My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man
We burst onto the street- a cuban in one hand and cool Polish lager in the other. Clad in a striped Arsenal tie I joined the red and white masses on Blackstock Road. Chants rang true and loud, the sun had his hat on, and all men smiled from ear to ear. The ambience in the area was unforgettable, we bobbed and weaved down the carnivalesque road.
Saturday’s FA cup was not for the footballing aesthetes. Rather it belonged to the fans and romantics. I have been slogging up to Arsenal to watch matches live or at the wonderfully partisan 12 pins pub. I embrace the downs as greatly as the highs, but it has been nine hard years of salty agony. Almost a decade without so much as a cup of tea to lift has left us gooners rather po-faced.
My personal affiliation stems from grandfather Alick being a Major in the Royal Artillary and following the club. There is an air of lineage with all Arsenal fans; which is embraced by the club and was stiffly evident on Saturday. There was definite feeling at this impromptu celebration of looking back as well as forward.
Arsenal 3-2 Hull was all that mattered.
We began in our now customary laissez-faire manner, conceding two goals in the first eight minutes. Professor Wenger’s sullen eyes greying before our own. We fans were shell shocked and the players bewildered, memories of recent failures flooding our collective conscience.
The effervescent Santi Cazorla and ever industrious Aaron Ramsay decided that today’s car crash wasn’t going to happen. A powerfully struck Cazorla free kick sang hope into our hearts before half time. The second half was more of the same – Hull defending manfully and Arsenal banging at the door like a gallant suitor hounding down a beautiful Princess. Finally we equalised with a bungled effort from Koscielny. Relief.
Extra-time is always a frantic blur of half-dead players cramping up and nervy set pieces. The two managers, now in shirt sleeve order, were marshalling their sun soaked technical areas. Bruce’s corpulent Ginster’s built body cutting a very different shape to that of the willowy Wenger, but both men shared nervous faces.
With the unwanted spectacle of a penalty shoot out looming, Arsenal made another foray into the Hull half. Giroud’s excellent back heel found Ramsay, who drove the ball into the bottom corner. Highbury and Islington erupted as one. We ground down the clock and finally victory was ours.
Sweet relief flooded every Arsenal fan and perhaps a small tear welled up. To watch the 64 year old Arsene Wenger dance around the pitch like gangly teen at his first disco was beautiful to watch. Like the fans he was engulfed in pure joy.
I spent the ensuing hours hugging smiling strangers, I danced a jig down the road with a topless tattooed man, and was involved in a ridiculous mass “sit down if you hate Tottenham” on a main road. The policemen smiled at the many lighthearted squiffy antics and we made our way to the lovely Tollinngton pub to continue the collective merriment at the church of our day.
Winning was a culture for Arsenal ten years ago, let’s hope that returns. Let us also hope that when we do win again we embrace the joy like we did on Saturday.