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Sunday, 13 May 2012

Meeting a hero

Before reading I think it's worth stating that I am 100% straight

On Saturday the 12th of May, I met my hero Robert Pires, and I hope my story of how and what happened leading up to this miraculous event will fill your hearts with warmth and joy!

With my exams around the corner, this weekend was not expected to consist of anything other than worrying about Arsenal revision. However, on Saturday afternoon, my French mate Nathan texted me saying Robert Pires would be playing in a charity match at Craven Cottage that night, knowing he is my hero. I wondered how could this be? After all Robert was supposed to be in India. I instantly asked Nathan of his source; apparently his football coach is good friends with Pires and was also playing. That's good enough I thought.

I rampaged through the house, destroying all that came before me, in search of a permanent marker pen. Success! I carefully removed my Pires poster from my wall, got my Arsenal scarf, and set off to Craven Cottage, dribbling at the thought of meeting Bobby - the man the word dreamy was invented for. But more importantly, he is a legend, who throughout my life I've tried to emulate on the pitch, and also with facial hair. I have tried in vain on numerous occasions to grow a goatee. All God has given me is bloody bumfluff! I may or may not have once cut a bit of hair off and stuck it on my chin; however I do not wish to comment on speculation.

I entered a deserted Craven Cottage, and caught a glimpse of Bobby. If there was such thing as being drunk with excitement, then I most certainly was. There were only 20 people there; wives, girlfriends, friends. And me and Nathan. It seemed a pretty private affair which meant I was definitely going to get the chance to meet him. Pires got the ball, shimmied past an overweight balding man, and slotted it beyond the keeper. I stood up, surrounded by the family and friends of those involved, and started singing at the top of my voice, "SUPER BOBBY PIRES".

Then. Then. Jogging back to the halfway line, he saw me, Arsenal scarf aloft, singing his name - and waved. I felt like a 14 year old girl who just received a smile from Justin Bieber. But whatever, I didn't care. From his point of view, I probably looked like drunk hooligan/fanboy who had somehow broken into the ground. Now thinking about it.... he was waving at security to eject me from the stands... Damn.

At half time, he came up to the stand, presumably to see his friends/wife. We were all pretty close to each other, so I jumped off my seat, pen and poster in hand, and approached him. I think my exact words were: "DFHGVJBNKMROB". I looked at him. He looked at me.


After a bit of incoherent jabbering from myself, I got a picture with him, and he signed my poster, as you can see below. 

Stuff dreams are made of. Wet dreams.

Play resumed and 45 minutes later, after several more Pires goals - celebrated in a manner that the word 'exaggerated' doesn't do justice - the game was over. We walked down to the front and one of the other players invited Nathan and I onto the pitch for another picture with Pires. I asked Bobby for his boots (no harm in trying) and he laughed and said 'No my friend, I need them for next week - I'm going to Cameroon for a charity match, with Alex Song!' *EXCLUSIVE* news from the Wonder of Wenger. In The Know and all that.

It was an amazing evening. The prospect of meeting Robert Pires has been a dream *Cringe-O-meter in overdrive* ever since I first saw him in an Arsenal shirt. The way he caressed the ball and split defences open at will - it's how football should be played. Every time I wear my Arsenal scarf I will know it has been on the neck of a legend.

And Robert Pires.

Thanks for reading and remember to Follow me on Twitter!

Up The Arse! (An appropriate sign-off, continuing the homoerotic theme of this article)

Friday, 11 May 2012

Wolves away! (11/04/12)

This article was originally published in The Gooner, the best selling Arsenal fanzine. Now the home season has finished, I am allowed to post it on here, enlightening even *more* readers. So for those of you who missed it - I hope you enjoy!

Well, prior to this game it had been a while since we last had a comfortable 3-0 away victory. Our defeat of Wolves mathematically confirms that we will be in the top 6 come the end of the season. We'll definitely be in Europe, it's just a question of whether we will be playing Lech Poznan or Real Madrid! Or maybe we could combine both, and do the Poznan celebration whilst beating Real in the Champions League final! We can dream, eh?!

