Once a Gunner, always a Hammer?

If Trevor Brooking wouldn’t have fallen over in the penalty area at 3.13pm on Saturday 10th May 1980 life would have been so different for me.  The moment a child chooses their  football team to follow is a monumental decision, the first right of passage into adulthood.  After being taken to Charlton Athletic, West Ham United, Leyton Orient and Arsenal I had to choose which route I would take.  Coming from a family of Charlton Athletic and West Ham United fans I obviously chose Arsenal.

Why the Gunners?  Well, I loved standing on the North Bank, watching the crowd sing and sway (this was before Highbury became the Library of course).  I loved the hot dogs, or “Gunner dogs” on sale outside the ground.  I loved the silky skills of Liam Brady and Graham Rix, but above all I loved the fact that by supporting them I pissed off my Brother and my Dad.  I used to love the fact that for my birthday my Dad had to drop my brother off in Green Street before carrying on to North London to watch Arsenal with me.

Classic outings including the 1-0 dour win over Liverpool in December 1978, whilst 5 miles away West Ham were putting five past Cambridge United,  or the 1-1 draw with Manchester City a few months later whilst the ITV cameras covered another 5-0 demolition of Newcastle United.

The 1979/80 season saw Arsenal as FA Cup holders after beating Manchester United the previous May thank’s to two late goals.  This meant that they would be on Sportsnight in the European Cup Winners Cup.  European football mmmm.  West Ham meanwhile were still in the old Second Division.  League form was dull to say the least as the Gunners featured in six nil nil drawers in the first half of the season.  But then January came around, and with Arsenal in the quarter finals of the European Cup Winners Cup, they started their defence of the trophy.

After both teams drew away from home in the 3rd Round my birthday treat was a visit to the replay at Highbury against Cardiff City.  I am sure my Dad wished he was at Upton Park watching West Ham play West Brom but he wasn’t.  He was freezing his nuts off watching Arsenal bore Cardiff City into submission.  Round 4 and I had to concede this one, heading over to Leyton Orient v West Ham whilst Arsenal beat Brighton & Hove Albion.  Round 5 in February saw them both overcome opponents, meaning that they were both in the last eight.

Early March saw the Gunners progress in Europe with a 5-1 against IFK Gothenburg, a game I stayed up to watch on Sportsnight in a deal that saw me agree to do the washing up for a whole week (this was in an age before dishwashers).  The FA Cup 6th round again saw both teams progress at the expense of Watford and Aston Villa respectively, putting the Fuller’s on a crash course of support.

The semi-final draw kept them both apart and thus a meeting at Wembley was on the cards.  Whilst West Ham took a replay and extra time to beat Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool played for seven hours, over four games before a, surprise surprise 1-0 win took them to Wembley.

The deal was straight forward.  If the favourites, FA Cup holders, Division One top four club and finalists in the European Cup Winners Cup, Arsenal beat West Ham, my Dad would never ever complain about taking me to Highbury again.  If Second Division mid to upper table team West Ham won, then I would never set foot in Highbury again as an Arsenal fan.

The rest, they say is history.  My Dad brings this tale out at family events, and basically every time he meets some new and we talk about football.  So you have been warned if you ever bump into Mr Fuller senior.  But who exactly was the winner?  Since 1980 Arsenal have won 2 Division One titles, 3 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 2 League Cups, 5 Charity/Community Shield titles and have appeared in 5 European finals.  West Ham on the other hand won the Intertoto Cup in 1999. Exactly.

So why am I telling you this?  Well, surprisingly I still have a soft spot for the Gunners.  I know we now live in a corporate age, the rudimentary facilities of Highbury now buried under an executive residential development and the club at home 5 minutes down the road in the Emirates, a 60,000 cathedral of football.  I’ve been back a few times.  I was actually there for the first game played there – Dennis Bergkamp’s Testimonial. I had a connection with the Dutchman, once sharing a pair of shorts in an incident that the Dutch would find hilarious, but that is for another day.  I had been back as a corporate guest a few times, enjoying the sumptuous facilities and the 30 minute half time break of course.  And now I was going back again.

I had a call from Mr Marber on Sunday.  Would I like to go to the Manchester City game as his guest?  An early birthday present if you must know (today is my birthday by the way for those who have missed the date their diaries).  Clearance gained from CMF, I was at the hands of an airline for the second time in just five days, but this was British Airways and of course they delivered.

There has been a lot written about Snoods in the press in recent weeks with the Arctic weather taking a hold much earlier than normal in England.  This ridiculous fad could not have been more prominent than in the dressing rooms of Arsenal and Manchester City.  Wenger came out a few weeks ago and tried to defend it for some of his players who had “stiff necks”, but it is really indefensible.  Four weeks ago we went to Randers v FCK in Denmark where the temperature dropped to minus 13 during the game.  Only 4 of the 20 outfield players wore gloves.  There was no girlie neck wear in sight.  The pre-match spread for snood wearers was 4-6 and I went large.

