Friday 25th August 2006

Do you like routine? I am a big fan of setting a routine and sticking with it. Therefore you can understand any changes to my routine affect me a great deal. Let me give the example of Wednesday this week. I was looking forward to the game that evening, but rather than taking the soft option of taking the day off, or even semi-soft option of a half day, I worked until 3pm and then planned to come home to get ready for the trip into London. As usual, with so much going on in the office and loads to do I did not leave until nearly 4pm, even then I had a difficult escape from the office. I enjoy my job, but gave a very poor account of myself that morning. Felt a bit guilty leaving so early and leaving quite a mess for my colleagues to deal with. Nevertheless, I was off to the football and I tried to forget about work for a while. Rushed home and the lack of traffic on the roads helped, although I knew it would be busier driving into the town centre. I booked my ticket on the automated machine, pleased to see another Gooner waiting for someone by the station entrance. It was 16:36. The next train to Marylebone was not for another eleven minutes as I had just missed one pull away from platform one, as I was getting my parking ticket. An hour after my train left Wycombe, I was at Piccadilly Circus tube station, waiting to take the Piccadilly Line north to Finsbury Park. I called home at 18:09 to let them know I had arrived safely. I was walking down St. Thomas’s Road and my sister warned me that it was about to start raining. It was a slight drizzle as I came off the phone, but then suddenly the heaven opens. Several of the other supporters that had arrived early rushed for cover under the trees or balconies or doorways. I continued walking. Past Arsenal station (which was packed) I came to the corner of Drayton Park and took some cover under the trees. Waiting for a good fifteen minutes while the rain died down. There were numbers of fans, even some Dynamo Zagreb that braved the showers to head to the ground. As the rain settled down I walked on to the main bridge and waited at the bottom of the stairs, texting Terry. He did not respond, so I walked up to the stadium and took some photographs. As I had not received a confirmation e-mail for this fixture I did not know which turnstile to use to enter the stadium. So I approached a steward who asked for my membership card. He tapped in my number into his PDA, which was wirelessly connected to the main booking computer but for some reason his PDA was playing up. He got took me to another steward who accessed my details and printed off a ticket stub on a small till receipt like printer. This is a very good system, and even with the teething problems, the stewards we all very helpful and kind. I walked around to D and walked through. The concourse was practically empty and I got some food before heading upstairs. There was a plenty of time before kick off, so I decided to make a full circuit around the ground and take a few photographs. It was getting busier, but I was able to snap some pictures from the great glass windows looking out across North London. I was even able to go and take some pictures of the pitch prior to talking my seat. Sony have installed large Sony HD TV screens across the concourse. The picture quality was amazing, as they showed the team arriving. Each of the players coming off the coach in the underground car park, right underneath me. After my lap around, it was minutes before kick off so I headed to my seat. Row 32, is right up at the back of the new North Stand, just one back from the last row. My seat was two in from the aisle, so a central view of the pitch and on the right the big television screen. The teams had been announced. Looking down at the pitch, with a few of the players training, I noticed someone coming up the stairs. Someone famous. Well semi-famous. Just like my visit exactly a month ago, I was to be in the presence of yet another television celebrity. Hardeep starred in the Channel 4 comedy based in Glasgow, last year, Meet the Magoons. He may have been spotted more recently on Newsnight Review and here he was, with his son, sitting a few feet away from me. The game itself came to live quite early but for all the wrong reasons. The team from Croatia took an early lead due to our defence falling asleep. It was poor performance and perhaps the young team were resting on the cushion of a three nil lead from the first leg. We started to string some passes together and push into the final third but the finishing just was not there. In the second half, Arsene brought on Henry, Gilberto and Walcott to fine tune the attacking options and shield the defence. Some fans believe it was the worst European performance ever, even though we did eventually win. It will will soon be forgotten, as the group stages commence in a few weeks. Yet it will go down in history as the first win at the Emirates Stadium.

Emirates Stadium

On my way home there are a few stories to tell. Firstly, at Leicester square a couple got on, friends I believe. The female was Canadian, I would say American but I think I would be wrong. As I got up to give up my seat before Piccadilly Circus, she made eye contact with me and said, “Did Arsenal win?” Yes they did, was my reply with a nod and she just smiled and beamed back, “My brother will be pleased”. I did not say anything more, just smiled back before getting ready to jump off the tube train. On my Chiltern Railways that left Marylebone at 23:33 I was in a window seat and as the train was quite busy a young lady came and sat next to me. I thought nothing more of it, even when she got out her iPod and plugged herself in. As we neared Gerrards Cross, I realised that she had fallen asleep and would have to wake her up so I could get off the train. This was something I did not really want to do. It was a perfect moment that could be captured on YouTube and played over and over again. I looked across the aisle and a guy laughed as I attempted to tab the shoulder of this stranger. She woke up after a second shake and I apologised before being able to escape. That was not too hard but not something I would like to do again soon. Wednesday will also go down, in my personal history as the first day I did not use my personal computer. I cannot remember the last time a day went past without me switching on my machine. I am sure it is noted down somewhere on this blog, but right now I cannot recall the date. Anyway it was strange to not pick up my e-mails or speak to friends on MSN but I suppose ultimately a good thing. Time away from the screen, can never be a bad thing.

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