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Arsenal Versus Watford: In Like a Lion, Out Like A Lamb

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So how did you spend the football free Easter break? Tiptoeing Wordsworth like through the sudden yellow rush of spring blooms? Blowing the cobwebs off the lawnmower and wondering if that Argos garden furniture was going to last another season? Perhaps you read a book or two, planned a holiday or just filled the empty days with endless pointless arguments on Twitter. If so I hope you won, on points. You’ll never actually win of course because nobody ever changes their mind based on the opinions of someone they despise, but, if it helped pass the time then I suppose that’s all you can hope for.

I’ve done nothing of worth or merit I’m happy to say. Frivolously tearing the days of the calendar into tiny pieces and scattering their confetti to the wind as if I will live forever. Yesterday I found myself in Paulton with an hour to waste. I wonder what the condemned man, his final sixty minutes on earth laid out before him and racing away too quickly to catch, would think of my casual frittering of our only precious resource. I’ll tell you one thing I bet he wouldn’t want to spend it in Paulton.

I had dropped my son off at the local hospital and decided to see what the adjacent village had to offer. Hardly the stuff of Bill Bryson never mind Alfred Wainwright but I dutifully passed through the graveyard of an uninspiring parish church, crossed the park and marvelled at the tiny fire station unexpectedly squashed between the village hall and the swings and roundabouts of a near deserted playground.

I then chanced upon a public house. It sits opposite an imposing Methodist chapel which advertises three different forms of exotic marshal arts and a baby and toddlers group. The pub is called The Lamb and at once a wash of Arsenal fuelled memories burst across my near somnolent synapses and brought me, miraculously, back to the land of the living. It was the first week in May, 2002. John Rench and I were pondering where to watch the big game. Arsenal were due to travel to Manchester where a win would seal not only the title but another double as the FA cup had, unusually, already been won before the end of the  league programme.

In the end we decided to support an old pal.  Tony Teal had recently taken over the Lamb in Paulton and had installed a projector and a big screen and managed to get the Sky to work. Despite it being a school night we got ourselves dropped off in that remote, Godforsaken backwater of North East Somerset and watched Arsène clinch another famous victory, breaking more records along the way. It was a strange night. Not many people there, John and I the only Arsenal fans and the title celebrated with a shrug and a little drunken jig on a sticky carpet.

You see, back then winning the league, while not commonplace, wasn’t an entirely unexpected outcome. As I contemplated The Lamb yesterday morning, with its two obligatory old guys waiting for the doors to open, I couldn’t help but wonder how things have changed. At the turn of the century we thought nothing of going unbeaten away from home, winning our last thirteen fixtures and beating Man United in their own back yard, despite the absence of such luminescent talents as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Tony Adams – all missing on the night.

Nowadays we nervously bite our finger nails wondering if a near full strength team can overcome Watford, at home, and whether such a feat will be remotely enough to keep us in touch with Spurs and Leicester at the top of the table. In a way I can see how so many of our supporters, both the lowly humdrum types such as you and I and the immense überbloggers on their golden thrones, paint this season as a disappointment. Despite it not nearly being over yet and despite us still being in with a shot at the title, many have already written it off. I realised as I wandered from The Lamb, passed the empty café and forlorn charity shop to the boarded up bakery opposite the site of the old boot factory, that to many, Arsenal, like Paulton, has seen better days.

The very success on which Arsène’s magisterial reputation has been built casts a shadow over his present day achievements. Achievements like back to back FA cup wins are  instantly forgotten with the first home defeat of the new season. Memories count for nothing. With attention spans as short as that of a hyperactive four year old many modern fans see nothing but circling vultures in dark skies and dream of a magical new world where money flows from a bottomless transfer budget and a new manager leads a shining new team to endless success and prosperity.

Even though I’m sober these days and do not set foot in places like The Lamb I find myself content to sit among that delusional, carefree set of fans who are actually delighted to consider the possibility of another title this spring. As remote and unlikely as that possibility might seem right now, I’m happy to contemplate it and savour the spice it adds to every remaining fixture. While others take their joy discussing the break up of our team, who we must sell, when the manager must go – and that is their prerogative, I do not deride them for it – I prefer to revel in the run in, to delight in this welcome distraction from the woes and the humdrum of my real life.

In his latest column for the Guardian, Clive James, still with us despite being told by the doctors quite some time ago to get his affairs in order, writes “…for someone in my condition, even a good result is a reminder that you have to go on throwing a double six to stay in the game”. As I read his words I thought how well he summed up our position right now. Almost at once I felt ashamed for conflating a man’s tenuous grip on his very existence with the trivial diversion of following a football team. I read on and James spoke of his delight in the simple pleasures of unexpectedly being alive to see spring flowers and the birds and squirrels in his garden.

