“…men may rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves to higher things.”
One of my favourite Tennyson lines and one I’m sure you will all recognise more readily as a favourite of PG Wodehouse, often quoted by the hapless Bertram among many others. I was put in mind of Alfred The Lord T and his immortal words as the contemplation of the novelty of next season’s campaign begins to sink in. Can we as fans truly climb on those stepping stones of all we’ve experienced and learned over the past few seasons? More to the point can the club? In two games time this whole nine and half month’s of madness will be history. Deader than flares, and many of us fully believe it will prove a stepping stone to higher things, after all haven’t there been portents this week?
We’ve been through one of those curious weeks where one can almost feel the wheels of history turning, and the events off the pitch are certain to cause a lot of head scratching throughout the summer. Firstly let’s consider what impact will Arsenal’s new financial muscle have? One unwelcome result of the record breaking shirt deal, reported by John Cross in The Mirror, reared it’s revolting head immediately the news was disseminated. Cross was at pains to point out that none of this has been confirmed and that the story was anything but factual (the only quote in the entire article is from ‘a source close to Nike’ which is of course meaningless) and in any case even if it were true it wouldn’t kick in until the end of next season. This of course didn’t stop the immediate opening of internet floodgates as those who love to indulge in the hideous sport of Transfer Tattle (a pastime separate and entirely distinct from football) went into overdrive. They remind me of a teenage boy twitching frantically under the bed covers , the Andrex runway lying on his abdomen, Action Man torch and Rothman’s Football Year Book held awkwardly in one hand, as he gazes feverishly at the statistics of players from any club other than our own . These people must have to wipe the spittle from their computer screens as they drool at the prospect of new ever more expensive and of course utterly fictitious transfer targets. I loathe, with a passion more appropriately reserved for right wing politicians , the whole nonsense of the transfer go round and boy it has started early this season. So called Arsenal fans, with nothing better to do, wanking themselves dry over men and boys who earn their corn at other clubs. I ask you, what on earth has that to do with cheering our players over the line in one of the tightest three way finishes in memory?
The other news certain to occupy our minds over the coming months is the retirement of one of Arsene’s main rivals during his time in England. While it is always a joy to contemplate off the pitch upheaval at any other club, and I know many people will predict a fall from grace with the end of the long serving patriarch, to be honest, now it’s finally happened it all leaves me a little numb. The problem is that we’ve been here so many times before. OK maybe not with that particular club but so many of our rivals change their manager more often than General Melchett changes his shirts. Sometimes they shoot themselves in the foot as Chelsea undoubtedly did and sometimes they get lucky as Spurs unquestionably have with AVB. Make no mistake whatsoever, any manager who can propel a team to challenge us for the hallowed top four place with a midfield duo of Scott Pigeon Parker and Tom Hundredstone Huddlestone is a serious managerial force and one with which to be reckoned. So the changes up in Manchester may or may not work in our favour. As with potential transfers it may be something you enjoy speculating upon to while away the long boring football free summer months, but ultimately nobody knows what will happen until it happens.
The third event this week is the most immediately significant. The fun and games at Stamford Bridge taught us a few things and raised more questions than we can satisfactorily answer. We saw once again that under AVB these Spuds are a more resilient crop than the ones we are used to seeing chipped and fried long before May arrives. The comeback against Oil City and now against a frankly nervous and messy Chelsea side suggests they have learned to play to very end. But even so they’ve used up their games in hand and have failed to catch us. Chelsea had the opportunity to go beyond us in all but mathematics but did not grasp it. While I didn’t cheer the Spurs’ equaliser (a bridge too far) I was quietly happy with Rafa’s bewildering substitutions as it made the result we all needed far more likely. One more slip from Chelsea and we have our destiny wholly in our hands. I don’t expect it to happen but at times on Wednesday night they looked ragged, so you never know. There was a schism between some of us who were persuaded the draw was the precise result required and those who were not so sure. George and I had a hell of a ding dong over this and the character limit of Twitter prevented me from producing a coherent argument so, if the rest of you will indulge me, I’ll pop one in here. Not, you understand, that I’m really offering you much choice because whether you want it or not here comes another one of my great and well thought out theories. Those who wanted a Spuds defeat at any price are in my opinion a bunch of lilly livered lightweights happy to scramble into fourth place, slam the door closed behind us and breathe a massive sigh of relief before toddling up to bed with a cup of cocoa. Those of us who wanted a draw on the other hand are only looking forward. We want the best the season can give us and that appears right now to be overtaking Chelsea at the finish line. Yes a draw meant the Spuds might catch us, but so what? Let’s not gaze nervously over our shoulders. Let us rather look to the future with a steely glint in our eye and throw the dice just twice more before the dust settles and the battlefield falls silent.
All of which leaves us contemplating a football free weekend. Or put more accurately an Arsenal free weekend. I’m sure many of you will be glued to the lunchtime fixtures on Saturday and Sunday hoping for yet more dropped points. It’s quite good fun this end of the season neck and neck business isn’t it? You find yourself rooting for the most unlikely teams. We’ve been Man U fans, Chelsea fans and now we will be hollering and whooping at every Stoke and Villa goal. Crazy end of term baloney which for me is the perfect finale to a fascinating season. Just remember whatever the outcome all that is past is prologue and come August we’ll be rising on Tennyson’s stepping stones, and maybe, just maybe well be starting out ten matches into a record breaking unbeaten run.