Having spent a significant proportion of my younger years living on Merseyside has meant that I have a well-developed experience of undercover attendance to watch Arsenal at either Anfield or Goodison Park. These sorties behind enemy lines require a level of subterfuge and a portfolio of clandestine skills and tradecraft that would be the envy of a cold war era spy. There are a number of golden rules that must be followed if you are to avoid your cover being blown. Fairly obviously the first rule is to wear no colours relating to your team, valuable advice that would have been potentially life-changing for a tourist fan I once encountered on the Seven Sister’s Road outside White Hart Lane a couple of years back, resplendent in his brand new Arsenal shirt, scarf and hat and armed with a huge and incredibly expensive-looking camera; my own self-preservation instincts meant that I didn’t stick around to find out how he was received by the home fans welcoming committee! In addition to colours, for the truly committed undercover agent, this will extend to the brands worn, it is often said that it would be a brave or foolish fan that would wear Adidas gear to the Nou Camp in Barcelona.
As well as clothing it is absolutely critical that you adapt your behaviour appropriately, communication and conversation at all times needs to be considered carefully; in my case my northern English accent helps to throw a level of misperception into the mix when ordering refreshments etc; although even I need to be mindful to make sure the Arsenal crest on my wallet is hidden for the duration of these transactions. It may be beyond our fundamental beliefs to even contemplate referring to the home side as ‘we’ but it is an easy trap to fall into if we slip and refer to Arsenal in such terms. Equally the truly effective operative will be wary of conversational traps similar to the one used in ‘The Great Escape’ when two escapees are captured by responding to a phrase in English, as well as opposition supporters who may feign being undercover Gooners purely with the motivation of entrapment. On certain rare occasions we may encounter other like-minded covert operatives deep in the heart of enemy territory, in these situations a subtle acknowledgement is all that should be engaged until safely away from the ground, ideally on the train back to London.
In many ways the game itself represents the toughest challenge as you force yourself to suppress your natural reactions to watching your team in action; there can be no overt expressions of frustration at poor play or suspected fouls and worse still you have to seem to be in agreement with the home fans and in direct contradiction of your own deep-rooted instincts.
However by far the worst ordeal is how to conduct yourself when a goal goes in: if the home team scores the safest bet to avoid unwanted identification and, worse still, gloating, is to rise to your feet and adopt false applause and happiness; whereas when Arsenal score you need to find some way to suppress or disguise your celebrations.
With so much to be considered and to be wary of, watching your team amongst the opposition fans can in no way whatsoever be considered an enjoyable experience; in fact you probably wouldn’t even contemplate it if you had any common sense, given the alternative of watching it at home or in the pub with the potential for at least some allies; but as football obsessives, of course common sense just simply doesn’t enter the equation, given the opportunity to attend a match!
It was in such circumstances that my cousin, the one responsible for me being an Arsenal fan in the first place, and yours truly found ourselves accompanying my dad and brother to Anfield for Arsenal’s visit last Saturday evening. Thanks to my dad we had corporate hospitality seats in the Anfield Road stand so our caution was less about our safety and all about saving embarrassment given the way that the Gunners are performing at the moment!
The least said about the game and another surrender of a ‘performance’ is probably the better from an Arsenal perspective. The decision to drop Alexis was tantamount to tactical suicide, while the option to replace him with Giroud was almost more baffling given we couldn’t find it in us to look for him with long balls or crosses into the area. It probably says a lot about the state of things within the Gooner nation that yet another apologetic capitulation against a top six side was neither unexpected nor even especially anger-inducing; instead it was received with the now usual reluctant acceptance.
Twitter – @GazFootballNerd
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