When Arsenal drew Villarreal within the 2006 Champions League semi-final, there wasn’t a lot time between the quarter-final and semi-final draw- actually not sufficient to tug our toes over lodging and journey choices. Having travelled to each different Champions League sport that season- not anticipating that our European odyssey would take us this far, we have been joyful to accept the least useful resource intensive possibility.
We booked on to one of many Arsenal Journey Membership’s chartered flights, flying out on the morning of the sport, embody a coach switch from Valencia airport after which we’d be ferried again to the airport and flown residence instantly after the sport. Often, we choose to make extra of a visit of our European away excursions; however time was of the essence and, nicely, there was a possible journey to Paris to plan but and we knew that might not be low-cost.
One of many causes I hate to fly on the day of the sport is as a result of it makes your margin for error smaller. Arsenal held a slim 1-0 benefit from the primary leg at Highbury, this explicit night was going to be tense sufficient with out added journey nervousness. Transport nervousness is strictly what we bought, nevertheless. Our aircraft had been resulting from depart at round 8.30am. By 11am, we nonetheless hadn’t taken off resulting from a fault with the aircraft doorways.
Ultimately we took off at 11.30am and arrived in Valencia- about an hour’s drive from El Madrigal- at round 3pm native time. The plan had been the spend the day on the seaside entrance at Valencia earlier than taking a coach switch to the bottom. We nonetheless bought to spend an hour or so on the beachfront however we arrived simply because the shutters on the bars and cafes have been developing for mid-afternoon siesta.
The day wasn’t actually going to plan however no one cared as long as Arsenal bought the end result they wanted to qualify for his or her first ever Champions League Remaining. We took the coach switch to the stadium however turned embroiled in dreadful traffic- the knowledge of leaving Valencia on the top of the push hour uncovered. It quickly turned clear that we’d not arrive in time for kickoff.
It was a further nervousness I actually may have finished without- my nerves already frayed in regards to the night that lay forward. On the coach journey to the stadium, whereas I fretfully checked the time each 30 seconds, one in all our celebration, Kenny, was irritatingly bullish. Sensing my stony-faced torpor, he slapped me on the shoulder and stated, “Don’t look so nervous, we’re 90 minutes away from the ultimate!”
To say I’m an anxious individual is an distinctive understatement. Anxiousness is a paradoxical coping technique for the worst-case state of affairs by imagining it time and again. After I really feel anxious, I don’t need my bubble of apprehension to be pricked by jocularity. Kenny’s upbeat manner would show to be a continuing annoyance to me all night.
The coach parked up close to the stadium roughly 20 minutes earlier than kickoff. The strain was damaged a bit of by the carnival within the surrounding streets, hundreds of Villarreal followers decked in yellow stopped to applaud our coach. Inflatable yellow submarines lined the streets. We leapt off the coach and I broke right into a jog in direction of the turnstile.
“Simply assume, in two hours’ time, we’ll be celebrating!” Kenny exclaimed. “FUCK. OFF.” I responded, inwardly and silently. You’ll recall by now that the sport was absolute torture as Villarreal laid siege on the Arsenal aim, which appeared to be protected by some type of gypsy’s curse. Arsenal froze on the night and shortly made a acutely aware resolution to only attempt to defend.
Villarreal attacked many times and once more and I stood dancing from foot to foot, chewing my nails and checking off nearly each bodily manifestation of extreme nervousness that you can imagine. A Villarreal fan within the stand reverse ours had hung a Manchester United flag- presumably as a jibe- drastically overestimating the extent to which any of us gave a shit.
The environment within the cramped away enclosure within the nook of El Madrigal quickly fell silent, too pensive for something aside from the occasional bellow of “ARSENAL! ARSENAL! ARSENAL!” Like our group, we froze and simply seemed on helplessly as Villarreal camped in Arsenal’s remaining third. With every Villarreal miss, Kenny, stood instantly behind me, would chirp, “see! It’s our evening!”
“FUCK. OFF.” I replied, this time very, very quietly, by gritted tooth in order that he wouldn’t hear it however so I may simply really feel glad sufficient that I had allowed the phrases to go my lips. With round 5 minutes to go, Jose Mari rose to fulfill a cross fully unmarked and it sailed in direction of the highest nook. I immediately froze, my guts dropped as if that they had been tossed from the highest of a skyscraper.
