With season tickets not valid for League Cup games, it gave us a good chance of trying to do something similar, i.e. get a good number of like-minded supporters together in the ground. We therefore invited BSM members to get involved, and asked that they buy tickets in blocks 19, 18 and 17 - close to the away fans and not shoved as far away as possible, as the club did with the REDsection.
The idea was greeted with real enthusiasm from our members, and it was great to hear that a good few hundred had managed to buy tickets in this area of the ground. It was all set up to be an enjoyable night and on the concourse before the game, the songs started. The mood was positive and upbeat, and I was looking forward to taking my place in the ground.
Walking into block 19 a few minutes before kick off, our fans in that area of the ground were already in good voice. Volume was increasing and the atmosphere was building nicely. Of course with 9,000 away fans to our left we were up against it and it would take a decent effort to make a dent. But for the first 10 or 15 minutes we held our own and had some good exchanges back and forth across the divide. I saw some good stuff from fans on Twitter talking about block 19 buzzing, and some Chelsea fans have told me today that it was vocal back and forth at the start. But then, it began.
All of a sudden there was a constant stream of stewards up and down the aisle, telling people to sit down, checking tickets and generally causing a nuisance. This carried on all night but from that moment on, all that happened was arguing between fans and stewards over standing, noise, singing at the Chelsea fans, whether they had the right ticket - it was real disruptive tactics and in my opinion this was orchestrated by the stadium management. One female steward patrolled up and down the aisle with a notebook, furiously scribbling notes and ordering other stewards around.
Soon after this, Chelsea were gifted a goal and that invited their fans to start the provocation of our supporters. Standing on seats hurling abuse, acting brave and offering fights to anyone who'd give them some abuse back. When they scored, some Chelsea fans tried to light a blue flare but never managed to get it going. No action from police or stewards, which is puzzling when you think a fan of ours who did that at Stamford Bridge in 2010 received a £385 fine and was banned from football grounds for 3 years.
Don't get me wrong I am up for wind-ups and banter between opposing supporters. It's part of football and has been so for decades. But last night it was a one-sided affair with Chelsea fans allowed to get up to all sorts, while stewards and police caused endless trouble for our supporters with threats of arrest for anyone who "engaged with Chelsea supporters" (that's an actual quote from a policeman last night). One steward then said to the bloke next to me "Sorry, we're under orders tonight". That told us all we needed to know.
At half time I saw two people pulled aside on the concourse by police and get questioned. Apparently this was for being abusive to stewards, though I was informed no such abuse was given. Arguing a point yes, but no actual abuse.
On going back to our seats after half time, stewards then saw it fit to check the ticket of every fan trying to get back in. I've never seen this happen at any home game of ours in all the time I've been going - some 30-odd years. Naturally this caused a huge bottleneck of fans trying to get back to their seats, and many of us missed the start of the second half.
The rest of the game was just more of the same. Hassle from stewards and bugger all happening on the Chelsea side. Over came a bottle from their fans, our supporters reacted angrily and in came the police and stewards to threaten our supporters. Any stewards or police their side plucking out the person who threw it? Of course not. Truly laughable.
Overall, I have to give a big thanks to those BSM members who came along last night with the intention of getting behind the team, creating some noise and having a good time at football. I'm just sorry that an obvious ploy from our stadium management ensured that fans spent most of their time arguing with stewards and police, being threatened with arrest for the most ridiculous reasons, and some even being followed and told off by police after leaving the ground.
Every now and then we hear noises from Arsene Wenger and the players about the need for a positive atmosphere at home games. It's therefore disappointing that the club do all they can to stifle any attempts to generate loud vocal support. Last night it wasn't even a case of pissing into the wind, it was more like pissing into that St Jude storm while being battered with a water cannon of piss at the same time.
Needless to say, we'll be taking these events up with the club and we will continue to fight to get a positive atmosphere back in our stadium. The club may want a big group of people who sit there in silence, tapping away on their iPad or knitting (yes, that has been spotted), taking pictures and clapping every now and then. To us, that's not football. It's not the way football has ever been, or ever should be.
We continue, onward. A better deal for fans, that's what we strive for. It's our club, it's our game, and we won't give up easily. Football without the fans is nothing.
Up The Gunners