now hear the Arsenal sing, the Tottenham run away.
And we will fight forever more because of Boxing Day.”
Wasn’t quite like that this year, now was it?
Even though I enjoyed humming along to that old tune
on arriving at Highbury on the 26th, the atmosphere
against Wolves was definitely more post-Seasonal casual
than confrontational, a top v bottom clash that proved
utterly predictable and all over as a contest in less
than twenty minutes. While the North Bank scratched
it’s collective arse and waited for Thierry
to finally round-off the victory, the Clock End reminded
the travelling supporters from the Midlands to make
the most of their visit to THOF as it could well be
many a year before they can once again anticipate
such a journey. Bile, in other words, was in short
supply as Highbury’s 2003 came to a close.
If news of Chelsea’s defeat at Charlton provoked
the most intense buzz around the ground, Tottenham’s
slide into the relegation zone two days later has
provided the holiday season’s highlight. Four
London teams in the Premiership top five, and the
other lot becoming one of the bottom three. As Christmas
presents go, that has to be the cracker. Still, the
fixture computer’s rather benign selection of
Wolverhampton at home and Highbury’s reaction
to it has got me thinking about some other occasions
during my Arsenal-supporting days, when, for one reason
or another, I’ve found myself miles from London
as games are in progress.
In recent years, these occasions tend to correspond
with holidays abroad. For instance, I was in Rome
during that intense week in late-September just over
a year ago when Arsene’s charges went goal crazy
at PSV and then at Elland Road. The apartment where
we were staying had no TV, so for the Eindhoven game
it was a question of hooking up a laptop to the BBC
football web site and waiting for the results as the
evening wore on. That Saturday’s destruction
of Leeds was even better for it took place as we were
strolling around the Capitoline museum. Then back
to the apartment to check out the scores. Another
four goals away from home! A spot of culture then
crapping all over Leeds – what could be better?
Well, enjoying the game while supping a cocktail by
the side of a pool comes to mind. Unfortunately, my
only experience of watching the Arse at play while
languishing by the side of a narrow cool blue set
against an azure sky was for one of those collective
nervous breakdowns that the team seems to reserve
for the latter stages of the Champions League. In
this instance, Juventus away, nearly three years ago.
We were in Havana in Cuba, and had found a rooftop
pool on top of one of the bigger hotels whose management
were not too sniffy about us hanging around for a
good share of the day as long as we bought a bit of
food and some drinks every now and again. One day
we strolled in for some lunch and the waiters in the
bar were watching a game of footie. On closer inspection
it turned out to be one of the last qualifying matches
of the second Champions League Group stage. Juve v
Arsenal from Turin. Lovely! Drinks in, up by the bar.
The Caribbean sun stroking my shoulders, the ever-present
sound of street salsa rising up from below. And what
did our eleven brave boys do to add to the mood? Nada.
Zilch. Fuck all. That 1-0 defeat was one of the most
insipid away results that Wenger’s teams have
produced in recent years. As I supped my ice-cold
majito in silence, the Gunners slid lamely out of
Europe once again.
Still, not so long ago, any kind of result in UEFA’s
premier competition would have been greeted with near
hysterical adulation by a Highbury crowd starved of
success. From 1985 to 1986 I found myself working
some thirty miles west of Port Stanley in the Falklands.
(No, don’t ask. It really is too complicated
for explanation.) My fellow work mates came from all
over the UK, so Saturdays were an intense cauldron
of regional passions and barely-concealed resentments.
As I remember it, the time differences with Greenwich
Mean Time meant that it was sometime around noon that
the World Service began transmitting commentary on
the day’s featured game. Amazingly, an Arsenal
team managed by Don Howe secured a 1-0 victory at
Old Trafford which was featured on the Beeb while
I was there. One small success in a south Atlantic
sea of mediocrity that was the Arse during the mid-Eighties.
Which brings me back to Tottenham away, Boxing Day
1978. As a twenty-one year-old, I had travelled out
to California in search of… well, if not fame
and fortune then certainly sex and sinsemilla. Time,
as ever, has somewhat clouded the issue. One thing
that does remain fresh in my mind, however, was my
reaction on finding out THE sensational seasonal result
of my lifetime, a game that remains forever in Goonerville’s
Younger readers may find this concept hard to swallow,
but there was a time when the world was NOT a global
village. Indeed, before the internet, teletext, satellite
television coverage and reliable radio transmissions,
sporting news travelled around from one continent
to another not much faster than in my father’s
day. Sure, if you had the nous, no doubt one could
have heard the result direct from White Hart Lane
that December the 26th. Get someone to phone you up,
perhaps. In my case, it was at least a day or two
later. However long it took in those days to ship
over a copy of The Sunday Times to L.A.
I used to wander down to a street vendors on the
corner of Hollywood and Vine and wile away a minute
or two perusing the British news. Whether or not I
turned to the sports section straight away is doubtful.
Football, even the result of Arsenal away at Shite
Hart Lane, was not at the top of my priorities in
those days. It was more of a dormant internal lava.
Prone, however, to sporadic and violent eruptions.
That day I spewed my joy all along Hollywood Boulevard.
5-0 to the Arsenal! Away to Tottenham!! On Boxing
That glorious afternoon will always be linked to
the skills of Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton, Alan Sunderland
and their team-mates. A solitary FA Cup win the next
May hardly did justice to their collective memory.
But again, it provides a salutary reminder of just
how far this club has come under the stewardship of
Wenger and Dein. The past may have seen some great
players and some great results, but just think about
Ashburton and Henry, King Kolo and Cesc, Aliadiere
and Bentley. Whatever the results of games as 2003
fades into memory, surely the future of Arsenal Football
Club has never seemed more secure. Here’s to
Boxing Day next year, wherever we may be and whatever
we may be doing.
Hark now hear!!