Monday, March 12, 2007

Arsenal FC – PSV (07-03-2007)

I know, Arsenal against PSV in the new Emirates Stadium is a treat for all fans of (European) football. And with a narrow 1-0 victory for PSV in the first game in Eindhoven, the spot for the quarter final of the Champions League was wide open. Most commentators saw Arsenal as the better team, but considered PSV hard to beat. Unfortunately, I am not a (neutral) commentator but a lifelong PSV supporter, and a pessimistic one at that. And thus, when J.B. asked me to go to the game with him, I was hesitant. Still, as members of the official PSV supporters club we were able to get tickets online – despite a logistical mess – and after a separate trip to Eindhoven to exchange the virtual ticket for the real ticket (not a beauty, by the way), we were in business. Incidentally, we paid a staggering 75 euro for the ticket; given that the official price was 46 pounds, according to the ticket, PSV added an additional 7.50 euro (or 10%) to the price! Nice to profit from your most loyal supporters!

At noon J.B. and I met at Bruxelles-Midi where we took the Eurostar to London Waterloo Station. It was a very comfortable ride and it left us with several hours of shopping time in the center of London – where we already met several small groups of PSV supporters. After dropping off our stuff at our hotel – typical London deal: far too much money for far too little quality – we took the tube to the stadium. At about 18.30 local time we arrived at the outside of the entrance to the Emirates Stadium.

This building functions both as a box office (obviously, the game was sold out) and the entrance to the stadium. You go up a couple of stairs, walk over a bridge that goes over a train track, and than you walk right into…

After taking some obligatory pictures, most notably of J.B. in front of the stadium, we made our way to turnstile L, where part of the 3,000 PSV supporters were seated. Before entering, we had to wait for police on horseback to let us through, which brought some funny remarks from the Dutch supporters – including the singing of the carnival song “Er staat een paard in de gang” (There stands a horse in the hallway).

I’m not a big fan of all these new comfortable stadiums, but the Emirates Stadium is undoubtedly one of the most impressive of the new grounds. It will never have the same unique atmosphere of Highbury, one of those fallen football temples, but it is beautiful and has a good acoustics and atmosphere. The 3,000 PSV fans were enjoying themselves, but I was mainly concerned about the result. The game started well for PSV, which had most of the first 10 minutes, but slowly but steadily the initiative moved to Arsenal. After a nasty foul by Fabegras, PSV striker Koné had to be taken off and PSV by and large lost its offensive power. It was at that time that I started to wonder why I actually went to these games… I don’t really enjoy the atmosphere or game, as the only thing I want is a good result for PSV. Dying a thousands death I survived the first half, as did PSV: 0-0.

The second half started where the first half had ended, with PSV under pressure and Arsenal not really creating clear chances. I nevertheless felt increasingly pessimistic and was now convinced that I would never go to an important PSV away game again. And than happened what I was feeling all along: Arsenal scored 1-0. Or better, PSV scored the 1-0 for Arsenal through an own goal by Alex, by far the most imposing player on the pitch so far. The next ten minutes were absolute horror: Arsenal had at least three clear scoring opportunities, but missed all of them. I was getting increasingly desperate and was (almost) ready to accept a 2-0 defeat over 30 minutes extra torture, when the anti-hero of the night became the hero of the night. After a stupid foul by Hleb, Alex put all his frustration in a huge jump, heading in the free-kick of Méndez: 1-1 and only 7 minutes to go. While we were going completely and utterly bezerk (and I was completely convinced I should continue to go to these games), almost one thirds of the stadium emptied. True, Arsenal had to score twice within 10 minutes, but this was extreme. By the time that the referee whistled for the last time, the stadium was not even half full anymore. But the 3,000 PSV fans were still there, partying with their players over this fantastic result.

After the obligatory 20-30 minutes waiting in the stadium, which you don’t mind when your team has made it into the quarter finals of the Champions League, we walked outside, past the huge letters spelling Arsenal.

For some reason the police had decided to not just keep us in the stadium for a long time, but then also lead us away from the nearest tube station. Still, who cares on a night like that, so we happily followed the other lost PSV supporters, making our way through the streets of Highbury, looking back at the beautiful Emirates Stadium.

Around midnight J.B. and I set down at a Cypriot restaurant to celebrate the result with a remarkably nice meal. It would take us two hours to calm down enough to sleep… well, J.B. slept, I listened to his snoring. ;-) Still, a historic trip, if not the most enjoyable groundhop.

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