BY MARK WHITE / @White_Ox
London: Sunday, 26 February, 2012 - 1:15pm
“Marcia is on Twitter…she tweets I believe. I’m not sure about the whole thing. Too much ‘look at me’ for my liking. Seems a bit odd…”
It was whilst drinking in the build-up to last season’s North London derby that I overheard these words.
There I was soaking up the atmosphere on the walk from the Holloway Road to the Emirates Stadium excited at the prospect of watching Arsenal in the flesh for the first time. Up to this point I’d not seen them play on anything other than Australian television.
I felt compelled to reply to the woman walking the same path as me:
"It’s funny you should say that, there was a time when I thought the same way and yet, without joining Twitter I quite simply wouldn’t be here today.
“I met my travelling companion and now good friend through Twitter. I met a whole connection of Arsenal fans that were incredibly generous with their time and advice as to how I might get tickets to this match through Twitter.
“I finally, truly, became connected with the club I’ve loved for a long, long time through Twitter. It’s a tool for a lot of good as well you know.”
“Well I never,” she replied. “Maybe I have the whole thing wrong. I do hope the boys put on a show for you today.”
It was a hope shared by nearly all of the fans flocking to the stadium but as us Gooners well know, you never can tell what you are going to get from The Arsenal on any given day, and although we are all aware of the ending the story, clearly it did not start here…
Monday, 2 May, 2011
“I know you asked if I’d go in a couple of years mate but it’s now or never. Life’s moving on for me and my opportunity is now.”
I had lived Arsenal’s ups and downs vicariously through the back and forth tweets of the "Aussie Gooner" a personality I’d discovered upon joining the social networking website. I was well aware that he wanted to make the trek to the Emirates in the coming few years. For me though, the time was now. His response?
“Of course I’ll go now mate, this will be amazing! I’m sure I could make it work.”
Nothing beats like-minded optimism.
“Awesome, what could possibly go wrong?” was my simple and effective reply.
It was on.
Melbourne: Wednesday, 8 February, 2012
“I really hope you like what I’ve planned for our European trip mate, you’ve been very relaxed about it.”
Guiltily sipping my airport beer, fully aware of the fact I’d contributed little to any planning, and having put large faith in someone I’d met only occasionally to navigate our way around Europe I was perhaps more relaxed about the situation than I should have been.
“Don’t worry about it mate, what you’ve planned looks amazing and we’ll have nothing short of a ball. Look, something likely will go wrong at some stage but it’ll be no big drama, everything can always be sorted out. Besides, we’re off to see the Arsenal, can you believe it?”
Berlin: Wednesday, 15 February, 2012
“Nobody’s answering mate, can you ring them?”
Trying to check in to our Berlin apartments on time was of the utmost importance. The Arsenal were about to kick-off against AC in Milan for the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 match and we simply had to find a pub to watch it in. Life or death stuff. Things going wrong stuff…
“I got onto her, she’ll be here in half an hour”.
“What will we do?”
“Pray to Dennis that it’s shown on German Terrestrial TV”.
Bergkamp be praised, it was. I needn’t remind Gooners of the score. Suddenly the club we had come halfway around the world to see were in disarray, practically removed from European competition and silverware altogether.
“I guess something had to go wrong eventually, such smooth sailing until now”.
“Not at all mate, don’t you see? Not many will want to go to the second leg, we’re practically guaranteed tickets to it now!”
There’s a lot to be said for blind optimism.
London: Saturday, 25 February, 2012 - 2:00pm
Wherever we went in Europe I was left in awe and wonder of the many incredible churches and cathedrals. Naturally, when we happened upon one such religious landmark in N5 we gazed with a sombre silence, treating the moment with the reverence it deserved. I’m sure it would have been quite something to attend a game at Highbury…
There of course other historic landmarks to see so it was with heavy hearts we moved on…to a world of wonder, delight, and Guinness on tap – The Gunners Pub. This was our Christmas Eve, the autographed photos and playing cards adorning the walls were the presents under the tree we could see but not yet touch. One more sleep and the real thing would be ours. One more sleep.