The ball whistled extensive. Mari grabbed it because it tumbled again in direction of him by way of the promoting hoarding and screamed in direction of the sky. I practically fainted. Kenny grabbed me on the shoulder, “Almost there! Their luck is out, it’s our evening.” I couldn’t take his chipper temper any longer. “Please cease!” I pleaded. Everyone knows what occurred subsequent because the clock ticked in direction of the 89th minute.
Villarreal have been taking pictures in direction of the opposite finish and our view was partially obstructed by a Perspex display. However I noticed a blur of yellow collapse within the space beneath the slightest duress from Gael Clichy. I watched the referee level to the spot and I simply sat down in my seat for the primary time that night. The hassle of standing was past me any longer. I started to ponder further time, the concept Riquelme would miss actually by no means entered my thoughts.
Solely later did I see the tv highlights of the incident. Solely later did I see Riquelme’s face, the face of a person locked in his personal interior battle with nervousness, the voices in his head chanting the worst case state of affairs again at him time and again as he contemplated his run up.
As Riquelme noticed up, his forehead mopped with sweat, Kenny put his fingers beneath my armpits and lifted me to my toes. “He’s gonna reserve it, don’t fear.” “FUCK. OFF!” I answered, this time very outwardly and under no circumstances silently. I didn’t wish to hear it. Then. All of the sudden, the whistle blew, Riquelme picked his facet. FUCK! He’s saved it! I edged forwards, conscious that the ball had rebounded out into the penalty space. Kolo Toure shepherded it in direction of Lehmann by way of Sol Campbell’s studs and the hazard handed.
I scarcely recall a second of such pandemonium inside a soccer stadium. I fell on prime of the fellows to my left (sorry, whoever you’re) as my row tumbled like dominos. We have been nonetheless leaping up and down when Henry missed a easy likelihood down in entrance of us seconds later. That couple of minutes was a complete blur till the ultimate whistle sounded and mayhem as soon as once more ensued.
I grabbed the fellows to my left (sorry, whoever you’re) and we shook one another with all of our power. Jens Lehmann initially headed straight for the tunnel, till Kolo Toure grabbed him by the shirt and marched him in direction of the Arsenal enclosure, the place he bashfully raised a hand because the travelling followers chanted his title with fervour.
Because the preliminary chaos subsided, I rotated to seek out Kenny crumpled into his seat, weeping. “What the fuck are you crying about? You stated this could occur!” I yelled, half incredulously and partly as a result of I used to be nonetheless a bit of irritated by his persistent optimism. “I do know,” he blubbed, “however I didn’t actually imagine it!”
I realised then that his sunny disposition was his cloak, the identical method that my gnawing nervousness was mine. We have been each attempting to guard ourselves from our personal anguish. The 4 of us who has travelled collectively, myself, Jon and Trevor (with whom I nonetheless sit to this present day) and Kenny (who I’ve seen solely a couple of times since that night) initiated the form of group hug reserved for moments that outline your whole life.
We actually danced into the streets outdoors the stadium, singing the soundtrack tune of our Champions League run. “We’re on our waaaaaaaaaay, we’re on our waaaaaaaaay, we’re going to Paris, we’re on our waaaaaaaaaay, how we get there we don’t know, how we get there we don’t care, all we all know is we’re on our waaaaaaaaaaaaaay!”
To their credit score, the Villarreal followers maintained the sporting spirit that had seen them applaud us into the stadium, by applauding us out once more on the slim Castellón facet streets. The hours of tension, the tears of celebration all gave technique to the form of shit consuming grin you develop involuntarily in such moments as we made our technique to the bus again to the airport.
I’ve been fortunate in my Arsenal supporting life. I used to be there when Arsenal received the league at White Hart Lane (the second time) and Previous Trafford, I’ve seen us win (and lose) many a cup remaining, I used to be there after we beat Inter 5-1 within the San Siro and after we beat Actual Madrid on the Bernabeu. For pure euphoria nothing matches these closing moments of Villarreal 0 – 0 Arsenal and once I see that Jens Lehmann penalty reserve it’s not only a reminiscence, I expertise that pleasure once more.
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