Saturday, 19 March 2011

Who's the wally with the scarf?

"The hedge at Glebe Park last night was more impressive..."
Here's my dignity-free moment at the Emirates Stadium on 2 March - showing 50,000 Arsenal fans, and around 9,000 Leyton Orient ones, what a real football team's knitwear looks like. O's supporter Mark Smith balked somewhat, but was gracious enough to snap it for me. I was in north London to watch the East-enders try to repeat their moment of glory at Brisbane Road, when they earned the prestigious, money-spinning FA Cup Fifth Round replay with a fine 1-1 draw.

This evening, things would turn out a little differently. Arsenal's pitch is like a billiard table, well suited to a flowing, passing game. Orient, to their great credit, took on the Gunners in this department and displayed not a little technical ability. The standards of lower league football in England have increased exponentially since I first saw (old) Fourth Division Brentford in 1967. However, whatever the Os could do, Arsenal could do better. They clinched the game 5-0, going in at half time 3-0 up. It could have been more.

But Orient had a couple of good chances too, and did not disgrace themselves, in spite of the end result and only having 35% of possession. It was a clear, freezing cold evening, though, and not one on which it was ever going to be possible for the comparative minnows to hassle the Champions League wannabes off the ball. At one point, the away support chanted, along with "2-1 to the Birmingham!" (a reference to the previous week's Carling Cup final), "You're going to win f*ck all!" towards the Arsenal end. Cruel but possibly not unfair - as the Gunners' ejection from the top table of European competition to Barcelona and subsequent FA Cup exit to Manchester United indicated. I'd really love Arsene Wenger's men to win the EPL - on pure footballing grounds. But I still doubt that it will happen.

Meanwhile, Orient's supporters, including the contingent I was with (thank-you, Kevin Scully, for my early Christmas present, including the special scarf and programme) had a wonderful time, defeat notwithstanding. "You're so loud, you sound like Aldershot!" they cried to the relatively silent home fans. And, when the third goal went in, "We're going to win 4-3!"  Marvellous stuff. This was also my first visit to the Emirates. Wonderful architecture, pitch and scale. Mind you, the concourse at the away end was a bit spartan, given all the oil money behind it. And did I mention how cold it was?  You'd think they could afford central heating. Not even any free snoods, before FIFA bans them.

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