Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday April 25 2007
25th April, 2004 has to rate as the single greatest day of my entire life (which either confirms how good my football team is or how maudlin my life has been to date, you decide). It is of course three years ago today since we won the league at White Hart Lane, for the second time. I remember the occasion almost minute for minute. The first thing I remember is that I had recently recovered from a bout of gastric 'flu and that, being a second year University student, I had of course dyed my hair black and blue. The weight shed by illness together with the new do resulted in me looking not a little like someone from the Adams' Family. (Ironically, I was recovering from 'flu two years earlier at Old Trafford). A piece of Box Office idiocy almost denied me a ticket to the game. Having not missed a single away game for the two and a half years prior to this game (the record is currently five and a half years and counting), the Box Office attempted to fob me off, rejecting my ticket application on the basis of a lack of credits. When I rang them up and threatened to stand outside the Box Office and not move until they furnished me with a ticket, they were quick to rebuff their original reply and give me a ticket. That summer I joined the away ticket scheme with the express intention of never repeating such an incident.
Of course we went into the day not knowing whether we could sew the league title up on our favourite neighbours' ground or not. Chelsea were playing at St. James' Park earlier in the day, a win for Chelsea meant no dice, a draw for the Chavs would leave the Gunners' requiring victory, while a defeat would leave Arsenal needing only to avoid defeat- something they had managed all season long to that point- to repeat the legendary feat of 1971. Once again, incognito was the order of the day. I remember receiving a text en route to Nothumberland Park saying Chelsea had assumed a first half lead. As I regurgitated the information to my companions, I remember trying to plaster on a fake smile so as to not identify my colours to the enemy. Upon arrival into the South Stand I was immediately met with an enormous roar from the travelling contingent in the concourses. Of course, I am a popular guy whose arrival on any scene is usually met with comparable hysteria, however, the roar was to greet a Newcastle equaliser. Positioned at the back of the lower tier, I was in a position to see the television screens in the police control room. Peering through the glass like an adolescent boy trying to sneak a peek into the ladies' changing rooms (not speaking from personal experience there), I managed to see an exquisite Alan Shearer volley win the game for Newcastle. Clutching our mobile phones, we whooped in unison. realising a draw would suffice. My most hated footballer in the history of mankind had given me a moment of pure ecstasy. I reminisced how much I really disliked Sylvain Wiltord as an Arsenal player and how his goal had filled me with such delight in the East Stand, Lower tier at Old Trafford two years earlier.
As the players lined up in the tunnel, the travelling Gooners were vocally resplendant, assured that fate could not present us with such an opportunity and have us blow it. Afterall, we had not been defeated all season and Spurs were still not out of the relegation mire (possibly the most joyful sentence I have ever composed in all my life). 'Bring on the Champions' we goaded with a premature and cocksure swagger not seen since the previous August as Spurs once again predicted big things for themselves. As the players emerged, the hairs on my neck were literally erect as the 3,000 gave the 'We're Gunner win the league...and now you're Gunner believe us' chant a delightful kicking, every clap measured with a complicit poise, every single arm raised resolutely in the air in glorious unison. Jonnie Jackson lined up an early corner for Spurs which was headed into the path of Thierry Henry on the edge of his own area. He danced forward and fed Bergkamp, whose cross looked from my distant perspective to have evaded Vieira, put the skipper stuck out a telescopic limb to roll past Keller. Cue pandemonium. It seemed thousands of arms reached around to grab me and shook me like a British nanny, in turn, I appeared to sprout a few extra arms and throttled anyone foolish enough to be within grabbing distance.
'71, We'll do it again' rang around the away enclosure. Arsenal were at their swaggering best. At times, it appeared Pires would have just been better off urinating on the ball such was the control he was maintaining on the pitch. A move of endless passes culminated in Bergkamp to Vieira, Vieira pulling back to Pires from the byline, and the enigmatic Frenchman stroking the ball home with nonchalance. There was nothing nonchalant about the celebrations in our end, the guy next to me snapped my seat clean in two as he leapt rapturously from side to side. Amusingly, he then proceeded to swing the ailing furniture around his head primitively to the tune of, '2-0 to the Champions.' Half time came as those of us present compared this triumph with the seminal victory at Old Trafford two years previous. All unanimously concurred that this was better than OT, until some smart arse piped up about having been at Anfield in '89. You win mate. I also remember thinking of my Grandad who had passed away seven days prior to the match, the 5-0 demolishing of Leeds at Highbury had been his last game and he never saw the 49ers live out the unbeaten season. But I remember thinking how fitting it was that his first game on some other plane of existence saw us snatch the title at the ground of our enemies. Thirty three years previous he had been locked out on the Seven Sister's Road with thousands of others.
The Gunners' took their foot off the gas in the second half. As '61 Never Again' reverberated around Three Point Lane, Jamie Redknapp, quite aptly, pulled one back in, you guessed it, the 61st minute. Someone forgot to lock Jens' cage in injury time, as he decided to pointlessly engage with Robbie Keane in a bout of push and shove and Mark Halsey harshly pointed to the spot. Keane converted as the Tottenham faithful turned towards us with goading hand signals, one guy in the South Lower even swung his shirt around his head. No Spurs fan has ever admitted it to me since, but they blatantly thought that they had postponed our title celebrations by snatching a point. The final whistle whailed to the sound of a stout Tottenham cheer, followed by an echo of delirium from the Gooners' corner. The audible groan when Henry led his troops over to our corner to cavort ecstatically was so bone rattlingly funny that the English language simply does not provide me with adequate vocabulary for me to properly relay it to you. The players danced in front of us, but were forced to leave the pitch as a couple of Spurs' fans tried to run onto the pitch (I've watched back since and sky conveniently cut away from the scenes at that point). The players' re emerged, this time with Lehmann and Campbell in tow. (I recall a joke doing the rounds that Sol originally walked off the pitch to hand over some money to Daniel Levy. Levy had bet Sol Campbell he could win the league at White Hart Lane and Campbell disagreed). 'Arsenal give us a song' echoed out, until someone passed down an inflatable trophy which the players conducted a mock presentation with, culminating in Ashley Cole (in his pre-c**t days) planting it firmly into the centre circle. The travelling rnaks implored a modest Wenger to join them. Being a true showman, he waited and waited, the players cleared the pitch with no sign of the gaffer. I reckon the players must have told him to go out there, as he reluctantly emerged alone, to the baying of three thousand delighted Gooners. I was stood astride a seat in the front row, bowing in hommage to the great man who had masterminded our triumph. The Tottenham stewards were a completye and utter credit that day, they patiently waited inside the ground to let us rejoice without bitter recriminations.
The police had secured the streets outside and gave us an escort to Tottenham Hale station, insulated from the charging hoardes of Spurs fans, we made the long walk with glee and fatigue. The chant '71 2004' was first aired at Tottenham Hale, and my larynx was one of the very first to birth it. What follows is an amusing anecdote I have wheeled out countless times since, but like the grouchy old fart I'm comfortably growing into, I'll never retire of regurgitating it. We were instructed that the tube would not stop at Seven Sister's as it made its way Southbound on the Victoria Line. We pulled up at Seven Sister's to see about six hundred angry Spurs fans lining the platform, smashing bottles against the windows, itching to get their hand on us. Anxiety spread through the carriage like anthrax as we feared for our lives. But, delightfully and at dramatically slow pace, the tube pulled away, the doors never having flung open to the neanderthals. We rushed all at once to the windows, incandescant in our new found bravery, to remind the watching apes just who had won the league and where it had been won. Great days. LD.
Date:Wednesday April 25 2007
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