One life, one game, one team, one invincibles

One life, one game, one team, one Invincibles (So far)

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Stuck in a Moment: The Ballard of Paul Vaessen - a New Book Review

Stuck in a Moment: The Ballard of Paul Vaessen 

Author: Stewart Taylor

With a Forward by Tony Adams, a Preface by Gordon Taylor and contributions from Ken Friar, Terry Neill, Sammy Nelson, Fred Street, Liam Brady, Kenny Sansom, Brian Talbot, John Divine and many others.

Arsenal fans of a certain age will be familiar with the name because the then 18 year-old Paul Vaessen scored a very famous goal for the Arsenal. It was in Turin on 23rd April 1980 against Juventus with seconds remaining in the second leg the European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final. At that time Juventus had never been beaten at home by a British Club and were intent on reaching the final with a goalless draw thanks to their away goal in a score draw at Highbury. The enormity of Paul's fine headed goal was to have lasting repercussions. Nothing was ever again to provide Paul Vaessen with the buzz to match that brief experience as a goal-scoring substitute. This was essentially his 15 minutes of fame because his short career in his beloved football was to be cruelly curtailed.

Although the long-term build up to this goal from street kick-abouts to professional footballer is well dealt with here thanks to some assiduous research this volume is way more than just a football tale. It is an important account of addiction which ruined more than one life and seriously effected many others. It is a tale of how one young top quality footballer did not anticipate and could not begin to cope with life without football. Paul’s career at Arsenal was very brief due to unfortunate circumstances and ended even sooner than most due to serious knee injury. His connections with the wrong kind of people and a drug habits that surfaced in his early teens accelerated this particular decline and fall saga. Make no mistake, this is certainly no happily ever after fairy tale ending type book, but rather a heart-breaking and tragic story.

What makes this particular title special is the caring way in which Stewart Taylor has been able to get so close to the truth of Paul’s addiction by earning the confidence of Vaessen’s close family, especially his mum, dad and brother and then relaying their take on Paul’s decline with honesty and sensitivity. Early friends, girl-friends and work colleagues have also contributed to the warts and all commentary. While well-known fellow players, coaches and management staff, including many from his time with Arsenal, have contributed quite freely. The tale which unfolds is not a pretty one because it exposes character flaws which couldn’t be overcome. It has an almost inevitably sad ending and confirms Paul’s own predictions to those close to him that he’d never live to be 40. He didn’t, he died aged 39 and the painful description of his accelerated demise is a sorrowful read, but essential in the understanding of Paul’s decline and battle to survive.

Hopefully because this well written work helps to confirm through the experiences of others that more needs to be done for the many young players who'll fail to make the grade, others will take up that baton and act upon it.

The general impression given is that Football Clubs are certainly far more aware of the psychological effects on the dismissal of young players than they were in the early 80’s, but this doesn’t really mean they’re necessarily doing enough today to combat the problems for such players. If this tragedy of one specific individual helps to enlighten the footballing community it can only be a good thing and makes this a book of real importance worthy of widespread reading within the industry.

Although Tony Adams book ‘Addicted’ was a real eye opener, this title manages to convey a far sadder story with meaningful sensitivity.

Stuck in a Moment: The Ballard of Paul Vaessen by Stewart Taylor £18.99

Hardback published by GCR Books - ISBN 978 1 9090500 6 8

Official Publication date is 8th August 2014, although it is on general release as at the beginning of June. Available through any decent bookshop or your favourite on-line bookseller. Or for the best deal I’ve found it is available here for £13.99. 

Book review by Brian Dawes @Gooner48

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

FA Cup revival, or did it never go away?

The FA Cup has been written off by many fans as something of a dead duck in recent years, myself included. Not even the romance of Wigan beating the obscenely over-spending Citeh could seemingly revive its one time dominance on the English Football calendar although in truth nothing probably ever will. Especially so given that even the Football Association themselves have devalued it by selling its soul to the corporate wannabes and mega brewery shite larger salesmen. The Super-hyped Sky dominant Premiership and Champions League have reduced this once much loved trophy to the back-waters of the English football calendar. 

Or so I thought until Saturday.

 If you've had many footballing moments as good as this then you're very lucky and it has to be said we are extremely lucky to support a Club such as Arsenal

When I was a kid, way back when, the F A Cup was one of the few live games to be seen on black and white television and as such it helped the Cup stand head and shoulders above the League as a national footballing event. A whole nation would watch it before a second TV channel arrived with adverts to offer alternative viewing. In those days of course only real football fans got tickets for the game. And Wembley’s emergence as a world footballing centre probably came about largely because of the FA Cup Final going international on the airwaves. And thus it became the internationally renowned stadium it never deserved to be. The pitch was always good, except for the odd League Cup debacle, but it’s always been an over-rated over-hyped stadium on an Industrial Estate. Still is. That said you just can't top seeing your team play there for the big one in the merry month of May.

