Old-fashioned values as City head to Arsenal
Manchester City's visit to the Emirates this weekend has driven up quite a dust cloud over the past few days regarding the ticket pricing for so-called Category A matches and the way away fans seem particularly hard done by in these circumstances.
Some seem ready to equate City's riches with that of their supporters, a nonexistent link if ever there was one. Sheikh Mansour might have a bob or two, but the rest of us are struggling a bit to afford this rather expensive addiction. While the debate seems set to rumble on and the protests begin to take shape in various forms, there is the small matter of a vital game of football to be looked forward to. Arsenal versus Manchester City, a fixture in which the home side has remained undefeated since the times when tigers had sabre teeth and supporters attended the match in replica loin cloths in club colours.
I like to associate Arsenal with some of the old Corinthian values that modern-day football seems to be trying its best to shed itself of. Woolwich Arsenal. The mere mention of it makes you want to stand up straight and arrange your hair properly. An image flickers to life of Brylcreemed heroes wearing giant hobnail boots and humongous baggy white shorts, those familiar red shirts standing in a line for a commemorative team photo throwing bowler hats in the air before breaking into a spontaneous chorus of "God Save The King!" -- gentlemen footballers who played a bit of cricket in the summer and went home on the No. 14 bus to eat roast beef and onions with the wife and kids.
These days, time waits for no man. One is just as likely to see the frankly alarming sight of Arsenal players attempting to take a tricky penalty involving a bit of sideways hokey-pokey, as happened when Henry and Pires messed up against City in 2006, as one is to see a good firm handshake following a foul.
Times have changed. The Brylcreem has been replaced by styling wax. The marble halls of Highbury Stadium, the bust of Herbert Chapman and the great sloping terraces at the North Bank and Clock Ends have been replaced by a giant foreign-sponsored superstadium with the most modern of facilities -- not a brown medicine ball in sight, unless you pop into the museum. The same has transpired up north, where City have ditched the terraced housing on Claremont Road for a giant sports complex that will soon be the envy of Europe.
History is being made in these new grounds, while somewhere a few blocks away, history has been buried and turned into smart new apartments. As we move on, we are developing a funny relationship with the word "history" in football. "Your club has no history" is a line often spouted in barroom arguments and online chat forums. History, however, is what all our clubs have, whether they have spent it productively or not. It is not just about pots, trophies and pretty baubles; it is the collective memories and recollection of thousands of like-minded individuals who have passed through those turnstiles over the years. This is what makes all our clubs special, including Arsenal, including City.
When the two sides step out Sunday afternoon, it will be a moment to savour with an atmosphere to match. What it will also be is the continuation of a proud rivalry between the sides that goes back quite a long way. The founding fathers in St. Mark's Church in Gorton and in Dial Square in Woolwich have seen to that. The 4,000 that watched the sides play at Hyde Road in 1893 and the 2,000 that witnessed the 1897 encounter at the Manor Ground will be dwarfed by a near 60,000 sellout Sunday, paying receipts that would have made those Edwardian folks' eyes water.
Arsenal have made City supporters' eyes water on many occasions since then, thanks to the likes of Henry, Vieira and Bergkamp. If City are to leave the Emirates with a win Sunday, they will have to surpass the efforts of all their colleagues there since the 1975-76 season. If they achieve that, there won't be a dry eye in the house.