A Day Out at the Emirates
The 12 Pins lifts our hopes
It all started by getting the train from Homerton to Highbury and Islington on a cold, wind-biting Sunday in January, the day after my birthday in which I had a great day, meeting old friends. Normally I walk to the stadium from here but this time I had to meet up with my brother Myles and his son Niall, both huge Arsenal fans and fairly regular travellers from Dublin. They were in the 12 Pins in Finsbury Park, which merited a change to the Tube and one more stop, a fabled Irish pub which accommodates enormous numbers of verified Gooners both inside and out. They have at least one mighty attribute, the drink comes quickly no matter the numbers, a testament to the ability of the Irish staff working there and always served with a smile.
The best pub in London?
The songs constantly break out, from Super Mik Arteta to North London Forever and back to the old favourites we all love to hear. Tributes to Rocky, winning the title at Old Trafford and many more increase the good vibrations and the happy expectation that we would get revenge for the unlucky loss earlier in Manchester. We fell asleep that day, and Var was unkind, but we are home, we are top of the league, and Arsenal are the greatest football team. Ah, it is great to be back, the buzz and the thrill level increasing all the time.
Deep talks about the future
But of course, a trip to the Arsenal and meeting with my family is always replete with serious discussions of where Arsenal are, are the buys likely to be good, and can we finally do it? We all agreed that Leandro Trossard could be the perfect choice as he can provide competition and cover all across the front three, an area where we badly need it at the moment, an injury could have been a calamity but now we can breathe again. I opined that a win today pretty much guarantees top four as we would need relegation form from now on. Myles laughed and said top four is certain, we want the league. We do, indeed.
Me and the gang
I also said that United will defend without embarrassment, same as they did at home, particularly without Casemiro, they will be afraid of a tonking. They will look forward to a Rashford or an Anthony finding us asleep again as they hammer a long ball upfield. I really hoped we would be vigilant, use our awareness and our speed to guard against such tactics. They both agreed that we must not outplay them and lose.
The Hungarian Emperor
My next stop was the Arsenal supporters club bar and a meeting with the extraordinary Alexander Sztranyovszky, a major superfan who tries to attend all matches. Everyone knows Alex. He is Hungarian, and I had to deliver some ASCB presents from Georgi Stoyanov , our esteemed chairman. I found him around the corner with Peggy, the fabled owner of the shop which supplies refreshments to all Arsenal explorers, both physical and mental, as can only be found in the presence of so many dedicated Gooners. Alex alone brightens up your day with his broad smile, his welcoming attitude and the inevitable selfie which is an enduring memory of a fantastic day.
Alex and me at Peggy's place
There was one bad note for me, though. I had printed out my ticket in case my phone wouldn’t work but I couldn’t find it. I was staying in my friend’s Krum’s apartment in Homerton not far from the ground but had spent the previous few days in a hotel in Lancaster gate. I guessed I must have left it there. As my ticket had no name on it I was worried that someone had got hold of it and may try to use it so I left the superb atmosphere emanating from the Supporters Club to get to the ground early so I wouldn’t have any problems.
Maybe they wouldn’t let me in
Krasi, Lily and me
I got in no problem and quickly as normally I leave it a bit late and the queues can snake around quite a bit. Inside I had a beer and then found my seat. The position was great, a nice spot in the corner, at a convenient height to watch the action well. We got a present of a clacker to make noise tucked into our seat and on inspection it was the campaign against discrimination. Good, I thought, and it had the added bonus of increasing the noise levels to unprecedented intensity which reminded me of my days in Highbury in the George Graham 1980’s.
My next surprise was my Bulgarian buddy Krasi Kolev and his wife Lily came along to sit beside me amid much hugs. They were accompanied by Kristian, a Bulgarian ensconced in Scotland who I had never met before. A mighty nice man with a big smile on his face. More selfies followed. They all made plenty of noise, singing and cheering all the time. Sometimes I am on my own and the atmosphere is never as good. I was so happy to see them. When we got our goal to equalise a Rashford breakaway which I had feared, the stadium erupted in a cacophony of high decibels which the local residents of the graveyards could hear.
A half-time surprise
Despite a 1-1 halftime, our feeling was good, we were playing much better than the Mancs, and surely our pressure would lead to goals. I got a big surprise when we went to the bar as my old friend Tsvetomir Tsetkov was there with a selection of beer waiting for us. He is Arsenal, a great ambassador for Bulgaria, for Shumen, and London where he has been living for 15 years. He always lifts my spirits, and this time was no exception. I owe you pints, old friend.
Krasi, me and Tsvetomir at halftime
We went back inside. Soon we scored, a Saka masterpiece, and we jumped so high we thought we would never land. Mancs, prepare to die. No more humiliation for us, and a few more goals would be very nice.
We shall overcome
But we are Arsenal, and you need a strong heart to be an Arsenal supporter. A mix-up in the box and Lisandro Martinez loops a header over the stranded Ramsdale to get back to a position their play never merited.
Saka the master
It went on, us pressing, Utd defending, and all the while the noise and the singing never stopped. We all believed despite the clock ticking and ticking. Our hero, Eddie the undroppable, sneakily tucked the ball in the net and we had done it, the clackers, the singers, the screamers and the shouters coalesced to frighten the poor local graveyard residents out of their tombs. What noise, what atmosphere, what smiles on our faces, but then the demon VAR was summoned. Ah, we will be cheated once again. I couldn’t see how, though, the goal looked good. As the ghosts settled back peacefully into the ground, a searing crescendo erupted to frighten them up once more. The Arsenal had won, and the almighty sounds erupted and boomed throughout the stadium, and all the pubs, clubs and gathering places worldwide. We were united, not Manchester. Arsenal ARE the greatest football team! Go home crying, Ten Hag, Rashford, Martinez and all the rest. You have come to our home and we have shown you the Champions!
Eddie is our winner
Ps. I predicted the correct score here. The printed word doesn't fly away.