 Many players are remembered for one specific final

Because the FA Cup has been such a very English institution since its inception in 1872 it has acquired some very English traits over the past 142 years. Not least of which is the whole giant killing thing. The whole point of the FA Cup for many is the possibility of a Cup minnow getting the better of a Cup giant. That’s a given. The Ronnie Radford Trophy came about for good reason. We all love footballing underdogs, because every season almost without fail one of them will best a footballing giant. Ideally that will be a team that we just happen to despise.

 The Cup is so big some claim goals they never scored

That’s why almost the entire English footballing fraternity was rooting for Hull this season, Wigan last season and no one gave a toss the year before. I mean when the Chavs play Pool who other than London fans and Evertonians gives a shit who wins?

Even rather average players can become all time heroes

I believe Arsenal inadvertently did the Cup proud this season because ours was an exciting final for the neutrals to enjoy. We defended poorly so the underdogs were able to set about getting everyone’s hopes up, there was some piss poor refereeing decisions where penalties were not awarded to the amusement of football enthusiasts everywhere other than Arsenal fans, extra time was an added bonus for most, there was a classic 0-2 down 3-2 up comeback, there was the spectacle of the underdog hanging on for grim death and there was a brilliant winning goal by a potentially world class player of the future, set up by a delightful back-heeled flick. What more could anyone want of a Final? Perhaps a mad keeper flying off his line in an attempt to blow it late on. No good for the Arsenal nerves but absolutely fine for everyone else.

 Sometimes very average players become heroes

It’s been claimed in the past that Wenger doesn’t value the FA Cup as much as the Champions League and Premiership and quite frankly nor should he. But having won an amazing 5 FA Cups now it is somewhat difficult to claim he doesn’t give a toss, even if he insists on playing his second choice keeper on such occasions. Mind you that could have quite simply been a ploy to retain the old one, or attract a new one.

Cup Final memories are there forever

What I learned this season was that the Cup doesn’t matter if you’re not there but matters enormously if you are. I most definitely was there for yet another FA Cup Final with Arsenal and despite thinking the FA Cup was becoming as dead as a dodo my guts still churned pre-match as they did in 1971. Plus I was as deliriously ecstatic as everyone else when Aaron Ramsey blagged the winner. If your team is actually there, partaking in the Final, it still means absolutely everything, as the 250,000+ confirmed in Islington on the Sunday.  Maybe even Kroenke has now figured it out, because I doubt very much he’s ever attended a sporting occasion to match that one. Surely that passion and pure joy must have come across even in such a sanitised area as the Royal Box.

Sometimes great players bag the winner

The FA Cup is only ever dormant for most clubs fans until they reach a final again. Maybe pretty dead for the likes of Tottenham fans though who’ve not now attended a final for 23 years, never mind Arsenal’s over mentioned 9. But even their fans will love it to bits again should they ever fluke their way to another final. 

Sometimes players create their own piece of special history

I am one lucky bar steward because Saturday’s Final was my 8th attendance at a winning Cup Final with the mighty Arsenal. To put that in perspective that’s as many as Spurs have won in their entire 120 year history of FA cup football. And they used to reckon they’re a Cup team... well they’re certainly not a league winning team are they?

 Sometimes you even forget who was in the team

No. The premature demise of FA Cup football is a mere rumour denied by the 40,000 or so Gooners inside Wembley on May 17th this year. Their absolute extremes of agony and ecstasy was testament to a footballing intuition still being very much alive and kicking.

The FA Cup is alive and well, and long may it remain so.

 It looks even better with plain red and white ribbons, or even yellow or course

Brian Dawes @Gooner48

Thursday, 1 May 2014

F A Cup Final - Who wants tickets

And so the moaning begins....from fans who haven't had the good fortune for a Cup Final ticket fall into their lap. Its been the same for every Final I've ever been to and I've now got tickets for 12 Arsenal Cup Finals plus a replay so it can't be that difficult if you are a serious fan and apply all means at your disposal to get one. It used to be that we queued for 3-4 hours around Highbury early on a Sunday morning to get them. In later years we had to collect programme vouchers to ensure a ticket - a full set guaranteed you a ticket. A much fairer method but still not perfect, and it also had the downside of wrecked a set of programmes by cutting them up.
For this Final the programme was 10p and my standing ticket cost £1
Its my opinion that fans who travel away and support the team all around the country and all around Europe are the most deserving because they make the time and put in the effort to support Arsenal away. Arsenal gave away season ticket holders priority so no beef there surely. Anyone who doesn't think these fans are the most deserving has clearly never travelled away and doesn't really understand what being a fan is all about. So why would they want to travel across North London now just because we're in a Final?

