Sunday 4th January 2015 ko 17.30
FA Cup 3rd Round
ARSENAL 2 (Mertesacker 20 Alexis Sanchez 82)
HULL CITY 0
Entry, programme and teamsheet £89 (Club Level)
Now I know what you’ve thinking, he was at the Emirates Stadium on a week or two ago! And you’d be right, here’s the report, but 3 more tickets became available, and when have you ever known me to turn down a football match! That clearly goes double for young Oscar, my cousin’s son, so I do have something of a confession to make.
You see, Oscar and his family had matinee tickets to the ballet in Covent Garden that afternoon with that performance due to end at 4.30, just an hour before kick-off here. Easily doable, and Oscar and his mum met me in plenty of time, but his poor mother was subjected to,
“Mum- can we go… NOW!”
from the interval at the theatre onwards! I’m now sat here typing this wondering what I’ve created. In 20 years will he be stood in a muddy field in West Wales, watching a local league game brandishing a camera?
Now it has to be said I do love the FA Cup, perhaps that’s my non-league soul speaking. I love the fact that hundreds of clubs enter, and the smallest compete in the extra-preliminary round in August. I watched Winsford United then, and its straight knock-out from there, through the preliminary round, 4 qualifying rounds, then 6 rounds semi-final and final. The big-boys of the Premier League enter at this, the 3rd round stage, the history of the competition is varied and wonderful, and its a tragedy that the biggest clubs don’t take the world’s greatest competition anywhere near seriously enough.
I understand the economics of Premier League survival, it was obvious that despite this being a rematch of last year’s final Hull’s priorities were not on the cup. For Arsenal, 4th place and Champions League football is more lucrative than the world’s oldest knock-out competition. But with the money sloshing around the game surely more could be done to preserve the competition of Ronnie Radford, of Sutton United, and Yeading. A competition that incidentally Arsenal have won 11 times.
The attitude has filtered down to the fans, the stats may say that 59,439 at the stadium, the empty red seats showed there to be at least 10,000 fewer than that figure. The reason is that season tickets get the first seven cup games included, and the irony of the evening is that’s how Oscar and his mum found themselves there, and I found myself in hospitality. However it was obvious that many couldn’t find someone to buy their ticket from them so they simply stayed at home.
Whether you’re a fan or not of Arsenal, and I’m claiming strict neutrality on that, the club is classy. From the art deco entrance at the southern end of the ground, and the staff addressing you as “Sir” the whole atmosphere was genteel. The area is named “Dial Square,” after the club’s original name, in Woolwich, founded by munitions workers using a borrowed Nottingham Forest kit.
You want a team sheet? No problem, and the free wine, beer and soft drinks at half time was appreciated, it was just a shame I’d driven to North London! The stewarding was friendly and unobtrusive, the club were a joy to deal with and yes, it all felt completely alien to me.
For better or for worse my football matchday is based on passion, and I like the feel of a terrace or field beneath my feet, so a bloke sat on a seat behind the goal, paid to wave a flag when Arsenal score is an anathema to me. I watched Hull take a rare shot that was easily dealt with David Ospina in the home goal. A woman shrieked in panic, as the man next door to me bemoaned that Danny Welbeck wasn’t playing. They even failed the tradition of booing a player who used to play for the local rivals (Tom Huddlestone- Tottenham)
It was lost on them that Theo Walcott was starting a game for the first time in over a year, and they didn’t react as the Arsenal triptych of Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Alexis Sanchez painted quick-fire triangles around a static Hull midfield and tore their defence apart.
Ironically Arsenal’s first goal was a classic piece of English football, an inswinging corner from a Czech (Rosicky) headed home by a German centre-half (Mertesacker). The hospitalitites stood up, I imagined incorrectly to cheer, but instead turned to watch the replay on the big screen.
The game was far too one-sided to be a classic, Hull offered nothing and Sanchez capped a man-of-the-match display with a fine goal, Cazorla’s diagonal ball allowing him to swerve into space before curling his shot home.
It was as comfortable on the pitch as it was off of it, and therein lies for me the problem. Football isn’t meant to be this comfortable, this clean, this sanitised. Its passionate, its frustrating, it even smells of liniment sometimes. I’ll never completely decry it all, after all a mum was able to take her 8-year-old to see his favourite team, and that’s how the next generation of fan is born.
Yes, I enjoyed it all for what it was, and yes I’d do it again if the opportunity arose. In the final analysis its a football match so therefore I’m always going to be immediately interested. But to you my regular reader don’t worry, my spiritual home will always be the pitched roof stand in a small town’s ground somewhere.