Anyway, this post won't be a match report, but rather a witty and colourful account of my 10th away trip of the season. I hope.

I met the others, including a drunken Swede (@superswe) who, on numerous occasions throughout the day, we tried to disassociate ourselves from. About an hour into the train journey, I finally succumbed to the demands of the same drunken Swede and consumed some Jack Daniels and Coke (Coca Cola, that is - just to avoid any ambiguity). I mean, the words 'drunken Swede', 'demanding' a 16 year old to have 'coke' could land him in another a court case. Moving on...

We arrived in Wolves very excited, slightly tipsy and with 4 hours on our hands. En route to our pub, we passed The Billy Wright - a pub in the name of the ex-Arsenal manager and Wolves player. And that was about as interesting as Wolverhampton got.

We reached the WalkAbout, and around 2 hours later, the pub was full of Gooners singing and drinking. An hour before kick off, a group of around 50 Arsenal fans departed in one unit, chanting their way to Molineux. A few mischievous looks from the locals ensued, but we didn't care. Halfway through our walk, "Sit down, if you hate Tottenham!" was instigated, and suddenly the mob of Gooners were sitting down on a Midlands pavement! The locals didn't know whether to laugh or cry!

Here's a short clip I took:
The excited group of Gooners made it to Molineux, amidst renditions of 'Red Army!' etc etc. The sun was shining, and there was a real buzz of anticipation in the air, with the prospect of going 5 points clear of the Spuds at the forefront of our minds!

After a brief security check, we entered the ground, dispersing into our various seating areas. At Molineux, the big clubs get the whole lower tier of the stand on the side, whereas in most stadiums the away fans are placed behind the goal. The view was OK, although we seemed further from the pitch than I expected.

Before I knew it, the game had started, and we were two up with a man advantage. It seemed a bit surreal - although this feeling was probably exacerbated by my relative state of inebriation. Couldn't remember the last away game I'd been to where it was this comfortable. Anyway, despite the surprising lack of fight and passion from the Wolves players, the home crowd delivered - at times - it must be said.

At 2-0, the home crowd chanted, 'How shit must you be, it's only 2-0!' - the travelling Gooners showed their appreciation with some gentle applause. Then mockingly, Arsenal fans sung, 'Terry (Connor) for England!' and 'There's only one Mick McCarthy!' The Wolves faithful actually seemed to agree! 

The sending off essentially ruined the game as a spectacle, but at 2-0 to The Arsenal, I wasn't complaining! Wolves weren't doing anything really; I mean you'd at least have expected them to get in our faces. The home crowd showed their discontent with the charming chant: 'Get in to 'em! Fuck 'em up!' however all that resulted in was ironic claps and cheers from the away end.

The second half was pretty uneventful, and if anything Yossi's goal was against the run of play. However this did not quench our joy, and ecstatic renditions of 'Tottenham, mind the gap!' reverberated around Molineux. As much as I enjoyed taking the mick out of Spurs, we were technically doing exactly what they did; gloating about being ahead in the League before the season had even ended. Hopefully this cautionary note won't have any substance, but I wouldn't count your chickens just yet. I mean, we are The Arsenal - we are masterful at fuck ups, but thankfully for us, Tottenham excel even better in this area. 

Full time went and party mode ensued as Gooners spilled out into the concourse, singing in praise of the mighty Arsenal. 9 wins out of our last 10 games which makes us the Premiership's form side. It's just a shame we left it so late as this spell really is the form of Champions. Nonetheless, it is a testament to Arsene's character and incomparable footballing intelligence that this team, ridiculed and belittled from the start, have turn things around so emphatically. 

Anyway, the train home was virtually 100% Arsenal. Drunken banter between the Arsenal grandpas veterans at one end of the carriage - and my end - consisting of the younger generation of Gooners, meant time went by rather quickly. One of the Golden Oldies shouted: 'School in the morning, you've got school in the morning!' of which I replied: "NO WE HAVEN'T! WE'RE ON EASTER HOLIDAYS!" which was greeted with gales of laughter. 

