Posted by Nelson Dafe | 7 October 2013 | 5,727 times
Much has been made in the last few years of the Emirates Stadium (Arsenal’s home ground) in England. For some with a superstitious bent, the ground has been a source of bad luck to Arsene Wenger and his team. To others, despite the beauty and grandeur that is the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal’s former ground, Highbury, would forever be preferable because of its compactness then, which was said to perfectly suit the stamina of the quick-playing Arsenal team.
Among the chief criticisms that Arsenal has got in recent times is the quiet nature of the fans who throng the Emirates to watch their darling team play. In truth, compared with the Liverpool Anfield crowd, or Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, and other stadia of Europe’s major clubsides, the Emirates Stadium can often resemble a library during matches. Quite simply, Arsenal’s fans don’t make as much noise as their rival fans would usually do.
As a sucker for a noisy stadium atmosphere filled with a singing and dancing group of fans, I have been embarrassed sometimes to see how quiet the Emirates can be. It makes me wonder at times where the extra bit of motivation has to come from to spur a bunch of immensely talented home team.
As I sat down to watch Arsenal take on Napoli in the UEFA Champions League at the Emirates recently, an epiphany moment arrived for me, and I felt an overwhelming sense of awe as Arsenal’s intricate passing game synchronized perfectly with the well-measured silence of the vast majority of the home crowd. While the away (Napoli) fans sang and danced all night, as if their darling team were in control of the tie (they never were for one moment) the home fans had come and seated in respectful silence and great expectation of seeing their in-form lads give a good show. They were certainly not disappointed as Arsene’s army ran rings past Rafa Benitez’s troops.
For those familiar with opera performances will not fail to understand when I draw a link between Arsenal’s Emirates stadium on match days and an opera house during times of great performances by great musicians. Just as the fine classic music on display at opera houses, Arsenal’s play on the pitch is musical. You may not have to take my word for it. Just play back the first 20 minutes of their game against Napoli and see beautiful, measured passing movement at its best. The inter-change of movements on and off the ball, skills and general savoir faire was spell-binding.
Arsenal’s tip tap play was simply magical, and what was even more remarkable for me was how serenely the entranced fans responded to what they were watching. As Ozil, Flamini, Arterta, Rosicky, Ramsey and Giroud got into their intricate passing moves, the fans would sit and watch with rapt attention like a crowd watching an unbelievably exotic performance of magic in a circus. The end of such moves would invite a loud cheer from the thrilled audience. The sequence played itself out over and over again. It began to resemble, in a sense, the kind of atmosphere you find in lawn tennis grounds where watchers at the court are not allowed to cheer while the play is on.
Here’s the thing: despite the fact that a disappointing result for Arsenal at the Emirates can lead to people ridiculing the comparative quietness of the Gunners fans, methinks that the mostly serene atmosphere at the stadium is a prerequisite for the fans to truly appreciate the poetry of the Arsenal players’ fluidity on the pitch. How could you really enjoy a poetry reading when the time meant for its appreciation is marred by a crowd shouting praises on the poet? How could you be pleased if you were in the audience listening to a Wagner, or Beethoven performance, or Don Williams singing while a band of hip hop fans begin to sing a Lil Wayne rap song in the background?
Watching Arsenal play at their best, as they seem to be doing recently, is like trying to understand fully the mystical concept being portrayed in an opera house composition. The steady dialogue between the intricate play of the players and the cheer and applause from fans just after the completion of a passage of play has made the stadium a unique one in terms of supporting a team at the stadium. It is what you get in an Opera house.
So next time you watch The Arsenal play, keep an eye (and ears) for talk between silence and good football and then the applause and cheers that follow a good period of play. The ambience is as interesting as being in a good opera house for a great musical performance.
•Dafe, a Correspondent with News Express and Business Express, writes from Benin City. Photo shows a match in progress at the Emirates Stadium.
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