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.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Canaries signal danger for Arsenal

Norwich are a club whose profile matches that of their geographically peripheral location. In my lifetime they've always been in the background but just when you start to forget them or take them for granted you can guarantee they'll send a reminder. So it was at Arsenal this weekend when the Canaries poor recent form suggested they would be suitably supplicant and allow the Gunners to secure third spot. Two minutes into the game Yossi Benayoun's exquisite opening goal was the ideal opening to this fait accompli, instead it was the prelude to a storming Norwich performance which was well worth a point and could even have secured all three by half time.
How times change. The last Norwich away game I attended came at the end of the 1997/98 season when they were the last team to visit Elm Park, comfortably beating Tommy Burns' woeful Reading outfit already doomed to relegation and a few days later to defeat against Maidenhead United in the Berks & Bucks Senior Cup Final. After the Elm Park game I ended up in a pub in Reading town centre where I watched Arsenal secure the first leg of their double with a legendary win over Everton at Highbury, capped by an iconic goal by Tony Adams. The confident pose that Adams struck after scoring that goal left Arsenal's performance this weekend looking pale in comparison.
A goal up, the Gunners seemed to lose all defensive shape and discipline as Norwich tore into them, Wes Hoolahan scoring courtesy of a Wojciech Szczesny slip, and Grant Holt giving the City the lead when his deflected shot looped over the hapless Pole in the goal. Once again this prompted more memories, this time of a visit to Dagenham at the end of the 2009 season when Holt led the line for Shrewsbury, not exactly looking like a striker cut out for the Premier League.
The second half offered little respite for Arsenal as they struggled to stay in the game but slowly captain Robin Van Persie inspired a comeback and eventually the Gunners attacking strength provided the Dutchman with the chances to restore Arsenal's lead with ten minutes left. All this pointed to Arsenal seeing out the game, relieved at recovering the three points but yet again chaos reigned in the red ranks in the face of renewed Norwich attacking purpose, this time Steve Morison, who I last saw facing the Magpies for Bishops Stortford, applying a deft finish to equalise once more. Cue one last Arsenal push for the win but they were unable to emulate Maidenhead's 4-3 victory of the previous Saturday. Perhaps Van Persie should have been given an opportunity for a hat trick from the penalty shot, but there was an element of justice in the referee's decision to wave play on, with a missed offside in the build up to the incident, and Norwich also having a good penalty shout turned down in the first half.
So the game ended in frustration for Arsenal meaning few stayed for the end of season lap of honour. This was a shame for regardless of the team's shortcomings it presented an opportunity to salute Pat Rice, on duty in a home game for the final time before stepping down as Arsene Wenger's assistant. For an Arsenal fan of my vintage Rice represents a virtually ever present symbol at the club. He was part of the first line up I ever learnt by heart which I can still recite to this day, his surname providing a nice rhyming couplet: Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Price...
He was the only Arsenal captain to lift a trophy in a sixteen year period which seems a world away from the Graham/Wenger years which have given rise to a feeling of virtual entitlement amongst Arsenal supporters and subsequent angst about a failure to deliver in recent seasons, hence the annoying hyperbolic spectacle of the battle for third spot which goes on thanks to the refusal of any of the contenders to take the readily available points on offer.
Still a good game to close the season on, a useful reminder that the older I get the more complex the connections between the games I watch become (e.g. I last saw Paul Lambert managing Wycombe in pre season friendly at York Road a few years back, whilst Sian Massey was a more recent visitor, refereeing a game at Maidenhead in March), and therefore the deeper the impression that football is a more unified game than might appear at first glance.

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