Monday, 25 May 2009

From Stoke to Stokey

Arsenal 4-1 Stoke Emitrates Stadium 24th May

It's fun to be part of a group of thousands of football fans when your team wins, the sun is shining, nobody is acting in a threatening way and you've all got the uniform. The stadium was fizzing with a kind of atmospheric champagne; a bubbly mood of celebration. The Stoke fans were even more jubilant than us and become incoragibly and progressively happier with every Arsenal goal.

My companion, Larry, was unfortunately focusing all of his attention on the Liverpool game many miles away. Every now and again he would tell me, on the basis of a feeling: 'I think there's been a goal at Anfield.' When I checked my phone, he was right every time. Had he given concentrating on the Arsenal game, the Stoke fans might have had even more to cheer about.

The stadium, as has often been said, is a great venue to watch a football match at. No more cramped seats or major fire risks. If anything, it is a little too well-organised with Emirates staff posied to pounce on you if you take a picture of the football during the game. It is quite a quandry considering whether the benefits of the new stadium outweigh the charm and history of Highbury. In spite wanting to say that they don't and that I would have the old place back, I am not sure that I would.

You get the feeling that Emirates doesn't quite yet have a soul of its own, though, and one wonders what a new stadium has do in order to qualify for one. This may also be true of Wembley mark II. Maybe the team needs to win a major trophy there to really enshrine it into the hearts of the fans. Or maybe it needs a bit of rubbish on the floor and a few chips in the paintwork. Or survive a war or two.

I don't want to do the usual pop-sociology rant about a sense of belonging and being part and subuming one's identity into the mass but I must say that I like the feeling of wearing the uniform and sitting with several thousand other people doing the same. The only downside about the overwhelming redness of the people is that it is more difficult to spot yourself on TV; unless you are Van Persie or Fabregras that is. Arsenal, a construction that persists for as long as we believe that it does, is something we all had in common. It is not the same as knowing the same Lord and saviour though and the only way I can think to combine the faith and the uniform would be to join the Sally Army.

I guess celebrating with that many people did put me in mind of the great cloud of witnesses and the life to come. Maybe there is something a bit transcendent about the experience of watching football. Not that it is a religious experience as such but it is certainly a major challenge the egocentric belief that I can meet all my own needs, I am enough by myself, and all the other ways I can think of being selfish. If nothing else a team is something that is shared

That is not to say that massive crowds are necessarily always that virtuous. Stoke had a song about Wenger that was pretty unpleasant although not as bad as the Man U ones. There was a bit of tolerance and understanding for all that though like when a couple of renegade stoke fans unvieled their flag at the end of the match from within the Arsenal territory and all this provoked was a degree of mirth. We may not be greatest singers in the world but at least we don't kill people. Actually Arsenal home fans are terrible singers. When the attendance for the year at the Emirates flashed up on the video screen at over 2 million, the Stoke away fans piped into a chorus of: 'Two million and you can even sing,' and they were right. Even the Mexican wave didn't get all the way round. One hopes Carlos Vela wasn't unduly disapponted.

Getting a bus down Blackstock Road after the match is not the most time-frienfly pastime with the centre of Finsbury Park all clogged up with people and cars. It was by foot then that I progressed down to Stoke Newington to stay with my brother. I almost beat the bus back to Lordship Road, it arriving with one stop of the route remaining. I got on of course, not to be outdone, only to be held up for quite a while by temporary traffic lights and a narrow section of road. This was not the most auspicious way to end the journey and was a little concerned that other passenger might identify me as a one-stop-wonder.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Muppet Football

May 10th Fulham 3-1 Aston Villa

We just went to Craven Cottage to see Fulham get the better of Aston Villa. We were sitting near the away fans in block Z in the front row, about as near to the action as you can get. It was pretty amazing to see the speed the game is played at now. At points I felt the skill of the players on the pitch had surpassed even that of mine and my brother's at our peak. Well, I guess that's not right; I should only speak for myself. That's me by the way, over there, on the left. Or is it Beaker from the muppets? Judging by this photo [below] of me and my dad at the much you might not be able to tell the difference that easily.

It's all too easy to get that turned down mouth going if you are a mere puppet. As a human, with a range of facial expression potentially even greater than that of a muppet. You have to practise at eleminating all traces of a smile from your face whilst having your picture taken. Glad to see my Dad doing significantly better at the smiling thing, and this was before Fulham had won the game. Actually, even when the ref had blown there was something of a delay before he was able to accept the result; in footballing terms this may be a useful defence.

