Sunday 3rd September 2006

It rarely happens, so I am going to make a big point of mentioning it right at the beginning of this new post. Everything came together as planned this weekend. (Even if for moments at the start it was felt far from possible) Perhaps for the first time in ages not even a miniscule detail came in the way of my plans. Even something as difficult to control as the weather. Let me start, as I normally do at the beginning. My Mum dragged me out of bed around 9am, another early start but for good reason. I did not have much time this morning as it was. I got ready and headed out around 10.30am, having to drive through town to get onto the M40 at junction 3, as the junction 4 is still closed at weekends, although it does not stop being driving around it. I got into Uxbridge, or the Chimes car park just before 11am. Just as I had predicated the place was dead and I drove up to the fourth level to find a perfect sport within view from the stairwell. Great, I could make a perfect getaway when I got back from the shops, I did not plan to be long. Heading into the shopping centre, I took the stairs, I needed the exercise. The Chimes was relatively quiet with a few workers and early shoppers milling around. I headed down into the town centre, as I needed to go to WHSmith. I was shocked to see so many people out and about on a Sunday morning. Perhaps the only logical reason for this is the end of the school holidays on the horizon. There was a queue of ten people waiting to get into the stationery shop and there was a big collective sigh as we were let in at exactly 11am. (There I was thinking everywhere opened at 10am on a Sunday, perhaps it is better to make more from the evening rush than the quiet morning). I got the envelope I needed, rush to the till, got my stamps and then headed back to the Chimes. Next stop? Next actually, even though as it was so busy I was tempted to just walk out but eventually someone helped me so I was able to try on clothing, check I was happy with it, pay and head home. Mission accomplished. With this in mind, I drove back to Wycombe thinking the weekend was going much better than I ever could have expected. Some people do not like international friendlies. Some people even go as far as to despise international football altogether. I disagree. I love international football, always have always will. There can be no greater honor and privilege to represent your country in your professional sport. As soon as I heard that Emirates was hosting this prestigious international, I knew I had to be there. Chris and I were planning to go originally, the moment we read the news on the BBC web site in early August but for one reason or another he decided he could not go. (Play football on the other side of the country was a good reason for me, but was it good enough?) It is not everyday you get to see Brazil play in England. Even though I saw their last international friendly in the UK back in October 2003 although at the time I neglected for some unknown reason to actually mention it. You have to consider these events as once in a lifetime. Other people might disagree, but a true football fan, football supporter if you will, could never pass up this great opportunity to see two of the biggest sides on the international scene coming together, so soon after the World Cup. I booked my ticket as soon as tickets became available for Red members and chose a seat over looking the middle of the pitch, as Chris was unavailable to select my area for me. I thought this would give me the best view of the game, as we expected the action to be end to end. I was looking forward to the game but as usual with these things, it slowly crept up on with little thought. My Dad dropped me at the station and I was a minute late for the 1pm train, which meant a thirty two minute wait for the next service. This, if I was looking for wholes was the only down point of the entire weekend. The sun was shining over the station and I wish I had decided to bring my sunglasses, instead of leaving them at home. Never mind, again a minor insignificant issue. I would be on my way to the game very shortly. While waiting on platform three, I was joined by a few supporters in Arsenal tops, one young man in an Argentinean top and a few others wearing the bright yellow of Brazil. We had been advised to head to the ground early and it appeared that everyone was heeding the advise. We got into Marylebone a few minutes late as we were waiting for platform one to clear before we could pull in. I had drifted off to sleep. Yet as I stepped off the Chiltern Clubman, I was ready for action and rushed to the barrier and headed down onto the underground, briefly glancing on the notice board to ensure that there were no delays on my lines. As usual with the weekend, there were many, how do I put this? Casual tube riders, not standing on the ride of the escalator. I had little time to wait, so I just started making my way down and waited for these people to move over to the right. Eventually everyone got the message so I was able to rush down the escalator in a few minutes. Before running to the platform. I could not relax until I got outside the stadium, but the atmosphere around the tube was much more fun than for an Arsenal fixture. It was busy, extremely busy with a sea of blue and green shirts across the platform concourse. I opted to let a few trains run before I jumped on, purely because it was such a tight squeeze. For lack of a more flattering phrase. When I did get on, there was room, just about, with a father taking his young son, aged about 7 to the game, dressed in his number 10, Ronaldinho shirt, to the match. Soon the car got floated with Brazilian supporters and we were advised to get off at Finsbury Park instead of Arsenal due to crowd congestion. No bother, this is my standard route to the stadium in any case. As I came up over ground, I could see the reason it was so busy. There was just fans all around waiting for friends and I slowly made my way over to Ashburton Grove. A ten minute walk, but no problem in the sunshine, compared to the rain a few weeks ago. With the weather looking good, we were in for a good contest for the match, which was to kick off within the hour. Making my way up the walkway, I started to appreciate the fantastic mood among the colour fans. Before stopping to take the first of several photos, all of which have been uploaded over to FlickR. Picking up some programmes, I walked around to my entrance and made my way to up to my seat. Perfect timing, just as I took my seat, the teams were being announced.

