Arsenal Reserves 1 Chelsea Reserves 2
Monday 16th October 2006
We hope someone points the Ashes hosts, fretting over the English hooligan menace, in the direction of the behaviour of several hundred souls locked out of Monday night’s Arsenal v Chelsea reserve football fixture. Londonist was amongst the men, women and many children thronging the gates of Barnet’s Underhill stadium for half an hour after the 7pm kick off in perfect, almost eerie, peace. At the Westcombe Drive entrance we found a single, very harassed looking steward charged with minding a couple of hundred fans who had been reduced to hoping a high ball might loop above the turnstile walls. Everybody milled around meekly. We can’t remember anyone getting cross, let alone using bad language. At the main Barnet Lane entrance, where even more people were gathered, the scene was similar as the game carried on inside.
Back at Westcombe Drive the steward had gone by 7:25pm and a small knot of supporters remained. Unimpeded now, we began to amble down the lane directly behind the East Terrace and at the far Southern end encountered a number of lads viewing proceedings from atop the stadium fences. The action on the pitch is tantalisingly close in that corner and bewildered family groups were still trundling around in hopes of discovering an open entrance. Suddenly, we spotted a 10 foot-high gate swinging wide open in the South Western corner of the ground. We ran towards it. “No need to rush!” smiled a suited man holding a walkie-talkie as we jogged beyond the threshold. Once inside we paused and, seeing the same man walking back towards us, identified ourselves as being from the Londonist web site and asked if there was anyone we could speak to regarding what had happened so far that evening. “What has happened?” came the slightly disingenuous reply. Well, all those people waiting outside for thirty minutes?
The gentleman, continuing in a polite, but gently condescending, tone, identified himself as the Safety Officer and went on to state that, in the light of incidents at football matches, for reasons of “safety and segregation” he had wanted to make sure that he had enough stewards to open this stand before doing so and that we, “of all people”, should appreciate that.
Even stopping for that brief exchange we were still among the first thirty or so supporters into the South Stand behind the goal being defended by Chelsea. The game was half an hour old and the visitors led courtesy of a Ben Sahar goal. Word quickly spread outside and the stand, comprised of the kind of modern, temporary bucket seating popular at summer outdoor gigs, filled up to its roughly 750 capacity rapidly over the next fifteen minutes. There was something of a scramble for seats, but again everyone behaved with considerable dignity. While they bagged their places Arsenal equalised through a perfectly struck Mark Randall penalty, but Chelsea immediately replied with Scott Sinclair tapping in a cross from the right. Half time brought the chance to properly survey the scene.
Very few fans were wearing club colours, but as far as we can tell no attempt whatsoever was made to segregate supporters, something we would find pretty remarkable at a reserve fixture anyway. Appropriate numbers of stewards? Well, throughout the second half inside our stand we could see just the one. We decided to call him Dave. We can only imagine that the conversation with the Safety Officer went something along the lines of “Dave, are you here?” “Yes, guv.” Why that would take half an hour, even if padded out with a startling number of 110% football clichés, is lost on us. Two further stewards were stationed at the East entrance serving fans from Barnet Lane and two more at the West gate that we used, though we suspect that pair would have needed to be there anyway because of the junction with the ground's already occupied West side.
Now, we do admire the Safety Officer for refusing to hide and taking a few moments to talk to us on a hectic evening. We were also impressed by his calm demeanour and, we believe, genuine concern for the safety of the public. We’re also grateful that Arsenal allow fans to watch reserve matches for free, but we’re not persuaded that segregation and numbers of stewards were the key obstacles to opening that empty stand. By now we’d struck up a conversation with three neighbouring supporters who told us that, at the Barnet Lane entrance, they’d been blocked off by a single steward with wide outstretched arms, so they’d simply backtracked a little, climbed the stadium wall and walked along it until they found a good vantage point before eventually joining the rest of us. We’re delighted that the evening passed off safely and peacefully, but can’t help thinking that everyone involved was a bit lucky.
If you'd like to read our report on the actual football, follow the link below...
Photo of a queue in Toronto's Chinatown, possibly formed as a tribute to London's mystically patient footballing masses, via LexnGer's Flickr stream.
You’ll understand that, even as the second half unfolded, it was difficult to focus fully on the actual football. The fact that the action went off the boil and no further goals were scored didn’t help, but we can tell you that Chelsea were the worthy winners. Every time Arsenal ventured into midfield with possession they were relentlessly chased down by Chelsea’s midfield that created numerous breakaways down the slope, but without being able to make one count, partially thanks to quality goalkeeping by the experienced Estonian international Mart Poom. Arsenal first team centre half Philippe Senderos still looked off the pace in his third match back after a shoulder ligament injury, though he did become increasingly authoritative in the final third of the match as attackers tired.
The most impressive player on the pitch was his opposite number, Chelsea’s Adrian Pettigrew, stepping stylishly out of the shadow of Michael Mancienne who has just gone on loan to Queens Park Rangers. He countered both aerial and ground threats with aplomb and used the ball well. He also indulged successfully in a little showboating on the edge of his own area which worried us a bit and he was booked late on for one dummy run up to a free kick too many.
Another impressive performer was Fabio Ferreira, tenacious, quick, direct and inventive on the right wing. As against Fulham a few weeks back, Scott Sinclair was speedy and elusive on the other wing, but his end product was again erratic. Ferreira’s raids were more clinical.
Chelsea’s goalkeeping situation being what it is, we were hoping for an exhibition of what their fifth choice, German under nineteen international Nick Hamann, could do, but, as with longstanding fourth stringer Yves Ma-Kalambay in the Fulham match, the custodian was put under so little pressure it was difficult to make any sort of judgement. We’ll find out with Hilario’s performance tonight at Stamford Bridge whether either of them might be needed on the big stage in the near future.