Arsenal are posh: the fans include judges and lords
And so to Highbury, for my first Arsenal match of the season, in the flesh, or what passes for flesh. I parked outside the massage parlour off the Holloway Road, which I've parked outside for ten years, as there is always a space. Despite bending down and peering, squinting and peeping while locking my car, then checking I've locked my car, I have never been able to see what's happening inside. Black windows, black door, blinds down, no signs of life, no signs of punters. Is it a cover for something? A women's institute, a Sunday school, a political focus group?
I own half a season ticket for Arsenal, for reasons too complicated to go into, and have it for November, December, February and March. It's chance if the good games fall into my half. Last season they didn't. This season I've struck lucky, with some excellent fixtures. Chelsea during the week, Spurs on Saturday, then the big Euro match against Lens at Wembley on 25 November. I get that free. As part of my half season ticket. Life's good. Life's red.
Or is that orange? It could be my eyes, but on Arsenal's big screen, all the Arsenal players appeared to be wearing orange. And so were the books behind Arsene Wenger's head. He gives a little interview, before every match, sitting in some sort of study. I always watch with my head sideways, trying to read the titles, as I do with any TV programme or in anybody's house. I was doing this once at Buckingham Palace while waiting to interview Prince Philip for a radio programme, and the bookshelves parted to reveal a secret door, sending me sprawling.
The tea at Highbury is still only 50p, compared with £1 at Spurs. Well done, Arsenal. The smoked salmon bagel at £1 is good value, although it did taste a bit like smoked plastic bagel. The Arsenal programme is £2, same as Spurs, but the Spurs programme is now much better, after years of being little more than a mail order catalogue. Each has 46 pages, but the Spurs programme is bigger, page-wise, with an eight-page fold-out section in the middle. That must call for some clever printing and arty-farty layout skills. In each case, the contents are bland, not to say banal. It's strange, when we've had fanzines for almost 20 years, some of them brilliant, clever and witty, that official club programmes are devoid of wit and cleverness. I assume football directors will not allow it.
The Arsenal programme is "edited and compiled by Kevin Connolly, MA". You wouldn't have thought it mattered, to know his educational qualifications, but he obviously thinks it does and wants us to know. Or is it a dig at the editor of the Spurs programme, John Fennelly, who hasn't got a degree?
In a way, it's symptomatic. Arsenal has always had aspirations to be a posho, upmarket club. The Hill-Woods, with their Etonian education and aristocratic connections, are clearly a cut above Alan Sugar, who started his business life flogging stuff from the back of a van.
Every time I go to Arsenal I am surprised by the number of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys waiting outside in Highbury Hill, their engines ticking, their uniformed chauffeurs purring. Not the sort of sight you see outside Brunton Park for Carlisle United's home matches. And my Arsenal seat is in the west stand, not the main stand. That's where the directors are, and presumably a lot more Rollsssss, a lot more purrrring.
Around me in Arsenal's west stand, they jump up and shout obscenities at the referee, just as they do at Spurs, abuse the opposition's heavies or star players, moan and groan when their own players are less than committed. But they do seem a bit more, how shall I put it, cultivated than those in the west stand at Spurs.
For example, near me at Spurs sits my good friend Richard Littlejohn. Near me at Arsenal sits my good friend Tony. He's a judge. Known him for 30 years, but only discovered ten years ago that he was an Arsenal fan, which I think was about the time that he discovered it as well. My other Arsenal friend, Lord B, also came relatively late to following Arsenal. Is this the difference between Spurs and Arsenal? Spurs are no longer fashionable, the effects of which will be felt for a generation.
On Sunday in the match against Everton, which Arsenal should have won by four goals, I was surprised to hear criticism of Ray Parlour. A year ago he could do no wrong. Now I heard several voices calling him stupid, without a football brain in his boot. Keown is a hero, still, yet he was a joke figure not long ago.
"Come on Freddy!" Now that is an unusual shout to hear at a Premiership match today. Directed at a player, I mean, not someone's expensive offspring. I can't think of many modern footballers called Fred. Two Marlons have appeared this season. Which is nice. But mostly they are still called Gary and Darren. The Freddy in question was Frederik Ljungberg, Arsenal's new Swedish player. I'd forgotten they'd signed him.
I have at the moment some excellent football books on my shelves, full of excellently trivial facts and stats. When I'm really bored, or fed up, I plan to go through them and compile the top ten Christian names in British football. Can you wait?
I might do it this weekend, as I'm bound to be fed up when I come back from Highbury on Saturday, having watched Spurs get stuffed. But I am looking forward to it, very much. Will the Arsenal crowd boo and jeer George Graham? Or will they be cultivated and upmarket and well bred and give him a gentlemanly clap? Depends on the result, I suppose, which is what matters to all fans, everywhere.