The home comforts of Ashburton Grove

December 26, 2010

Written by charybdis1966

Being a tardy sort of chap I finally managed to undertake the Stadium tour of N5 about four years after they became an option, so what better day than Christmas Eve 2010 to find out more about the off pitch set up at our ground and further indoctrinate my sons into all things Goonerish?

First off we are shown through the Diamond Club entrance to the Directors box which sits in the second tier above the player’s tunnel entrance and directly below the TV camera gantries. The extra padded seats and maroon coloured leather, as opposed to the Arsenal red, differentiate them from all the other seats in the Stadium and offer the best view as you would expect for the Directors box, where the home and away directors would watch the game after being dined at Raymond Blanc’s(who is a Gooner according to the tour guide) eatery; the thought of Slimy Kenyon, replete with shining pate and unctuous smile, being wined and dined there on Monday sent an anticipatory shudder up and down my spine.

A short hop on the extremely ornate lift (with a Dial Square Crest motif embossed in the floor) from the exalted luxury of Diamond club and it’s down to the players tunnel.

This appears smaller than it seems on TV when you see ManU Sports (aka Sky Sports) cameras showing the players shortly before they walk out side by side onto the pitch (the players coming out side by side is another Herbert Chapman innovation incidentally) however the walk through the extending tunnel with the Middle Eastern airlines logo on it is still awe inspiring and you can only imagine what it feels like to make that short walk pre match.

As some may already know there is a plastic weave sewn into the base of the turf to hold the roots of the Dutch grass roots together which has been found to be the optimal for the requirements of the playing surface in the climate we have in London with the pitch having a camber of around fifteen inches or so around the sides. The racks of lights being shone onto sections of the pitch were to encourage growth, it being more or less the winter solstice, rather than to defrost the pitch as my eleven year old correctly surmised and yours truly incorrectly assumed.

I raised the question of at half time watering the end we attacked (in the second half) only, as I’d seen done at the home of Pullis’ oval ball chasers however I’m told this is contrary to premier League rules; mind you not adding on injury time for time wasted by ball wiping with towels is another Stoke-ism that has gone unnoticed by referees.
The guide pointed out the location of the away allocation at which point I asked why didn’t the club consider putting them in the upper tier of the portion between the East Stand and the Clock End? This would be to diminish their vocal effect and make them less effective a presence, as it is done at many European grounds. The answer seemed to be possibly the danger of away fans throwing missiles at home fans in the lower tiers directly below them however the Bar codes have an upper tier allocation for away support and in Europe netting is used to prevent this.

Now some will tell you that all Arsenal employees are merely bureaucrats who couldn’t care less about the team; however he seemed to be of a like mind to me in that anything that gives us an edge at home was worth considering and he suggested e mailing the club.

From here on in I noticed a recurring theme of the guide’s narration namely the differences in the home team’s facilities and the away teams.

The home teams dug out, to the left of the players as they enter the field of play, has a heated floor area for the first two rows(the two rows behind the front two for non-playing squad members) while there is no such heating in the away dug out.

There was a warm up area we weren’t shown where the players could have a pre match kick about; again this facility is only given to our team and not the away team – and rightly so!
Next onto the home dressing room which has one semi-circular end rather than a completely square room; this is, according to Japanese Feng Shui principles, the most positive and uplifting of all living space shapes – a square room is the most negative and depressing shape, so needless to say the away room was made completely square. It’s no surprise one of Wenger’s many inputs into details of the stadium design is prompted by his time spent with Grampus Eight.
As you enter from your left the players are grouped goalkeepers first, then defenders, midfielders, strikers then substitutes, with the Captain at the time located at the apex of the semi-circle at the right hand end of the room as you enter. Proof of our current Captains stardom evident by most of the tour group wanting to be photographed at our number fours bench space, myself I plopped myself where our enigmatic Russian number 23 would ready himself for the game. The bench places of Nasri and Eboue and Van Persie also proved popular choices to be photographed in front of.

Pretty soon after the first few games at Ashburton Grove Wenger decided that padded cushions in front of each of the players spaces were to be introduced – I can see doomers now saying “Typical, we’re molly coddling our players by giving them comfy seats for their pampered behinds!”

