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Sunday 27 November 2011

POV-FS - On the Road - England - Day Three: "One Nil to the ... Oh Wait"

Grand & New
    Today, being Saturday, was the occasion of the first match of the trip.

    Still feeling a little rough, I spent most of the day relaxing and catching a bit of sleep before taking the Underground to Arsenal.

    Arrived rather early before the match, but having emerged from the serpentine twists of the station we encountered a scene fresh out of Nick Hornby's ode to fandom.

    Roughly constructed souvenir stands, all manner of snacks and foods, match day programs and the Gooner fanzine. "Getchour Gooner; Out today."was the echoed cry that took some 15 minutes to become clear to me.

    The progression to the match began to increase, though it was still well before kickoff. Passing by the first traces if the ground I avoided the urge to have my picture taken with Gunnersaurus, though I did grab a quick pic of the understated facade.

The understated ticket office
    Crossing the Clock End Bridge the stadium came into view; a saucer shaped sweeping disk, futuristic with a nod to the past - bricked embankments and murals of the star players of yesteryear.

    Upon taking my seat the pitch spread majestically before me; an impossibly perfect shade of green, manicured to perfection, a canvas honed to the rigorous specification of Arsène himself.

Glorious pitch shot
    The match, Arsenal versus Fulham began. I could go on about how Arsenal dominated play, while Fulham kept a disciplined shape, clogging up the middle of the pitch, while granting Arsenal tons of room on the flanks for Arshavin and Walcott to exploit. Or how the Gunners endless pounded crosses into the box, where their diminutive strike force were easily outmuscled by the hulking Hangeland. How even the numerous corner kicks granted to the home side were useless an wasted, rarely finding their way past the first defender, but we all saw that and tactical analysis will have been done by those far more adept at it than I.

    So I'll contribute a few of my observations surrounding the affair. For all the talk of the supposed library that the Emirates is, it was quite loud on occasion; when the supporters felt so inclined. It honestly reminded me an awful lot of the ACC (Air Canada Centre, where the Maple Leafs play, for the uninitiated), where the fans tend to voice their support almost as a response to frustration as opposed to honest backing. I suppose the parallel is apt - shiny new spacious digs, yet to have enjoyed the successes of their former more cozy home. A heavily corporate crowd - I was amused to see the entire second tier empty as soon as the halftime whistle was blown, as the private boxed patrons retired to their luxury suites, and not return until well into the second half. The elevated ticket prices invite the fans to be less supporters and more patrons, laying down a whack of cash and requiring they be entertained by the show, and therefore less the part of the show they may have been before.

    But that being said, there was no lack of passion on display. More than a few curses were uttered in my vicinity as the frustration mounted. Vermaelen's own-goal drew the ire of an exasperated home base, while Fulham's hearty corner of support cheered dreamily at the prospect of a victory. The rendition of "We're winning away, we're winning away, how sh*t must you be, we're winning away." brought a grin to my face that could not be avoided.

    Outside prematch an older Fulham fan mistook my Toronto FC hat for an Arsenal one as he asked me a question about a former Gunner who played both football and cricket before retiring to be a postman. Upon his realization of my Canadian accent - apparently there is such a thing I am reliably informed - we had cordial chat about his club and the Cottage, how they had not won at Arsenal in nearly a century, and how he once flew over Canada on his way to San Diego. I thought of him when Riise collected that ball on his chest and it rolled meekly into the corner.

    Arsenal, shamed by their deficit to their humble neighbors quickly sought redemption. They found it in due time, Vermaelen heading down a delivery past a helpless Schwarzer in goal to draw the match level at one.

    It ended soon afterwards and after a moment's pause to soak in the image I joined the throng in exiting the facility.

    While standing around outside, I happened upon two Dutchman in search of a light. I true to engage them in conversation and mentioned Aron Winter is the coach of my side, but either due to their inebriation, a weakness in English, or my general mumbliness - I was still quite run down at the time - the conversation deteriorated and they were off to the pub.

    The Tube ride back was pleasant enough, if packed, fish & chips for supper was exquisite, and I fell asleep trying to catch Match of the Day - its on rather late; but I probably needed the sleep - haven't slept for more than 5 hours in a row since I got here, but that's not so unusual for me.

    Train ride early the next morning - right now as I write - from Euston Station to Manchester Piccadilly.

    Next match - FC United of Manchester vs. Altrincham FC in the FA trophy; not sure I could have planned a more contrasting first two matches had I tried, should be fun.

Please note - apologies should there be any spelling mistakes an whatnot, I'm typing this all out on my phone - technology eh? - and reviewing for accuracy does not sound appealing at the moment. I'll fix it up when I get a chance, thanks for your understanding.

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