New Year, New You - Safety

If there is anyone out there considering whether or not to attend Arsenal matches in 2005, there is no need to, now, as the Times newspaper has adjudicated on the matter right at the start of the year. Apparently the title race is over.

It is very nice of them to save us all this time and money. As you know, a seat in the North Bank, for example, costs about £45 per game. That’s a lot of wedge, particularly just after Christmas. For people with season tickets who are understandably disappointed to find that they have forked out unnecessarily for almost half a season worth of home games, there are still some significant savings to be made from not taking up your allocation, as well as accumulated health benefits. There is the reduced consumption of beers, pies and nervy cigarettes; your lungs, waistline and pocket will thank you. Travel to the match by public transport? How about using the time saved through avoiding congestion and delays in a constructive hobby? Consider obtaining permission for an allotment from your local authority and grow some nourishing green vegetables. And as you survey the serried ranks of Jerusalem artichokes, foot aperch on your Spear and Jackson, think also that you are sucking in God’s clean air (with just a hint of compost) instead of risking infection and irritation from manifold personal hygiene exposures that come with travelling courtesy of London Transport (or Transport for London as they would like to be known – I wonder how much that name change cost us taxpayers, by the way?).

If you prefer to use your own vehicle, consider the savings by no longer attending games: tax, insurance, petrol, parking, wear and tear of an important family asset and mileage related depreciation. Consider also the health benefits accrued from reduced exposure to combustion by-products and lessened risk of impromptu bouts of fisticuffs with white van drivers on Holloway Road. Here, too, the time save jammed in traffic can be put to good use. You could construct a model aeroplane. This offers you the chance to keep a plastic scale model of a Messerschmitt Bf109 in a prominent place in your home, which will obviously impress a great many visitors. It is also an ideal opportunity to sample the narcotic aromas of Airfix glue and recapture, thereby, your late 1970’s childhood, if you so desire. I must warn any younger readers that it is neither big nor clever to inhale isocyanates (or, for that matter, to insert safety pins into any part of your anatomy). Your parents may have done it, but you know as well as I do how stupid they are.

Of course there is an argument for Arsenal matches to continue until the summer. If you’ll permit me to explain, you will have noticed that, in six Arsenal games a season, we play against opposition we have not faced for at least a year. And those more observant among you will have noted that three teams who played against Arsenal last season are no longer on the fixture list this season. The reason for this is that, apparently, the three teams that accumulate the fewest points in the Premiership are told at the end of the season that they will not be required to play against Arsenal for the following season. They then have to play in an ignominious league competition for at least one season to earn the right to play against us again. Some never reappear; others take a considerable length of time before they reach the requisite level. This phenomenon is known as "relegation". I can fully understand if you are unfamiliar with the concept, as it has never happened to us. But suffice it to say that, to be fair to all the teams at risk of relegation, we should try and win all of our remaining games.

However there is no longer any need for supporters to attend these games. It used to be that the gate receipts that are shared with visiting sides would be invested in nurturing talented young footballers that the bigger clubs could buy. This means that a proportion of your £45 would be spent on nurturing a future Arsenal player. However, lower league clubs appear to be abandoning youth academies in droves in favour of buying, selling and swapping and loaning players amongst themselves. There is precious little for us to invest in these days. Clubs who are close to promotion to the top flight invariably buy a sampling from a stock of players of Premiership quality the moment they arrive and discard those of lesser ability to clubs in the lower leagues anyway and we ought not really to subsidise such activities any longer. The club has prudently taken to poaching young players from abroad, where they still adhere to the principle that it is worth coaching young players to very high skill levels. We have almost cut adrift the rest of the football league by now, here in the Premiership. It is time they learned to stand on their own two left feet.

