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Saturday 20th October, 2007: Arsenal 2 (Toure, Rosicky), Bolton Wanderers 0
You can now read the first part of this article here...
"We love you Bobby, because you've got red hair..."
After all that excitement, the game itself is a bit of a disappointment. Bolton have come to strangle the life out of the game and Arsenal seem sluggish after the international break. We have an awful record in games that come after our players have returned from their respective national teams, so I'm bracing myself for the worst. It's certainly not the best day to be seen wearing your replica shirt bearing the legend "Kings of Sexy Football" as the the young chap down a row to my left is. He has brought with him a black cone of rolled up paper, but the team give him no good reason to blow upon his horn. By the time I take my seat, the huge banner I've just paraded behind has begun to be folded up, so I can still only make out the word 'board'. I'm sure it says 'support the' and not one of the less pleasant alternatives on the rest of it, though.
Sagna appears to have regrown his ivory dreadlocks in the fortnight we've been away. He's certainly looking more his old self. It's Eboue who has a 'mare on our right flank today. I notice another Red Action banner, just to the side of the North End goal we defend in the first half. Love Arsenal, hate Usmanov, it reads; but there's not much to love about them in this half. Fortunately, the two men to my right are a bit more entertaining. The chap in front of them is still stood up, even though the game's kicked off. He's waving and aiming his mobile at another section of the crowd where, presumably, some friends or family are sat. The guy next to me is getting a bit hacked off with his view being disturbed by this fellow waving his hand. "He's over here, love" he eventually shouts out in the general direction in which the mobile is pointing, "he's the one in the red shirt..."
But there's a lot of hate and spite around. A guy a few rows below us does that thing you often see frustated football fans do when they disagree with the ref. Hands outsretched at their sides like drunks stood in the entrance of a supermarket, they yell at no one in particular, "You cunt!" There's some hateful tackling too. Hleb is clattered, Adebayor poleaxed and Eboue cythed down a few yards outside the box. The ball is hoofed into touch and one of the home supporters throws it with some gusto not back onto the pitch but straight into the away supporters' section. There are boos at some point for almost every single Bolton player, but most of them are aimed in the direction of the Spaniard, Ivan Campo (Nigel from Eastenders, gone completely and utterly to seed.) Half time comes and, for the first time this season, that is actually a relief.
The interval announcer is evidently hip to the lack of love being generated by the team's display. Ever hopeful, he plays a snippet of (I'm pretty sure it's) Frank Sinatra singing 'Let there be love' beneath the scores from around the grounds. Still sensing some ambivalence, he follows it up with 'Should I stay or should I go?' They seem to like the Clash here. The other week we had 'London Calling'. 'White Riot' might have suited today a little better, perhaps.
The second half starts with Alex Hleb moving into a more central position and Eduardo taking his place on the left flank. It seems to work instantly as a golden opportunity opens up for Eboue only for the elegant Ivorian to snatch at his shot and blast wide when he has plenty of time and space to be more composed. Clichy goes on an astonishing forty yard dribbling run that would have been the best goal ever scored by a left back in the history of the game if he hadn't been stopped in his tracks in the box before having had a chance even to shoot. Adebayor shanks another very good chance well wide.
The guys to my left are having a ball though, mimicing the panicky arm movements of the supporters around them every time Arsenal miss a chance, and making spoooky ghost noises to poke fun at such alarm. Walcott and Rosicky come on for Eduardo and Eboue and once again the substitutions seem to work. On 68 minutes, Toure is lining up behind a free kick, about 25 yards out from goal. I turn to the guy to my right and tell him Toure almost broke the same goalposts he's aiming at right now in the game against Sunderland. He's due a goal from one of these free kicks, I say; and sure enough, he scores planting a snooker pot of a shot low into the corner to the right of Jussi Jaaskelainen's diving hand.
The chap in front of the guys next to me is up and has his shirt off, whirling it above his head. But everyone's smiling now; everybody's filled with love. His back is covered by tattoos, but you can tell he's really just a great big softy; one of them says 'Turtle power', after all. The love returns. The fellow in the "Kings of Sexy Football" shirt finally has something to blow his trumpet for. "Tally-ho!", I chuckle with the chaps to my right as he "dut, dut, dut-dut-duts" to his heart's content. Then some more wonderful work on the right side of the box from Theo Walcott takes him to the byline from where he pulls a ball back into the box. Rosicky is on hand to clip the ball delicately past the Bolton goalkeeper again. Two nil, and love is everywhere.
Walcott shows a few more dazzling turns of speed, once eliciting a cry of "run Theo, run!" from one supporter, in such a way as to suggest that he's one of the Scooby Doo gang and is being chased by some poorly animated mine owner who has been reduced to pretending to be a ghost by wearing a white sheet over his head and shouting "wooo-wooo" in order to claim off his insurance because his business has been haunted so he can ditch the unprofitable business as a bad job. Just when you thought he'd somehow made it through unscathed, Campo gets his obligatory caution. The whistle blows, and he and fellow Spaniard Fabregas join in a no-hard-feelings, eh? embrace. Arsenal do their huddle thing and the clattering congas of 'Move on up' by Curtis Mayfield echo around the empty arena as we roll away in waves.
I head off to get the Silverlink back to Richmond. Waiting for the train at Highbury and Islington station, I read about Denton Connell, otherwise known as "The Bear". Denton was a well-loved Arsenal fan who died in a car crash in - of all places - Moscow. I don't think I ever met him, but his picture in the latest issue of the Gooner is starting to look familiar. These lovely lines from Bins' obituary on the same page give some idea of how much he'll be missed:
The tribute was attended by over 1,000 friends and family. Outside the old Highbury stadium the march stopped for a minute's silence to remember the Bear. The words "Our Friend, Our Family" were shouted out and the silence fell. For one minute big men, hard men a lot of them, stood with heads bowed to hide the tears as they remembered their friend. At the end of the silence...a visceral "Whoaahh!" - his trademark roar. The roar shook the trees, vibrated up and down surrounding streets, bunked in over the old turnstiles and ran around Highbury stadium for the last time. These men were venting their grief as only they know how, in the age-old way warriors say goodbye.
One more warrior who'll swim with our army no more. Rest in Peace, Denton.
I do recognise someone though, waiting for the Silverlink to take me home. Simon Day, the comedian from The Fast Show, whom I first saw doing his Tommy Cockles routine, is chatting to a couple of gooners on the platform just along from me. He's in the same compartment as the train heads into the bakelite pallor of the west. It's alright though, I don't think he recognised me.
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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