London, Sunday, 26 February, 2012 - 12:15pm
We arrived at the Tollington Hotel, but despite being surrounded by fellow guests draped in the same red and white uniform we still felt like strangers in a foreign land. That was until we met the man whom we had come to visit, prominent Arsenal fan and blogger Dave. We started with the small talk (you lot can keep the Ashes, Dave!) but simmering under the pleasantries was the knowledge of the importance of the day.
“Just what are the ramifications of a loss today Dave?”
“Well quite simply I believe it’s Arsene Wenger’s job. Losing today is conceding third to the Lilywhites and seriously endangering our participation in next season’s Champions’ League. It will be 30 million pounds of revenue gone. That is what is at stake today. It would be a disaster we would not soon recover from and I doubt Arsene would be the appropriate man to rectify the situation”.
They were strong words made all the stronger by the fact that Dave was an unashamed admirer and defender of Wenger on his blog to the point where he drew criticism. For him to say those things, well, you knew he meant them. So I steeled myself with a firm belief.
“Then we will win today Dave because I don’t fancy those consequences. We’ll win, and we’ll win well. Nothing’s going wrong on our watch, you can trust the Aussies!”
London, Sunday 26 February, 2012 - 2:00pm
We’d survived incredibly dodgy budget Soviet airlines, gastroenteritis in tropical Bangkok and sub-zero temperatures in snowy Budapest. We’d even survived a visit to Auschwitz, albeit not without being haunted by the place.
At 2pm in sunny North London though we were suffering. Arsenal were 2-0 down to Tottenham Hotspur.
It didn’t matter that from our vantage point we’d played well; far better than them actually. It didn’t matter that one of their goals was the result of an ill-gotten gain. It didn’t matter that there was always the next match…for us, there wasn’t.
This was our one, our all, and our everything, and it appeared that something had indeed “possibly gone wrong”.
I could see it in my friend’s eyes, the tears welling with the emotion, distress and upset that this brought. All I could do was offer a pat on the thigh and a muffled: “Don’t worry mate, we’re going to win 3-2”.
It was a sentiment I offered with no conviction or belief whatsoever until moments later something quite wonderful happened.
Bacary Sagna scored.
The excellent Kieran Gibbs showed that the team wasn’t going to quietly accept their fate. He sprinted to retrieve a ball that had cannoned off the post from a van Persie strike, played it to Mikel Arteta who in turn curled a delightful ball to the man who epitomises what this club is about so he could twat it home with his head and send us into utter delirium.
All under our very noses.
Minutes later, Robin was to produce a truly special piece of skill that terrified would-be challengers before curling the ball beyond the despairing dive of Friedel and into the bottom corner of the net.
Again, under our noses. I have never experienced pandemonium like it. Ooh to be a Gooner indeed.
I needn’t bore you with the details of the second half; you were either watching it live or saw it afterwards. But just as we had no way of choosing to draw the curtain on a poor Arsenal performance had we desired to, we could neither have hoped in our wildest dreams to have attended that game, one that will be remembered as long as the Emirates hosts football. The game of the season no less. A game worth travelling halfway around the world for.
We were due to return to London for the second leg of the AC Milan tie and a league game against Newcastle but funnily enough, I knew I had attended my one and only Arsenal game. I can’t explain it, a feeling in my bones I guess.
Sadly I was right. Something was always bound to go wrong eventually, I just didn’t anticipate it being floodwater through my pharmacy back home in Australia. I never did get to attend those games so I will leave all credit for the Aussies influencing further famous Arsenal victories to my good travel mate Scotty, yet I certainly don’t regret having to miss those wonderful matches.
You see, Arsene has long said he does not look at passports when it comes to Arsenal players, merely what they are capable of. So when I toured the Armoury and made a single purchase of a Gunnersaurus doll I did so safe in the knowledge that whether boy or girl, my baby that was due in September would one day play on the famous Emirates pitch if they were good enough. And if not? They could watch the games with their dad.
Last week my baby boy was born and I'm full of all the excitement and joy that fatherhood brings. I may well never watch my child play for Arsenal, but I can always one day take them to the Emirates to watch our new heroes first hand. Fair consolation don’t you think?
It’s something to really look forward to in the next phase of my life because after all that came before and is yet to come I can still ask myself that one simple question.
What could possibly go wrong?