Dogs win, cats eat bad lasagne, part 2

IMG_20160515_145242_259At Tower Hill station, we struck up a conversation with an Arsenal fan who was taking his 15-year old daughter to the match. We jointly concluded that the Circle line train was never coming and got on the next District train, changing multiple times to get to the Piccadilly line. Our new acquaintances confirmed that the Tottenham alleged Bad Lasagne incident took place at the Marriott. Allegedly. Nice people. They got off at Holloway Road, which happened to be open, but we always think of the Arsenal experience as starting at Arsenal station. It was our last match, and nostalgia reigns supreme.

IMG_20160515_141845_191We had time, so we walked around the stadium. We stopped by the Armoury, the giant store at the West End of the stadium. I always take a picture of the Arsenal mannequins in the entrance to see what Arsenal is most ardently hawking du jour. This day the mannequins were headed up by Tomas Rosicky. He is out of contract and, if he played, this would have been his last match in the shirt. The Armoury was packed to the gills, an excellent merchandising day.

At the visitor’s entrance we encountered packs of Aston Villa fans dressed in costumes. Super heroes, Mary Poppins, an army of grim reapers, a convict. Fans of relegated teams often engage in gallows humor in those last matches. They were singing merrily, “We’re going down!”

We went into the stadium and sat in our familiar seats in the North Bank. The stadium was slowly filling up. The Aston Villa fans had beach balls floating all over their section. The teams came out on the pitch to the familiar Premier League music. Thomas Rosicky was not named in the first 11 and wasn’t on the bench. Neither was Matthieu Flamini, also out of contract this season. Co-captain Mikel Arteta, “99% sure” of retiring this year, was named as a substitute. Arsene Wenger had no intention of letting nostalgia get in the way of a result he needed. He clearly put out the team he thought could win the match.

The match got off to a good start. Olivier Giroud got on the scoreboard within five minutes with a nice headed goal. The Aston Villa fans were far more enthusiastic than the Arsenal fans, although we were quite enthusiastic. But the match became tedious within 10 minutes of the goal. We had chances and, more concerning, so did Aston Villa. Mostly the play was in the center of the field with not much going on near the goals.

IMG_20160515_145642_041I had noticed something strange in the crowd that day. We weren’t ourselves, a single organism completely in sync. No moaning together. I found myself moaning by myself. No appreciative collective “yes!”es. The “Excuse me, my lovely” guy wasn’t to our left. An older couple sat there instead. The slightly out-of-sync guy behind us that gave me the title of my post about the Manchester City match, “Laurent Koscielny, you’re an effing god,” was out of sync even with himself. He’d brought a child to the match and was on his best behavior. To my right was a new pair of guys, but that was always true. Different people every time.

All 10 matches on the last day are played at same time and the only official news in the stadium of what’s happening in other matches happens at half time. Unofficially, though, people are checking their mobile devices to find out what’s going on elsewhere. My husband and I were data-less and wifi-less for the match, so a bit at a disadvantage. We were going to have to make friends. The fans were starting to have trouble getting behind listless Arsenal when about 20 minutes in there were rumblings of glee in the stadium and then some cheering and singing. The guy next to me showed me his smart phone. Newcastle had managed to score a goal against Tottenham.

We were losing steam as a fan base again, watching the somewhat grim match in front of us, when a second murmur of happiness went up at the 40-minute mark. Newcastle had scored a second goal against Tottenham. 2-0.

Was this really happening? Had the Bad Lasagne struck again?

We went into half time feeling somewhat hopeful.

At around 60 minutes an ominous murmuring went up in the crowd. Tottenham had gotten one back. 2-1 in that match, and we didn’t look like we were going to do any more business that day. 1-0 is little comfort when you’ve seen Arsenal lose lots of winnable games from that position.

And then less than five minutes later, the most ominous thing of all happened. Newcastle had a player sent off with a red card and were down to 10 men. My neighbor and I nodded grimly at each other over his smart phone. We knew it was all over.

No St. Totteringham’s Day this year. The magnificent Tottenham striker Harry Kane was going to nab a goal and produce the 2-2 tie they needed on a day when we’d be lucky to get another goal, let alone the 17 we would need to overcome their tie. And more likely, we were going to give one back and end in a tie. Or worse, give back two and lose it.

But then people started buzzing. What was it? What was it? A penalty had been called in the Tottenham match. Was it Tottenham getting a penalty kick as a part of the red card event we’d only just heard about?

But no, the scoreline had changed. It was a goal to Newcastle! How they managed to get a penalty kick a man down was a mystery to us in the stadium, but the score was now 3-1 in Newcastle’s favor.