Wrong, it was found that sitting on a cold hard surface at half time increased the chances of hamstrings tightening – of course no cushions for the away team.

The flooring was of a non-slip variety suitable for studded boots, while the shiny, slippery version was installed in the away dressing room. The guide wryly remarking that Drogba has never slipped over on that glossy surface but as soon as he takes to the pitch he’s barely able stay vertical, especially in and around the penalty area.
There is a hydrotherapy room and sets of physiotherapist’s couches in another room next to the dressing room, obviously no such facility for the away team.
Next, onto the media room where all managers have to give post match interviews, except of course Lord Fergie of Govan who can flout these rules. For some reason old bacon face doesn’t send the assistant manager to face the media when his team wins – coincidence?

Yeah, right.

Initially managers were interviewed at the same time, however the problems this can cause soon made separate interview slots necessary – who could cause such contentious post match interviews?

Step forward, as ever, Sir Alex Chapman Fungus-scum.

After the conclusion of the tour a walk over to the Arsenal Museum is highly recommended and brought a welcome respite from the hurly burly of last minute Christmas shenanigans.

No more heroes…because we don’t deserve it.

December 11, 2010

Many would argue that the last genuine “Mr Arsenal” we had was TA06, that rare breed of a one club man, while others would say that PV04 and TH14 were club heroes in their own equally memorable way. To me such a player is someone who you cannot imagine playing in any kit other than our red and white, can we say that of any of our current squad?

Is it fair to blame the Bosman ruling (and potentially the Webster case) as the reason for the rarity of one club players and/or the shortness of stays at any club for professional footballers nowadays? Will we ever see a world class player of ours who won’t even consider leaving no matter which other supposedly “bigger” club comes knocking?

I was born in the same year as TA06 and also grew up in Essex in the 1970’s so I always identified with him, I could have even have played against him in Primary School football competitions c.1976 but for the fact I had no talent and didn’t get picked for more than a couple of the school’s games. It’s for this and other reasons that I notice the lack of a genuine “Mr Arsenal” in recent years since his departure.

It can be argued that both of the French players I mentioned in the opening line are as close to a “Mr Arsenal” loyalist as “Rodders”, but we were tortured with constant exit rumours every transfer window during the latter parts of their time with us, as we are currently with CF04.

It was a different pre-Bosman era for a significant portion of his career (the ruling being made in 1995) so it could be argued there was less player mobility then, but non the less there was little suggestion he was likely to leave us any time.

Is it an easy bit of xenophobia to suggest that being English he would be less likely to go than the French pair? The career of DB10 would not support that theory as he stayed for 10 years and even at the height of his powers the bi-annual transfer shenanigans we have come to expect as Arsenal fans in relation to our current stars did not come to pass.

Recently I had the misfortune to chance upon one of the latest anti-Arsenal bandwagons Talkspite (aka Talksport) that their posse of shock jocks had made the debating point of the day.

It was the quietness of the Ashburton Grove support and the lack of passion the crowd showed yet my latest match day experience last Saturday was in the Red Action section of the North bank where the more vociferous supporters are located. Now while it’s a cliché to say it’s only Arsenal who ever experience a volume of crowd noise that is less than constant and akin to a power metal concert I felt no need to get unduly wound up by the tired old attempt at a wind-up.

What it did remind me of was the way the “committed” support I was located in berated our players over the slightest of things. Yes, the atmosphere was very lively and the singing almost constant as we were standing up for all of the second half in the lower tier of the North bank, however the “passion” of the crowd led to a less than supportive timbre to the feedback the players would get.

A trip on Arshavin was followed a nanosecond later by our own supporters yelling “Get up for f**k’s sake!”

A forearm smash from Etuhu which felled Robin led to shouts from the crowd around me of “F**king hell he’s injured
again!” and “You’re a waste of f**king money!”

Another incident that grated with me was the sarcastic clapping for Fabianski when he claimed a cross after he’d been beaten by Carroll’s header against Newcastle.

Is it possible that a necessary, unavoidable adjunct of vociferous support is that the negative feedback will be that much more venomous?

A common theme I hear from other team’s supporters is that Arsenal fans slag off their own players more than opposition supporters too as they are spoilt and churlish.

