About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Yossi reunites the sunshine band

The far from Christmassy sound of KC and the Sunshine band rang round Villa Park at the final whistle hailing the late goal from Yossi Benayoun which gave Arsenal a hard fought win which had looked unlikely til the latter stages when the Gunners extra desire drove them on to victory.
The 2-1 win neatly reversed the scoreline from my first and hitherto only trip to Villa Park way back in April 1983 when despite going into half time ahead, Arsenal succumbed to a rampant Manchester United en route to winning their first trophy under Ron Atkinson. That day I had sat in what was then called the Witton Lane Stand next to two kindly old ladies who spent the afternoon eating sweets and cooing every time Norman Whiteside touched the ball. Last night I was sat in the same part of the ground which had been rebuilt as the Doug Ellis stand in a seat with a view so restricted it merited a £1 discount! Handily placed at the end of the row in front of a gangway the only obstacle to seeing the night's entertainment was fortunately just the odd passing steward.
I'd travelled up to Birmingham the scenic way from London Marylebone, taking advantage of a superb £5 one way offer on that bizarre British paradox the privatised nationalised railway. Privatised by the British government but owned by the nationalised German railway who proved the efficacy of their operation with a smooth journey on a full train, accommodating everyone in roomy, clean carriages by dispensing with first class.
Alighting at Birmingham's most attractive terminus, Moor Street, I met up with a Villa supporting friend who was to be my guide to pre match hospitality. After negotiating the bustling crowds around New Street we headed up to Aston and after one false start settled down in the faded glory of the Swan & Mitre, an impressive facade clothing a dingy old fashioned boozer which had clearly seen better days. Still it provided a quiet corner to catch up, the only noise being the clink of dominoes at an adjacent table. As the football crowd started to filter in we moved onto the New Adventurers a virtual Aston Villa theme pub, £1 giving you access through their claret and blue portal. Full of fans steeling themselves for the match, talk centred on the prospects for play which were generally downbeat following the weekend's surrender to Liverpool, the mood only lifted by a badge seller touting "McLeish out" pins.
The short walk to the ground felt subdued and notably short on expectation, not uncommon at this time of the year when football takes second place to festive preparations. The kick off shook the cobwebs off though, the first half seeing Aston Villa the better team only denied an early lead by a splendid save by the Pole in the goal from Gabriel Agbonlahor. With injuries and suspensions hitting Arsenal hard it was not surprising that they lacked the fluidity of Sunday's draining defeat at Middle Eastlands but a steely resolve was characterised by the way they hung on in the opening stages then grabbed their chance with both hands when it came.
A quicksilver dash into the penalty area by Theo Walcott induced Ciaran Clark to throw out a grabbing arm in panic giving the referee no choice but to point to the spot, a really soft penalty both in terms of the threat that caused it and the foul that led to it. With Robin Van Persie eager to break the much talked about, if statistically meaningless, record for goals scored in calendar year, the kick was a formality. The goal changed little in term of the pattern of play though, Arsenal's awfully inappropriate away kit reflecting an uncharacteristically workmanlike first half performance.
Villa regrouped at half time and deservedly equalised with the goal of the game when Marc Albrighton capitalised on Arsenal defensive hesitancy to run clear and score. This turned out to be an ultimately abstract 20,000th goal scored  at the top level of English football since 1992, unless you buy into the hubristic insistence that Rupert Murdoch invented the game.
Attacking substitutions by Arsene Wenger were reflected by a growing intensity from Arsenal going forward as they forced a succession of corners which ultimately brought about the late winner when Van Persie inswinging kick was met by the head of Benayoun three minutes from time. The inevitable eruption of joy in the Arsenal end really rattled the Villa players Alan Hutton taking his leave early for a couple of needless misdemeanours.
The final whistle soon arrived to the backing of Jingle Bells, the euphoria sending me bouncing back to Witton station and home through the night sustained by a splendid Thai Yellow curry from Wok Your Way which meant I was still talking football with the black cab driver in the small hours.


Lenny Baryea said...

“awfully inappropriate away kit”

Yep. Not unlike Maidenhead United's.

“deservedly equalised with the goal of the game”

Faint praise. Vermaelen with the assist. I couldn't see Villa scoring otherwise.

“they forced a succession of corners”

11-1 in corners to the away side in the second half, which hardly gives credence to Steve Henson's claim that Villa were the better side. If that really was one of Villa's better performances of the season, then I can fully understand why someone saw fit to produce and sell “McLeish Out” pins.

Steve said...

Well in the words of Arsene Wenger: "I can only congratulate Villa - they played well, gave everything and again it was a very intense game. In the end we got three very late points that are vital for us. We were a bit unlucky on Sunday and today maybe a bit lucky. Overall it was important to re-start with a win tonight. But if Villa continue to play like that then they will go up in the table, they had an outstanding game."