What can I say, guess I'm just an all-round, funny guy. Well my mum thinks so anyway.

Thanks for reading and remember to follow me on Twitter @rlewisafc!

Up The Arsenal!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Bundesliga - the place to be?

While the Bundesliga is ostensibly setting the standard in Europe, especially in the eyes of supporters, there is one telling factor which suggests otherwise.

Following Bayern Munich's defeat of Real Madrid - propelling the Germans into the Champions League final on home territory - our perception of the Bundesliga was invariably enhanced. And this is largely justified. Average attendances of over 45,000 puts the Bundesliga in a league of its own; the average attendance in the Premiership is just 34,000 closely followed by La Liga, with Serie A lagging behind with a meagre 23,000. Subsidies from the German government mean ticket prices average out at just £17, and away fans receive free rail travel - which I say without any hint of jealousy. *cough*.

And this isn't there just to look good. Unbelievably, German champions Borussia Dortmund brought over 20,000 away(!) fans to a match earlier this season against Hertha Berlin. Twenty thousand! And we thought taking 3,000 to Bolton was commendable! Moreover, fans are allowed to drink beer during matches and safe-standing terraces such as Dortmund's - which holds 26,000 - generate fantastic atmospheres. In many ways, the Bundesliga sets an exemplar for all to follow.

Yet, yet. The praise it receives from us fans does not seem to be reflected in the players. Instead of top English footballers moving from the Premiership to the Bundesliga - the league now tipped by many as the best in Europe - it's the other way round. Podolski's recent arrival at Arsenal, following that of Per Mertesacker (and Thomas Eisfeld) provide a good example of this. If you think back over the years, can you remember any reputable English players going to Germany from the Premiership, or even the old First Division?

Well there was Kevin Keegan's move to Hamburg in the late 70s, where he was crowned European Footballer of the Year, after departing from Liverpool. Mind you, I'd probably pay to leave Liverpool at the moment with King Kenny in charge. Sorry, perhaps that little dig was as 'bang out of order' as Suarez's ideological stance. Sincerest apologies.

Ex Arsenal forward Tony Woodcock is another rare example. He started his career with Nottingham Forest under a certain Brian Clough, winning numerous trophies, most notably the 1979 European Cup. Like Keegan, Woodcock's quality was recognised as he won the Young Player of the Year award. Despite flying with Forest, he moved to Germany to play for Koln - a team we are certainly aware of after our most recent acquisition - where he remained for three years. He then returned to his homeland when Arsenal manager Terry Neill signed him in 1983, before going back to Koln in the late 80s. Make your mind up!

Our best friend Mark Hughes left Manchester United in '86 for Bayern Munich (via Barcelona), albeit his time abroad was somewhat of a failure - he returned to Utd two years later. One factor that may have lured Englishmen away from home at this time was the prospect of European football. After the 1985 Heysel disaster, English clubs were banned from Europe, and thus a move to the continent, and in some cases Germany, seemed very attractive - coupled with higher wages.

A more recent example is Dale Jennings, the 19 year old who last year left Tranmere for... Bayern Munich?! Yes, I shit you not! Admittedly he is playing for Bayern's reserves, but this is one of the scarce examples I could find of players moving from England to Germany.

Much of the exciting talent emerging - or established - in Germany seem destined for England. Well - that's the impression we get from the media, especially regarding the likes of Goetze and Gro├čkreutz, with the latter already stating his desire to one day play for Arsenal.  Now why is this? Well, the Premiership is a better league! I'm sure this (and no doubt higher wages) is what persuaded Marko Marin - the 'German Messi' - to sign for Chelsea. While as fans it is easy to admire the Bundesliga, especially after Klopp's resurrection of Dortmund and Bayern's Champions League advances, I think it is interesting that despite its clear qualities, top players from Germany leave for England whilst top Englishmen remain here! You could say the same about any other top European league, but the reason I'm focusing on the Bundesliga is because of the praise it has been receiving - quite justifiably - over the past weeks.

The Premier League is still the place to be!

Thanks for reading and remember to follow me on Twitter @rlewisafc!