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Thursday, 20 September 2007

You Give Me Hope and Consolation…

Wednesday 19th September, 2007: Arsenal 3 (Fabregas, van Persie, Eduardo), Sevilla 0.

I meet Dermot and his eldest boy at half-time in the concourse. We’re one-nil up after a tight and technical 45. It’s the first time I’ve felt really at home at the Emirates. I barely register the shiny spaceship tonight as I head towards the turnstiles and soak up the familiar Arsenal feel of the walk from pub to ground. It helps too when you can pick out a familiar face or two among the 59,000 plus who’ve turned out for tonight’s game; Dermot and son are visible down and to my left, chins resting on wrists as they slouch over the edge of the Upper Tier. 59,000. That’s well over half as many again as turned out for Chelsea’s game at Stamford Bridge last night. They’ll say “well, it was only Rosenborg”, and they’d be right. Only Rosenborg, ranked 80th in UEFA’s meticulously compiled (and meaningless, as it turns out) league table of “co-efficients” – whatever they may be. But perhaps the blues might have managed better than a one-all draw in front of a full house. Or maybe they just need a bit of the King down the King’s Road?

Dermot’s a huge Elvis fan, so the first thing he asks is “do they play ‘The Wonder of You’ before every game?” They have done this season. Elvis’s glitzy seventies classic is the club’s choice to perform the same function as Liverpool’s anthem, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and it seems a pretty canny choice.

When no-one else can understand me
When everything I do is wrong
You give me hope and consolation
You give me strength to carry on...

Fairly standard stuff until you listen to it, as I can’t help but do, as an apology not from a husband to a taken for granted spouse but from the club to us, the supporters. It’s quite a nice, tongue-in-cheek confession to all they put us through, knowing we’ll come back in our droves, week after week, season after season. It couldn’t really be more apt:

...And you’re always there to lend a hand
In everything I do
That’s the wonder
The wonder of you...

It’s nice to have our efforts acknowledged. Although we don’t so much lend a hand as bail them out with a small fortune. Well, at least it’s a better tune than Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry’s ‘I don’t Know Why I love You, But I Do’. And, like the game itself, it has just enough grandeur and pomp to outweigh its own cheesiness.

...And when you smile the world is brighter
You touch my hand and I’m a king
Your kiss to me is worth a fortune
Your love for me is everything...

You can’t beat a good a good sing song before the game, the crowd turned choir, welcoming their team, putting the fear up their adversaries; supporters joined as one in the communion of song:

I guess I’ll never know the reason why
You love me like you do
That’s the wonder
The wonder of you.

All in all, it’s the perfect anthem for the club; an inspired and inspiring choice. So it’s a bit of a shame that no one can be bothered to sing along.

I take my seat for the second half. Arsenal maintain their first half edge, but it’s still a tight and tense game. Fabregas – the boy who can’t stop scoring – gave us the lead half an hour in, his potent but misplaced shot finding the net with the aid of a heavy deflection. Four curvaceously nosed Persian youngsters file past on the way to their seats at the very back of the Upper Tier. They look like young Arab princes. Who knows, their mustard laced, drooping inner tube hotdogs notwithstanding, perhaps that’s what they are. This is the Emirates, after all. But the young princes scampering about on the park below are its real Emirs. They withstand late pressure from a tidy, skillful Sevilla side and, although two further goals slightly exaggerate the true extent of their dominion, this is still a very big win and pretty much the perfect start to the group stage of the Champions League; a confident stride down the road to Moscow.

You look for moments of clarity in games like this, incidents that stand out from the whirling frenzy of passing and movement. One such comes two minutes into stoppage time, with the game already won. The ball breaks loose in midfield and no less than three Arsenal players make for it as if their lives depend upon it. Possession secured, the move begins that ends with Eduardo scoring the third goal of the game, one that has all the hallmarks of the classic Arsenal we thought we’d lost; one touch - Hleb, Fabregas, Eduardo – goal. The post-match huddle bubbles ever more exuberantly; players running at the heaving thicket of red and white and leaping through the air to cling on to the top of the group hug. They look as if they are and as if they feel as light as air, bundling on top of one another like that; kids in the playground. And so they should. Who would want to keep the feet of these young princes on the ground?

Dermot drops me off in Chiswick. I’m waiting for the bus on the High Road when a beautifully spoken Indian accent says quietly, “good result tonight.” “Did you go?” I ask, before I notice the redcurrant Gunners scarf that’s protecting this elegant young Brahmin’s neck from the elements. “Fabregas makes it look so effortless, doesn’t he?” he purrs. I get the 391 to Richmond. The driver looks as if he’s driven here directly from the Mosque at Finsbury Park. He has a long, straggly ash white beard with no moustache. “Good result”, he says, “who scored?” I tell him who scored and precis the game for him as he pulls out behind the bus in front, enjoying, what appears to me, his disproportionate pleasure at being told the bald facts of the match.

So, the night brings a King, four Arab Princes, and a Brahmin. And 59,000 delirious Emirs, all filled with wonder tonight. Now, this morning, comes the news of an event, the shockwaves of which will rumble on along the King’s Road for a while yet. Chelsea have lost their Caesar. He came, he saw, he conquered, but even a Caesar is no match for an Oligarch. There is only room for one special one, it seems. And money doesn’t talk…

L.U.V. on y'all,


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