highbury arsenal 88.
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On March the 28th, the day of Israel's general elections, Arsenal took on Juventus in the quarterfinals of the Champions League - and this is what I wrote at the time in my Election Day piece:
Nic asked me the other day which of the following I would prefer - my party winning the general election or my team winning the European Cup. Maybe I paused for half a second, maybe a whole one, but the answer was obvious. Much as I profess to be politically minded and a committed world citizen, when you've spent a quarter of a century supporting Arsenal through thick and thin, the prospect of a Champions League triumph supersedes even the prospect of world peace. I make no apology.
Well - fast forward to today, May 16th, and we couldn't be any closer to European glory.
In one day, Arsenal take on Barcelona in the Stade de France, Paris, in the final of the Champions League. The pre-match madness is at its peak, with match tickets changing hands for upwards of £1,200. Thousands of disappointed, ticketless fans are going to travel to Paris anyway, praying for some kind of miracle glut of spare tickets to materialize on the day itself. Mugsâ€¦
I say mugs. I mean mugs. But only cos I've already got a ticket. It arrived by DHL delivery to the Jerusalem Post offices today - lovingly arranged by my Mum in London, and the cause of much plutzing for her, Dad and me for the last forty-eight hours until it finally reached my desk at 9:02 this morning. If Moshe Rabeinu felt good upon receiving the Ten Commandments, then I'm delighted for him. However, I reckon the feeling I felt on ripping open the envelope today surpassed even his emotions - the world stopped turning, the seraphs leaned down from heaven to play me a celebratory fanfare, theâ€¦Nah - who am I kidding? I'm the least excited Arsenal fan ever to receive a European Cup Final ticket - and this is whyâ€¦
Don't get me wrong - it's not that I don't want to go to the match - I do, but for all the wrong reasons. You see, I want to go because of what it says about me, my family, my status. I want to go, because thousands can't. I want to go, because when it's all over, I'll be able to say I was there. But I won't be able to tell you much about the game, just as I don't remember much about any of the scores of Arsenal games I've attended in my lifetime. I'm not particularly observant of the game itself - I just enjoy attending the match with family and friends alike.
We've had front-row, upper-tier, North Bank season tickets at Highbury for ten years (which are being transferred to the exact same glorious position at the Emirates Stadium), and I've seen some of the best home games played in the last decade. I've seen Arsenal win the league emphatically on a perfect May afternoon in 1998, with my best friend Nic beside me - the two of us basking in the sunshine and the reflected glory, leaning back in our cushioned seats, legs dangling over the side of the stand as Tony Adams capped the win with a thumping fourth goal underneath us.
I've seen us turn over Manchester United after two Barthez mistakes were gleefully converted by TH, I've seen Martin Keown miraculously score twice in the last five minutes as we somehow scraped past Shaktar Donetsk 3-2 in the Champions League. I've seen countless wonder goals, countless thrilling performances by the team I love most - but, truth be told, it's only football.
Fortunately, I'm not afflicted with a Nick Hornby-esque obsession with Arsenal - I don't feel sick before big games, I pay scant attention to transfer speculation, I don't even care that much when we lose. Sure - I can ham it up when I'm at the match, or watching in a pub - after all, partisan and primal emotions are bubbling underneath all of our surfaces, looking for any chance to burst out, like lava from Mount Merapi. But I'm really only an armchair supporter - whose armchair just happens to be one of the best seats in Highbury.
I've felt sorry for, and been envious of, uber-fans in equal measure over the years. Felt sorry for them because I genuinely think there's something lacking in a person's life if their football team's performance can adversely affect their day, their week, their year. Been envious of them, because - like with anything - when the good times roll, the zealots reap the most rewards. I look at some of my friends' faces when Arsenal score, or Spurs concede, and see a joy and delight in their eyes that I could never feel for the same events. And that's not to say I don't love football - I play three times a week, and take immense pleasure from a good performance - either my own, or my team's. But to place such importance on the performance of some mercenary, millionaire players who happen to have signed for Arsenal is not really within my capability.
I just want to be at the match for the same reasons that I used to spend £1,000 on lunch and Cristal at The Ivy, or 180 on a Louis Vuitton scarf, back when I was a stockbroker. I was never a food connoisseur, nor a wine buff, or an expert in designer clothes - but I was a master of the "Cos I can" philosophy. I'm less of a "Cos I can" snob these days, since rescinding my city lifestyle and moving to Israel two years ago, but every now and then, the urge comes over me to flash it about once more - and the Arsenal-Barcelona final is a prime example. We qualified, the hordes gathered seeking the priceless tickets - and I sat back in Jerusalem, confident my family connections would ensure me a seat. They did, and no ordinary seat at that - instead I got a 130, front row allocation - and my Cheshire Cat smile got even wider.
I booked my flight to Paris, I lorded it up over friends and strangers alike - casually dropping the fact that I was going into any conversation with the word Arsenal in it - and even several without. I watched sympathetically as my mate Ben - such an Arsenal obsessive it's positively terrifying - scrambled around trying to secure an elusive ticket at any cost. (He's one of the many who're traveling to the game without a seat - and no, he's not getting his hands on mine, however unfair it is that I've got one). I've regressed, temporarily, to a spoilt brat flashing his wad of birthday cash to his luckless, cashless peers. And I don't care - it's not really me (the new me, at least).
[I've been watching, with a smug detachment, as the clamor for tickets has gathered momentum, ever since the tickets went on sale two weeks ago. I called my old tout, purely out of interest, and asked him what price he was making for tickets - 1,200 was his response - which seemed about right, considering I'd once paid him 300 for a pair of tickets in the Arsenal section when we played Spurs away in the league. I reflected this to Ben, who said he thought the tickets would come down in price as the game drew nearer and people looked to make a quick buck. I disagreed, with my stockbroker cap firmly on my head - I said demand would surge and supply wane even further - and I was right. There was an initial drop in black market quotes, with the price coming down to 850, but now the tickets have topped 1,500, according to reports. It's all the Jews' fault, I reckon, and I love itâ€¦For there's no way that the working class fans are scraping together upwards of 2,000 for the whole flight-hotel-ticket package, and it must be down to Arsenal's salubrious North London location and the team's above-average number of well-off Jewish fans that these astronomical prices can even be bandied about in the first place.]
So, I'll be recreating the exploits of the Germans in World War II - invading Paris in the spring. My flight leaves Ben Gurion airport on Wednesday morning. I'll be in Paris for lunch with my dad's best mate Steve. I've been told I'll be having a drink with Arsenal player-turned-scout Gilles Grimandi in the afternoon (he's a friend of one of my dad's partners at his firm). I'll be sitting in the front row, casually observing the match whilst those around me have kittens. I'll come back to Israel and, whether we won or lost, that's when the party'll start for me. Cos it's all about the "been there, done that" mindset - and I'll milk it for all it's worth.
And an Arsenal win above world peace? Whatever - as long as it makes people even more jealous, then yeahâ€¦
(Pre and post-match updates to followâ€¦)
The writer is a 26-year-old former stockbroker. He is now a journalist, interning for the Jerusalem Post's business section. He moved to Israel from Hampstead, London, one and a half years ago.
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