It’s fascinating and hilarious in equal measure how so many football fans are incapable of enjoying the most exciting months of the football calendar. Do you remember Zimpaul comparing a season with an 800m race? He suggested a few months back that we were approaching the final bend, runners jockeying for position and preparing for the home straight. We the spectators, inching slightly up from our seats, anticipating the finish and wondering if our chosen athletes had anything left in their legs.
I thought then and I still feel now that it was a perfect analogy from one of our very best posters. I wonder if you will indulge me as I stretch that metaphor to the section of the race when the finishing line is in sight. Can you even begin to imagine the spectators and supporters in an athletics stadium screaming abuse and throwing up their hands in horror, turning away in disgust to argue with those around them while the race is still in progress? Or stamping on their hats and wailing ‘It’s all over’ as the competitors charge flat out, neck and neck, giving it their all for the few remaining metres of the race? It’s a laughable scenario and one for which I apologise. They would of course be screaming and cheering and doing every last thing in the hope that by sheer effort of will they could encourage a tiny fraction more speed or stamina from their favourite.
This is where we are now in our season. It is absolutely the best part of the whole shebang. Every decision, miss-kick, flukey goal, each unpunished foul or arbitrary decision not to grant an appeal in any number of games is magnified and so very very significant. I even enjoy watching Spurs right now. Yep. And I know a whole load of other people watched the events unfold at the DW Stadium yesterday. But a glance at Twitter and doubtless in the comments section of various Arsenal blogs showed people putting themselves through some kind of self flagellating agony. An ecstasy of misery and convinced despair overwhelmed people, when they ought to have been enjoying a closing scene in the finest drama the Premier League has to offer.
Allow me to lift an example from a popular social networking site. The Spuds had been awarded a free kick on the edge of the Wigan penalty area. It was the last chance in a game of so much theatre and the pressure was on both sides desperate for a result at either end of the table. As the rest of us thrilled at this moment of decision an Arsenal fan groped for his keyboard and typed
Instead of sitting back and enjoying the final act in a totally unpredictable drama with goal mouth action at both ends, the lead changing hands, mistakes, skill, violence and bad haircuts this joker couldn’t wait to spread his negativity, so convinced was he that the Spuds would score. As it transpires they nearly did but didn’t quite and it was all terribly exciting. Also things ended with the right result for us with them dropping another two points in what is at best a faltering stumble down the back straight.
As the final whistle approached some people were even screaming for Wigan to defend, get back, hang on for the point. I loved the fact that quite to the contrary they wanted to and tried to and very nearly did win the game. After all, we wanted them to win didn’t we? We want our rivals to lose, surely? If you cannot enjoy the run in where so many teams have so much at stake and where other matches suddenly matter to us like never before then you can’t hope to enjoy competitive football at all.
So where does this all leave us? I’d say on a Sunday facing a four o’clock kick off against the newly crowned champions of the Premier League. In a game many think of in that loathsome, meaningless phrase; a ‘must win’. Which can only mean they already know Spuds and Chelsea’s results between now and the end of the season. Of course it’s a big game and one we most want to win. No game is bigger than Arsenal versus Man United. If both teams were safe from relegation but out of the running for European places it would still matter. It would still hurt more to lose than any other fixture. As such this is probably the only game of our ten cup finals where league points and positions and the impact on the final places is actually overshadowed by the bitterness and rivalry between the two clubs.
I’ve dealt with my detestation for them by pretending they don’t exist for the last few seasons. It’s been working like a charm. Whereas I used to be able to name their first team squad, with my lip curled and special vehemence reserved for particular bêtes noire, these days I actually don’t even know half of their first eleven. But of course,he is still there. No I don’t mean this generation’s Frank Stapleton. I mean the manager. The man who has consistently tried and failed to get under the skin of our infinitely more assured and intelligent talisman. The man so beloved by the British sporting establishment, an establishment which so despises us that we couldn’t fail but to wish ruin upon their darling.
I’m not going to bother with any more talk of honour guards or reactions to ex players, I made my position crystal clear on Thursday. In any case I know you’ll do all that in the comments section. I am however, in contradistinction to my modus operandi, going to force myself to watch the whole thing live. After all it is long overdue. Maybe I’ll like their new players. I hear someone called Cleverclogs is as good if not better than Jack Wilshere. It’ll be fascinating to see if that can be true. Also long overdue is us outplaying and beating them, but I don’t feel in the mood for rash predictions. Apart from anything else the pressure cooker our players are trying to perform in right now makes everything so difficult for them, add to that the disadvantage of being at home in front of people convinced we must fail and one can only foresee an uphill struggle.
I know we can do it, of course we can. I know this because Spuds beat Oil City against all the odds then dropped points to Wigan. Just because Man U have nothing to play for and will be easy and relaxed knowing their work this year is done, and we will be edgy and nervous with so much resting on the outcome doesn’t mean we are bound to lose. Football is an unpredictable game. Ask Blackburn, Bayern and Real Madrid. The crucial thing is we try to enjoy the three games after this one. Today we might enjoy the result, we cannot hope to enjoy much of the match with the poisonous red and black slime oozing over the pitch and befouling the sweet air of our lovely stadium. However we can put the visit of the evil one behind us after this afternoon and get back to enjoying the nail biting race for the finish line.
Remember it’s just a ride, and we bought a ticket because we hoped to enjoy the ride. So smile, sing shout and by all means swear but please spare us your endless doom ridden predictions of failure. Some of us will be trying to actually enjoy the entertainment.