“Emirates Stadium are you ready?” asks the stadium announcer, as the red hat wearing Emirates air line stewardesses appear at the mouth of the tunnel. A montage plays out on the big screen, followed by a countdown, “8, 7, 6”.
Most people are on their feet, large flags behind each goal are lifted and swayed, and over the heads of the people in the lower tier to our right a huge red banner appears with an equally huge white cannon on it. Tom is briefly distracted and goes as high pitched as a choir boy “Ohh there’s Gunnersaurus”.
“Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal”.
Danny Welbeck gets the biggest cheer as the teams are read out, after his recent heroics from the bench against Leicester, and as the first whistle goes Tom joins in with his fellow fans “COME ON ARSENAL!”
Not long into the game the home fans are quick to remind the traveling supporters of their team’s efforts in the 2015 FA Cup final “and you fucked it up 2-0, and you fucked it up 2-0” football fans are well known for their sympathy. When the home fans announce that they “are by far the greatest team the world has ever seen” the away fans reply with the same song.
From the start, AFC have HC pinned back in their half, and it feels simply like a matter of when, not if AFC will score. For the time being though the shots on target are straight at the keeper, or are comfortably saved.
The HC fans are in good voice, despite the feeling of an imminent goal “we are Hull, we are hull” they even take the customary jab at Arsenal for their perceived lack of atmosphere “is this a library?”
In front of us, it has been brought to our attention by his incessant stream of consciousness that we are in the presence of what you might call a bit of a “character”. Every club has them, every club I’m sure has more than one, it’s all relative to their size.
Sitting in his red and white bobble hat he subjects the people around him to a non stop tirade of opinion, geed on by his two immediate neighbours who laugh at everything he says, encouraging him to go on, while everyone else in earshot just wants him to shut up.
With quarter of an hour of the half left, the game has gone a little flat which inspires one particular chant. The same one bubbles up at similar times at White Hart Lane when not a lot is going on, obviously with an alternative target “we hate Tottenham, we hate Tottenham”.
“La, la, la, la Giroud” sings a small section of the crowd as the Frenchman warms up, but quickly dies out as he returns to the bench and out of the pissing rain.
AFC are guilty time and time again of overplaying the ball, making things over complicated. They dissect the HC team with ease, all the slick passing and movement their followers have become accustomed to, getting to within shooting distance time and time again, but then always choosing to make one more pass instead of just letting fly a shot fly.
When they do, they are scuppered by the man between the sticks for HC, who is in fine form and pulls off some quality saves.
“Shoot, shoot, shoot” plead the AFC fans, whenever they are anywhere near the goal, regardless of the angle, they just want them to have a go. When they choose to cross into the box, the burly Championship topping defence gobble it up, especially when Theo Walcott is your target man.
When the referee waves away an AFC appeal for a penalty, the fans around us are on their feet, arms out wide, much like the statue of Tony Adams outside.
With seven minutes of the half left the “beer exodus” begins as Tom described is it, which he joins and the half finally ends with a chorus of mumbling.
The break on our row at least is lacking in ‘Hawaiians’ or ‘Mighty Meatys’, as people tuck into little packed lunches in Tupperware. “Oh my God” pants a semi exhausted Tom, after his second climb of the day, I stayed put on the top of ‘East Stand Mountain’.
He is back just in time, to bear witness to a form of entertainment I thought had died out in the middle ages: people Vs animals. This is not any old animal however, but a dinosaur, a red flat cap wearing dinosaur, it’s time for the shoot out.
“Have you got a plan against Gunnersaurus?” asks the microphone shover to the ever so slightly quacking child, whose own image on the big screen, combined with hearing their voice reverberate around the massive arena has ever so slightly freaked them out.
Will they hold their nerve, will they do enough to get a goodie bag of average stuff with a cannon on from China? I personally would opt for a Panenka, give old Gunner the eyes and chip it down the middle, I’m one for a bit of theatrics.
Tom considers the ‘Cruyff” penalty, but perhaps not, they don’t have a great track record of them around here, and you don’t want to go and upset Danny Mills again. Most of the little people go for a standard smack down the middle, the apex predator displays the same goal keeping skills as Łukasz Fabiański so they never should’ve worried.
The start of the second half is a carbon copy of the first, as AFC create a chance in the opening minutes only to be thwarted again.
Seeing pizza has got Tom’s food at football juices flowing, and when a late returner for the concessions is clutching a sausage roll, Tom says to me “I would give him a fiver for that” I have to remind him though, it probably cost him £8. When he gets the briefest of glimpses of what someone else passing has, he asks me drooling “has he got the foot-long?”
