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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Matchday Memories

Saturday morning I woke up in the smallest room I had ever slept in, took a shower, and went out to get some breakfast and coffee before getting ready to walk to the Gloucester station and head up the Piccadilly line to the Arsenal stop. As a big fan of the traditional Irish breakfast, and general lover of most meats, I was surprised to find out that I do not really like the traditional English breakfast. It was similar to the Irish Breakfast in that both come with eggs, tomato, and ham, but the English version that I was served had some kind of meat product, which I now think may have been blood pudding, that I could only manage to eat half of. It looked like a pile of canned corn beef hash, but instead of being loose, it was a dense piece of pink meat and fat. I tried to eat it at the same time as eggs and tomato to mollify the dreadful flavor, but finally had to give up on it.

Filled with caffeine, sodium, and saturated fat, I went for a walk in the neighborhood in search of a flask that I could take with me to the stadium, and would make for a nice souvenir to take home. No luck. I instead went to Sainsbury's, a grocery store chain in the UK, and purchased a bottle of water for 42p, downed it, and filled the empty plastic bottle with Jack Daniel's.

Wearing my Arsenal 07-08 third jersey with a light jacket over it, my whiskey bottle in the side pocket, and my "ticket" in my inside jacket pocket,

I boarded the Piccadilly line going in the direction of Cockfosters. The train was pretty full, but not overly crowded. I spent the twenty minute or so ride drinking whiskey, reading the instructions for entering the stadium with this ID card that some fan - Mr. Martin Woods - had sold to the ticket broker on condition of its safe return after the match, and looking around the train at the other fans that were making up more and more of a percentage of the car as we drew nearer to the Holloway Road and Arsenal stops.

I joined the mass of people walking to Emirates Stadium. Streets surrounding it were blocked to cars and food and memorabilia vendors were set up. It was somewhat like going to Wrigley Field in that it was surrounded by a residential and commercial neighborhood. Of all the good looking food stands, I picked probably the worst one. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger. The cheese wasn't melted and the bacon...the bacon was horrible. Brits seem to like their bacon soft and fatty. I had to remove it so that i could finish the burger. I went to the location, by the two cannons, where the ticket rep was supposed to be in case of any questions or issues with the ticket came up.

There was no stand for the ticket broker company set up, as secondary sales are illegal. I called the number for the rep but it went to a voicemail. I finally just walked up to the entrance area. I was concerned about a couple things:
1) I had a legit ticket.
2) I would figure out how to present it without looking like it was my first time using it, risking a possible request for ID by security to verify that it was in fact my pass. I'm not telling what my name is, but it is not "Mr Martin Woods".

It worked out fine. I just placed the id wallet with the card inside inside a scanner slot, a green light and a beep followed, and i was in.

The seat that I ordered was supposed to be along the long side of the pitch, and I was given a seat on the short side, but it was a pretty amazing place to be so I was completely happy. Just like before a football game or baseball game, the players were out on the pitch warming up. Right in front of me.

About twenty minutes before the start of the match, the players left through the tunnel, the pitch was watered down briefly by built-in sprinklers, and ten minutes later they were coming back out.

After player introductions, the match began. No national anthem, which was sweet.

There was no scoring in the first half. The free-flowing Arsenal movement I was used to seeing wasn't on display as much, due to the outstanding defensive positioning by Man U. From what I remember, I think both sides hit the post and there were some quality chances. As good as the Arsenal defense is, they had all they could handle with the United forwards Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney in the middle and Cristiano Ronaldo out wide. Ronaldo played close to a perfect game. It was incredible watching him take long passes in the air going straight up the field down the right side and precisely head the ball to Rooney or Tevez in the middle. An amazingly skilled dribbler, when Clichy would give Ronaldo room in the corner, all you could do was hope that an Arsenal player would beat the Man U attacker to the crosses he made in front of the goal. Early in the second half, United scored on this scenario, as Gallas dove to try to steer the ball away from the goal with Rooney running right with him but unfortunately put the ball in the back of the net.

