‘Know thine enemy’, Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu advised 2500 years ago. ‘Absolutely’, TMN pondered, ‘especially if the ticket to the Emirates is free and you can dredge a bilious article out of it.’ So, despite this being a website dedicated to football’s nether regions, off we tottered to the dark heart of the Premiership experience…
Luxuriously padded red seating. A genteel middle class atmosphere. Average age: 40 plus. Average wage: £40 000 plus. Champagne and foreign lagers. Overpriced salmon bagels. Imported foreign stars with a reputation for histrionics. An aesthetically pleasing spectacle consisting of elaborately choreographed moves that ultimately ended in anti-climax and confusion.
No, this wasn’t a visit to the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, but That Magical Night’s first foray into the rarefied stratosphere of Premier League football in nearly a decade (And ten years ago, we had the dubious privilege of watching a Chelsea team ‘starring’ Mark Stein and John Spencer – god bless the foreign invasion…).
Operating according to the always invaluable ‘know thine enemy’ principle (which has previously seen us go undercover at John Terry’s wedding…with hilarious consequences!), TMN couldn’t possibly turn down a free ticket to the Emirates stadium for a typically balletic Arsenal display against Manchester City last Saturday.
The verdict? Ok, we’ll come clean: it was an undoubted pleasure to watch carefully constructed attacks, elegant technique, composure on the ball and Alexander Hleb doing his ‘skilful but fundamentally unproductive’ shtick on the right wing. After weeks of Blue Square hit and hope, kick and rush, tackle and maim, percentage football, we weren’t quite sure at first how to react to this feast of passing and patience. Frankly, with the sun blazing down and Eriksson slumped in his dugout, TMN spent much of the first half power napping in our padded Emirates armchair – well-timed sleeps being our traditional method for dealing with soporific pre-season encounters and every England game ever played. There are only so many slow motion triangles a lower league fan can take – we prefer our footballing geometry shapeless, or at least parabolically direct, as centre-back boots forward 50 yards straight to striker.
But excitement levels rocketed come the second half. TMN was no neutral premiership tourist, after all – crucial Fantasy League points were at stake! With Van Persie installed as captain that very morning, we could barely contain ourselves when Hleb tumbled in the box and the Dutchman stepped up to surely secure us at least 14 double bonus points and a top five place in the fiercely competitive Camel Bowl Premier. Which is why, upon slamming his spot kick straight at Kasper Schmeichel, TMN wept and swore and generally gave a very accomplished impression of a distraught Arsenal fan…
A better impression, in fact, than most of the dead-eyed drones surrounding us, including one Victoria Beckham lookalike who neglected to display any signs of life except to wave distractedly to her hubby whenever he sauntered back to the deli counter, a veritable glut of middle-aged Tim Lovejoy wannabes with shiny mobiles and Hollyoaks hairdos, and a group of be-suited Patrick Batemans presumably engaged in a Hedge Fund Team Bonding Away Day.
To be fair, it seemed livelier behind the goals but the real fans may just have been bouncing up and down apoplectically on account of suddenly realising that their season ticket had cost them £1300 and most of the moolah was heading straight into RVP’s bank account. Or they too may only have been present because of an unhealthy obsession with Fantasy League competition, a game of strategy more fiendishly addictive than Chess On Crack (coming to channel 5 soon…), and the best marketing tool the Premiership money men ever devised.
0-0 with not much left to play, and just as TMN was settling back for a second snooze, Fabregas lashed a wonderful strike past Schmeichel and, ashamed as we are to admit it, we whooped and danced with 60 000 others – remembering in a flash that we’d made a last minute inspired decision to put little Cesc back into the Aztec Exiles midfield (replacing an underperforming Matt Oakley). That, folks, is what high class Fantasy League management is all about.