Dartford: NLD 4 Stacey

So long since I’ve been to a new ground, I nearly forgot how to blog. Fortunately, along came the North London Derby, at Dartford’s Princes Park stadium for a little girl called Stacey. It was a friendly atmosphere, and topped off a great weekend of football. (Might blog about the Supporters Summit later)

After arriving at Dartford station from Charing Cross, and spending five minutes trying to work out were the bus stop was using the illogical maps outside, we made our way to Princes Park. I’ve visited a few grounds in the history of this blog and during my football supporting career, but I don’t think I’ve visited a ground from the non league. I’m not sure if I can count this as a proper visit, as I didn’t see Dartford play (I’m quite sure they would have played better than some of the fat lumps huffing and puffing their way around the pitch) and this was a game where normal rules seemed to be suspended. The stewards didn’t search our bags when we arrived (is this normal?) and they let us take our beers out of the bar.

Outside after the match.

Outside after the match.

Princes Park is a very modern stadium, apparently designed with the environment in mind. It normally has grass on the roof of it’s stands, but that seemed to be missing today. It is mostly standing, which pleased this advocate of safe standing immensely. Seeing a rare opportunity to stand on some actual terracing – and not in a seated area – I grabbed it happily.

The match was a very amateur affair and many of the players looked a little tubby and very unfit. Arsenal stormed to an early 3-0 lead (with two goals from some guy who used to be in Desmond’s), before giving Spurs a two goal lifeline because we’re nice like that. The crowd was a bit friendly and quiet, so I attempted to build an atmosphere all on my own.

“Ooh to, ooh to be, ooh to be a Gooner.”
“Who ate all the pies?” (To the Fat Boy goalkeeping for Spurs in the first half)
“Are you Tottenham in disguise.”
“Come on, Arsenal.”

In the second half, the Arsenal Ex-pros, celebrities and David Hillier set out not just to win, but absolutely annihilate Spurs. They scored another six, taking the tally to 9-2, before handing Spurs a penalty. Appropriately, the Spurs and Arsenal players allowed young Stacey to come on to take (and score) the kick. They moved the ball to a child’s kicking distance – about 6 yards – and the Arsenal goalkeeper dived out of the way to allow the ball to trickle into the net. Arsenal then chipped the keeper with the final of the game. 10-3.

After exchanging banter with some drunk Spuds, we headed for the town centre and one final drink in a cheap but fancy-looking place called The Royal Victoria & Bull Hotel. A place with some interesting juxtapositions on the ceiling.

D.I.S.C.O Castle

D.I.S.C.O Castle


Crystal Palace: Winning the hard way

My first away trip of the season, and two months after the debacle of Villa, Arsenal flying high and Palace sinking further adrift.  Palace were in so much trouble this week, that they were thrashed by Fulham and then “parted company with” their manager.   These events indicated that Palace would not be an easy side to beat (lots of players desperate to prove themselves to the new management).  Combine that with the legendary Holmesdale Fanatics – which I’d been told to watch out for – and Selhurst Park would be a tricky place to visit.

Tricky can used be used to describe the journey from Barnet to the distant reaches of South London, where Palace are based. Making my way onto the Northern Line, I met a helpful Palace fan who could tell me which train to get (not the slow, stops at every station in South London train), which station and at the same time fearing another thrashing. I thought Palace would stick 10 men in goal and pull down the hatches. He also said Selhurst Park was a five minute walk from Norwood Junction station, but it seemed longer when I was walking down there. But that could have been because I had to walk slow so my blind, hard of hearing, bad back & hips father didn’t get lost.

Entering the ground was like re-entering the 1950s, with a person checking tickets at the turnstile. As for the turnstiles, well I’m sure they should be in a museum. So old they are that they make Spurs turnstiles look modern and Underhill look state of the art. Inside there was a bit of a push to get to our standing places (sorry, seats). The seats themselves could have been in a museum, they are made of wood and look like a throwback to the 1930s. Needlessly to say, barely anybody sat on them during the match.

