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Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Casa Nebunului...

In case you’ve been wondering, I haven’t forgotten about Alex/Aliaks (delete according to preference). Hleb, the nominal hero of our story, was stretchered off against West Ham after a David Noble tackle so jarring it seemed to take the sting out of what had otherwise been a fast-paced and well-contested game. If you believe Arsene Wenger, the sight of poor Alex being carried off seemed to disturb the West Ham side more than it did his own players. His leg was, as evocatively described by le Boss, "red and bruised from the knee down to the toes." But it seems he has recovered sufficiently to travel with the rest of the squad for tonight's game in Bucharest, and there's a chance he may even play.

Even if Alex doesn't make tonight's game, at least he'll be a little bit fresher for the really important games coming up over the next month; in particular the trip to Liverpool and the home game against Man Utd. Those matches will tell us more about where this young side really is in its development. I think we'll do alright. Arsene spoke of his team being capable of astonishing, and as you'll all know by now, Arsene knows. See how easy it is to lapse back into faith, to be sidetracked by pernicious hope.

I wish I had the same faith in the writing. Or rather, I wish someone else had the same faith in the writing. You know things are bad when you start feeling affectionate towards the people who've done no more than send a cursory 'thanks but no thanks' in reply to your solicitations. At least, you think, they've bothered to respond, regardless of whether (and you doubt very much that it was) what you sent them was actually read.

But then you think of Alex, sweating over whether or not he's chipped a bone in his knee and you realise that everyone gets knocked back. The team got to within 15 minutes of winning the club's first European Cup and they've managed to carry on. So you gear yourself up to sell it to some more people who may or may not even reply. Anyway, I have to go on. For what could be worse than to give up now and then find us in the final in May and watch Alex go on to score that fabulous glory-clinching goal? Only the sort of Munich-style air crash that I'm beginning to dread, an untimely and vastly disproportionate punishment brought on by my own hubristic taunting of the fates. That, or some other unforseen act of God that might lay low our fabulously gifted and promising young team, would be just typical after such a good start. I think I'm going mad.

But then, with the book as with the team, there are a few reasons for optimism. Thanks to the Gooner Online's plug, there's been a small upsurge in interest. So, if nothing else, at least a few people are reading. Or listening. I've recorded four sections of me reading the material, so that's 2 hours worth of stuff; 70 pages, with some judicious editing. So, providing that, like the team, I can haul myself on as far as the final in May, we're looking at a book of between 350-400 pages in length. If I'm not in the madhouse by then, of course...

And then there's tonight's game with Steau Bucharest. What do I know about Steau? Not much. They won the European Cup in, I think, 1986 and they are now owned by a nutter. How do I know this? Because he says things like this:

(I will play) only religious songs before the matches, because I’m the one who pays and this is the way I like it. I will take out the song ‘We will rock you’. Why play that song? So the players kill each other? Whoever wants (to hear) devil’s music should not come to my stadium.

Fair enough. There's also been a parting of the ways between Steau and coach, the wonderfully gifted Georghi Hagi. Who knows, maybe Gigi Becali will do a Roman Abramovich and pick the Bucharest side as well as the pre-match music. We can but hope...

On Sunday, we watch Michael Palin's visit to Ceaucescu's grandiose Palace of the People in that very city. Forget Highbury; these are marbled halls - mile after mile of them. I can't remember if it was the first of the soviet regimes to fall, but it was an impressive sight at the time, the crowds stood in the square outside Casa Popularii (The House of the People), as it was known then; the dictator's grand folly (who needs 26 churches or 7,000 homes when you can have a vast, beautifully decorated empty building?) The crowd, of course, had a different name for the Palace of the People - Casa Nebunului; "The House of the Madman". They booed and jeered him as he spoke, many of them just laughing at him. It's astonishing that they still could bring themselves to laugh. But then, what better way to see off a hated dictator; other than a firing squad, obviously, as the Romanians had the Ceaucescus face. How shall we live? Not like this, they said.

It looks a pretty town, if a little bland according to Palin, the 'Paris of the East'. It's more like Milan, according to the former Python. Let's hope that's where the resemblance to the home of the current European champions ends. Palin meets Ilie Nastase, the 1970s tennis star. 'Nasty', recognises Michael, but can't quite place from where. To his credit, Palin doesn't help him out. It's a touching scene, a pleasant antidote to the current climate of celebrity worship and 'me, me, me'. Nastase debunks the legend that he's slept with 2,500 different women. When he came to write his autobiography, the Romanian had lost count of the number of partners he'd had but, urged by his publishers to come up with a figure, calculated it on the (really rather staid) projection of three or four per month. When this calculation met with a frown, he plucked the larger figure out of thin air. Perhaps that's where I've been going wrong...

L.U.V. on y'all,


Hear Bob read extracts from his diary of the 2007-08 season, "The Road to Moscow"!!

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