It was my second trip away (out side of London) with Arsenal FC for the Newcastle game yesterday. The first was for the West Brom game in the Capital One Cup competition last season. That's 2 in 2 now. So you know what do, if there is a must win Arsenal away match, persuade me to go. Tickets plus transport costs only would do very nicely.
It was also my first visit to Newcastle. That legendary city of lovely people and Mike Ashley. My initial plan was to make it a proper weekend away but the cost of driving up or taking the train was prohibitive so I stuck with the club's arrangement.
While I attended loads of matches last season and earned enough ticket points to be invited to purchase tickets for the FA Cup semi - final match versus Wigan and the Community Shield match versus Manchester City, I have only attended the Capital One Cup competition versus Southampton at The Emirates this season. My focus this season was to attend Away matches outside of London.
I was torn between attending the Burnley and Newcastle matches and eventually settled on the Newcastle one due to child care commitments. Getting a ticket was a horrible experience. I was scammed by a guy that appeared somewhat legitimate. It appears I was in good company as searching for his name on Twitter reveals he was prolific in scamming others too. I have reported him to Action Fraud and Pay Pal. That's the best I can do. To be fair, I wouldn't mind meeting him face to face somewhere in Dalston or Peckham.
I finally got my ticket from a season ticket holder of Arsenal. It was either bravery or stupidity. Same method - Twitter advert, responded. Except this time, I paid cash for the ticket at a face to face meeting after receiving something close to an assurance that he his genuine. Although giving my previous experience, I was apprehensive even after I sat down inside St James' Park Stadium.
I wonder if the club can do anything about the scammers. Perhaps, a data base to verify tickets? Ticket Exchange system for away games? Anything. Twitter shows the level of scamming going on on football ticket issues. You can imagine the scale of the problem if multiplied by the number of football clubs who sell out their allocations and the number of events with sell out crowds.
In my eagerness, I was first to the Coach departure point. The journey was somewhat eventful - on the Coach TV, there was highlights of FA Cup quarter final match versus the club that used to be known as the Red Devils (NO Glory Glory *music* and all that) (We have Danny Wellbeck & he is better than your lot - tongue firmly sticking out), a film, cup of hot chocolate, a chance to catch up on all my old newspapers plus the two I bought for the day, charger for my mobile one). A stopover in Sheffield, seeing the directions to Hartlepool (reminded me of Jeff Sterling of Sky Sports), Leeds, Burnley, Sunderland and arrival in Newcastle and the City's answer to Rio the Janeiro's Christ The Redeemer statute (LOL at The Angel of the North).
Initially and looking at the demography of the Arsenal fans in my coach, you will assume a large proportion of fans are old men and middle aged men but on entering the stadium at the away end, you can see the much younger fans - teenagers / early twenties type. It was absolute 'carnage' like a party / rave. The police were helpless and the young fans were ribbing them mercilessly. Of course there was the obligatory abuse of T*ttenham Spuds. I learnt a new song too "We won the league at the shit hole". (Lord forgive me for I have sinned).
St James Park' is a huge stadium, somewhat intimidating. I have driven past Old Trafford and Stade de France, been to the Emirates many times but St James' Park felt as huge as any of these stadiums. As the match started, Newcastle fans were very quiet and we had to ask them if they wanted us to sing for them.
We also asked where their famous atmosphere was. I have heard Alan Shearer, Mark Lawrenson & Alan Hansen bang on about this atmosphere at St James' Park for many years. It wasn't there. I suspect the events of the Mike Ashley years has dampened this famed atmosphere. To be fair to the fans though, as soon as the Newcastle players got going in the second half, they responded well and cheered their side on. However, it was nothing on Crystal Palace fans. While I understand the Classical Conditioning / Pavlov's law / Pavlov's dog conundrum, I actually believe that fans should be vocal and bring the roof down for their club win draw or lose. It is pointless in my opinion going through the chicken and egg issue. Effing support your team (No please, just do it).
By the way, the food was crap. I bought a burger combo for the princely sum of £7.50. Now I understand why and how Mr Ashley is a billionaire. Maybe the food was worth £2 if at all. Burger bread was worse than a Lidl value bread. Packaging was Styrofoam - probably need to get my spleen checked for carcinogens next week.
