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Walking In A Cygan Wonderland

BY JAMES PERRY / @GoonerPerry

Tuesday 24 August 2005 was a good day. Finishing work at lunchtime is always good, finishing work at lunchtime because you’re going to watch The Arsenal at Highbury is even better. As a red member I hadn’t been able to get to many matches but I was determined to get to Highbury one last time before she closed her doors for good. August always seemed a good month for red members to get tickets.

Seeing as this would likely be my last visit to Highbury I made sure I was up there early to soak up the atmosphere and have last look around the great old stadium. I timed my walk down Avenell Road to perfection as just as I approached The Marble Halls the team coaches arrived.

From memory Fulham were the first to arrive and were cheered by the handful of their fans. Anticipation grew as word reached us that Arsenal’s coach was just around the corner; it duly arrived and I had a great view of all the team as they disembarked. It was slightly disappointing that the age of players wearing headphones was upon us and only Arsene, Cesc and Jens gave us a wave. Never mind.

Next thing to do was to eat a burger, buy my copy of The Gooner and the matchday programme and then make my way into the North Bank. I found my seat, mid way back on the Lower Level just to the right of the goal…what a view. Crazy Jens was out early doing his stretching, and boy could he stretch. Soon enough the stadium was full and the sun was still shining as the teams came out ready for kick off.

As the PA announcer went through the team sheet we all cheered for our heroes, Jens Lehman…yaaayyy, Lauren…yaaayyy, Kolo Toure…yaaayyy, Pascal Cygan…muted yaaayyy, Ashley Cole (pre £££’s)…yaaayyy, Gilberto Silva…yaaayyy, Alexander Hleb…yaaayyy, Cesc Fabregas…yaaayyy, Jose Antonio Reyes…yaaayyy, Dennis Bergkamp...YYYAAAAAYYYYY, Thierry Henry...YYYAAAAAYYYYY.

Half day at work – Fulham at home – seeing both sets of players arrive – greasy burger – The Gooner – great seat - the chance to see Henry break the all time leading goal scoring record at Highbury, things couldn’t get any better! What could possibly ruin my day? Fulham score the first goal on 22 minutes through Claus Jensen with a great goal…right in front of me. One of those goals that you know is in before it actually is. Where was the defence? Why wasn’t he closed down or pressured?

Let’s blame Cygan as it’s easy to do that, Kolo Toure held a higher place in our hearts and it couldn’t have been his fault, surely? Ten minutes later we were level. A corner/free kick was nodded in by the big bald head of everyone’s favourite centre back…Pascal Cygan. Fair play, he’s made up for letting Fulham score!

Half-time came, 1-1, not good and not bad and surely we’ll do ‘em in the second half? During half time I was told by the guy next to me that the seat I was in was always empty, bar one or two games a season. The ticket holder lived abroad or something…what a waste of a great seat and all the more support for the impending move to the 60,000 seats around the corner. Half time is over, the players come back out…let’s get it on!!

It didn’t take long, eight minutes to be precise, for what I was hoping for. Thierry Henry scored his 183rd goal for Arsenal. This time I got to see a goal ‘happening’ before it went in that I could jump up and down like a mad man for. “Only two more goals required to break Ian Wright’s record,” we were told by the PA announcer.

It took another half an hour until we made sure of the game, Henry scoring his second of the night to now go within one of equalling Ian Wright’s record. Could he break it tonight, against Fulham, surely a good chance?

There were plenty of Thierry Henry songs encouraging him to do so for the next five minutes until someone changed the record. In the 90th minute Cygan, of all people, scored his second goal of the game by nodding in another free kick.

All of a sudden every Gooner in the stadium put on their ‘Cygan’ tinted glasses, even Mr PA announcer was affected…”the Arsenal goal scorer………Pascal Cyyygggygaaannn, who now only needs 182 goals to break Ian Wright’s goal scoring record”. Brilliant, it set the mood for the remaining few minutes of injury time. I don’t remember being able to hear all four sides of Highbury singing together very often, but we were…”There’s only one Pascal Cygan, one Pascal Cygan, walking along singing this song, walking in a Cygan Wonder Land” over and over and over. Every time he now touched the ball the whole stadium were shouting “Shooooot”, “Shooooot”.

The final whistle went, unfortunately we didn’t see Cygan score a hattrick …or Henry break the record and I’m still not sure what would have been better to see?

So all in all a pretty good day came to a pretty good end and I was now off to find my Fulham supporting colleague who had also been to the game – he was my lift home, at least we had plenty to talk about, albeit slightly one sided.

It took a while for me to decide what to base my ‘Memory’ on. There have been plenty of stand-out moments in my time as a Gooner but what made this memory a special one for me was being part of that atmosphere in Highbury lauding Cygan as our star player, if only for five minutes. I hope it’s as fond a memory for him as it is for me. It’s not often fringe players who are usually the butt of all our anger get the kind of love he got that night.

In a season of ‘official’ days at Highbury an ‘un-official Pascal Cygan day’ marked my visit and my memory.

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