Cardiff is beautiful, and it is amazing to learn that the bay has been completely redeveloped from derelict marsh land, to a buzzing residential, business and entertainment centre, in recent years. So much so, that one acre of land sold for £2 million recently, in a plan to build luxury flats. As we drove across this part of time, we came up to one of two five star hotels in the city. Chelsea were using this as their base for the afternoon game. In the car park, there was a shiny silver Mercedes, with the number plate 2 ROW. No idea to whom it may belong, if you have any ideas, please let me know. It is only in the past eight months that I have been exposed to such a cocktail of people. The nature of the job means, on a daily basis I speak to representatives from Ireland, Scotland, all across England and last but not least Wales. There are a few clients whom I have got to know well, and you pick up their “talking” style. For the Welsh, it is the customary, ‘is it’, which they seem to add to the end of every sentence, that deserves a question. Funnily enough, after our sightseeing tour of the city, my Dad and I had earned quite an appetite. We hunted around for a nice eating establishment to have a drink, and quick bite to eat. In the end, we strolled into a quite bar towards the back of the main street of bars and pubs. It was quite, with only a handful of fans in. As I walked in, I was stopped in my tracks by the doorman. My camera case had come to his attention and he asked to take a look inside. I had no problem with this, but he took the time to look me in the eye and explain, that in the current climate it was a necessary precaution. I understood, and opened my bag, to reveal my digital camera. We went upstairs and found a seat and ordered our food. After lunch, we headed for the bar that my colleague at work had recommended. The Albert had now become the Yard. I called him and explained where we were. In the end, we gave up waiting, got a drink, while we soaked up the beautiful summer shine in the courtyard at the back of the bar. A large contingent of Chelsea fans had gathered. They must have been drinking for some time, for they had become quite animated, yet the atmosphere was quite friendly. A handful of diehard fans, started chanting various songs, to get themselves and the rest of us into the mood. It was approaching 3pm fast and we had to get a move on now. The moment we had been waiting for, as we came across to Gate 7, I quickly purchased a programme and then followed my Dad to the stalls. My bag was searched again, but that was to be excepted. There were quite a few fans still making their way to their seats, but I presumed that most of the Chelsea contingent, had already taken their seats. As we stepped out into the stadium, I was amazed by the view and the atmosphere. Words can never truly describe what my eyes could see, and what my ears could hear. Taking our seats, just in time to watch the teams to come out. When we stood up to sing our national anthem, I felt a great sense of pride, if what somewhat misplaced. Here were are, the English singing our song, in the backyard of our Welsh cousins. As my players, took the FIFA handshake of friendship, my Dad offered his to shake my hand, in the deepest grated, for asking him along to share in this day. He was proud of me and for a split second, among those 58 thousand people, I felt like I should give my Dad a hug. Instead, there was no time for such father son bonding. The kick off was seconds away and the moment, the spilt second we had waited for, the referee blew his whistle and the football, all 90 minutes was slowly ticking away.
Prior to the match, I was confident of an Arsenal victory. Perhaps even by the margin of two goals. From what I had seen of the team in pre-season, they looked like they were slowly getting their game together. Looking like a team difficult to beat, and deadly on the counter attack. Chelsea fans now seem to have an arrogance, which leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. The chants, which over the course of the match, became accustom to included, “Your Not Champions Any More!!” For them, it was going to script. Drogba scored within 8 minutes, which caught us on the back foot. Our end erupted the moment, took the ball, controlled the ball and smashed the ball passed Lenhamm. They deserved the lead, but I knew Arsenal had the character to return. Following the goal, Arsenal finally woke up, that while this game did not matter, pride was at stake. An early defeat to Chelsea would put us on the back foot for the visit to Stamford Bridge, in two weeks time. We pressured, but Chelsea were alert to all our attacking ideas. If I am honest, we did not having anything new to offer. It was at half time, with three substitutions that the Arsenal of old came back onto the field. Gilberto, providing the solid rock ahead our defence, and Hleb, on for his home debut (well as close as we can get) who was now able to pull the strings in midfield and pass the ball over to Reyes over on the weeks. We looked like a more exciting attacking force, with much more potential up front. Yet, our eagerness to push forward left us exposed at the back. Watching Didier score his second, was amazing. He looked like he had completely hashed it, as we pushed back in numbers to defend the goal mouth. Yet, he was still able to control the ball and place it into the net. Sometimes, you have to whole up your hands to talent. That was a quality goal, taken with skill and ability. As the saying goes, a great striker always keeps his composure in front of goal. Perhaps this is the second chance, he was hoping for. Let us hope that this is not the sign of things to come.
Then, after a spell of heavy pressure, Arsenal put together some moves that are so easy on the eye and we found the back of the net. A rather scrappy goal, but they all count. Our end of the ground fell silent and my Dad and I just looked at each other with a knowing smile. Looking across the pitch, we saw the thousands of Arsenal fans in red, yellow, blue and white cheering! It was a great sight, even if I wish I could have been over on that side of the stadium. We were back in the game, but did we have enough to push for an equaliser. There were doubts in my mind. We did not appear like the well old machine, whereas Chelsea seemed gelled, even with some many new players on display. The Blues seem ready for the season ahead, whereas we looked still tired, trying to get our games together. Never mind, this is just an over glorified pre-season friendly. The real football starts next weekend. After the game, there was the next hurdle. The journey home. We got out as quickly as possible, opting not to wait for the shield presentation. We caught the second bus back to the car park and got into our cat at 5.30pm, pulling out of the school, I estimated with my Dad that we would be back in Wycombe by 8.30pm. Three hours, was an over estimate. The traffic heading back was heavy. Stop start. Yet, I had BBC Radio One to keep me company all the way home. My Dad drifted off to sleep again. I couldn’t blame him, it had been a long tiring day. We scrolled off the M4 at 9pm and did not get home until 10pm. My Dad insisting we stop for a takeaway, to take home. Overall, the perfect weekend. Sure, the score was not what I had wanted, but everything else fell perfectly into place. The weather was great, a warm hot summer’s day, a friendly atmosphere, with both rival fans on quite jovial terms, knowing this was more an exhibition match than anything else. My memory from the day, will be driving on the M4, past a car of Arsenal fans, and young guy around 16 in the back of the car, shaking his Arsenal scarf at me and giving a fist up for our team. I returned a knowing nod. We were down but not out! Let me end with my own twist on the phrase, enscribed on the Millennium Centre. In These Bones, Horizons Win.