Lest we forget that this was a game between two of the top three in the league.  There had been a bit of bad blood last year thanks to Adebayor’s silly celebrations at Eastlands, and then the return fixture at The Emirates was possibly the most boring game of the season as Man City came, played 8-1-1 and frustrated Arsenal for 90 minutes.  That wouldn’t be happening this year would it?

Arsenal 0 Manchester City 0 – The Emirates – Wednesday 5th January 2011
It’s been awhile since I had been to Arsenal so I got to High & Islington early and ventured into the Famous Cock.  The pub had recently been renovated, and had now been brought up to 1990’s standards, but they did at least have Doom Bar on draft which gives them a big tick in my “dodgy pubs not to venture in on a match day list”.

Good to see people get in early

I met up with Patrick at 7ish and we wandered down the Holloway Road, chatting about all things Lewes, and exploring my ancestral roots on my football support.  And then as if by magic, the Emirates appears from behind the houses, rising like a cathedral.  Irrespective of your view of the club, you have to applaud the team who were responsible for designing, and then building the stadium basically on a postage stamp size of land.

The concourse areas were full to busting, with people stocking up on their Arsenal water and hot dogs, enjoying the commercialisation of their favourite products, whilst watching Arsenal TV of course.  Some obviously seemed to forget that a game was about to start judging by the empty seats come the time when the team emerged.

Snood watch saw just Nasri for Arsenal wearing one, obvious still suffering from that stiff neck he got at Villa last month, if we are to believe Arsene, whilst Manchester City started with an attacking three of Jo, Tevez and Yaya Toure all sporting furry necks. A smattering of players wearing gloves and even Wenger himself got fed up with the incessant rain by the start of the game putting on his snazzy bench coat.

The widest defence in the Premier League

As the noise (yes, noise) of the crowd built in the first few minutes, so did the Arsenal attacking wave.  The first fifteen minutes saw them hit the woodwork twice, and Joe Hart really had no idea what was going on.  However, the familiar shouts still echoed all around us.  “Shoot”, “For God sake have a pop” “Have a dig”..Yep, Arsenal for the record still like to walk the ball into the net.  Van Persie, Fabregas and Walcott all hit the upright in the first half, and Wiltshire and Nasri really should have done better with chances when faced with only Hart to beat.

There is “parking the bus” and then there is “really parking the bus”, and you cannot get much bigger buses in the Premier League today than Manchester City’s.  Their kit man must have to work overtime.  Christmas was obviously good at the City of Manchester canteen as a number of the players were bulging at the seams of their shorts.  Not since the days of Razor Ruddock at West Ham has such stretchy elastic been required for a football team.

You can normally judge how one sided games are by how busy the keepers are.  Anyone who was employed to monitor Fabianski for Opta Stats will have noted in the first 37 minutes that he took one goal kick, completed three Sudoku puzzles, one of which at an intermediate level, and also used his iPhone 4 for some Facetime with his Mum back in Kostrzyn nad Odrą.  Patrick explained to me that Arsenal games went one of two ways… “There is the lets see how many goals we score in the first half”, or “Let’s see how many chances we miss in the first half and then let the opposition break and score with their one and only chance”.  This was going to be one of the latter, and just before half time Tevez volleyed wide after the ball had zipped around the area.

News coming through from other games was promising.  Spurs drawing, Liverpool losing, Chelsea losing and West Ham getting stuffed beyond sight.  All it needed was an Arsenal goal in the second half.

City changed their formation from 7-2-1, bringing off Jo and replacing him with Adam Johnson to give them a more balanced 8-1-1 approach.  Wenger threw on Arshavin, who himself had taken to trying to fit as much of his 5foot 4inch frame into one pair of shorts.  Bendtner was also thrown on, but apart from a Van Persie drive from distance, Hart remained relatively untroubled.

Snoods at 2 paces

As injury time approached, Zabaleta slid in on Sagna and the Frenchman reacted furiously, leaning his head into the left-back in similar fashion to Younes Kaboul when the Spurs man was sent off against Newcastle last week, not once but twice.  However, it was surprising to see referee Mike Jones flash his red card in the direction of Zabaleta who certainly seemed to be the innocent party as well as Sagna, but perhaps it was a fittingly frustrating end to a game which never quite adequately came to life.

As the final whistle went it was certainly two dropped points for the Gunners.  Chelsea and Spurs had both lost, so essentially someone Man City got the best result of the top five despite only having 39% of the possession and not one single shot on goal.  As a fan noted when they took off Tevez near the end and replaced him with the defender Boeteng – that is what a quarter of a billion pounds buys you in modern day football!

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