, , , , , , , ,

Wednesday 3rd December 2014 ko 19.45

Premier League

ARSENAL 1 (Alexis Sanchez 89)


Att 60,025

Entry £38.50

Programme £3.50

If you are my regular reader, you are probably wondering why I was at the Emirates Stadium? My normal territory is non-league, watching semi-pro and amateur games with a £1 cup of tea and a rather bulky SLR camera.

A few weeks ago I attended a family wedding, and for once I spent an autumnal Saturday indoors! It was a wonderfully uplifting experience, and just before the cake-cutting my cousin Julia asked me a question that threw me a little; she said,

“You’re the football fanatic, how do I take my son Oscar to watch Arsenal?”

All rather divorced from my normal football, but there was nothing unreasonable in the question, so I looked into it. My first port of call was the club. Oscar is 8, so I looked at the junior section. So for £10 a season the young man could join the Junior Gunners, and that accesses tickets for as little as £10 in the Young Guns enclosure for games other than the most high profile encounters, but what about Mum? And here is the rub, a young man at his first live football match is not going to want to be unaccompanied, so that meant sourcing an adult ticket too. Of course in doing so, that eliminated the Young Guns section, which meant a child has to pay full price to sit anywhere else.

So how do you get 2 adult tickets? Well the ground holds 60,272 and every game sells out. With tickets in such short supply the hoops (each costing!) to jump through are many and varied. To buy a ticket you need to be a member, that’s £39/season, and if you’d like to join the season ticket waiting list, that’s £15 to join a queue! Games are divided into categories A,B and C according to how popular a game will be. Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur would be Cat’ A for example, and our £38.50 tickets would have cost £95.50.

With demand so high you see fans’ behaviour patterns I don’t see in my non-league world. With the season ticket waiting list reckoned by some to be around 4 years in length, people will renew so as to avoid going to the back of the (chargeable) queue if they decide too late to renew. The clubs runs a ticket exchange facility so season-ticket holders not attending a game to sell on their tickets on a one-off basis.

How I got Julia and Oscar to football was a spin-off from that idea. I know an Arsenal season-ticket holder, and he was able to find people that weren’t going to the game and he bought the game from each one. To give you an idea of just how ingrained the culture of season-ticket renewal is here, the ticket I used was for his sister, in her married name, and she’s been divorced for quite a few years, and no longer attends games!

I was pleased that a 4th ticket was found, for one thing to surprise Julia and Oscar at Finsbury Park station, I hadn’t told them I was coming, but also to revisit one of my old stamping grounds.

I lived in Stamford Hill and went to University in Islington in the early 1990’s, and apart from a previous visit to the Emirates Stadium in 2006 (vs Dinamo Zagreb 2-1) my visits back have been very infrequent. So there was a grin of recognition as my Piccadilly Line train visited Manor House, but the façade of Finsbury Station has been extensively modernised, as has the Arsenal shop next door.  Shockingly, my favourite “Greasy Spoon” café is now a bog-standard chippy, and even worse the Rainbow Theatre, just down the road under the railway bridge and once host to the likes of the Ramones and Iron Maiden is now the UK centre for a Brazilian Pentecostal Church!

Still St Thomas’s Road looked the same, and I passed the infamous Finsbury Park mosque wondering whether Abu Hamza ever tried preaching on the street when Arsenal were playing? We passed the preserved shell of Highbury before crossing over the North London line to the new ground.

The place took an 8-year-old’s breath away, and very quietly a 43-year-old’s too. The irony of Oscar and the stadium being the same age made me smile, and the young man had a wonderful time simply walking around the stadium perimeter and seeing the statues of former Arsenal players. But for me, the moment of the evening, game included was the moment Oscar walked from the concourse, from the dark into the brightly lit seating bowl. He stopped for a moment to take it all in, then turned to his mum, and said,

“These are really good tickets, aren’t they?”

So let’s use this opportunity to thank Adrian for sourcing them. With Mother and Son happily ensconced, I considered my evening out. No SLR camera this evening, I’m sure I could have got it in, but I didn’t want any Lillestrøm-style arguments with contracted-out security, so the compact deputised. But the surroundings are magnificent, with extra-wide padded seats everywhere, not even Wembley can boast that. Like the national stadium, everything is eye-wateringly expensive, but there is a sense that everything is classily Art-Deco, even down to the programme that wins awards. My seat, towards the back of the main stand had a perfect view of the action, and with the roof jutting so far forward I felt as if I were indoors!

Of course I’m no stranger to high-profile games, after all the Belgrade derby wasn’t exactly low-key, but then I wouldn’t dream of taking an eight-year-old there. Groundhoppers talk endlessly about boring, sterile grounds, but here was the opposite of that, safe yes, and it meant a mother could confidently treat her son. Yes, I could have suggested another ground and club, but the boy is from North London, and a Gunner, so I had no room to manoeuvre.

The game, ah yes that. By reputation Arsenal are known for slick passing football, and whilst the pass-and-move tactic was very much in evidence, the movement often broke down, to the obvious annoyance of the crowd. With all the hype and hyperbole of the Premier League it is easy to forget the game is exactly the same, and so are supporters’ reactions. Fraser Forster kept Arsenal at bay with fine saves from Danny Welbeck and Olivier
Giroud, and as studiously neutral as I am personally, I wanted an Arsenal win for Oscar.

One great English footballing cliché is “1-0 to the Arsenal,” and so it came to pass, courtesy of a Welshman’s cross, and a Chilean’s finish. Julia and Oscar departed quickly at the final whistle, leaving me with a little time to look around, and stroll back to Finsbury Park.

There’s no doubt that top flight-football has lost touch with its working-class roots, I remember paying on the gate at Highbury whilst at Uni’ but the product on offer is excellent, and the demand high. I assume for that demand to be satisfied the stadium would have to be unfeasibly large, so this rather convoluted rationing will remain.

I enjoyed the sights and smells as I walked back immensely, but on the train back to Cockfosters I quietly concluded that the non-league game is now my spiritual home. That though I’d known 4 hours before!