mistakenly had a beer on the Champs Elysee. Two beers and a 25cl water cost €37. Each beer was €14.70. Welcome to Paris, tourist bastards!

After that we made it to the hotel, dropped off the bags and got a quick bite to eat. Then it was…

Pre-game

Well, the plan was Kitty O’Shea’s and that’s what happened. Arrived with Chris at about 2.15 and there was a small Arseblog table of 3 or 4. Soon more Arsebloggers showed up. Then more. Then some more. Then even more and soon the whole place was crawling with Arsebloggers. Far too many to mention by name but it was great to see those of you I’d met before and great to meet up with so many of you that I hadn’t previously encountered. There was lots of singing (a rendition of ‘You are my Arseblog, my only Arseblog was funny) and taking of pictures and drinking of beer – thank you to everyone who bought me one! – and then somebody arrived with a football.

Surrey Gooner in goal - click for biggerThis meant a game of football took place on Rue ded Capucines using a post office sorting trolley as the goal, Surrey Gooner as the keeper and everyone else as the 12 year old schoolboys who just ran around after the ball, stopping every now and then to let the traffic go past. I suppose we need to say a word of thanks to the people working in the post office there who very kindly gave us our ball back after it went in the window three or four times. You can see the pitch and the post office in this pic here. Click for a bigger version!

Eventually though some policemen came along and it was considered wise to stop the ball playing as they had machine guns and stuff. The Arseblog banner – which was too big for the stadium and was blocking people’s view and taken down – was hung out the window of Kitty’s. I don’t have a picture of it although I’m sure someone will send one on to me during the day and I’ll update here. Update: Here it is. It was a brilliant atmosphere though, really friendly, lots of great banter and singing and a real credit to Arsenal fans like all the travelling Gooners were on this trip.

Then it was off to the stadium and having paid some Italian family to ensure safe passage we got there in record time. We went up to stand around outside for a bit and were unceremoniously told to move off the red carpet on which the VIPs were walking to get into the stadium. No arguments. You know, machine guns. Anyway, we were standing there and who did I see but Chelsea chief exec Peter Kenyon.

“Hey Peter!”, I shouted. His head turned slightly. “FUCK OFF YOU UGLY BALD CUNT!”, I roared as loud as I could. One of the highlights of my day, it really was. Chris had to wait for his ticket but due to the amount of beer the generous Arsebloggers had bought me I was bursting for a piss so I went inside. Waiting around inside I met Pascal Cygan and shook his hand and then I spotted the Grimster coming towards me. Quick as you like I had my camera out, gave it to some Barcelona girl and she took my picture with me smiling beside a very scared looking Gilles. Awesome! Surely that had to be a good sign.

Went to the seats, did the pre-match chat, took some pictures and then it was time for…

The game

Well, I don’t know what more I can say, nearly two days after the match, that hasn’t already been said. I suppose some commentary on the big moments:

Jens – hard to argue with the red card but everyone I’ve spoken to, and that includes lots of Barcelona fans, would have been happier for him to have allowed the goal and dished out a yellow card. Such a shame for his season to end the way it did but football is like that. The amazing high of saving the penalty in the semi to being sent off after 20 minutes of the final. I saw him heading for the VIP area after the game and he looked shattered. What if he finds out he was jinxed from the start? Even his old enemy has words of comfort. Still, he’s had a great season for us and we wouldn’t have been there without him. You can read what he thought of it all here.

Our goal – what a header and fair play to Campbell, he really put in a performance. When Almunia saved from Eto’o in the first half I really thought it was going to be our night. 1-0 to the Arsenal. Shades of Parma 94. We jumped around for what seemed like 5 minutes afterwards.

Their goals – playing against 10 men for half an hour is hard. Playing against a team as good as Barcelona for 70 minutes is exhausting. It’s slightly ironic that after saying we needed to attack their full backs both their goals came from getting in behind ours. Eto’o’s goal was offside though and Belletti’s was a bit lucky too. Seeing that second goal in made me go numb though. A truly horrible moment because you knew there was no way back from it.

Our players – they battled so hard against a very good Barcelona team well trained in theatrics and gamesmanship. There’s no way you can take away from their footballing ability but their sly fouls, dives and card waving at the referee does them no credit. To a man our boys stood up and did their best and you can’t ask for more. Last night my mind kept coming back to the Henry chance when he could have made it 2-0. I don’t think even Barcelona would have come back from that but it wasn’t to be. From where I was sitting he looked injured in the first half. Like Tom yesterday I’m so proud of the lads that played and the squad that got us that far throughout the whole campaign.

