My Favourite Arsenal Awayday of the Season
This excellent piece first appeared on the Goonerholics Forever website here. The site is a tribute to the late Dave Faber.
Read on for Countryman's wonderful article on Arsenal's 2-0 victory over Newcastle at St James's Park at the weekend.
I’m just home from Newcastle and here’s a few thoughts on a terrific game of football and a truly wonderful away day.
I was greeted as I entered St James Park by a four year old resplendent in full barcodes kit and an accent to match. “Are you Arsenal?” asked the young Geordie, just checking that my red and white scarf didn’t mean that I was a Mackem. I leant down. “Yes” I said. “You’ve bottled the league” he replied, pleasantly.
I briefly contemplated engaging him in debate concerning Saudi Arabian blood money, but as his 20 stone dad was hovering, decided that a superior smile was the best course of action. That kid may have been in tears at the end. I do hope so.
I wandered off to the away turnstiles, met by the always smiley Newcastle stewards, who, when I requested the lift (I’d been here before, no way I was climbing 14 flights of stairs), were helpful and polite.
I emerged somewhere in the flight lane from Newcastle airport and made my way to my seat, fighting off the vertigo from my lofty spot in the Gods.
This was a great gathering of the clans. Pat and Andy from the row behind me in the North Bank were there, as was Layth, the editor of the Gooner, sitting amongst the fans as he couldn’t get a seat in the press box.
I also saw lots of people I knew to nod at from various away grounds this season. It’s such a diverse group as well, young, old, male, female, all races and religions, including, just to our right, two tall Sikhs with magnificent beards that I last saw at Wolves.
It seemed that everyone around me had been there 12 months earlier and we were all both determined on revenge and nervous that we might get a repeat dose. Every seat seemed to be filled, though not a soul was sitting down.
Away we went. They started well, and the noise in that stadium was as intense as anything I have ever heard. Bath describes the start well, Newcastle hitting the post, then being awarded a penalty for handball which was overturned by VAR. So far this was a repeat of last year. But from the moment that Ramsdale took his subsequent kick, taking his time to line it up like it was the winning putt in the Masters (I read that somewhere last night), the game changed.
We roared the team on. We were attacking the Gallowgate, so we had an eagle’s eye view as the captain lashed the ball inside Pope’s post. Cue absolute pandemonium. I was hugged by the tall young man to my left, my son to my right and the two tall Sikhs to his right.
At six feet tall I was comfortably the shortest, but I loved every minute. At that moment, the Geordie crowd noise decreased by 90 per cent. We bossed the game and we bossed the noise levels.
Pope and Ramsdale engaged in a 'save-off' for Pickford’s England spot. Both made wonderful saves, though Aaron’s save in the second half from a point blank header in the second half was incredible and brought back memories of Seaman’s FA Cup semi final save against Sheffield United of yester year. We seemed to blow three one on ones in the first half and hit half time thinking we could have been several goals to the good.
Everywhere I looked, Arsenal players were being fouled late by the barcodes. After the performance dished up by Newcastle at the Emirates who could blame us for maybe taking a little longer to get up than usual. I thought Ramsdale, Kiwior, Xhaka, Jorghino and Odegaard were fantastic. Good sub by Arteta to bring Tierney in for Zinny on the hour as he was starting to look a liability. Can we persuade Kieran to stay?
The second goal killed the game. Right in front of us Gabi fizzed the ball across and in it went from a defender.
Reprise of “limbs”, but this time I thought I was going to move from row R to row E via the aerial route. My son held on to me grimly as I was buffeted. But my god we were happy. We knew we were there at that point.
The whole game, the travelling Arsenal faithful were superlative, in some of the best support I’ve heard all season (and that is saying something).
I read on Twitter a Newcastle fan saying Arsenal were the best away support at SJP this season. Constant chanting and singing, from every players name, to guttural ARSENAL, ARSENAL, Mik Arteta’s army, advice to the Newcastle fans that a) they had only come to see the Arsenal b) offering to sing a song for them, c) where they could stick their Saudi money.
We’ve got Super Mik Arteta pic.twitter.com/HlTqL5JuX6— Layth (@laythy29) May 7, 2023
Delirious cheers for our team who came over and paid homage to the upper tier. Big Gabi in particular was well into it. The Newcastle fans had all gone by the time our team left the pitch.
Off to celebrate after the game with my son and his two friends, one of whom lives the city after going to University there.
They led me to a very trendy bar by the Tyne, where the beer was curious, the music was loud and the burgers were sloppy.
Very enjoyable, but after a four hour drive, a very intense match, and walking up and down the Newcastle steep slopes up from the river I was done. I left the youngsters to it and walked back to my hotel where I was asleep before 10pm.
My favourite away day of the year.
This excellent piece first appeared on the Goonerholics Forever website here. The site is a tribute to the much-loved and much-missed Dave Faber