We changed trains to the Piccadilly line at Hammersmith, far from where Arsenal fans typically commence boarding. I napped a bit on the train. By the time we got to Kings Cross St. Pancras station, we had already picked up a large number of Arsenal fans. As we pulled into the station, one of the fans shouted out, “Look! That guy is wearing a Manchester United jersey!” Manchester United were playing Chelsea in London Sunday. Unbelievably, the Manchester United fan got onto the train, where he was subjected to a lot of good-natured verbal abuse. He took it well. As everyone piled out of the train at Arsenal station two guys told him in faux menacing tones, “We’re not getting off this train until you do.” The guy laughed and so did the Arsenal fans. The fans left the train, and the Manchester United fan continued on to wherever it was that he was headed.
We arrived at the Arsenal station with only 20 minutes remaining until kickoff. Walking over the Ken Friar bridge, some fans were attempting to tear down a banner of Cesc Fabregas. Fabregas had been a star of the team and, for at least one season, captain. He left under distasteful circumstances, back to Barcelona, his boyhood club. He had only a short few years there before Barcelona spit him back out. He’s been at Chelsea for the past few seasons, and was with them when they won the Premiere League two seasons ago. The fans were unsuccessful with their banner removal, at least while we were watching. Cesc lives as a bridge banner for another day.
The lines at Entrance C were horrific. I had to have my purse tagged, a new requirement from our last visit. I was searched at the female search line. Then I scanned my ticket in and waited inside the turnstile for my husband to get through the line. When I got through, I checked my phone. There was about five minutes until kickoff. I waited and craned my neck to get a glimpse of my husband through the narrow entrance. It was impossible to pick out specific people in the crowd as they shifted in and out of sight beyond the turnstile. There were still so many people outside the stadium there was no telling how long it would take.
I checked my phone again. It was two minutes until kickoff. I thought about going up to my seat. I felt guilty even having the thought. What if my husband didn’t realize I was in my seat and waited for me? So I stayed just inside the turnstile waiting and waiting, watching the mass of fans sifting through the turnstile. At least, I finally could see clear: my husband was not among the people who were still outside.
I climbed up the stairs to our seats with a dark cloud over my head. If my husband wasn’t there, I would have no idea where he wound up. If he was there, well, that was just not going to be good for him. It was five minutes after kickoff when I go to our seats. My husband was sitting comfortably next to my empty seat.
Now you know my husband was in big, big trouble, but somehow he did not know this. He greeted me happily, blissfully unaware of the murderous rage in the heart of his spouse. Through a series of both passive and aggressive maneuvers my husband came to understand his predicament. Donald Trump determined that it was unnecessary to apologize to Melania because he wasn’t guilty of doing anything wrong to any of the 11? 12? 50? women who accused him. But my husband is not Donald Trump. He quickly came to understand his guilt and apologized profusely.
It didn’t seem quite enough, but nothing much had happened in the first five minutes, and nothing much happened in the second five minutes, and nothing much happened, five minutes at a time, for the next 80 minutes. I probably owed my husband an apology for that extra five minutes he had to watch that I didn’t. Arsenal had plenty of possession and looked toothless. Middlesbrough had no intention of doing anything except putting 10 men behind the ball, and counterattack quickly if they got it. We could not break them down.
Although Middlesbrough had almost no possession, when they had it, they looked plenty dangerous. Our goalkeeper, Petr Cech clearly was man of the match. He stopped several of the kind of shots that have gone in in other matches.
The most important thing that happened at the match is that my husband finally found out the words to the one mysterious chant that we just couldn’t figure out. Variously, I have thought the fans were chanting “good old mate,” some nonsense words, or “Get off me.” They started singing it again when we were there on Saturday, and finally my husband turned to the “excuse me, my lovely” guy on our left to ask for clarification. He told us the fans are chanting “Red Army.”
Even after we knew, and they sang it again, it didn’t sound like that. (Well, just a little.)
We were getting frantic for a goal. A tie would put us into first place, albeit a place that would be likely to be lost when Manchester City played on Sunday. Only three points would put us reliably at the top, though possibly only for 24 hours. The guy behind us, again this time behaving reasonably well because he had a child with him, was screeching, “Someone have an idea!”
Finally, with very few minutes remaining, an idea came and Mesut Ozil scored a thrilling goal. Unfortunately, it was an offsides idea and an offsides goal, and the referee’s assistant was Mr. Johnny-on-the-spot.
No further ideas hit the back of the net. 0-0 at the whistle.
It was Arsene Wenger’s 67th birthday. He was asked after the match by an interviewer whether he’d have a birthday drink. Arsene Wenger said, “When you win you deserve it. When you don’t win, you need it.”
We also needed it, so we had Arsene’s birthday drink with our dinner back in the Docklands at a cute restaurant called Roka. My husband had the fish and chips and a beer called Kozel. I had a “cottage pie,” which was like a shepherds pie, ground beef covered in cheesy potatoes. And a cabernet. And a pecan tart with vanilla ice cream.
We considered going to a movie, funny because we rarely go to movies at home. But we were so tired, we decided to call it a night. We had an early morning to get back to Heathrow.
On the plane back, I’ve been able to watch both Manchester City v. Southampton and Chelsea v. Manchester. Manchester City tied and passed us by on goal difference, as we had feared. We end today in second.
Jose Mourinho and Manchester United got badly beat at Chelsea, 4-0.
Six teams sit on 20 and 19 points, separated by goal difference. If anyone is planning to be dominant this season, they haven’t succeeded yet.
They are all inspiring plenty of drinks, I’ll warrant.