Arsenal fans...

A word for the Arsenal fans as well. After they’d gone 2-1 up and were playing keep ball the Barcelona fans were shouting and singing, as you might imagine. We might have had no way back but there was a chorus of ‘Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal’ which sent shivers down my spine it was so loud.

Post-game

Got a train from the stadium to somewhere called Chatelet, I think, and without exaggeration it took us 15 minutes to find our way out of the place. Then we realised we were miles away from where we needed to be. Tried to find a taxi. No joy. Even the empty ones wouldn’t stop for us so we ended up walking back towards the hotel. 45 minutes later we got there. At that point my legs were killing me, I was still soaking in the fact we’d come so close and I just didn’t have the energy to go back to the pub. Met another Dub on the street who was looking out for the 71 away shirt all day long he said.

“Arseblogger?”, he said as I was waiting to cross the road.

“Yep”, I said.

“No way!”, he said. We had a bit of a yap then went our separate ways. I got a sandwich, went to the hotel, went to sleep.

The journey home

Lots of Barcelona fans around the Gare de Lyon the next morning. Bought a newspaper and read about the game. Then we set off. My saving grace for the journey from Paris to Perpignan is that the Catalans are the Scots of Spain and they’re way too cheap to buy a first class ticket. So that was a relief. Perpignan meant another wait amongst the Barca fans and the Anelkas then, my mistake, it was a second class carriage back to Barcelona. Full of Barcelona fans. And two American backpackers who looked amused and slighty scared. It was about as much fun as having your face eaten by a flesh eating bug then having to eat the poo of the flesh eating bug which is actually your own face. Eventually I got back, got a taxi.

“Have you just come from Montpellier?”, the taxi driver asked.

“No. Paris.”

“Oooh, fantastic. Did you go to the game? Are you not going to Camp Nou to celebrate.”

“Fuck that shit. I’m an Arsenal fan.”

“Oh.”

He was nice enough though and we had a yap about the game. We both agreed the ref was a cunt so that’s something. Back home. Some dinner and some wine and time to reflect on what was an unforgettable trip for lots of reasons.

Conclusions

Like Tom I’m not going to end this on a downer, particularly with the news that’s breaking this morning! As heartbreaking as it was to lose in the way we did I think there is a huge positive to be taken from this season. At a time when we lacked character and results were going bad we went to Madrid and did something special. It turned the season around domestically as well. 4th, not what we wanted at the start of the season, but considering how things went it was a great finish and the way we did it was legendary.

In Europe I’ve been saying for years that we’ve suffered some kind of mental block, like we never thought we belonged or were good enough. We have put that very much to rest this season. You don’t get to the Champions League final and come close to winning it without being good enough. We might have taken a step backwards in the league – and I’m convinced we’ll go two steps forward because of it – but we have made a giant leap in Europe. There is no reason why we can’t get there again and one thing that has always happened with Arsene Wenger’s sides is that we have learned from and taken on board bitter defeats. We’ve used them to improve and to drive us. That’s going to happen again. These players are going to be hurt by what happened in Paris. They’ll want to put it right and I believe they are more than capable of doing that.

We’ve got great kids, a great manager, the best striker in the world and by far the greatest fans I have ever seen. The future is bright and thankfully next season the future will be red and white in a brand new stadium.

It might have been sickening, gutting, upsetting and made me get a little bit sick into my mouth but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It was amazing. And after nights like Wednesday the next night of glory is going to be that much sweeter. Again, cheers to everyone I met out there. Arsenal is a great club and great people follow it.

The end.

Round-up

I can’t leave this morning without talking about the news that Thierry Henry has decided to stay with Arsenal. He says:

“I hope to stay for as long as I can keep running. I could not face leaving the fans. They are like my family. My team showed me I didn’t have to leave. They showed me they had heart. I hope to finalise all the details today.”

Great news. What more do I need to say? He’s the best player in the world, in my opinion, and he’s ours. It’s certainly something that will help cheer people up after the disappointment of Paris and now we can concentrate on the summer, bringing in the players that we need to step-up another level and with Henry on board the attraction of Arsenal is far greater.

I am chuffed. I’ve also got tired fingers because I’ve written a lot. How are you lot then?