Now I can understand one or two Arsenal fans who might be feel that they are missing out on some of the simpler pleasures of their chosen passion. I would ask you to steel yourselves. At this time of year we naturally reflect on the past and look to change things for a better future; making resolutions, for instance, to quit smoking (or in my case learn Japanese, which I perceive to be a little less demanding). Ask yourself therefore, if you could possibly do without the following:

  1. Alighting at Arsenal tube station amidst a cheering, chortling, hectoring, bantering sing-song throng and pressing with them along that tiny caged corridor to the surface in expectant anxiety and heightened excitement about what joys may be awaiting you.
  2. Strolling into an Islington boozer and greeting similarly clad chums, enjoying a convivial pint of lager and indulging in an earnest chat about the respective merits of Lehmann and Almunia (My personal view is that they’re both crap on crosses, you can get a fag paper between them on reaction saves, but that the Spaniard is a far better distributor of the ball. Thanks I’ll have a Kronenbourg, please).
  3. Watching Thierry Henry skipping lightly but purposefully past three defenders with such ease that, were they not so intellectually well insulated, ought to cause them severe existential angst.
  4. Seeing Patrick Vieira stride manfully towards some simple soul in temporary possession of the ball, unceremoniously oust him with an outstretched limb, take that ball and carefully distribute it to a team mate further advanced up the pitch, perhaps lobbing the ball over the stricken opponents head for good measure.
  5. Walking down Avenell Road to be greeted by the huge marble edifice of the West Stand, an Art Deco masterpiece with no known equal in the architectural pantechnicon.
  6. Seeing Sol Campbell rise above the churning maelstrom of the penalty area, at least a foot above any colleague or rival, and despatch the ball cleanly with his head to some far off distant place, where all threat of it reaching our goal and causing even a moments doubt to whomsoever wears the gloves and guards the goal is very considerably diminished.
  7. A considerable flat expanse of grass mown to such a degree of perfection that one would happily carpet Mount Olympus with it, safe in the knowledge that Zeus himself would not stumble, nor Hera feel the need to give it an additional hoovering.
  8. A Dennis Bergkamp through ball of such precision that it can only really be matched by that of a neurosurgeon were he (or indeed she) to delicately reconnect the neurons inside the brain of a gnat to enable it to fly backwards whilst simultaneously whistling the theme tune to the Waltons.
  9. Standing cheering as a bus load of your heroes drives by you and into some foreign field, standing awestruck as they alight from the chariot and deign to scrawl their signature on a pocketbook you have purchased for just such an unlikely occasion, then being even more astonished when one of these demigods exchanges a friendly word or two with you and your youngster.
  10. The sudden rising to ones feet as a player in a red shirt with white sleeves attacks the goal immediately in front of you, the sharp intake of breath as he aims his foot, and the massive ejaculation of joy as the ball travels thence to the back of the net (and for those of you so inclined, the opportunity to hug your fellow man warmly in a way that does not cause any suspicion amongst observers).

These are vices, ladies and gentlemen. Strange addictions that you can give up if you simply apply enough will-power. Remember that the dictum of the new elite is "winning is everything, money no object". Football should be nothing if not goal-based, I venture to suggest. And footballers must have ambition. When did you last hear a top footballer say "I have the best job in the world. I’m being paid shedloads to play a sport I would gladly do for free. I have a fantastic house with a swimming pool and a pool table. I have a wife whose beauty I surely do not deserve based on comparison with my own humble appearance. I drive a car that is generally acknowledged to be the fastest production road car in the world at this time and the means, should another vehicle exceed my own in power and performance to buy it and park it adjacent to my current ride in a purpose built garage. Oh, and a lucrative modelling contract. I ask you, what need have I of additional glory and recognition? What should I gain, but brief possession of some ugly silverware that does not look at all fetching next to my airbrushed canvass of Muhammad Ali?". No, my friends, that is not what you will hear. You will hear only "I am at this club because I want to win things". As a devoted supporter, therefore, how can you not align yourselves wholeheartedly with the chief desire of your heroes?

We should ask ourselves, "What are we all here for?" The answer, my friends is a trophy - the shinier the better. Once it has been decided that there will be no trophy this season (and I ask you to bear in mind that those adjudicating in this matter are very experienced professional football journalists whose opinions, in their erudition, far outweigh your own) you should, you must, gracefully concede that your raison d’etre each weekend and on the occasional week night has been expunged.

It’s 2005. Shake off those awful habits. Embrace the new you.

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