I realised that taking delight in watching our favourite football team is perhaps not such a frivolous pastime. If passing time is in fact all we have to do during our brief moment here on earth then passing it in eager anticipation, pleasure and optimism is perhaps as good a way as any. If Arsène astounds everyone and pulls yet another success from his magic hat won’t the vicarious delight we take from his triumph be all the sweeter for having been on his side throughout? Perhaps. Either way I’m happy and grateful for all the memories and eager to see what more he will bring me however long he decides to stay. The future is neither bright nor dark, it just is. Enjoy the ride or don’t. It’s always been a choice, nothing more.

About steww

Arsenal, books, photography, bass guitar, dog walking, mountain biking, being on the radio, writing, talking too much, failing, making mistakes, buggering on regardless.

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111 comments on “Arsenal Versus Watford: In Like a Lion, Out Like A Lamb

  1. have to love lazy journos, there is a story linking ” Exeter City whizzkid Ethan Ampadu”, with a move to Man Utd, its all “son of Andy Cole’s former team mate”, implying that due to Andy Cole having played in the same youth team as Kwame Ampadu, it gives utd a better chance of winning the race over LFC, THFC, MCFC and AFC, to sign the 16 year old.

    the article even mentions that Kwame was a coach at Exeter City when his son signed for them, but no mention where Kwame Ampadu is now, or how this might effect the possible destination of his son. Odd that the journo did not seem to know where Ampadu senior is now a days, seeing as the same paper less than a week ago ran a story about the team he now coaches becoming the first English club to win the “Futures Cup” U17 Tournament in Holland. Kwame Ampadu is back where it all began for him, at Arsenal FC, he is U18’s assistant coach, and was head coach of the U17’s at the Futures Cup.

    Now it may very well turn out that Ethan Ampadu joins utd, or any club other than Arsenal, but it really is poor quality reporting when a fact like the players dad is doing very well as a coach at Arsenal,(the club he was a youth team player for, and in fact made his league debut for) is not even part of the article.

    by the way Arsenal are interested in bringing the son of Kevin Campbell to the club, Tyrese Campbell is currently in the Man City U16 team and AFC are trying to persuade the lad that he has a better path way to the top by joining AFC.

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  2. Mandy I have not seen the actual article, but seen it claimed that the only reference to Arsenal in it, is that WADA visited Arsenal training centre, after Wenger brought up the subject of doping to the media. If memory serves, Wenger did say after the visit that Arsenal players passed all WADA’s tests. He also made some mention about it looking like WADA wanting to shoot the messenger.

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  3. Ed, I haven’t seen it either, but apparently shots of front page show Arsenal , Chelsea, LCFC, Birmingham in the text, but not the context.
    Some wags out these suggesting a PED doctor shouldn’t really be boasting about having Arsenal players amongst his clients….not good for his rep!

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  4. I want any player, Arsenal or other, who is on PED’s to be caught, and dealt with to the fullest, but I really do doubt that those that run the game in England will want any scandal to come out. It affects the brand, and there are too many vested interests for any scandal to be properly investigated by either the BPL/FA, or even journos, you don’t kill the golden goose, or bite the hand that feeds you.

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  5. Agree Ed on the vested interests, but sometimes, once these things come out, they can take on a momentum of their own.
    I would guess There is a lot of jealousy of our league and its wealth in Europe, any hint that things are not as they should be in the EPL could be readily exploited by the envious.
    If there is anything going on that there shouldn’t be in this league, authorities, clubs and whoever would do well to stop it rather than turn a blind eye…not that I am suggesting the latter of course without seeing the article.

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  6. just watched the highlights of today’s game on Arsenal.com, and it was amazing to see thousands of empty seats by the time Walcott scored our 4th goal. It sums up our support, the shortest walk to a tube station of any club, and yet they can’t wait for the game to be over before leaving, and lets not pretend that kick off time makes one iota of difference, and it aint the day trippers who run out on the team.

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  7. club statements over the drug claims

    Chelsea – “The claims are false and entirely without foundation. Chelsea football club has never used the services of Bonar and has no knowledge or record of any of our players having been treated by him or having used his services. We take the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in sport extremely seriously and comply fully with all anti-doping rules and regulations. Chelsea FC players are regularly and rigorously tested by the relevant authorities.”

    Arsenal – “Our players are well aware of what is expected. We strictly adhere to all guidelines set by the World Anti-Doping Agency and our first team players participate in approximately 50 random drugs tests during each football season. None of our players has ever failed such a test.”

    Leicester City – Leicester City said its players were barred from taking any drugs without the prior authority of the club. Any use of prohibited substances, it added, could result in the termination of a player’s contract

    Birmingham City – The club said it needed more information in order to respond to the allegations. It added its policies mirrored the Football Association’s.

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  8. UberArsenal™ ‏@UberAFC 10h10 hours ago
    Arsenal have hit the woodwork 19 times in 31 games this season – more than any other team.

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  9. Why does that doctor look like Steve Coogan?

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  10. New post is up, ladies and gentlemen.

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