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All Things Footie | Monday, March 8 | Jordan

It’s all about the fans

I couldn’t be more knackered. I’ve spent the whole weekend packing boxes, unpacking boxes, heaving things around, cleaning—generally doing far too much work for a weekend. Then last night I had to sleep in the living room as the boiler’s broken and the only room in the house with any heat in it at all was the gas-fire roasted lounge. Had to wash in the sink with water heated by the kettle, and due to sleeping in a ridiculously dry, hot room, my skin feels like the bottom of Death Valley. But am I miserable? After watching Arsenal demolish Portsmouth 5-1 on Saturday night, how could I be?

Apart from it being thoroughly enjoyable for the five wonderful goals, the breathtaking performance and the progression to the FA Cup Semi Final for (what I make out to be) the 6th year in a row; like Thierry Henry, Arsène Wenger, and I’m sure everyone else at the game (or watching on TV) noticed, the real star of the show were the Portsmouth fans. ‘Arsenal, Arsenal, give us the ball’ and ‘Can we play you every week?’ sung by a full house at 5-0 down. Given the rough reception the team received in the opening 15 minutes—owing to some bad feeling following Robert Pires’ conroversial penalty that rescued a point for Arsenal against Pompey earlier in the season—you might have been forgvien for thinking that a five goal thrashing might stir up the fans and provoke a few unsavory scenes. Not so.

Like the fans, both sides were were magnanimous, gracious and complimentary in victory and defeat. Thierry Henry and Arsène Wenger—despite being part of, and witnessing, one of their best performances of the season—could only talk about the fans afterwards. Henry gushed ‘Their fans were fantastic, even at 5-0 down, and with fans like that Portsmouth don’t deserve to go down’ and Wenger said he’d ‘never seen anything like it’. Harry Redknapp also praised the Pompey support, and described his opponents as ‘the best team in Europe, possibly the world,’. This is what football is about, real fans cheering on their team no matter what befalls the men on the pitch, players and managers behaving like adults, and some breathtaking football being played by the best club in the land.

There wasn’t just one Quarter-Final over the weekend though; with United beating Fulham, and Wes Brown somehow avoiding a red card for one of the worst (not necessary malicious, but just plain terrible) attempted tackles I’ve seen all season, the two big boys are in the draw for the Semi-Finals. Add to that the superb Tommy Smith strike that’s put Sunderland through, and the certainty that either Milwall or Tranmere will be through by Thursday morning, and we have a very interesting situation indeed. Either Man Utd will play Arsenal in the semi-final or a first division club will make the Final of the the greatest cup competition in the World for the first time in donkey’s years.

An Arsenal vs United semi-final offers the tantalising prospect of a repeat of that semi in 1999, with United on the way to the treble. I speculated earlier in the season how ironic it would be if Arsenal—more specifically Dennis Bergkamp—avenged that defeat on the way to a treble of their own. As any football fan knows, talk of trebles in March is a silly and dangerous thing, but there’s no harm in dreaming.

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