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We won the league at Old Trafford Arsenal on the break Ah, Manchester, the fixture I have been at the most. It is like being in Ireland with all the Irish voices I hear and everyone offering an opinion on everything, especially the football. I travelled with my brother, Joe, a diehard Utd fan. We had 2 tickets in the Alex Ferguson Stand so I had to be on my best behaviour. One doesn’t want a United fan sniffing you out and exposing you. As it happened the woman beside me kept watching my phone as all the Arsenal messages from the fanclub keep popping up. I was going to do a live feed but I was nervous she would suss me out so I declined, plus the fact that the light was bad where I was and the pictures weren’t coming out well. But let’s take a step backwards, to what it is like going there for the big game. It has a real football atmosphere, despite all the corporate changes. Strangely there is no big screen (perhaps an indication of the Glazer’s stinginess?). We are flying high on top and they have had, improbably, 3 wins on the bounce, one against Liverpool, but still I could sense the fans nervousness. They don’t want to be beaten by a bunch of Arsenal kids. A good spy is never caught As always, though, the first port of call is the Matchstick Man, across the canal from Old Trafford, this huge pub, packed to the rafters, doesn’t allow enemy spies such as myself. They even check what you are wearing underneath if they are suspicious. Only Utd colours are permitted. As usual, though, I get by unnoticed as I slip in beside my brother, well dressed in his Red Devils t-shirt. However, there is always a superb atmosphere and big queues at the bar as drink gets downed unmercifully. There is fear in the air as the 3 wins were nervous ones, with Utd rarely looking all that good. Liverpool are going through their own difficulties so even that win wasn’t enough to give them confidence against the young gun tyros. Lots of talk of a draw being a good result. Ah, how they have fallen from their glory days when teams would be summarily dismissed, and even ourselves in the Wenger days, sometimes. Getting closer Of course, they know and they remember, that we won the league here. An indignity that shall never be forgotten. We will always be a big game, Roy Keane and Gary Neville on Sky retain their hatred to this day. We were the two giants, banging our heads against each other, with mind games, ferocious tackles, and bulging eyes head to head’s between Wenger and Ferguson. Ah, the great days of the biggest match in football. VAR likes interfering Of course, you know what happened , the first few minutes, Utd were holding the ball, passing it around and a bit of a miss from Eriksen. Then we took over, gaining possession and chances as they defended like mad, unable to hold the ball in midfield. Then we scored, a Martinelli wonder and all looked right with the world from my side. As the VAR sign went up, my brother looked at me and said nonsense, Erikson was dispossessed, nothing in that. I wasn’t so sure. Erikson has always been good at going to ground, like his buddies Son and Kane. Of course, VAR should not have interfered, the referee was in position, he saw it and didn’t give it. There was no clear and obvious error. But the referee bottled it and took the easy way out by blaming VAR. It was the start of a bad day for the Arsenal. Plenty of Antony jerseys about We allowed them to pick our pockets three times, particularly the final 2 goals as we pushed forward for the win. You cannot leave a gap between the lines for Rashford and his ilk to run into. Bravery should never be stupidity. Yes, we had more chances. Yes, some of them could have been goals. And yes, the better football was played by us, but we have to stop giving away easy goals, a rot that started, unfortunately with my hero, Wenger, and has never been properly addressed. This will be our best loss of the season This could turn out to be a great loss, at this time of the season. Why so? Because it was at Old Trafford, a big team with big players, in a intimidating stadium, and a manager who indisputably knows what he is doing. He identified that Arsenal played very high, and a Sam Allardyce long ball through the middle could cause havoc. And it was a strategy that paid off very handsomely. But we played well, we pressed, held the ball much better than they did and two goal hero Rashford, at the end said it was an even game. A draw, at least, would have been a fairer outcome. The players will know that. Mistakes cost us. The teams only played in one half of the pitch So, if we learn from this, cut out this weakness, then we can start again, with the loss out of the way early as all teams lose in the Premiership, except one and get back with a stronger mentality this can be the catalyst to pushing City all the way. Now, I have to say that the Arsenal fans were superb, singing and truly supporting our boys all the way. This is a strength that has been lacking in recent years, and they must keep doing this. We must ensure that we have every little advantage possible. We now have good players in every position and there is a togetherness that Man Utd and Chelsea, for example, will take time to replicate. Liverpool may finally be showing cracks in an aging team and the Spuds are the Spuds. See? I told you But, can I say, at least once in your lifetime, get to Old Trafford for the Arsenal. You won’t regret being swept along in the atmosphere, and make sure to get your pints in the Matchstick Man as an Arsenal spy, listening to the worried fears of the Mancs, and smiling to yourself that our kids have got these boys worried. We will rise again, we will overcome the big teams and VAR and show that team spirit, combined with fan spirit, is the key to Arsenal’s success. And at least my brother Joe was happy. ps. Apologies for the pictures - it was dark, grey clouds had gathered as if a portent for that Prince of Darkness, Mr VAR!