Season ticket holders with a away credits got priority this season and deserved to. Building away credits is difficult and in order to do so you have to initially go to games others don't want to travel to. When we started building away credits we did so by going to places like Boro, Sunderland, Toon, Blackburn and the likes because they were never sold out and fewer fans wanted to go because these are the difficult trips. If you can't be arsed and only ever want to travel to Old Trafford, The Bridge or WHL then tough. Those who've put in the time and effort are more deserving. Many fans who've been happy to use away season ticket holders tickets will now see the value in this. 9 years without a Cup Final sorts the men from the boys.

16 times the price of the Final in 1971

Being an old git on a pension I can no longer afford to travel so despite having had over 40 away credits at one time which guaranteed me tickets I now have no away credits. So I have a vested interest in long term fans getting priority, long term season ticket holders especially. But if anything there is a far strong argument for those newer fans who've never had the chance previously to go. Just because I've been a fan for longer and seen many more games than most doesn't make me any more of a fan than someone 50 years younger. So a ballot of season ticket holders was as fair as the Club could get in my opinion.

Three Cup Final in three seasons, those were the days

I'd like to see Arsenal FC take it further by prioritising those season ticket holders who could be arsed to fill their seat every game. We know there are some who can afford tickets and then only come along to the big games. So priority in the future should be given to season tickets that have been used for every game. And that obviously includes those who've sold tickets on to friends, the point being that they've made an effort to sell their seats and given someone else an opportunity to go to a game. Such fans are way more deserving than someone who can afford not to use a season ticket.

I'd also like to see those who used theirs for League Cup games get some sort of priority.

That said I got lucky in the Gold Member ballot and there is no way I'm giving up my ticket to anyone I think might be more deserving because I love FA Cup Finals. I feel sorry for those fans who are not going because being there is everything. Being at a game that millions are watching live is always a really big deal.

Then again I also hate Cup Finals because I can't eat before a game due to nerves and remain depressed for ages if we get beaten.

Cup Finals should be sunny days and this one was

Whatever you do - do not despair of a ticket, if you try hard enough you might yet get one if you really care enough and use all means at your disposal. My nephew has already paid over £400 for a ticket via a Wembley Club Level Member, but you've already missed your chance there. Wembley Club Level will be red, full of rich buggers but Arsenal supporting rich buggers. I got a spare 1971 Final ticket for a friend via Fulham Football Club. I got some spares for another Final via Wembley Greyhounds. That channel was closed years ago of course, but many others have opened since. We picked up a ticket from a referee on the Friday night before the game so my father-in-law could see his beloved Sunderland beat Leeds in 1973. I got a ticket for Newcastle v United for a friend when I applied for tickets via a Youth Football team when I happened to be their Club Secretary. My kids saw us beat Newcastle because a friend who had tickets got offered a pair of hospitality tickets for that Final. The best ever was at a Arsenal Internet List Meet Up before one of Cardiff Finals, a fellow listee, Nige, approached me about half an hour before the game and advised that his friend couldn't make it and so he had a spare available for someone deserving - did I know anyone in the pub without a ticket? Indeed I did and it went to  Karsten and his mates over from Germany, who were in Cardiff on a wing and a prayer. How they chose which of them should see the game I don't recall. But the pint is don't just give up on a ticket yet, work you rollocks off and you may yet acquire one.

The closed roof Final

Hull will have 25,000 fans at Wembley and no more. My guess is that Arsenal fans have probably already sourced between 3-10,000 tickets in addition to those supplied by the Club. Your chances of getting one via Gold Members who don't want to go are minuscule but the neutral tickets are all up for grabs if you can track them down. There will be loads of people, neutrals, with a Cup Final ticket who'd quite like to go, but they will probably have to go alone, they won't be supporting their team, the journey might be difficult and at the end of the day money talks when it comes right down to it. You may even be able to persuade them that Cup Finals should really be for the supporters of the two teams involved. These tickets are currently all over the country waiting for you to track them down and make an offer that cannot be refused.
All about the penalties

I've even heard stories of touts being beaten up and having their tickets stolen. I don't condone such violence but I find it somewhat difficult to feel in the least bit sorry for such individuals....please don't take that as a suggested way of acquiring tickets by the way.

Brian Dawes @gooner48