Sitting near the Aston Villa fans and feeling slightly targetted by their not so friendly verbal abuse, it was difficult not to gloat when Fulham went ahead decisively in the second half after a much pretty even contest in the first. Well, it wasn't that difficult as I didn't even try. It seems like there is a kind of energy robbery that takes places when the opposing team scores. The victors simply suck it out of you with their collective psychotic hoover. This energy then is torn back later on if your team scores. As well as on a group level, micro-excahnges take place between inidividuals in the opposing stands too, alternatively appropriating or reliquishing one's joy to another on the basis of eye contact in the aftermath of a score; when Villa equalised Iwas robbed by a middle-aged lady who was probably someone's mum.

It is funny: we thought we had seen probably the best Premier league match of the day but were a little disappointed later on when Match of the Day didn't place it higher up the roster of games. Of course, it was interesting though to see an event on telly that I had been at in person but I couldn't help but feel that the tube hadn't really done the thing justice. Luckily, we have other forms of technology to record the event such as digitals cameras.

On the way home I tried to blame my brother for taking the photo at a deliberately vulnerable moment in my life but in truth I think that beaker of a facial expression pretty much sums up the kind of week I had had. During the previous week, I couldn't help but run a few equations through the mind dividing the amount of time I do things I don't like doing by the amount of time I do things I enjoy and knowing I couldn't expect a result anywhere near '1'. But there was no doubt by the end of the day on Saturday that we felt we'd seen something spectacular. This was a feeling obviously shared by Fulham's number 4, Pantsil, who did a lone lap of honour all the way round the pitch at the end of the game which he thoroughly deserved by the way.

Pantsil lap of honour:

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Learning Camp

Well I just went camping with some friends and we had a great time. These are friends that I have known for some time. Each one in his own way with a commitment to living a spiritual life. This made for some interesting learning experiences. As ever with spending time away with a group of people, it called for acceptance tolerance and understanding as we all tried to get along as well as we could. Since though, everyone had put their best foot into this shoe of acceptance, it made for something of a remarkable atmosphere of support and community. Where one person had a gap in their kit, another filled it. So by the end of three days we had no need to washing up liquid guy or sponge guy to chuck it down the hill as both items had been considerately stationed by the wash tap. This did away with need to catch the flying sponge but other than that it was favourable.

We talked at times on a quite personal level and to hear people I knew well be willing to be honest and open was quite heart warming on the cool evenings. What lies behind the 'you' I percieve you to be is sometimes quite different. I came away feeling that these people, and perhaps everyone, deserved more love and tolerance than I usually give people credit for. Not least of all myself, of course. I left assured that we were alike in the respect of our determination to live sunny side up, shining forward into personal challenges now better understood while perhaps no less grave in themselves.

This brief trip became the testing ground for many principles. For example, we proved that it is easier to pack your stuff for the return journey than it is on the outward journey. The cause for this though remains a bit mysterious. Here's another one: 'pursuing winning streaks doesn't necessarily work'. I got a classic CD for a pound in the Heart Foundation shop then tried to follow it up with a flurry of quick buys at the CD and record fair Great Malvern. Two, to be fair, were good, it was just the drum machine on the Bobby Womack gospel album that let the side down. I guess lastly I learned that it is better to live the strengths and weakness of my fellows than among the chilling vapour of isolation.

Me and my most local neighbour both marvelled at one point on the kindness of the older lady running the campsite who seemed to have a natural balance and good will that most Londoners would not demonstrate. When I told her I was not feeling too well, this was on Sunday feeling a touch of faituge, she opened up the bunk house and gave me a blanket.
Camping of course lives and dies by the weather and, although we had a renowned rain-attractor in the camp, we did pretty well during the day although it was cold during the night. One among our number has proven that in the absence of a hat, you can wear pants on your head for some heating benefits. I personally was freezing on two out of three nights. I discovered that, amazingly, if you put a foil survival blanket under your roll mat it reflects the heat so well it feels like an electric blanket, in spite of the fact this was not my idea. I might be 36 but I am still getting used to the fact that my assessements are not always right.
You know most of us went away last year together plus one more friend who was to far away at the time but 12 months can be a long time if you live one day at a time and these men are different. These are friends who are committed to their personal growth and change right down line. Men who will look you in the eye in the newness of their discovered confidence promising that it does get better and that best may yet be to come.