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.

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