First half was a bit boring. Arsenal played well enough, should have had a penalty which useless referee gave a free kick for instead. Palace defended like it was the game of their lives. The Arsenal Away Crew were in good voice as usual, drowning out any noise from the Holmesdale end (who, I have to say, did look fantastic). Half time came, and Palace brought cheerleaders onto the pitch to entertain the fans who weren’t drinking or on the toilet.

Second half started well. Arsenal were shooting towards the end where we were sitting, and got a penalty after about 30 seconds when Gnabry was brought down clearly in the penalty area, so the referee could not miss it. Arteta whacked it into the net, we went wild and it was “1-0 to the Arsenal” ringing around Selhurst Park. This wasn’t the start of the destruction we wanted, and Palace feared. Gnabry went close, before Chamakh (who was shit at Arsenal, and is still shit now) got Arteta sent off. Down to ten men with 25 minutes to play, Wenger rearranged the line up. Off came Cazorla and Gnabry, on came Wilshere and Monreal to steady up the midfield. All looked a bit wobbly, with Szczesny having to pull off some energetic saves, until Giroud scored the second goal. Three points guaranteed, we sang “we are top the league” with confidence and headed back into London Bridge singing.

Arsenal: State of the Club

I know that yesterday was a home game, and that this blog was primarily set up as a chronicle of my away travels. However, yesterday’s opener against Aston Villa needs me to comment in blog post format otherwise I will explode with anger.  Anger at the match officials. Anger at the Arsenal board. Anger at Arsene Wenger.  Add those all together and its no wonder people display their displeasure in such colourful ways.

A few things struck me yesterday;

1. The audience at The Emirates. I use the word audience, because some of the people there yesterday cannot in any sense of the word be described as fans.  There were the hoards of tourists outside snapping pictures like they were at Tower Bridge and football is just something to be looked at and not loved (summed up in the twitter photo of the kid in Barca shirt, Arsenal scarf with a Chelsea phone cover).  Then there are the watchers personified by the woman I heard at half time complaining about all the swearing.  Well, I’m sorry, but the fans at Arsenal are very frustrated by the direction the club is taking at the moment and when we’re frustrated we – as human beings go through the range of rude words to express our frustration.  I’m sorry Little Johnny had to listen to the swear words, but if you choose to attend a football match don’t complain about the language.

2. Arsenal FC PLC.  This is not a football club, this is a business with the sole ambition of making money for the shareholders and directors.  How much the fans pay for a season ticket or membership every year, the fact that we never put up a serious challenge for silverware and keep selling our best players without a decent replacement.  Ivan Gazidis, Stan Kroenke and all their cowboy friends don’t care about winning trophies, as long as we play in the Champions League and the bank balance is kept firmly in the black, they’re happy.  They are happy when the tourists and Little Johnny’s middle class Mummy and Daddy bring him to a match despite not understanding a thing about football. Because they have the money to buy tickets and they’re the nice, polite audience that will behave and not throw bananas at Gareth Bale.  None of them understand football.

3. Arsene Wenger. Now, I love what Wenger has done for the club. He changed us from the boring club that went one-nil up and parked the bus. Himself and David Dein brought quality players (Henry, Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg) and silverware. He’s the only manager in the Premiership era to go through a league season unbeaten.  However, there’s someone missing now – David Dein.  Since he was pushed off the board, we have only made one Cup final, slipped further behind the top clubs and looked a shadow of “The Invincible”.  My point is, Wenger needs someone in the boardroom who has the passion that Dein has, as well as a friend to tell him when he’s making a mistake.  The problems at Arsenal aren’t all Wenger’s fault, but he’s the obvious scapegoat to take the flack for the board.

Combine all those problems with the inept refereeing yesterday (not forgetting the fat lump assistant running the line in front of where I was sitting) and I’m surprised there wasn’t a riot.  The fans were certainly angry enough.


Fulham: Stroll by the Thames

I have noticed that all but one of my away match trips this season have been to London grounds. Not very adventurous, I know, and next season I’ll at least try to get out of the M25 a bit more. Saying that, Fulham is worth a mention and a visit because it is possibly the prettiest football ground in the country.

