In the long footballing break now ahead of us it might be interesting for AA regulars and visitors to share memorable stories from their Arsenal supporting lives.
This tale dates back to the 2001/02 season. At the time I was a season ticket holder in the Upper East Stand at Highbury.
By dint of hard work, good luck and pulling in favours a group of seven of us had managed over the years to get adjacent seats in the same row (near the back, about half way between the centre circle and the Clock End goal).
From this vantage point we had enjoyed many ups and downs, but the glories of the 1997/98 season – when we clinched our second league and cup double – were still fairly fresh in our memories and the mood was generally positive.
Naturally, as season ticket holders, you get to know the regulars who sit nearby. They were an entertaining cast of characters, most memorable among them probably being the man we called Celeb. He was the living personification of the dissolute ‘Gary Bloke’ from the Celeb strip cartoon by the brilliant illustrator Alex.
Gary Bloke wears dark glasses whatever the time of day or night and always looks like he’s just come from a star-studded all-nighter.
It was always amusing to watch Celeb arrive late for every game, long blonde hair brushed back, impenetrable shades in place, wearing garish suit and shiny winkle-pickers and responding to greetings with a grimace that said “still hung over, hope the singing’s not too loud today.”
The camaraderie was always good in our neck of the Arsenal wood… except for one person.
Every story needs not just heroes, it needs villains as well. And our villain was a supporter in his 50s who sat a few rows in front of us.
Throughout every game he would regale the crowd at length with his opinions about the players, the manager and the direction of the club. That’s fair enough, except for three things: one, his opinions were rubbish: always negative, however well we were doing; two, they were always delivered at the volume of an RAF jet fighter breaking the sound barrier; and three, their tone was always of the “you muppets don’t know what you’re talking about, let me put you right…” variety. We called him Cabbie because he reminded us of those know-all London taxi operators who rant at you from the moment you step in their cab until the moment you get out 10 minutes later and 30 quid worse off. (That’s probably a bit unfair on most cab drivers. Sorry chaps).
Most of us reacted to Cabbie’s constant barrage of ill-informed, arrogant negativity with a roll of the eyes or muttered complaints to one another. But one of our group, Rickie, really began to hate it.
Rickie was not averse to a bit of in-game shouting himself, and as a Head of Year in an all boys school he could bellow with the best: “Winterburn, put that cigarette out. See me after school… Adams, ADAMS! What are you doing with Morrow? Put him down! No not like that…”
But Rickie was a respectable and well-mannered fellow and his shouted offerings were of the encouraging, supportive kind, with only a very rare rocket for a bit of bad play from the boys in red and white.
As the weeks went by in the 2001/2 season, Cabbie developed a particular disliking for Freddie Ljungberg. It was the season when Ljungberg became Red Fred and had a brilliant song all of his own: “We love you Freddie, because you’ve got red hair…” Arsenal fans really did love him… except for Cabbie.
Cabbie would harangue Freddie all game long. Worse, he was incapable of pronouncing Freddie’s surname, so we were treated to lots of “Lungborg, you’re bloody rubbish… Lungborg, go back to Sweden… Lungborg, my 12 year old daughter’s better than you…”
Attentive readers will know that 2001/02 is the year when we went on to win a second league and cup double under Arsene Wenger, with a certain red-headed Swede firing the goals that helped us clinch the title in the league run-in.
It must have been just around the start of that run-in when Rickie finally flipped. Perhaps he’d had a tough time with the lower fifth that week or perhaps he just couldn’t bear to hear the word “Lungborg” blasted at maximum decibels one more time, but when Cabbie began another stream of invective aimed at Freddie, Rickie jumped to his feet.
Directing himself at Cabbie he yelled at full schoolteacher-wrangling-an-unruly-class volume: “WILL YOU JUST SHUT UP. JUST FOR ONCE KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT OR IF YOU HAVE TO OPEN IT, HOW ABOUT SAYING SOMETHING POSITIVE?
“WE’RE ALL ABSOLUTELY SICK OF YOUR ENDLESS COMPLAINING. JUST GIVE IT A REST. AND BY THE WAY, IT’S LJUNGBERG, NOT LUNGBORG, YOU F—–G MORON.”
For a few seconds there was a stunned silence. Then a large slice of the Upper East stand burst into applause for Rickie.
Cabbie’s face went puce, he spluttered and frothed but no words came out. He sat back down and uttered nary a squeak for the rest of the game. Or indeed for any game thereafter.
Looking back many years on, I sometimes feel the tiniest bit sorry for Cabbie. After all, everyone’s entitled to their opinion and if you can’t shout at a football match then when can you?
But his relentless tide of stupidity and negativity was getting out of hand and needed to be called out. The only surprise was that it was refined Rickie who was the one to do it.
Not a big story. Just an everyday tale of the terraces, but one that for some reason has stuck fondly in my memory.