There are a fair few ex Spurs players at HC, but due to injury and squad rotation, none are in the starting line up. When it’s announced that Tom Huddlestone is coming on, he gets a warm welcome “booooooooooooo” , one fan even going as far as calling him “scum”.
I daydream, imagining one of his low, hard shots all Spurs fans know he is more than capable of, with 93 minutes on the clock, clinching the victory.
The amount of chances AFC are creating is verging on the embarrassing, it has the air of will this come round and bite them on the arse. When they hit the foot of the post with a free kick, the replay shows it’s a save once again, the keeper is having a good day at the office.
“Come on Arsenal, come on Arsenal.”
Patience is wearing thin amongst the masses, and maybe the manager as well. The “juggling” of players with the visit of some little team from Spain in the coming days, which had been the main topic of conversation in the press this morning, has not brought the required results, so on come the big boys, Giroud and Sanchez.
The “Chilean pitbull” as Tom has dubbed him, gets a massive cheer. On the ball he is a class act, slaloming past the opposition like they are not even there, Tom looks at me proudly, “that’s what you pay your £40 for”, moments later he plays a ball so bad, the whole place is left scratching their heads.
Our local commentator, who so far has kept up a furious pace, is suddenly knocked down a peg or two, after the arrival of a humble pigeon. The look on his face is of pure horror, he squirms in his seat, tracking it with his eyes, twisting his head almost 360 degrees until it flies off.
With AFC camped out in the HC half, they are susceptible to a counter attack, which start to present themselves more and more as the game goes on. One such chance is very close, leaving Tom only able to say “ohhhhhhh” and look at me with concerned eyes.
HC get one last chance, before AFC batter at their door for the final moments. A square ball from Huddlestone is tamely shot into the keeper’s arms, hearts are in mouths, Tom wonders if the early start means the players “haven’t woken up yet”.
“Is this a fire drill?” sing the away fans, one that is leaving is not best pleased “this is ridiculous, struggling against Hull”
“Fucking shoot”, “fucking keeper” sums up the game perfectly as the chance’s keep on coming, but still can’t be put away, people are pulling their hair out.
The half time grumbling, has on a few cases been replaced with boos, but not what you would call an epidemic. “Next game Barcelona” says an obviously downbeat announcer, quite a shift from his high octane pre game style, his announcement of the next visitors is met with ironic cheers.
One child is hushed by his Dad, when he makes his predictions for the game against the Catalans “5 or 6-0”.
Outside the rain has eased, and the crowds have dissipated quickly in that way they do after a game. With food now very much on both our minds we make the short walk to a local pie shop that Tom highly recommends. A long queue of HC coaches has formed, waiting to make the long trip back to Yorkshire.
One in particular, much smaller than the rest a mini bus rather than a coach is rocking, it jumps up and down like a creation from ‘Pimp My Ride’. Heads and arms are sticking out of every available window, Black Betty plays inside and the fans sing along “ohhhhhh Hull City”.
“Wish I had the Patrick Vieira sausage roll” is a sentence I never thought I would hear a person say, but considering I’m eating a Dennis Bergkamp pie, I should not be surprised. Maybe it’s the beer or the early start, but both of us sit mesmerised, you might even go as far as to say hypnotised, by the two women in AFC shirts dancing badly in the first floor window of a bar opposite us on the Holloway Road.
We both wonder what exactly are the “matchday specials” they are advertising.
Having lost my own Dad not so long ago, I understand the anguish Tom must have felt today. Not that my Dad was anywhere near as football mad as Tom’s, but it’s something we enjoyed together.
He would pretend he knew what he was talking about, like most Dads do, and I will always be grateful to him for driving me all the way to Bradford in a transit van to watch Spurs play, that is a memory I would not trade for ten Champions League trophies, or all the tea in China.
I’m sure some Spurs and Arsenal fans would find it hard to do what I did, the great football rivalry is so strong that it would be unthinkable, some would be mortified at the mere notion of having to spend two hours of their time on ‘enemy soil’, amongst the ‘scum, but let’s be honest with ourselves it’s not one born of religious or political tensions, the fact is a small team from South London decided to move north and set up home.
The bigger picture though, what really matters in life became crystal clear when Tom told me how grateful he was I had come, how hard he knew it would be for me, but it’s not like I performed some great Herculean task, or feat of heroism, I watched a game of football.
I will never be able to replace Tom’s Dad, or he mine, but I hope we can go some way to being suitable substitutes for each other on match day, minus the repeated bad jokes and temper tantrums of course. Today was not about rivalries, it wasn’t even about football it was about helping a friend, it was about the Dads, it was about Steve.