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Wednesday
Nov162011

17,000 Miles, But No Tickets

BY RATAN POSTWALLA / @ratanpostwalla

I’ve been an Arsenal worshipper for as long as I can remember.

Having grown up in India, there wasn’t much English football coverage available at all in the 1980s. Maybe a couple of newspaper columns every month. Nothing at all on TV. And still no sign of the Internet.

I caught the Arsenal bug from my Dad, a fan since the days of Denis and Leslie Compton in the 1940s and 50s. The earliest Arsenal story I remember him telling me was that of the ‘5-minute final’ – the 1979 FA Cup final between Arsenal and Manchester United that saw three goals being scored in the last five minutes.

As I grew older, I began to make a better acquaintance with the Gunners. First through my Liverpool-supporting uncle, who brought back video tapes of Arsenal’s ‘goals of the season’ from his various business trips to England. Then via the proliferation of cable television in India. And finally (and significantly) after the internet came into our lives in 1998.

My first ‘visit’ to Highbury was in July 1998 (when I was in transit in London for a day). Although I could not see the insides of the stadium, I did manage to reach as far as the iconic bust of Herbert Chapman, thanks to a kind doorman. And more importantly, I literally bumped into Arsene Wenger, who was heading out of the building to his waiting car. Fortunately, I was able to shake myself out of my state of shock and ask the great man for an autograph, something I will treasure till my last day.

I couldn’t get beyond Avenell Road on subsequent trips to Highbury, timed as they were during the off-season. And although I knew I would be met by closed doors and a smiling, yet unwilling-to-budge security officer, I made the long journey up the Piccadilly line anyway.

On one such occasion, though, I got lucky. There was some kind of kids’ day on, whereby entry was allowed into the stadium and one could sit in the stands for a while. I vividly remember having a fever that morning, yet I bounded up the stairs like an overjoyed child!!

I will never forget my first sight of that perfectly manicured pitch, the dugouts, the Clock End and the North Bank. There was absolutely no one on the pitch, yet I took at least 50 photographs in the 30-or-so minutes I spent there. Including five of the corner flag!!?? I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I was 28.

Having got my first taste of Arsenal, I wanted more. Desperately. I was now living in New York. We were well into the last season at Highbury. And after Arsenal had played Aston Villa on April 1, 2006, there were just four games to go at this great stadium. Time for action.

A couple of telephone conversations was all it took to convince my Dad that we would be watching Arsenal v West Brom at Highbury on Saturday, April 15th. Flight tickets were booked, a hotel room reserved, and father and son converged on London from Calcutta and New York respectively. One slight problem, though – no match tickets were available.

I managed to find one ticket online after many hours of scouring the various fan forums, and I remember making the long trek to the Woodside Park tube station to collect it. Match day arrived, and we still hadn’t found the second. My Dad selflessly sent me into the stadium at 2 pm so that I could watch the warm-up and other pre-game festivities. Our devotion was finally rewarded when he managed to buy a ticket ten minutes before kick-off. Sadly, we sat in separate blocks, him in the North Bank and me in the Lower East.

That being the last season at Highbury, every home match-day had a theme. April 15th to my joy, was Dennis Bergkamp Day, in honour of the retiring Dutch maestro, one of my all-time favourites. Highbury was bathed in a sea of orange as I watched Arsenal warm up with the wide-eyed amazement of toddler. Seeing my heroes in the flesh was beyond my wildest dreams - Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Jens Lehmann, Robert Pires, Robin van Persie, Gilberto…

The game started well for the Gunners, but they had to wait until the 44th minute for Alex Hleb to open the scoring. In the 72nd minute, Nigel Quashie equalised out of the blue for the Baggies, who were in no mood to be gracious guests. It was looking like two points dropped for Arsenal, but substitute Robert Pires showed his predatory instincts when he tapped home from close range to nudge Arsenal ahead just four minutes later.

And then, with just two minutes remaining on the clock, Dennis Bergkamp, also a late substitute, curled home a quite exquisite third. It was his last goal as a professional footballer, it was classic Bergkamp on Dennis Bergkamp day, and I was lucky enough to be there to watch it.

I’m getting goosebumps just typing this out.

In 2008, I moved to London for two years, became an Arsenal member and watched as many games as I could at the fantastic Emirates Stadium. My Dad watched a few as well and we got adjacent seats every time!

Watching Arsenal at the Emirates was a pleasure. Brilliant stadium, great seats, exhilarating football.

But for two generations of Arsenal-loving Postwallas from far-away Calcutta, nothing will ever surpass the magic of April 15, 2006.

Reader Comments (3)

Nice...

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPrasun

Very cool

November 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Cass

As a fellow Arsenal fan from India, I can empathize. I am planning my career so that I can move to London, become a member and watch Arsenal play every fortnight. But I know for sure before that happens (if it happens) Mr.Wenger would be no longer with the club. That saddens me. But only time will tell.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersanta
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