Emirates

My seat was next to a father and his young son Luke, both big Arsenal fans. (Some people may note that the Star Wars theme continues, but do not read too much into this, it is purely coincidental) I believe it was Luke’s first game at the stadium, and what an introduction. With the biggest players in the world on show, what more could you ask for. The cast list was breathtaking, particularly if you consider just a few months ago they were both competing in the final stages of the World Cup. It was a great, magical atmosphere in the stadium and with the sun beaming down, you could have thought you were somewhere in South America, not the London Borough of Islington. No wonder the match proved more popular than the host nation! As the teams came out, following the flags of the two countries, the crowd picked up to give them a rapturous welcome. We were in for a contest and this would be friendly in name only. Against the final result it was actually the men in blue and white that started stronger and made the first probes into the box. Yet, it was just as if Brazil wanted them to do this so they could hit them on the counter. Robinho looked like the best player on the bitch by a country mile, which is saying something considering the array of talent on the field. I expected Messi to light up the match every second he had the ball, but he put in a cameo appearance with only minor glimpses of the magic he gave us in Germany. With no Ronaldinho, it was down to Elano, a relative unknown to make a nuisance of himself in the opposition box. After a spell of pressure from the Argentineans, the Brazils woke up and started to play their attacking, flowing football, hitting on the counter. They were getting closer with each attack and it was a just a matter of time before they broke down the defense completely. It happened within a few minutes and came even as a shock to the majority of the supporters. The goal did lift the crowd and gave us a taste to what to expect for the rest of the afternoon. Brazil just looked like they were up for playing football, whereas their opponents did not get out of first gear. Tevez perhaps looked the most convincing in attack but every time he got possession he was roundly booed by all the Arsenal fans in the ground. To their credit Argentina did pick up after the going a goal down but they never looked like they were in the game. Brazil just improved their passing, tightened up in midfield and started passing the ball through to allow the strikers to run onto the defence. In the second half they just went to sleep completely and let Brazil play across them and probe the right flank at every possible opportunity. It was a matter of time before further goals were added by the Brazilians. I was personally very impressed with Kaka, when he came on for the last few minutes. His surging run across the pitch to score a fantastic goal to make it 3-0. Overall it was great entertainment, and well worth the ticket price. The BBC screen the match live on television so if you were not as lucky as me to get chance to see the action in person, perhaps highlights are the second best option. While I long for England to one day lift the World Cup (hopefully within my lifetime) you cannot but respect the Brazilian football team. They play in such an effortless style whereby every pass, every kick looks arrogant, looks as if no thought has gone into the move whatsoever. I know this is not the case but as a true football fan, watching a team with their class, quality and individual skill is amazing and a joy, particularly when you are there a few metres away. There were a few pitch invaders towards the end of the game. A few excited fans, most likely foreign, jumping in to join their team celebrate, only to be caught by stewards a few minutes after their fun and rightly banned. You can understand though, for a few minutes being on the same playing field as your idols. My favourite football display would have to be the 1970 Brazil World Cup winning side, in the final against Italy. However that was way before my time, so if I was considering favourite display in my lifetime there are two contenders. This may surprise a few people but Arsenal’s 5-1 quarter final demolition of Portsmouth at Fratton Park on Saturday 6th March 2004. The second would have to be this afternoon’s international match between two of the greatest international sides in living memory. The deciding factor? Perhaps just being there and living the experience. As the marketing blitz goes from our new sponsors, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” My simple answer is this weekend just gone.

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