Arsenal Singapore member Yee Ming shares his a massive throw back visit to The Arsenal match day. Cheers Yee Ming!
Date: 6 May 2018
Match: Arsenal vs Burnley
Score: 5 – 0 to The Arsenal
Note: Arrrgghhh! This is a full year late! I wrote it and thought I’d sent it, but obviously had not and it was still sitting in the draft box. Better late than never, I guess…
At the time applications for the Burnley game closed at the end of February, this looked like another routine, relatively inconsequential fixture against a mid-table side, even though it was the last home game of the season. And although it could’ve been a Europa league-spot playoff as well, there was evidently relatively little demand for tickets – on the long-running Arsenal mailing list, spares were being made available through March and early April.
Then the bombshell dropped in late April: after 22 years, Le Boss was finally saying goodbye at the end of the season. And suddenly this end of season likely snoozefest turned into Arsene Wenger’s last ever home game. I suppose one could say that my loyalty (masochism?) — that I was prepared to attend a likely nothing game — was being rewarded in that I now held a ticket to the most significant (for non-sporting reasons) game of the year, indeed of the last several years.
I had arranged to meet another mailing list member before the game, to finally meet him in person and thank him for helping out my cousin with a ticket to the Cologne away game, but his choice of pub was a fair distance away from the ground. Kiasu Singaporean that I am, I therefore decided to collect my ticket from the stadium early before heading to the pub.
As it turned out, that worked in my favour: after collecting the ticket from the box office, and remembering my experience the previous season at the Everton game (last home game too), where the programmes were sold out, I decided that to ensure I actually got a tangible record of the game, to buy my programme first. And it was special too: titled “Arsene” instead of the usual “Arsenal”, and came with an added supplement commemorating Le Boss’s 22 years. Good call, when I later returned for the game, the queues to buy programmes were horrendously long. Indeed, after the game someone approached me asking to buy one of my extras off me (I had two more, for friends). It should’ve been obvious: Wenger’s last home game, and therefore his last ever programme, was always going to sell out.
So, word of advice to anyone going in future: if you want a programme as a souvenir of your visit, buy early and don’t always assume there will be plenty available after the match…
Professional journos’ match reports will do the game itself more justice than my meanderings, but really it was more of an occasion than just a game, starting with the opening tribute to the Le Boss, and an acknowledgement to the soon-to-retire Per Mertesacker, our captain.
Many late-in-the-season games can be flat, but fortunately the team seemed up for it, and cruised to a 5-0 win without much difficulty. And despite the disappointment of having fallen flat to Atletico Madrid a few days earlier. Perhaps the “best” part of the game was after Mertesacker came on late, to ensure he’d get a farewell home appearance – after that, his every touch was greeted with a loud cheer by the appreciative home crowd. Which shows just how well-loved and respected the BFG is.
Post-match nobody left, bar maybe a few of the Burnley supporters, most of whom stayed on, and whom we should acknowledge behaved impeccably.
Also retiring was Vic Akers, long-time kit man, and ironically maybe the most successful “Arsenal manager” of all-time — albeit of the women’s team. For those who don’t know, he managed the invincible/unstoppable, all-conquering women’s team to a quadruple in 2007 — all three domestic trophies, the de-facto European cup, and they weren’t just unbeaten in the league, they won every single game… So it was a very well-deserved bow he took. Likewise Alex Scott, a leading player with the women’s team. Best bit of this was when the crowd sang “she’s won more than you, she’s won more than you, Tottenham Hotspur, she’s won more than you…”
To the main event: Wenger’s farewell bow. He was presented with the gold EPL trophy that had been presented to Arsenal for the Invincible season, to keep. And then took a lap of honour around the stadium before the appreciative crowd. One young Gunner held up a sign saying “Wenger can I have your tie”, and Le Boss duly obliged, climbing into the stands while pulling it off, and handing it over the lucky boy. That’s some souvenir!
All-in, quite a day. Although I’ve been supporting Arsenal long enough to have seen 4 managers before Wenger, he’s probably had more impact than any of the others — even if Graham delivered the most dramatic title win ever. We will not see his like again. I’m glad to have seen his 22 year reign, and very glad I was part of his farewell.