Saturday, 5 March 2011


2/3/11, Emirates

Fifth round FA Cup replay. Orient lost 5-0. Not normally our kind of thing, but D bought the tickets as an "early birthday present" because I've never been to the Emirates despite living only 25 mins walk away and admiring it from the outside (D has: she went with A a year or two back).

It was bitterly cold and I'd been sweltering all day, interviewing an ambassador in my thermals. We were up high behind the TV cameras and commentators, just over the half-way line. It was a good position and it's a fine stadium but I was struck walking to the exit at half-time by how much more atmosphere there seemed to be if you were lower down: not so much being closer to the action, though that helps, but being able to see the top of the stand on the opposite side and the sky above it, which adds to the feeling of enclosure and the sense of an arena, a cauldron of activity. Being up high is a bit like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

It probably didn't help that the place wasn't full. A midweek fixture, a much weaker visiting side... There seemed to be lots of empty seats and I'd have said the place was as much as one-third empty, though the announcement near the end claimed over 59,000 out of 60,355 seats were taken . There didn't seem to be a tremendous sense of occasion for the Arsenal fans generally, or for those around us, especially once the Gunners had taken the lead 1-0 just a few minutes in. After that it gradually turned into a turkey-shoot, with Orient struggling to get out of their own half, struggling to get possession, losing it when they did get it, and being generally outplayed by a much flashier Arsenal side (who were without several of their star players, apparently) who seemed towards the end to be actively playing with them.

A closer match against a team of the same standard might have ratcheted the tension up and got everyone on their feet.

The highlight were the Orient fans, around 7,000 of them in the far corner away to our right, who never stopped chanting and singing, even when their team were clearly out of it and had just given away a penalty to boot. For them clearly it was a Really Big Night.

As on those previous (rare) occasions when I've watched a football match live I found myself, however hard I concentrated, surprised by the goals and instantly unable to remember what had happened and who'd done what (even assuming I knew who the players were). (The same goes for fouls and free kicks). I felt the absence of the instant replay (though by craning our necks we could see it on the big screen in the corner).

An anthropologically interesting occasion, then, but not an especially involving one. Here's what an expert thought:

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