Tucked away amongst the houses of Fulham – and squeezed up against the Thames (you can see the river from certain seats in the ground) – the tiny ground doesn’t look much like a football stadium as you approach from Stevenage Road. You would expect it to be a stately home from the Tudor era, or a museum dedicated to the life of Thomas Cromwell (he’s from Putney, I read it in a book called Wolf Hall).  Unlike other grounds in England, Fulham has a lot of charm and is similar to the old Highbury Stadium.  The fans are much like West Brom fans, as they are largely inoffensive and generally very nice people.  We’ll overlook the fact that they have Dimitar Berbatov up front.

The afore-mentioned Berbatov was booed by the travelling Gooners every time he touched the ball, for his Spurs and Man United connections.  Though that wasn’t too often, as he decided to have one of his sulk days. Ex-Gooner Steve Sidwell opted to help the Arsenal cause as much as he could, by planting his studs on Mikel Arteta’s shin after ten minutes.  Referee had no choice but to send him to the changing room to make sure the showers were hot enough for the rest of the Fulham team.

Arsenal, being their productive selves, didn’t make the most of their numerical advantage (mainly because they had to carry Giroud as well as play) and only took the lead after 42 minutes when Big Friendly German, Per Mertesacker tapped in Theo Walcott’s free kick. And that was all the work the scoreboard operator had to do. Fulham troubled the Arsenal net in the second half, but it was correctly ruled out for offside. All the Putney End breathed a sigh of relief as the referee blew the final whistle.

Tottenham: Across Enemy Lines

As I made my way down Tottenham High Road from Edmonton, I gradually felt more uncomfortable the closer I got to the ground.  I guess it’s like being in a foreign country, but I never felt this uneasy walking through Paris or Barcelona.  Maybe it’s more like visiting Tehran, Kabul or Pyongyang, with the added fear that the locals might just throw a Molotov cocktail the moment they see something red.  When you’re visiting the territory of a rival tribe, you do feel a bit apprehensive about walking their streets.

Interesting that for all their talk of hating Arsenal, everything Tottenham do seems to be in homage to the more successful neighbour. After the talk of moving to the Olympic Stadium, they are now building a ground that looks exactly like The Emirates next to the old one – just like Arsenal.  They do need a new ground, as White Hart Lane is a cramped pisshole that – if the rioters of summer 2011 had any sense, should have burnt to the ground.  Okay, we may have had to share the Emirates with them, but we would have been spared squeezing through turnstiles that were old fashioned in 1985.  My Dad nearly got stuck in them.

Having negotiated the turnstiles of doom and glue, we found our standing places in the fiery heart of Mordor – I mean White Hart Lane – just in time for kick off.  Travelling Gooners were in full voice, cheering on Cazorla, Giroud and Wilshere, as well as abusing Bale and Adebayor.  Spurs fans, for all their loud carping about “the Highbury Library”, were about as vocal as the crowd at a second round match at Wimbledon on Court 18.  I had the misfortune of being “seated” on the edge of the away enclosure, and could see their goading faces every time they scored.  Arsenal did all the pressing in the first half, but seemed unable to locate the goal. Spurs ventured into the Arsenal half three times. 1) a corner, which Bale took and someone in the Arsenal end threw a banana at him (Bale unfortunately looks like he’s only just reached the Homo Erectus stage in his evolution), 2) their first goal scored by the afore-mentioned neanderthal, and 3) their second goal.  We entered half time 2-0 down, and devoid of ideas.

The second half started well. Arsenal actually managed to score, through the BFG – Per Mertesacker – via a couple of Spurs bodies. Unfortunately, that was the only time we troubled Spurs’ net – not even the wide shots troubled the Spurs side netting.  As the game made its way to full time, the home support sensed the win and perked up a bit.  After six minutes of added time, the referee called it a day and probably blew the whistle on our Champions League chances at the same time.

Brighton and Hove Albion: Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…

As soon as the draw for the fourth round determined that Arsenal would be playing Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amec/Falmer Stadium, I said “I will go to that one… if we get past Swansea.” The replay came and we won it with the help of a Jack Wilshere goal and Swansea being more concerned about the League Cup. So, it was off to Brighton – as my visually impaired Dad’s carer.