To the football itself, I hope I am right in thinking that I am somewhat immune from seeing Arsenal play. Negative results hurt definitely. I can't remember the last time I felt the way I felt on the night Arsenal lost 3 - 1 to Monaco. I don't care if my team lose to another clubside as long at they put in what the unbiased knowledgeable neutral can say was a decent shift, as long as they get their tactics spot on, are defeated by a much much better team without the referee's help.
I am not a good football analyst by any stretch of the imagination but I think I know what I see and I can try and convey what I see to other people. I expected Arsenal if they turn up to defeat Newcastle. I was worried about the effect the Champions League exit will have on the players but was comforted by the Newcastle injury list. Truth be told, I was hoping Newcastle get maybe a few more injuries and have to either field 2 of their ladies team and another 2 from their Under 11 squad.
In my opinion, Arsenal always need other peoples help to achieve its footballing targets especially in recent years, In 2006, we needed dodgy pasta to leap frog Spuds to 4th place. In the last 2 seasons, we have relied on both Spuds (again) and Everton self imploding to get 4th place. Last year, I was hoping to get Wigan in the Semi Final and a few of my mates were mouthing off about beating Man City. Not sure what planet they were living on. We were lucky against Hull to win the FA Cup. Yes we were a better team we had recently beaten them by 3 goals. But we were lucky not to be 3 down within 20 minutes in the FA cup final. We were luckier with the Cazorla free kick. I digress.
As the game started yesterday, I thought we looked livelier and we harried them. It was good to see no obvious sign of a carry over from Monaco. To me, there were a few moans, it was clear Cazorla was off his game and Ramsey never tired of his clever (NOT) flicks. Ramsey is a man who said I needed to simply my game to have such a fantastic game last season. So why don't you continue to keep it simple Aaron? We Arsenal fans know how good you are. We call you the Welsh jesus FFS (although I think the jesus reference is blasphemous). You were by many many miles the best Arsenal player last season despite you been out with injury for over 3 months. Keep it simple. KIS (I will save the last S for now) Who is Aaron trying to impress?
I was expecting a rout although I had predicted a 3 - 1 score before the match. Arsenal are generous like that. A friend called them Socialists and I understand this reference especially if all the comments about Arsene Wenger's niceness are anything to believe. I always believe we will concede usually from freakish events. Even as the game was winding down, I still expected a 3 1 score and we had loads of chances to make that score happen.
The second half was atrocious from Arsenal's perspective. Clearly the Newcastle players were more up for it. I don't think the fatigue from mid week champions league kicked in at the start of the second half. To me this was more mental. As far as I am concerned Francis Coquelin has started reading all the stuff about his performance for the side. In that second half and before he suffered a nose bleed, he gave the ball away and was somewhat hesitant in his tackle. Danny Wellbeck tired quickly and still has his brain working quicker than his limb. I love Danny a lot but I want to lay some of the fault for Chamber's performance at his door step. Gabriel was very impressive, Koscienly was the bossman himself and I have nothing but respect for David Ospina.
I won't go into the 'who is a better keeper' between him and Wojciech. Better is a very woolly term. Sczesney is a high risk goal keeper and David appears to take very little risks. I see Wojciech giving the ball away a number of time. For example during the FA cup game at Manchester United that nearly resulted in a goal. I don't like that. However both keepers know that their manager is very patient but will not hesitate to demote you to number 2 if you balls up in (I hope) ways he has clearly outlined to you. If any of them don't like it. I suspect the double doors at The Emirates & London Colney are wide open. In fact they can both leave. We will get another top keeper. Its all about Arsenal for me. Players come and go. And Managers too.
We survived Newcastle's onslaught. I was extremely worried they would equalise but it wasn't nail biting or bottom clenching for me. I just wondered why we can't be a bit more cynical. Get a break in the game cynically. Take deep breaths, organise yourself, contain them, juggle that ball around the way you know Arsenal can, make your opponents run araaand a bit and when you get your chances as we did in the 2nd half, put them away.
So we won. Saw the Arsenal Fan TV scrum on the way out, jumped on the Coach and the long drive back to good ole London via a Burger King Triple Whooper (NICE). Life's problem. What problem?
Just woke up to my reality. Life goes on.