The fan - Hunter Davies seeks fantasy
In Cockermouth, you don't get the same quality of fantasy as in London
Back to London, after five months in Lakeland. So many scary people. Where do they all come from? The bad tempers; the filth and litter. Something has always gone wrong in the house that I didn't expect. This time I couldn't get Sky, despite my paying them a fortune. A wonky "scart lead", whatever that is. Then my photocopier broke. Rang Staples (used them for years) and ordered one. In their catalogue, they promise next-day delivery. Still waiting, six days later. They'd even run out of copy paper. What is going on?
No booze in house, so spent a day on the phone to Safeway's, Chalk Farm. Failed to get through to the wine department; all human life departed. Left order on switchboard, for 48 bottles of Beaujolais. That should keep us going until Christmas, or next month - perhaps next week, the way my children knock it back. Went on Saturday morning to pick my order up, and they had no idea what I was on about. Got stared at as if I were an alien.
In Cockermouth everything works: the shops are helpful; services are great; only the sheep are scary. London is shit. No, really, what a dump. Why do we come back? What has it got that Lakeland hasn't?
And so to Arsenal. Last Saturday, they happened to be at home, and my half-season ticket to be kicking in for my first Premiership game of the season. Not a huge treat, as I am well used to watching unbeaten teams. (Oh yes, have you seen Carlisle United's position in the Conference?)
I was even offered a second ticket for Arsenal, by my friend the judge. His son had decided not to go, as he is fed up with people around him moaning. Unbeaten in 48 games, and they're moaning.
On the way there, me with three Arsenal fans, they were saying that the away support had been down this season. Several games had big gaps at the clock end, where the visitors usually scream their heads off. (Must be the seat prices: £33 for the cheapest.) Is the football world becoming sated with Arsenal's seemingly endless success? One said that he wished the run was over: the tension was killing him.
Walking to the ground, I saw this crowd gaping through a hole in the fence. My wife, when she sees gapers, or any accident or incident, crosses the road, looking resolutely the other way. I immediately rushed to gape. God, it was amazing. In just five months, an architectural wonder had sprung up: white bridges leading to a giant-and-beanstalk creation that soared into the sky, all loops and waves, as magnificent as Lisbon's Stadium of Light. Through the gaps, fans were taking pics with their digis.
I wished I'd had mine with me. I do have one, and a mobile phone and a computer, none of which I've used in a year; but I do have them, so no one can say that I'm out of touch. What I wanted to take was a Lowry-type shot of the massed ranks of fans pouring down Avenell Road towards Highbury's old East Stand, that historic listed building, part of the fabric and history of English football. The building itself is being retained, but such a crowd shot won't be seen in the future.
Aston Villa scored first, which was just as well, as Arsenal kept their mettle - no fannying around - and proceeded to be, well, rather wonderful. I even jumped up twice, which I had vowed not to do out of loyalty to Spurs. A fair score would have been 8-1, not 3-1. At times, Arsenal were mesmerising.
Arsenal programmes are now £3, compared with £2.50 last season. Tea and coffee prices have gone up. The club now has fashionably flat TV screens in the corridors showing footer - something Spurs have had for years. The two teams shaking hands before the kick-off is new to the Premiership, but they must be having a laugh before kicking each other. Sylvain Wiltord doesn't get moaned at any more. He's gorn. That's about it, facts-wise. I do like to keep a record of these things.
Forget the facts, though. What I experienced was fantasy - the way Arsenal played, the look of that futuristic stadium. You don't quite get that in Cockermouth. Nor even in Carlisle, where CUFC got beaten by Barnet in front of 9,215 people. OK, I admit it. Some things are better in London . .