Like you, the onset of a new football season fills John Fist with the same sense of warmth and security as the aroma of a homemade batch of granola wafting out of the oven. Yes, I was off to what people who only pay attention to the Premier League call the traditional curtain raiser for the forthcoming season and I wanted a strong granola game. This match had the potential to go to penalties, so I didn’t want to get caught short with low blood sugar when tensions might be at their highest.
Dad’s night was coming to an end as my morning was getting started. He swaggered into the living room with bristled cheeks, stinking of gin. Somewhere amongst his lost syllables he droned on about beating the house in a casino down in Brighton. As a gift, he’d bought me a bottle of aftershave on his way home. It was called Noir. He said it meant new in French or Bungo Bungo or some shit. His words, not mine.
Take it, he said, wear it. Put it on for the noir season.
A smooth trip through central London on the Jubilee Line saw John Fist descending the steps of Wembley Park with plenty of time in hand. I popped into Ecco’la, an Italian restaurant on Wembley Park Drive, for lunch and a coffee, ignoring the fact that it sounded like E. Coli. After a short deliberation, I ordered up a Fiorentina, smiling at fond memories of Batigol. To compliment, I had a latte. Outrageously, flat whites were off the menu. It was a nice drop, though; frothy, creamy, but I can’t confirm if it was sustainably sourced.
For those lucky enough to have been to both the old and new Wembley, it’s impossible to not to compare. Old Wembley had it’s magic; the twin towers were wonderful, but like growing old in Britain itself, the old dear was just allowed to crumble until her toilet functions were shot. Times change — which inevitably means steel and glass are brought in to replace any character.
But what about the arch?
No one asks that question. People just look at it with blank faces. Yes, it is a big arch, isn’t it? Then they take twenty photos of it that they never look at again, like the ones of a recently deceased pet — they just can’t quite bring themselves to delete them.
Upon entering, the familiarities of football flooded back. The PA rattled to the requisite playing of London Calling by The Clash. I can’t remember the last time I went to a football game in London that didn’t play that song. But it’s what Joe would have wanted.
I decided to visit the toilet facilities before they became a faecal war zone. Perhaps the most impressive stride our national game has taken over recent years is the embracing of the Dyson Air Blade hand driers (or a similar knock-off version like Stealth Jet Blade or Warm Blade of Air Jet Boom). I’ve grown so enamoured with these contraptions that if I go to a restaurant or café and they don’t have an Air Blade in the toilet, I demand my food and drink for free.
The game itself was nothing special. Both teams were sluggish, with Arsenal seeming the sharper of the two.
A couple of young gentlemen a few seats along, and one row down, were absolutely hammered. One kept running back and forth to the food bar, chomping through a burger, a tray of chips, a Mars bar, enough burger, and then washed it all down with a 9presumably woeful) coffee. With Wembley prices I can only assume he remortgaged his house before setting out in the morning.
The other gentleman continually stood up to flick lazy V-signs and wanker-hands at people over one-hundred and fifty yards away the second they showed the slightest reaction to events on the pitch.
Directly in front of me was Chinese couple. The man, presumably keen to submerge himself in English footballing culture, watched the inebriated Englishman, studied his hand gestures. Come the second half, evidently feeling confident, he launched into an array of his own while his other half took photos and recorded videos of him for posterity. Football: truly the universal language of the world.
When the game finished 1-1, a penalty shoot-out was upon us. But this was not just any old penalty shoot-out. This was the first ABBA style shoot-out in English football. This was history. The crowd buzzed in anticipation of the occasion, of bearing witness to a first. Sadly Thibaut Courtois got so caught up in the moment that he decided to gift the match ball to a fan by launching his penalty over the crossbar.
The curtain for the season is up, so to speak. Football is back again in all its filthy, nonsensical, money-grabbing glory. Welcome to the noir season.