Something different

Recently its been suggested that this blog should offer something to differ it from other Arsenal related blogs. In the main it is difficult to do that because all Arsenal blogs share one common theme – Arsenal Football Club

But on the other hand I can see what people are saying, and today I think I’m going to talk about something I can’t imagine any other Arsenal blog will –

Underhill. Saturday 3rd September. Npower League Two – Barnet 0-0 Accrington Stanley

Now before you close this window and mutter something about not giving a shit, may I ask you to hold off and reassure you that Arsenal will still be encompassed within the post.

With no top level football taking place over the course of the weekend past, due to the coma inducing International fixtures, there was a black hole camped within the lives of hundreds of thousands  of football supporters,  myself and Dave included.  So when he sent me a Tweet suggesting a trip to watch the mighty Bees take on the team forever immortalised in that Milk advert, the vortex swirling before me began to evaporate.

Now neither of us are exactly strangers to the old ground and it’s famous slope, and not just because of the once traditional but sadly now defunct annual pre season friendly between the Gunners & the Bees or indeed because it is the Arsenal second strings (now) part time home ground. This is mainly due to having a mate who is indeed a Barnet supporter and over the years we’ve been there with him to see the home side slip out of and bounce back into the football league all whilst surviving on a shoe string. However for reasons I won’t go into here, he was unable to attend the game.

So here we were two Arsenal supporters strolling in the Saturday sunshine down towards the stadium which has played home to the football team for more than one hundred years. Now don’t get me wrong it didn’t instil within me the same sense off excitement and anticipation as I get when walking down St Thomas’s Road towards the Emirates (or Highbury as we all once did) but that thrill of going to see a game of football was there and I don’t know if anything encapsulates and adds to that feeling as entering a football ground via a good old fashioned iron turnstile – paying your money to a person sat in a booth no bigger than the cells used for solitary confinement in prisons and places of torture. And nothing beats doing that on a bright summers day – stepping into the darkness of the turnstile and exiting back into the sunshine but an environment far different from the one that exists outside the four stands/terraces that surround in this case the slanted pitch.

We're the Clock End Highbury

It’s one of those feelings that takes you back to your youth and for me personally will always evoke memories of the Old Clock End at Highbury and in particular the last home game of the 1991/92 season. I had always had a ticket to sit up in the East Stand every time I had been to Highbury and I had always been accompanied by an adult, but on this day I managed to convince my parents that I could be trusted to go along with two friends to be there on the North Banks final day as an old fashioned standing terrace. I had never had the experience of the famous old stand and was determined to be one of the thousands crammed in for the game against Southampton, it was undoubtedly the naivety of youth but I honestly expected to take my place on the North Bank that day but of course was left somewhat disappointed. I think the terrace was full to bursting before I had even left home that day and so it was on the Clock End I stood on Saturday 2nd of May 1992 for the first time as the atmosphere, teams performance and 5-1 score line really provided a fitting send off for it’s opposite end.

We're the North Bank Highbury

At Underhill on Saturday there was no historical significance, well not that I’m aware of anyway, and we took our place on the East Terrace (Sorry Bees fans, I know it’s more complicated than that in terms of the names of your stands) right next to a pile of cat shit – I wonder maybe if it had been deposited by a famous cat?

I think we must have been stood in someone’s regular spot because we were flanked either side by a guy who muttered commentary under his breath for eighty-five minutes (He left early, probably to beat the traffic) and a woman who with the whole section of terrace to choose from stood right next to Dave.

I’ve no intention of going into any kind of match report here, quite frankly it was one of the worst displays of football I have ever had the misfortune to see. The most exciting moments were Stanley’s two sending offs which pretty much sums the contest up.

It was more the social aspect of the occasion that really struck me and has lead me to pen this post. As I say we have a Barnet supporting friend but he wasn’t with us to take in the stalemate, we were just two football fans who wanted to go and see a game that afternoon. Three O’clock on a Saturday, surely tradition and heritage dictates that we should have been doing nothing else. Sadly not these days.

