I WAS at the Emirates last Wednesday night. I was sat eating my lunch, and next thing you know one of my workmates has offered me their season ticket for nowt. “Why not?” I asked myself. It’ll be like making a wildlife documentary.

So I donned my camouflage, rubbed my togs in Gooner stink to put them off the scent, and sauntered off up the 3 mile route to The Emirates.

The whole experience was surreal to be honest.

Having torn my calf three weeks before, the route was tortuous, but with the Indian Summer in full effect, things could have been worse. I popped The Anfield Wrap podcast on the iPod, and off I went, wondering what to expect. I’d be sat right in the thick of the Gooner faithful. How would it compare with being in amongst the AC Milan faithful? Or the Dundee United faithful? Or indeed, the Liverpool faithful?

Well, it was everything you might have expected. As I hobbled round the concourse to Gate 14, I clocked the little flags on every light around the stadium’s circumference, each bearing a fan’s face in the new Arsenal kit, and each with a little story telling their tale of love for the Gooners. I settled on this one.

Poor Little Charlie

Charlie. Named after Arsenal legend “Charlie Nicholas”. It made me smile quietly to myself that.

Anyway, what with the hobbling, time was tight, so I made my way into the Stadium. And of course, it’s quite the Stadium. But of course, the stadium, while such an asset for Arsenal financially, and such a gold star in the Swiss Rambletastic world in which we live… it’s a bit of a problem for Arsenal really. Not only is it devoid of a footballing soul; it’s actively designed to deny its ever being revived.

As I lumbered down the shallow walkway to take my admittedly luxurious cushioned seat (complete with handy gap in front to put my gammy leg in without having to bend it) my ears and eyes were immediately clobbered by the massive state of the art multimedia screen and sound system. Of course, those are de rigueur these days in any modern sporting venue, surely. I mean… aren’t they? Surely any club worth its modern day low cholesterol salt has to have one. I mean, how else are they going to blare out club-centric propaganda replete with embedded hypnotic merchandising and sales mantra peppered with a few seconds’ worth of bona fide team news?

As I looked around me, fans were zoned into “The Box” like the unwitting Gothamites in Batman Forever, monged out and for the most part not even speaking to each other, let alone firing up the atmosphere, checking the smart phones, folding their suit jacket over the seat, and all the while the message being pummelled into them from the screen – we’re world beaters us – we got to the CL final one year – buy stuff from our shop.

Edward Nygma's Box

Edward Nygma's Box

But where would we be without a little cheekiness eh? Next thing you know, the wit that is their pre-match announcer is spinning some Elvi… oh. They did that the last time I was here. You mean they play “The Wonder Of You” with Karaoke lyrics emblazoned on the big screen accompanied by players in soft-focus glorious action every home game? Well, I guess they do. Buy stuff from our shop.

So having been successfully hypnotised in a show worthy of the bastard test tube offspring of Milton Eriksson and Derren Brown – buy stuff from our shop and you too can feel like a world beater – the bourgeois besuited battle cry is then, naturally, to sit back and wait for Arsenal to dominate all comers while playing choreographed football the like of which could only have been conceived by the boffins down at Saddlers Wells. But of course Olympiakos aren’t that bad a side. They’ve some clever, crafty campaigners in the middle of the park, and they reckon they have a chance.

How incongruent of them.

And so, the game began. The big screen told us so. And with every incident of note on the park, thousands of gasps were followed by thousands of heads cocking up at guess where? The state-of-the-art screen. That’s where they replay incidents of note on the park, you see. So real stuff happens, mild gasp, followed by a few seconds time lag, followed by the masses cocking their collective snook, followed by the footage, followed by more gasps. Meanwhile they’ve missed a good 10 seconds of actual action on the park. In silence, as Ian Curtis might have put it.

They get an early goal.

“Wan nillll, to the Awsuhnul…” rears its head for a few seconds then dies away. The Olympiakos fans are bouncing and singing and barely any of the Gooners notice, save for the ones in the section next to them singing “who are ya?” and doing the “Y” out of YMCA for extended periods.

The fella behind me tells his girlfriend (who’s thus far been discussing what the actual digits are in Pi – I shit you not) that last week he wondered if anyone in the stand could name the assistant manager. He felt scared to sing.

They get a soft 2nd goal.

“Ar-suuh-nu-ullll, Arsuhnu-ul FC, they’re by far the greatest team…” for a few seconds.

But while they’re 2-0 up and things are going swimmingly – Oxlade Chamberlain looking a genuine talent, and sporadic flashes of craft from Arteta, with decent reading of the game from Song, there’s an uneasiness about it. An inert feeling – save for the bounciness of the Greeks in the corner.

And they’ve good reason to be bouncy, despite being 2-0 down, because they sense the home crowd are edgy perhaps, and their team, who are fun to watch, are crafty and that wee bit older in the head than many of their counterparts, despite probably lacking comparative talent. They’re picking passes through the midfield, and they’re holding on to the ball. And they’re getting in behind Arsenal.

Then Olympiakos, building momentum, win a corner. And again schoolboy defending lets them down, amidst derision from the stands and shouts of “Faakin ell there’s no mawkin or naffink, sowt it aaaaht!!!”.

But they don’t sort it out and while an hour or so later the media reports a nice routine win, the Gooners, while occasionally getting the chance to bellow their derisory “Hooooof!” at Olof Mellberg, found themselves cheering in relief every time Mertesacker did the exact same thing and cleared his lines.

The pattern continued for much of the remainder of the game, with the impressive Torrisidis hitting the bar from the right hand corner of the box, and several forays in and around the Arsenal box coming close. Arsenal still have the quality to punish your common garden lapse in concentration, and at times Olympiakos were straining to keep it at 2, but the third never came, and right up to the final minutes there was always the anxious fidgety feeling that something wasn’t right.

You see, while the big screen batters their brains with images of lip glossed perfection, and while part of their Gooner brains believe that if they just “Buy stuff from our shop”, they’ll buy into the kind of success we all need in our lives – to be a winner! It’s a time bomb that, in more ways than one.

Tyler works at The Emirates

Tyler works at The Emirates

I don’t mind Arsenal – a few of my friends are Gooners and they’re lovely people. And I don’t doubt that on its day, the Emirates can rock off its foundations to some extent. I just worry that deep down, despite the comfort and pizazz, they all know a nice big cock has been spliced into their footage on the big screen, and that someone’s been farting on their meringues.

@royhendo

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