Now I believe criticism of a player’s performance is more than permitted after a game. However, howls of derision at a mistake such as a misplaced pass can in no way spur a player on and are, in my opinion, self-defeating.

Call me selfish, but I’ll do what I can to maximise positive outcomes for myself, so if my team’s goalie scuffs a clearance do I groan out load?

No, because the effect of 55,000+ other voices groaning simultaneously will hardly help a player’s confidence. It can be argued that professional players shouldn’t be affected by crowd noise, professionals they may be but robots they are not. Of course they are going to be affected by negative feedback from crowd reaction and this no doubt has some bearing on our better away record.

It’s ironic that while the Grove is the quieter of the premier League grounds the groans do get gleefully picked up upon by anti-Arsenal media elements such as Talkspite.

Now players make decisions to move on based on a variety of factors; however it is my humble supposition that we can in some small way help to keep our better players if the Ashburton Grove support, and the larger Gooner diaspora, can bite their tongues and suppress groans and moans when players, as human beings, may not perform as expected all of the time.

Gaining respect and support is a two way street but suspending reservations you may have about a player at least during match time is surely better for the positive outcome we should all want.

If you’re not going to sing/shout your support at least don’t make younger less extrovert characters amongst our squad want to hide during the game by jeering and cat calls or, as has been alluded to by a previous post, low-pitched, monotone bovine utterances.

How the crowd reacts after the final whistle, if doubts about any of the player’s capabilities are confirmed, is another question.

Arsenal’s reserves implode – just like the first team

July 26, 2010

 Another Saturday and another Arsenal friendly for your humble scribe (having made the trip to Underhill last weekend with the ArsenalArsenal crew), but thanks to the vagaries of the M25 I missed the first 20 minute or so of the pre season friendly against Blue Square team Welling United, known as ”The Wings”.

The aged turnstile attendant told me “Its one-one mate” as I finally arrived at the Park View Ground  in Welling, one of my old stamping grounds(my school was a misplaced Bendtner shot away from the Danson Park end of the ground); technically in Kent, but in reality an outer London borough that borders north west Kent. It is also a short five minute drive away from the original home of the Gunners, Plumstead Common, so you could say we were back to our roots in this game.

The feeling in the ground that the £11 admission was a bit steep and the quality of the play, certainly from us, tended to support that view. To their credit did say that is was very unlikely any first teamers would feature so I suspect it was Welling United who were responsible for the pricing.

Having missed the first two goals, a screamer from Gavin Hoyte and a supposedly generous penalty for the Wings after a chap called Pires was upended in our area; the remainder of the first half saw the Arsenal X1 keep possession fairly well in the centre of the park but as usual over elaborate as the penalty area was approached.  No one especially impressed and in particular Randall seemed quite content to stroll around midfield waiting for opportunities to play the odd flick or lofted pass. He barely seemed to be out of breath at any point in the first half.

With the first half being fairly lack lustre you would have thought the second half would see Arsenal come out with renewed vigour after a Liam Brady rocket had been placed up their  complacency.

What I saw was a Welling side fighting for possession in the midfield and at any set piece a hesitancy in the defenders which screamed out that we would concede with a corner or a cross -which sure enough we did.

To my eyes it seemed the centre backs were waiting for each other to clear the ball and on one of those occasions a Welling player pounced for a tap in. One of the centre backs, Ignasi Miquel, is another one of those Catalans we stole from Bankruptalona against his will. Should he come good then it would behove us to return him “home” as long as the DNA test proves we have a moral obligation to do so.

Of the last two goals one was as a result of a forward having a try from distance, surely that’s not allowed? The other goal was a goal keeping error as the goalie fumbled and an opposition player pounced and scored from the rebound.

Now does that not remind you of the first team somewhat?

I’ve heard it said that one’s greatest strength can be ones greatest weakness also. Arsenal’s possession game is played from the top down, from the first team to the reserves and the under 18’s, which – when it works is all well and good –  so in that respect all our teams have a consistent approach which I don’t have any complaint with.

However our lack of decisive defensive play leads to a more willing and industrious opponent being able to exploit counter attacks when the possession game falls apart. This was very much the case in the second half.