The fact that the action on the pitch was anything but transfixing I took to listening to some of the conversations around me, well I did when there wasn’t a certain Barnet fan screaming god awful insults at the referee. When I say god awful I don’t mean that he was hurling unrepeatable threats of torturous violence against the officials wife and children. No, I mean that they were themselves an insult to the tradition of insulting mach officials. Anyway…

There is a very good chance that we had pitched up in the concessions stand as most of the supporters around us were probably in attendance in September 1907 for the grounds first game – a 1-0 victory for the mighty Barnet Alston F.C against Crystal Palace –  some of them were, like us, supporters of other clubs. In front of me were a group made up of veteran Spurs fans discussing recent results, departures and signings at their club. Dave and I spent a large portion of our time discussing similar subject matter but it was obviously the more important details related to the Arsenal and what film Dave didn’t want to see with his wife. There was a father and his young son who both had Liverpool backpacks and I’m sure there were many more fans from sides higher up the fottball pyramid. Most I’m sure attend Barnet home games far more regularly than Dave & I and I’m also sure that the vast majority of home fans are just that and not football tourists. I’m completely certain that the 27 Accrington Stanley fans were genuine supporters of their club.

But my point is that all these people of varying ages and differing alliances had taken the decision to attend a game in the fourth tear of English league football which even at that level could never be considered a glamour tie. It’s that draw of attending a match, giving your kids their first taste of live football, standing on the same slab of concrete as you have for sixty years, letting the frustrations of everyday life disappear for a few hours while you become part of a collective, all searching for that same feeling of excitement and passion. The feeling of being part of something, wanting to see the same outcome as everyone else in the ground bar the opposition fans and then shortly before five o’clock you all turn as one and enter back into near reality sometimes disappointed, other times overjoyed. Always someone to criticise or hero worship, discussions of how the manager got his tactics right or wrong. The fact that you have no chance of victory in your next fixture. Every little element and microcosm of thought that the ninety minutes creates and inspires. Come rain or shine, win, loose or draw glad that you were there.

I’m not at all suggesting that a trip to the kind of mega structure that plays home to our side offers anything less or can never compare, but to be one of the 2,320 in attendance at that old fashioned ground with it’s old stands and slopping pitch has made me feel humbled and during a time when Arsenal has given us much that has frustrated us, given us cause to criticise and question the sums of money required to follow a club of our size paying £16 to walk through that iron turnstile and stand on that terrace whilst twenty two men kick a ball around reminded me of every reason I love football, every reason I attend football and every reason it matters.

It’s more than what just goes on out on the pitch, which players you sign & which players you sell. It’s more important than which trophies you win and those that you don’t. It’s far more important than a collection of pundits, former players or journalists discussing and dissecting only the elements they deem important.

It’s about being there, it’s about communicating & socialising, contributing to something your community can be proud of, be part of & help build. It’s every reason we all fell in love with football.

I’m not suggesting you pledge alliance to the badge of another club but maybe, if you don’t already, look up your local sides fixtures and if you can pop along to a game. It might not be pretty to watch but you won’t be disappointed you did.

Thanks for reading.



2 Responses to Something different

  1. Sam says:

    Thanks for coming Paul. I’m just very sorry that you witnessed the direst game of the entire season – c’est la vie.

    When I first started supporting the bees (early 90’s under Barry Fry), there were still a few standard footballing traditions – 3pm Saturday kick-offs, affordable ticket prices, and the chance to get into Highbury on the day. Thus on the seasons that our home games alternated families of Arsenal fans (kids in kits and all) used to come down to Underhill, and other weeks I’d stand on the North Bank with Arsenal supporting mates from school.

    Unfortunately Sky & ticket pricing has killed all that, and your rare trip to Underhill pre-season for our annual friendly seems to have been eradicated in favour of money spinning overseas tours. However, for those nostalgic for the past (the past being proper tackles, standing on the terraces, the ability to insult the linesman from 2 yard, or the belief that you are in fact better than some of the players on the pitch), i’d urge you to come down to Underhill this season. Can’t promise you much, but certainly can promise you a better game than Paul witnessed. Probably.

  2. Paul says:

    Cheers Sam! I certainly intend to get down to Underhill more this season and I’m sure the performances will be much improved.

    It’s always a pleasure watching a game with the Bees fans, and to be honest there is often more singing then there is in certain sections of the Emirates.

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