The rest of the second half was kind of a blur. Arsenal tied it on a goal from Fabregas where the ball bounced to him uncovered at the top of the penalty box. He had time to settle it and place it in the left corner. With very little time left, Ronaldo scored for United to put the visitors up. This was a stunner to the crowd, as it looked like United would switch places with them at the top of the table and drop to second. But deep into extra time there was a flurry of chances in front of the Man U goal and the signal came in from the referee that the ball had crossed the line. The place went nuts. The absurd cost of the ticket seemed reasonable.

So that was the game. There was some serious drama going on, however, due to an incredibly stupid decision on my part. That ID card I had delivered to my hotel was sold by a season ticket holder to the ticket broker company on condition of it being returned. I was given instructions to call a phone number of a representative of the ticket company to meet up with after the game to return it. At the end of halftime, the dude sitting next to me asked me how much I paid for my ticket. I told him it was more than I could afford, and he told me that it was his mate's ticket and asked if I had given it back to the contact person yet. I said no, saying that the plan was to give it back after the game. He said that I could give it to him if I wanted, and he could just give it back to his "mate". Not really thinking about anything other than how awesome it was being there, I handed him the card and thanked him.

The second half was extremely exciting with four goals and Arsenal tying it in added time, however I couldn't completely enjoy it because I was getting more and more worried about the idiotic move I had mad by giving the card to the big thug next to me. Midway through the second half I told the guy that I would be most comfortable if he gave it back to me so that I could return it to the designated person after the game. He basically told me to fuck off and that I wasn't getting it back. Did I mention that the dude was at least my height and had me by at least 10 kilos? And he was with his friends who were not gentlemen. So I was pretty much fucked, I thought. I was going to be stuck paying some enormous sum to the ticket company for giving the ticket card to a stranger instead of returning it. The guy was not interested in listening to why I needed the ticket back, saying that it wasn't coming out of his pocket. I had seen the pocket in his coat that it had gone into and finally lunged for it. Bad move. I was blocked, and lucky for me actually, his friend next to him stepped between us. We about got into a fight, then Arsenal scored and we chilled out for a bit. As bad as things were, it really did seem like these guys had season tickets as they were talking with others around them in the section in the same way as I was used to seeing strangers talking to each other at, say, a Michigan football game that sat next to each other all the time, except for these guys being cockney accented asshole motherfuckers. After the game I phoned the ticket rep while following the group next to me. They didn't appreciate me following them, and let me know this. Again, close to getting beat up. I told the ticket guy that the guy next to me was the "mate" of the owner of the ticket and he had it in his possession. I asked if this was OK. To my surprise, the guy said that it was fine, and so I hung up the phone and stopped following the fuckers and that was the end of that.

When I got back to my hotel, however, there was a message from a "Chris" who said he would return Monday to pick up the ticket. "Fuck", I thought. Some hired goon was going to come up to my room while I was sleeping and break my legs with a baseball cricket bat. Sure enough, Monday morning I got a call from the front desk saying that a "Chris" was downstairs and would like to speak with me. They put him on the phone. He asked for the ticket in a nice, polite tone, and I told him that I had given the ticket to the guy next to me and that the rep at the stadium said it was OK. This was enough for the "Mr. Chris", and he said "cheers" or something and the conversation was finished.

Right after the match, I walked from the stadium to meet Dolores's bff and her boyfriend - a Tottenham Hotspur (Arsenal's natural rival) fan - and we had several drinks and talked soccer and a variety of other subjects, some of which were quite odd to be discussing with people I had just met, but it was pretty much a fantastic time. Dolores had mentioned my interest in cougars, and the boyfriend accused me of someone who likes to "go cougaring". I also learned that "pants" means "briefs" over there. Makes sense, right? Panties and pants? Oh, and they seem convinced that all American football players are on steroids. I guess that makes sense that they would think this, considering the average build of Europeans. They had never been to Texas. I just don't understand why football is "American football"...why wouldn't they make up a name for it reflecting their feelings about the participants? How about "Thugby", mates?

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  • At 5:35 AM, Blogger lightupvirginmary said…

    I was mildly panicking what you might write about us... I think we got off quite lightly...!


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