Yet another big, BIG game at the Grove tonight. Massive. Huge. Enormous. You get the drift.
The Dutch master coach, Rinus Michels inventor of “total football” with Ajax, Barcelona, Cologne, the Los Angeles Aztecs of the old NASL and de oranje of the Netherlands in 1974 and 1988, always said football is a simple game. He’s right. One of those simplicities is the opposition aren’t going to score if you’re in their half of the park.
One of the characteristics of the all the great Michels teams was how they pressed the ball and the opposition when they lost possession. A tactic known in Spanish as el pressing which always makes me smile. All Michels’ teams flooded forward when in possession but worked relentlessly to close down the opposition when they lost the ball. Arsčne Wenger was a great admirer of the Borussia Mönchengladbach of the late 1960s early and mid 1970s under first the great Hennes Weisweiler and then Udo Latek. His used to take cross-border trips from France into the Ruhr to watch them with his dad. They played in a style inspired by the “total football” of Rinus Michels which he developed at Ajax.
The great Dutch national teams of the 1974 World Cup (runners-up to hosts West Germany) and the 1988 European Championships (where they took the trophy, beating the Soviet Union in the final which included one of the all-time great goals from Marco van Basten) finally bought Michels to the attention of a wider audience around the world. The “clockwork orange” as they were called were a joy to watch. That’s what we need tonight. Not to give Villarreal a moment’s peace when they have possession and to attack at high tempo when we have the ball. As Michels used to say “the opposition can’t attack if they don’t have the ball.”
As I said in my last blog on Monday, we need to do our bit in the stands too. The Grove needs to be rocking tonight. Really rocking. I’ve mentioned this before but what would be the players think if we got behind them like this?
It’s the second leg of the 1996 final of the Copa Libertadores de América (the American Liberators’ Cup, equivalent of the Champions League) between River Plate and América de Cali of Columbia in the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires. The commentator is saying, “The last ninety minutes, with an uncontrollable emotion the River fans wait for their team……Here’s Alonso! Here’s River! Here’s Chacariccia! For the second time in their careers in the American Liberators’ Cup!……the great festival of South American football!”
I had the wonderful good fortune to be there in Buenos Aires that night. What an atmosphere. Unbelievable. I’m sure our stadium manager John Beattie would have a heart attack, bless him, especially with all the flares, but nobody can tell me that such a reception wouldn’t lift the most cynical, hardened professional. I don’t advocate taking flares to the Grove, but the rest – why not?
Let’s all try and REALLY pump up the volume tonight.
The Gooner Republic expects every man and woman to do their duty. CHARGE!
On a far more prosaic note, the FA is at it again. Apparently they’ve sent out notices with the FA Cup semi-final tickets saying bringing your own food and drink into the ground is forbidden under the ground regulations. This despite an assurance from them that this would not be the case, after all the controversy about the sky-high catering prices (even higher than at the Grove if you can believe that) around the first FA Cup Final back at the new Wembley, Chelsea v Yoonited in 2007.
The Football Supporters’ Federation is on the case. I’ll let you know what the FA’s response is on Friday. I for one have no intention of buying any food or drink in the ground and I’d recommend all fellow Gooners not to allow themselves to be ripped off either. I think the prices are diabolical liberty. From what I’ve seen at other events I’ve been to at Wembley the service is about the same as it is at the Grove – glacial, which really is a further take-on given the prices.
Finally, a sombre ending to this blog. Today marks twenty years to the day from the Hillsborough disaster at the Liverpool v Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final. I remember the events of that day as if it were yesterday. We were home to Toon at Highbury. I went to have a leak at half-time. I asked somebody with a radio in the concourse what the score was at Hillsborough. He told me that the game hadn’t kicked off and there had been serious injuries. As the second half wore on it became clearer and clearer that dozens had died.
The first report of Lord Justice Taylor into the tragedy dealt with the events of the day and their causes. It made and still makes bleak reading. A catalogue of bad maintenance, bad safety management and co-ordination between police and stewards. An air of complete neglect of supporter safety. If you want go back and read the report yourself you can find it here:
Justice Taylor Report
Some fans continue to believe that the tragedy was the fault of the Liverpool fans themselves. That’s nonsense. Just read the report. It makes clear where the blame lay. Generations of neglect, indifference and incompetence. Whilst we’re remembering Hillsborough let’s also not forget those who died in the Bradford fire, at Heysel and at St Andrew’s. Let’s have a quiet moment for those who died so recently in Abidjan too, along with other stadium disasters over the years in Harare, Accra, Lima, Moscow and Johannesburg.
In memory of the 96 Liverpool fans who set out to celebrate our game and never returned home, their families and loved ones. May every one of those who perished on that horrible day rest in peace.