At the Emirates we celebrated madly. There was still so much time remaining but maybe Newcastle could hold on.

With 12 minutes left of the 90, Arsenal inexplicably scored again, a pass from Ozil that Olivier Giroud slid and one-timed over the keeper. There was a sigh of some relief all around the stadium and you know that after a long, dry spell for Giroud, he was breathing a bit easier, too. I claimed to my husband that he looked at me specifically when he saluted the crowd. Who else could it be, really? 2-0.

Play had barely started when Giroud got another one for Arsenal. Our lovely cart horse had timed his run perfectly and got a beautiful shot off for a hat trick. 3-0 at the Emirates.

We’d not even had time to finish celebrating that goal when the fans started cheering and singing like mad. My neighbor held up his phone. Sure enough, Newcastle had scored again against Tottenham. There were only five minutes remaining and Tottenham had 3 goals to make up.

Around the time Tottenham was down 4-1 to Newcastle and Arsenal were up 3-0, I heard a song from the fans that I’d never heard before, a St. Totteringham’s Day special.

It’s happened again
It’s happened again
Tot-ten-ham Hot-spur
It’s happened again

Even Arsene Wenger must have felt the game was won, for soon-to-retire Mikel Arteta was substituted onto the field to great applause moments after that cheer for Newcastle’s fourth goal. He’s so often been injured this season that I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen him play live. While he was warming up on the sidelines I feared for his safety. The last time he played he lasted only a few minutes before he came out injured. But he looked all right there next to Elneny.

In added time, some nice Arsenal play following a bad Aston Villa giveaway took the ball into the box and it was teed up for Mikel Arteta. He shot hard, it bounced off the bar, and onto the back of the keeper who was on the ground. It rolled tamely over the line. Arteta won’t get official credit for the goal but he got credit from the fans. We went berserk with joy and so did Arteta. 4-0.

It wasn’t too long before the words to the song above were changed. We replaced “It’s happened again” with “You’ll always be shit.” From hopeful to hopeless to relieved to happy to beligerent in the space of 25 minutes. That’s football.

The whistle blew, and I hadn’t even registered that Newcastle had somehow scored another goal against Tottenham before the match was over. They lost 5-1. Bad lasagne, bad salad, bad garlic bread, bad strawberry shortcake. Bad chianti to wash it all down.

Only the Aston Villa section is empty as the players returned to the field after the match

In an earlier post I described a cartoon in which two dogs converse at a bar. One is saying to the other, “It is not enough that we succeed. Cats must also fail.” That cartoon is pretty much what you need to know about Sunday’s match to understand our glee.

This season didn’t produce the ending any Arsenal fan had wanted, but when the football gods show their sense of humor you can only be thankful that you aren’t the butt of their joke. And if Tottenham is said butt, well, that’s on the football gods. You do have to believe the football gods only deliver the presents they want us to open.

Is it possible to be healed by a football match? After all we’d been through during the day–and the season–it did feel like a healing process had started. All we could do was collectively smirk. And sing.

We stayed around the stadium with nearly everyone who’d come to the match to watch the Arsenal players parade around the field with their kids, sang some goodbyes to the tearful Rosicky and Arteta, watched Santi Cazorla’s five-year old show everyone how to play football, cheered as the Arsenal kids shot into the goal.

I was filled with love and admiration for my team.

IMG_20160515_174700_083We walked over to the Tollington Arms and, for the first time, got in. We managed to acquire a beer and sang a bit more with our compatriots. For the first time we saw on TV that the Manchester United match had been abandoned because of a fake bomb scare. Hilarious mistake, really, unless you happened to have tickets to that match.

My husband and I had plans to meet friends for roast near Hampstead, so we left and walked to the Arsenal stop, past the stadium one last time. The players normally leave the stadium together in a bus, but this time they were leaving one-by-one in their very fancy cars. There is pretty much only one way for them to get out of the stadium, and the fans had lined up outside the parking garage and down the road all the way to the Tollington Arms to see them go past, trying to identify who was behind those tinted windows.

Fans trying to catch a glimpse of their heroes leaving

On the other side of the stadium I noticed a fifth statue near the bridge that I’d walked past many times and never noticed, that of Ken Friar, who was hired by Arsenal as a young boy and came to be managing director. The bridge we walked over before each match is named for him, although I never realized it. There will be no post from me about Ken Friar, although I’m sure he merits one.

There were still stragglers heading back to Arsenal station as the street vendors were tearing down their stands one last time.

We went down the tunnel at Arsenal station and got on the first train that showed up.

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