It didn’t help that I had a Welling supporter behind me bellowing “Break his legs” whenever one of our midfielders brought the ball forward, the fact that  none of our players reacted to that taunt from only 10 feet away shows we expect to hear that sort of goading. He then crowed “Who are you?!” when the fourth goal went in. Ah, the joys of the terracing.

So the problems of the first team were mirrored here – namely centre backs who don’t cut out crosses and make effective headed clearances and a reluctance to shoot (although I believe Chuks Aneke did try his luck with a few shots towards the end of the game.)

I was hoping to see this game in order to watch a glimpse of our future; however the problems of the present were flagged up again.

Still, the upside was the new home kit still looked smashing and I’m looking forward to member’s day when I can see the next stage of Arsenalisation at Ashburton Grove.

Written by charybdis1966

Arsenal, man and boy…… memoirs of a life-long Gunner

July 21, 2010

We are delighted to publish this fascinating historical insight from our latest writer GunnerN5. The bomb site he played on as a lad is what we now know as Ashburton Grove … yes, the Emirates Stadium; how times have changed.

I was born on Avenell Road as the bombs were dropping on Islington; later we were evacuated to Lemsford near Hatfield in the county of Hertfordshire.

My maternal Grandfather was a coalman and used to deliver around the cobbled streets of Highbury by horse and cart. He lived on Stavordale Road and watched the very first Arsenal game at Highbury.
For my 10th birthday he took me to my first Arsenal game- Nov 22nd 1947 – Arsenal 2 Huddersfield 0 – I was hooked for life.

We were a poor family and my parents could not afford to buy me tickets to the game but that did not stop a determined Arsenal supporter from getting into the ground. Over the walls, I had to negotiate the broken glass bedded into the cement at the top of the walls and often went home with torn pants and got a clip round the ear. Through my Dads legs and under the turnstiles, usually ending up with scuffed knees.

Failing either of these ways in I would wait until half time and when the stewards opened the gates I would dash in and hide in the crowd – the stewards used to give a mock chase but I think they kinda enjoyed letting me go.

I went to every home game, 1st team one week, reserves the next and went to every away cup game that I could afford. We stood as a family under the clock, about 20 of us. My parents both were born in family’s with 9 sons who fathered 46 sons. Of the 64 of us, 60 were fervent Gunners but 4 misguided soul’s went the wrong way up Seven Sisters Road and ended up to be Spurs supporters – I ask ya?

Life’s path took me and my family to Canada, it was a real shock not being able to go to live games but I’ve made up for it by having 3 satellite dishes and the internet – between which I NEVER miss a game, although not always live. Still to this day Arsenal results can make or break my day and as game time approaches I still get goose bumps.

Being a statistical type of person I’ve created masses of data on our history and have recorded on excel spreadsheets every seasons results by year and manager. I also have our history by every team we’ve played in the EPL.

I’ve seen the teams of our past 12 managers going back to George Allison and in this mans view Arsene Wenger is far and away the best.

Unfortunately I’ve not seen a live game at the Emirates although as a kid I did play around that area.

Cheers to all and here’s to another exciting season.

Since GunnerN5 grew up in wartime, we thought it would be interesting to reproduce this passage describing the adaptation of Highbury, taken from…..

Highbury becomes ARP stronghold during World War II

During the Second World War 42 of Arsenal’s 44 professional footballers were drafted into the services. The majority of the administration staff at Highbury followed and even the stadium itself did its bit for the war effort.

Arsenal Stadium, Highbury was transformed into a ARP (Air Raid Precautions) stronghold and Arsenal had to play their wartime home fixtures at White Hart Lane!

Incidentally, manager George Allison did convert the referees room at Highbury into a small flat for a while.

Success continued during the war years with Arsenal winning the South A League in 1940, the London League in 1942, the Football League South and the Football League South Cup Final in 1943.

Arsenal relied heavily on guest players during that six-year period, notably Stan Mortensen and Stanley Matthews.

For all its efforts, Highbury paid the price when it was bombed. The North Bank was completely destroyed and much of the terracing on the South Stand was also damaged. These had to be repaired before Arsenal could return home after the war.