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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Highbury's Last Day - Spurs Beaten by Lasagna

For those of you who missed it, my favourite club Arsenal bid a fond farewell to their home for the last 93 years, Highbury. The grand old stadium will soon be torn down to facilitate a block of luxury flats, although the famous art deco facade will remain as a testament to the cherished old ground. I never got to see a match at Highbury, having lived in the States for so long, but on my last trip to Britain, I got to take a long walk around the exterior and stop by the gift shop for a scarf and hat. It was magnificent.

Meanwhile, Arsenal will move next door to Ashburton Grove and Emirates Stadium, a 60,000 state-of-the-art football palace.

The final day was quite remarkable. The Gunners needed to win against Wigan, and for Spurs to tie or lose to West Ham, in order to finish fourth and qualify for the Champions League, at least the qualifiers that is. If they beat Barcelona on the 17th in the Champions League final, they automatically go into the Champions league proper, as I understand it. The short story is that Arsenal won 4-2 in glorious fashion behind a Robert Pires goal and a hat trick by the electrifying, inimitable Thierry Henry. Spurs lost 2-1 at Upton Park to the Hammers.

By now you're thinking, "Earl, we know your a Gooner, and are thrilled with the Arsenal's exploits this season, but this is a humour blog, so get on with it." Well, with all due respect to Tottenham fans (and mind you, you wouldn't get that much from most Gooners) that brings us to Spurs.

Spurs, or Tottenham Hotspur were the team in fourth as noted above. To get to the Champions League, they needed to win at West Ham, if Arsenal tied Wigan, or to tie, if Arsenal lost to Wigan. This was probably the biggest match in years for them and they were chomping at the bit to take a swipe at the Gunners. Due to new UEFA rules, Arsenal could still pip Spurs for the Champions League if they won this year's Champions League final, but the short of it is Spurs needed this match desperately.

So it was quite a mess, literally, when 10 Spurs players woke up in the early morning before the match with stomach pains, nausea, and vomiting. The diagnosis: food poisoning, from the buffet meal they had in the hotel the night before.

Obviously, there's nothing remotely funny about highly skilled footballers or anyone else for that matter getting food poisioning the night before a big match. Except maybe for the Sun's gift of giant toilet rolls to Spurs' home White Hart Lane, and their references to the club as "Trot-enham Hotspur" and "Trotspurs". I have to admit, that for a questionable periodical like the Sun, that was smashing.

Still, the coincidental timing of the food poisoning has conspiracy-minded fans, meaning most Spurs fans, abuzz with conjecture. One theory is that some zealous Arsenal supporter (not me) spiked the food with some kind of germ or other substance to make the players sick.

There's only one problem with that. The players ate at a buffet, meaning that they might have skipped the offending food altogether. Now, apparently the offending dish was lasagna. So, the theory might go, players are going to automatically go for that the night before a big match, to carb-load on the pasta. Of course, lasagna also comes with copious amounts of cheese and meat (and possibly e-coli in this case), which aren't exactly the kind of foodstuffs an 11 stone footballer is liable to successfully digest less than 18 hours before a match unless they have a tapeworm.

Yet, there were 10 players, happily helping themselves to slices of the Italian favourite, not realising that the was little chance they'd get to digest any of the stuff at all as it would wind up all over their bedsheets and in the loo.

Now, I'm the type of fan who wants my team to beat your team at it's best. So, I'm disappointed it's come to this. Still, Spurs were playing in London. There's no reason to board up at a hotel the night before a local derby, and buffet meals always come with the risk of germ transmission. For all we know, it could have been the bloke in the Chelsea strip, with the hacking cough.

As Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger said, you feel sorry for that sort of thing, but sport is cruel. No, he didn't say it whilst discreetly slipping a cheese and beef encrusted test tube back into his jacket pocket. But sport is cruel. So is humour for that matter...and apparently these days so is lasagna. The funny thing is, that's what I had for dinner just last night. Ironic, isn't it.

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