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The Italian Job

BY MATT BOYD / @notoriousBOYD

I may only be 19-year-sold but I’ve been fortunate enough to have already watched Arsenal play in a number of countries. I’m lucky because I’ve a father who is not only willing to pay for such trips but also totally committed to taking time off work to join me in some of the world’s most unforgettable arenas. The nights we’ve spent together abroad will stay with me for a long time.

There is one trip though that stands out above all others, a night which will stay with me to the day I die – November 25th 2003. I’m sure many fellow Gooners will remember the date; it was the day we beat Inter Milan 5-1 at the San Siro.

While it was a special night for Arsenal supporters everywhere, I can’t help but feel I had a superior experience for I was the club’s mascot for the game, a role that meant I had the chance to meet all the players in the dressing room beforehand and to walk out on to the pitch with my heroes.

At this point it would be unfair of me not to recognise how grateful I am to my father. We were already going to watch the game but my Dad thought he would try his luck and ring the club. By his account the club were absolutely fantastic – a sentiment I can mirror given my experience. They told him that no mascot had been organised so they’d be more than happy to let me be the mascot on the night. I can remember my Dad’s face when he came to my primary school at lunchtime to tell me the news – he was as excited as I was! To say I was the source of much jealousy at school would be something of an understatement.

On the night of the game I remember meeting the Arsenal representative in Milan who was to ensure that my trip was as amazing as possible. We were taken to the ground early and I was allowed to look around the dressing-room before the squad arrived. I met the kit men and other important people behind the scenes as well as getting to check out all the match shirts. As a football mad 10-year-old simply undertaking this inspection was exciting enough!

Finally the teams arrived. I seem to remember Inter arriving first and I’ll never forget the feeling of shaking hands with football legends like Fabio Cannavaro, Christian Vieiri and Javier Zanetti. They seem baffled by my presence – I’m not sure mascots are the norm in Italy…they certainly didn’t have one on the night!

When the Arsenal team arrived my Dad and I were awestruck. Arsene greeted me with “Hello boy”. I was then ushered out of the changing room whilst the players got changed prior to the warm up, but was allowed to return to get my shirt signed by all the players. Again I’ve got to give credit to the club; the squad was getting ready for a crucial Champions League match, but they had no problem with me meeting and talking to all the players without any time restraint. 

95% of the players were superb. The only player that didn’t really speak was Kanu who seemed unbelievably focused. Edu and Ray Parlour were the nicest guys you could ever meet, Jens ruffled my hair, whilst Freddie, Thierry were also very amiable. My Dad a few months later bumped into Edu on Oxford Street and amazingly the Brazilian recognised him and gave him a few signed photos of both him and Gilberto. 

As you can imagine, taking to the pitch with Ray Parlour (captain on the night as PV4 was injured) is a treasured memory. There I was leading my team out at one of the most iconic stadiums in Europe next to some of the greatest players Arsenal had ever fielded. It was magical. I was barely able to see the top of the stands, but I could hear the away supporters. The camera seemed to follow me for ages, my friends must have been furious! I was then involved in all the pre-game traditions such as the handshaking and photos. Ray Parlour was fantastic through all of this, an unbelievable gent. I then had to leave the field allowing the real action to begin!

My Dad and I then took our seats in the away end to watch one of the most amazing games I had ever seen. I have rarely seen such an accomplished Arsenal performance. Sol Campbell bossed Vieri, one of the most notorious strikers in the world, while in front of him Edu and Parlour ruled the midfield. The whole team played brilliantly, but it was really Thierry Henry’s night – with two fantastic finishes and two great assists his performance cemented, in my opinion,  his status as the world’s best player at the time. Titi’s goals were complemented by strikes by Ljungberg, Pires and Edu whilst a deflected Vieri strike made it 1-5. An amazing result! 

To end the night my Dad took me to a bar where I got spoilt by Arsenal fans who were going mental and calling me the lucky mascot! When I got back to England it didn’t stop, walking into school and getting mobbed was also an amazing experience I wouldn’t swap for the world. 

So here’s to you Arsenal, from the backroom staff to the boss and the players – you gave a young Gunner the trip of a lifetime. For one last time I’d also like to thank my Dad. Being taken to the San Siro at such a young age was privilege enough, but for you to go the extra mile was truly incredible.  I’ll always associate going to football with going with my father, going without him seems wrong somehow, even now at 19! 

Reader Comments (4)

Nice. I can only imagine! I was 19 then and for some inexplicable reason missed the game. I woke up the next day to see 5(!) I went like F.I.V.E(!) I remember earlier in the season they had put like 3 through us at our place. Revenge in deed.

Nice write up.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterstephenashers

Certainly it is an understatement to say we were jealous when we found out, but furious as you walked out?! You were taller than ray! A source of much amusement intertwined with the jealousy

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJackethanperry

(notoriousBOYD must have been the only 6 foot ten year old in the world)

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJackethanperry

Wow, that's amazing. There's not many people around who are going to get an experience like that! Congrats to you, and huge well done to your dad. Thanks for sharing this!

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris
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