The First Old Trafford UFC Fight We had driven over from Dublin that morning in my battered old Honda Civic. We made our way via Holyhead through onto Manchester and on to Stretford and Old Trafford. We had done this in previous years but this time we had an ace in the hole. My brother Pat had been able to get us tickets for free in previous years as he knew one of the Manchester United director’s, Tom Williams. He had a huge wallpaper company and my brother was the manager of the trade section at Wigoders, which at the time were one of the biggest hardware stores in Ireland. They bought a huge amount of stock from him and he was always offering my brother VIP passes which Pat turned down. This time we said let’s take them. So myself, Pat and my Manchester United supporter brother Joe took our VIP passes and I parked my ancient car in the carpark, reserved for players and VIP’s. It was a totally different experience than all the times before. No worrying about parking. Flash the card and we were through. 1990 October 20th Old Trafford. A great day, or was it? I should say it was early, and we went to reception to be greeted by legends. Denis Law, Pat Crerand, Bobby Charlton and others were all there, making us feel at home. Alex Ferguson was walking around, talking to everyone, from cleaners to stewards and amazingly, he would have a quick chat with them all by name, asking after their family by name, and little incidents about them. He knew all about their lives. I suspect that was one of the reasons he was so effective at people management. He seemed to genuinely care about them. And he was smiling all the time, in contrast to the grim image he portrayed on screen. He could smile, sometimes The Irish superstars had arrived We were given champagne on arrival, given a tour of the ground, as they explained that the grass had extra deep roots so that it would stay green. Grass technology had arrived. It was a magnificent stadium vastly improved from what it had been the initial time I was there in the 70’s. This was, strangely, though, the first time I had really looked around. It truly was impressive. It was so nice inside as well. Suddenly we were in an environment we weren’t used to. There were luxurious carpets everywhere. Ubiquitous Man Utd crests adorned doors and hallways. This was how the other half lived. We had worn fairly nice clothes as we didn’t want to look out of place like my old car did. We were ushered into a fabulous dining hall for what has to have been one of the best culinary experiences of our lives. The Man Utd crest was on everything, the napkins, the cutlery, the wine, and the food was fabulous. Pat and I were Arsenal so we had to be circumspect. We were asked to forecast the result and I put 1-1 but Pat put 1-0 to the Arsenal. It was for a prize to be presented by the players after the game. I should have said that we were scheduled to meet them as part of the deal. I was trying not to drink much as I had to drive back home but with so much food inside me I was soaking up all the alcohol. Famous people on and off the pitch There were famous people wandering around and all sorts of legendary players, Gordon McQueen, Martin Buchan and others and I was grabbing autographs whenever I could. Bryan Robson was another as he was out injured and I have never seen a player so patient with fans, he signed autograph after autograph, and lined up for photo after photo. We took our seats in the VIP section and we had incredible seats. Did I mention they were playing Arsenal? Liverpool, United and ourselves had made good starts to the season. This was an early defining match. We were second to Liverpool who had won all their matches whereas we had won five and drawn 3. United were 5 points behind us so a win and they were breathing down our necks. Alex Ferguson had pretty much got the United team he wanted at that point and they were soon to start their period of dominance. Graham had brought in Anders Limpar of Sweden and he was a magician. He really made an impact bringing a flair and a style to Arsenal that we had been missing. I never accepted the boring, boring Arsenal epithet as we scored plenty of goals, were involved in many exciting matches and always kept fighting to the end. But George Graham was a defensive minded manager, that was certain. Get that right was his first order. He also knew you had to kill them from the front as well. All of his players could play football, they were good in the air and on the ground. He had them well organized. Anders Limpar made all the difference Rough and tough from the start They needed to be, that day. United came charging out of the blocks and Steve Bruce clattered into Alan Smith. I knew we had a game on our hands. They laid siege to our goal, coming close from corners and David Seaman was very busy and superb. As were the whole team as defenders, trying to keep out the Red waves coming toward us. We had scarcely a chance for the whole half until Anders Limpar skipped through, fired a scorcher which Les Sealey parried. Keith Hackett, the referee, was in the perfect position and he said it was over the line. 1-0 to the Arsenal! Against the run of play. But I had to jump inside because we were surrounded by Utd supporters. I bravely smiled, though. It was a tough match. Lots of fierce tackles and players lying on the ground. They were always feisty affairs, derbies in all bar name. United came out for the second half ready to take revenge and continue the one sided way it was in the first. We were a bit better, though, and caught them a few times on the break. Thomas. Rocastle and Limpar had good chances to put the game to bed. The United players were getting frustrated, feeling that Keith Hackett was not giving them justice although the kicking, as far as I am concerned, was coming more from them. The kicking had increased, and Denis Irwin, aimed a sly kick at Anders Limpar as he lay on the ground. Stop the handbags, ladies Shortly afterwards Limpar was crude in the tackle and then it all kicked off. Nigel Winterburn was on the ground and Brian McClair was kicking him over and over. Suddenly both teams got involved and it was difficult to see who was doing what to whom. I had a great view and honestly, United players seemed the worst offenders. But Winterburn, who was being kicked on the ground, astonishingly got booked as did Anders Limpar. No one from United. Nigel Winterburn got a yellow card for being kicked We won, though. I would still challenge anyone to look at that match and say Arsenal were rougher than Utd. Arsenal were fined 2 points and Utd one. They had the bigger clout at the FA. It meant for a very subdued atmosphere post match. Only Neil Webb and Mike Phelan turned up to meet the VIP guests. Pat was presented with 2 Manchester United wine bottles in a presentation box for getting the correct score. Of course he did, no Manchester United fan was ever going to forecast that, everyone, including the players looked at him suspiciously but he didn’t care. He had got it right and he had won. They tasted very nice, by the way. Hey, we won, I had a great day. We were treated like kings and despite all the handbags being thrown on the floor at Old Trafford, no-one was seriously hurt. Bitches will fight. We could look after ourselves, and Limpar had added the flair we were missing. We were Arsenal and it was United who had to crawl back to their luxury Cheshire homes defeated and crying. We, of course, went back to our very ordinary Dublin homes where that picture of Pat being presented with his wine takes pride of place on the wall to this day. With Neil Webb and Mike Phelan! Would they be smiling if they knew they had a Gooner in their midst? 64 Points max total With six games to go and Everton and Chelsea to come, it is very hard to see Europa League qualification. The final route to Europe is a Final. Can we do it? It is hard to be optimistic but on our day we can. We need to be the Arsenal football team and not Team Kroenke.