The Day It All Went Wrong

Having this second heard the news that Robin Van Persie is going to be out for “at least 3 weeks”, bringing about the inevitable collapse of a once promising season, I feel the time has come to speak of Sunday 27th February; an unprecedented day of consistent misery. For those of us who have read Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch”, and for those of us who have re-read it again and again and again, the sequence of events I experienced that lead up to and followed that calamitous 88th minute moment will strike a chord. In Hornby’s beautifully observant account of the life of an obsessive Arsenal fan, he often speaks of the paralleled link between Arsenal and ‘real life’. Arsenal win, and everything falls into place. Arsenal lose, and the world around him crumbles, the birds stop tweeting, and instead start flinging shit at him while acid rain thuds down. I’d like to think my experience on Sunday may have merited a chapter in this cult book. Having ended the season unimaginably empty handed, it would later be entitled; “The Day it all went wrong”.

Sunday 27th February 2011 began for me at 5 am, lying in my mate’s bath, my mouth lined with sick and my head throbbing. After haphazardly stumbling to a nearby bed for a few hours of painful sleep, I managed to skulk downstairs, grab a glass of water amidst a massively hungover slice of ‘small-talk’ with said mate’s wider family, and clean my sick from his bathroom. Charming, I know. As far as I was aware, this was as bad as my day was going to get. The sun was now up, the birds were chirping, Birmingham were in the horizon and waiting to get spanked. “What a lovely day for a cup final” I optimistically mumbled to my Spurs supporting mate/enemy. The irony makes me wince.

Now in comfortable command of my hangover with water-bottle in hand, I hopped into the car. After confidently explaining to the disbelieving gooners why I wasn’t wearing an Arsenal shirt (because in the previous 7 games in which I had worn ordinary clothes we had won the lot. Beginning after wearing yellow to Portman Road), I then embarked on the journey to Finchley Road. Or as it has since become, the most terrifying 35 minutes of my life. I pleaded with the carefree gooner behind the wheel. “Please mate, this could potentially be the best day of my life…I don’t want to die so can you please roll that when we get to the pub…I’ve been looking forward to this for months…I really want to get to Wembley in one piece, so how about you look at the road not at your lap…Oh don’t smoke that now…Shitting hell, slow down!” I now wish his haphazard steering had driven us off course, and into a lake full of ravenous piranhas.

By this time, predictably, the sun had put his hat away and the day was about to provide a lovely moment of premature pathetic fallacy. I should have taken it as a sign. It pissed down. And not only was it a big piss, it was a freezing cold piss. Naturally I was under-dressed for this massive storm having set out apparently during a heatwave, and consequentially got soaked. Battling through the rain, we arrived outside The Walkabout, only to discover an enormous cue, and the empty void in my wallet where my I.D was meant to be. Great! No bouncing, singing, joyous pre-match experience for me then. Weatherspoons it had to be, alcohol free of course, due to the layer of sick ready to emerge from my oesophagus at the mere thought of boos. It was a damp squib of a prematch drink up. Losing patience at the persistently inefficient barman, the off-license proved to be a more desirable destination from which to begin the train journey to Wembley.

The proceeding journey, it has to be said, did provide a spanner in the works. The one glimmer of light to an otherwise jet black day. Singing, dancing, optimistic gooners usurped each and every carriage of the Metropolitan line’s 14:30 train to Wembley Park. A nice man even hurried over to me to return my £2:50 which had been rejected by the Oyster Card machine. What a marvelous chap. Things were on the up it seemed. “What did she wear”; we sang as 16:00 got closer and so did what was surely going to be the end of the dreaded trophy drought. As I walked out of Wembley Park station and looked over at the hordes of expectant fans circumnavigating there way around that gigantic stadium, I knew this was going to be a mental image I would never forget, for one reason or another.

The 90+ minutes that provided the climax to this woeful outing have since become a blur to myself and presumably a whole host of other Wembley attendees. Destined to remain unwatched on my V+ box, this outing could even have been a distasteful dream such is the lack of vividness it has in my memory. Partly due to me avoiding any form of post-match media, and having extensively trained myself in the art of running away from the truth, the poor performance, Jack’s tears and the numb feeling of despair all exist in a separate world- I have no intention of ever re-visiting that place.

The journey home was arguably worse than the journey there. ‘Kettled’ for what seemed like days by police horses on Wembley way, whilst being stuck next to angry drunks venting their spleen at about 100 fellow fans is not something I plan on experiencing again. A tirade built on frustration and anger took place a foot away from me for the best part of half an hour. Each minute more cumbersome and infuriating than the last. Trapped, fed-up and now verbally abused. All whilst eating the most disgusting £8.50 Burger and Chips imaginable to man, bought from the ironically named ‘Divine Burger’. What a day.

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