Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday December 20 2006
Well, what a game that was, eh? Who would have thought 12-0 to the Arsenal? Of course I jest, the game was called off. But what of those of us who travelled? Unrivalled frustration was the order of the day. Particularly because I feel that the referee's decision was somewhat incronguous.
I began the day with a lovely fry up in the Little Wonder Cafe en face de le Grove. Boarding the coach the general feeling was one of excitement, both sides had promised to field strong starting line ups, and the Carling Cup looked to be taking on a new dimension. After stopping at Keele services late afternoon, it was soon apparent that the fog was more hazardous than we had first thought, news filtered through than an inspection would take place 5.15pm. I was immediatley dismissive, assuring my fellow coach dwellers that the two managers would never allow for this game not to go ahead. Afterall, fog is inconvenient, but not hazardous.
We received word that the officials would condeuct another inspection at 6.15pm- with the coach still powering unrepentently towards the ground. Rather than swell any anxiety, I allowed the news to allay my fears. My thoughts were that this indicated that Mr. Atkinson wanted to abandon the match, but messers Benitez and Wenger exerted sufficient pressure to get the game played.
At this point we were informed by the travel club that should the conditions not worsen, the game would go ahead. I watched pensively out of my window, the conditions did not get worse- in fact they began to alleviate. Staring down vacant expanses of motorway, I estimated that I could make out traffic within about a hundred and fifty yards of my proximity. So it was with some surprise that we were informed that the game had been called off- we were within a mile and a half of Anfield when this news reached us. Travelling with the Travel Club necessitated that we had to carry on to the ground so that the travel club staff could give the returns to the Anfield box office.
As we parked up, infuriatingly, outside Stanley Park, we were to be met with further piss taking. The Merseyside Police informed us that we would not be allowed to alight the coach for a stretch of legs/ cigarette/ manifestation of disbelief. After strong protests from Maria (you know when you hear a shrill female voice screaming 'come on you Gunners?- that's Maria) the killjoy Police Officers allowed us off the coach for a five minute break. (Thanks for that, you're so very kind Scouse Coppers). The general consensus amongst those of us coming to terms with a wasted journey, was one of defiant comedy. In an instance like that, if you do not laugh, you will cry! In the words of Johnny Rotten, 'There's something about the English. In the darkest moments- you laugh.' Myself Bruno, Luigi, Maria and co did just that, mocked our collective predicament and the prospect of a five hour journey home for nothing.
However, we managed to collect the thoughts of outcoming Scousers, who had been inside the stadium and maintained that their view had been untroubled. News soon came through that Benitez and Wenger disagreed with the decision. So both teams, both managers and both sets of supporters wanted it played. Now I was not inside the stadium myself and was not privy to the conditions.I would suggest the game could have been played based on the pictures I have seen and the first hand views I have collected. Heavy fog is an inconvenience sure, but it was by no means dangerous to anybody's health. Given that both sides are involved in the latter stages of the Champions League, I do not think either side or either set of fans really fancied an unnecessary backlog come February.
As a result of Mr. Atkinson's decision the integrity of this tie has been harmed irrevocably. Benitez and Wenger had pledged to field strong sides- for the replay this will certainly not happen. This tie will be replayed on January 9th, when both sides will be reeling from a heavy Christmas schedule and heading into the latter stages of the Champions League. Both sides will now field something probably not even resembling a reserve side. At a time when the competition was beginning to show signs of renaissance, this decision will probably harm the integrity of the competition. We face a tie where both sides will probably not be upset if they were eliminated. Personally, I would rather have seen a match slightly jeopardised by the conditions.
The rumour I have heard in the ensuing hours is that Sky were keen to abandon the match because they could not transmit a clear picture. Now this is an unsubstantiated rumour, but one that would not surprise me in the slightest. Ultimatley, I was to walk through my door at 5.30 this morning, leaving me enough time to shower and change my clothes before leaving for work again having had no sleep and seen no football. Will I go to the replay? Of course I will. Why? Because I am an idiot. A quick reminder that I will be delivering my usual match reviews for the Blackburn and Watford games, so do tune in if you can. But if you cannot, I would like to take this chance to wish you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year. LD.
Date:Wednesday December 20 2006
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