Why Argentina? Yet another OBL
job found on the Web
Note to CIA Bin Laden trackers: If you want to catch OBL on Wednesday April 19, find a pub anywhere in Waziristan that has ESPN access, or conversely, do a sweep of all ESPN-enabled satellite TV accounts in the area. (Update: The same is true for April 26).
The basis for my tip-off lies in this chant sung by the fans of Arsenal Football Club (to the tune of Volare):
He loves the Arsenal
He’s hiding near Kabul…
The wags of the North London club originally called Woolwhich Arsenal, whose logo is an artillery piece — hence the “The Gunners” — are referring to a widely touted urban legend some years back that had Osama bin Laden as a teenage Arsenal fan who visited its legendary Highbury ground in 1994 and even bought souvenir kit for his kids. So widesread was the retelling of this tale that Arsenal officials took the bizarre step of declaring Bin Laden persona non grata at Highbury. Bin Laden is certainly loves the game, it seems — the transcript of one of the videos of him and his men discussing 9/11 involves a dream of a Qaeda soccer match against the U.S. in which the Qaeda team play in pilots’ uniforms. Whether or not he loves the Gunners is another matter.
But if he does, he won’t dare miss next week’s Champion’s League semi-final encounter with Villareal, which like Liverpool last season, gives Arsenal the chance to cap a struggling season with a magnificent European triumph. And it couldn’t happen to a more deserving team. (Update: Arsenal won the first leg 1-0; now they go to Villareal to defend that slender lead next week.)
The plot thickens: In the seething streets of Nepal, a Maoist protestor sports an Arsenal shirt
The Gunners are not my team, as you know — Liverpool have always been. But I go back a long way with a sense of them being, shall we say, a “fraternal” team.
My friend David Steere at Milnerton High was a Gunner, idolizing the legendary Charlie George. Charlie was a bad boy, very skilled, creative, courageous — but an instinctive rebel who strained against authority and its plans for him. David was similar, although both by appearance and character a little more like Steve Gerrard. And so, as long as they weren’t playing Liverpool, I was happy to cheer on the Gunners. I actually saw them live, too, at Highbury late in 1977, demolishing Ipswich (who in those days were a half decent side featuring a slew of England internationals and managed by Bobby Robson). And then again in 87, and a number of times from 89 – 91, during the latter half of which I lived on St. Thomas’s Road in Finsbury Park, about 50 doors down from Highbury, and spent many a rainy Saturday afternoon standing on the North Bank appreciating the likes of Michael Thomas, Ian Wright, Paul Davis and David Rocastle on their way to a title they cruelly nicked off Liverpool on the last day of the season. They were not my team, but they were, at least then, my “home” team.
An English Club?
Nice one Sammy, Nice one son
Nice one Sammy, Let’s have another one…
A couple of weeks ago, an acquaintance enthused about Arsenal’s awesome Champion’s League victory over Real Madrid: “That was the first time in years an English team has come away from the Bernabeau with a victory.” I had to remind him that there were only two Englishmen on the field at the Bernabeau that day, and both were playing for Real Madrid. Arsenal have assembled arguably the most talented young squad in the English Premiership (I said “arguably,” I said “young”…), and easily the most attractive to watch — they never stop attacking, never resort to negative tactics, sweep the ball around in sweet passing movements that recall the heyday of Johann Cruyff’s Dutch masters… And more often than not these days (since Ashley Cole got injured and Sol Campbell lost his moxie) there’s not an Englishman among them.
While this fact is the source of endless complaints from English purists, I don’t mind too much. They play such a beautiful game that nothing else matters. Of course the Arsenal team I watched when I stayed in St. Thomas’s Road had only a solitary Swede in an otherwise almost all-English lineup (Georgie Graham, the manager was Scottish) — compared with today’s typical lineup featuring a German, two Ivoirians, a Swiss, a Togoan, a Brazilian, a Belarussian, two Spaniards, three Frenchmen, two Dutchmen and, of course, the obligatory Swede. But the Gunners side I first watched, and adopted as a “friendly” team back in 77, was essentially an Irish team: Pat Jennings in goal, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson at fullback, David O’Leary in the heart of defense, Liam Brady orchestrating the midfield, Frank Stapleton one of the best strikers in the league. That was another meeting point with Liverpool a few years later, when we supplied the likes of Steve Staunton, Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge to the men in green.
(Update: It was a joy to see, when Bergkamp was getting ready to go on as a sub against Villareal, that he was getting his instructions from none other than Pat Rice!)
And if the urban legends are to be believed (I wouldn’t!) then it was this same mostly Irish team that first won Bin Laden’s sympathies in the late 1970s. Curiously enough, Arsenal back then also had the active support of those of the ANC’s operational leadership who happened to be based in London.
But never mind all the politics. Here’s why all lovers of decency and beauty in football ought to be rooting for the Gunners this week:
1. They personify the beautiful game in Britain — you’ll never see Arsenal resorting the physical tactics often deployed by the likes of Chelsea and Man Utd. on their way to titles. Arsenal just keep pouring forward, passing that ball around, their exquisite off the ball movement creating easily the most delightful spetacle left in the Premiership. Sure, they concede goals, but they score more!
(Update: I lie. Arsenal have yet to concede in this Champion’s League campaign.)
2. Arsene Wenger is a genius. The French coach has, in a year in which he lost his midfield anchor Patrick Vieira, managed to rebuild a team of teenagers, in a single year, into one of the most exciting outfits in the premiership. Cesc Fabregas, Matthieu Flamini, Emmanuel Eboue, Vassiriki Diaby, Alexander Hleb, Robin Van Persie, Antonio Reyes — these guys are babies, and they’ve been turned into world beaters. And you just know there are more to come — particulary that 16-year-old Theo Walcott who sits on the (expanded) bench of Champion’s League games.
3. Thierry Henry. The French striker is without peer in England, with a glorious first touch, amazing vision, rare tactical nous for a striker, an ability to run a game like a midfield general and a confidence born by his ability to score audacious goals (that backheel against Charlton is one of my all time favorites).
4. Cesc Fabregas: Handed Patrick Vieira’s mantle at age 16, the Spanish starlet runs the midfield with the confidence of a player ten years his senior — as he showed when he played Vieira off the pitch when Arsenal met Juventus. Awesome talent.
5. Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure: Cote d’Ivoire will carry Africa’s hopes in the world cup this summer, and looking at these two Ivoirians performing wonders in the Arsenal defense, there’s every reason for confidence. Kolo has stepped up as a stalwart in the absence of the hapless Campbell. And Eboue is a complete revelation as an attacking right back, covering so much ground and presenting such an attacking threat that he reminds me of Roberto Carlos in his heyday. I could go on and on, but that would be boring. (About as boring as the offside trap played by Georgie Graham’s outfit in the later years…)