Brighton Seafront

Rolling into Brighton on the National Express at 13:15, with enough time to spare, we wandered up to the Palace Pier and onto beach. Despite it being a cold day in January, both were full of old people and families, who were probably playing with the games machines or being sick on the waltzers.  After my Dad attempted paddling in the Atlantic, we made our way up to Brighton station to catch the match train to Falmer, via Brighton’s shopping district The Lanes.

Brighton and Hove Albion (I’ll call them BHA from here onwards because that’s a big name) have managed to arrange it with the transport authorities so that all those with match tickets travel free on the train and buses.  Some compensation for their ground being situated miles from anywhere in the Sussex countryside.  Unfortunately, the trains and stations tend to get pretty packed and we all squeezed into the carriages like sardines and waited until every available inch of space in the cattle trucks had been filled with football fans.  When that was done the train driver let go of the handbrake and moved along.

The next mission was getting into BHA’s ground.  See, their away entrance is one double door with the turnstile just inside.  This is obviously not a problem for league games, but when you have 4,000 fans from a big club like Arsenal and no obvious queuing system (apart from push, shove, squeeze and crush) you do kind of have an accident waiting to happen. On this occasion, everyone got into the ground in one piece.

We took our seats (on an aisle, next to the stairs) just as the match kicked off.  The Arsenal away fans were in good voice again, and “She Wore a yellow ribbon” reverberated around the south stand, and probably all of Falmer.  Arsenal took the lead from a counter attack after 16 minutes. Szczesny threw the ball out and Rosicky picked it up, passed it to Giroud who stuck it in the back of the BHA net.  Arsenal spent the rest of the half barely bothering, and BHA equalised on 33 minutes.  At half time, I went to buy hot drinks and used up the entire 15 minutes queuing in another illogical queue.  Arsenal had woken up at half time, and looked a lot more purposeful – except Andre Santos who looked lost.  Giroud restored the lead, went to celebrate with a group of fans and got booked by the little jobsworth in the black.  Five minutes later, BHA restored parity and Wenger brought out the heavy artillery – Walcott, Wilshere and Gibbs.  Five minutes from time, Walcott scored the winner and put Arsenal in the fifth round.

Leaving the match, and heading back into Brighton on the same packed cattle trucks (fortunately, another Gooner helped my Dad onto the train first and he was able to sit down.  With two hours to fill before our coach left, we sat down in a trendy-looking pub by the seafront (it’s called The Fishbowl, nice and pricey) and got talking to a bunch of Gooners from south London, who were impressed when my Dad told them he had been at Anfield in ’89.  After half an hour or more of football chat, we rolled back to our coach and headed home to await the fifth round draw.

Safe Standing – write to your MP

Labour MP Roger Godsiff has tabled an Early Day Motion calling for safe standing areas at football grounds. Basically, the more MPs signatures it collects the more likely the government will be to listen, so write to your own MP. (Links at the bottom of the page)

Dear MP,

I am writing to ask you to consider an Early Day Motion on the issue of safe standing areas in football grounds.

Many fans in football stadia stand up anyway, regardless of what the stewards tell them. This affects people who are less able to stand, as their view on the game is blocked. Therefore, having a standing area for fans who want to stand, as well as seating for those that don’t benefits all fans.

Another problem of standing in seated stadia, is that many football grounds seated areas are not designed for standing. As football stewards cannot prevent fans standing, a better option would be to have safe areas for standing. Like the home of Hanover 96 in Germany – http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&hl=en&v=apX5V1IJCW4&gl=US.

Standing areas in football grounds will increase capacity, lower ticket prices and take away the “library” atmosphere of many football stadia.

Yours sincerely,

Gooner Girl on Tour

1. Petition for Safe Standing – http://www.fsf.org.uk/petitions/safestanding.php?page=about&id=
2. Write to your MP – http://fsfsafestandingcampaign.appspot.com/mp/write