David Hirshey writes regularly about soccer for Deadspin.
"You fancy one, mate?" It was noon on Sunday, and I was on the tube to Arsenal station (how cool to root for a team with its own subway stop!) when the fetid breath of the bloke in the hooded Arsenal sweatshirt next to me wafted up into my face.
"One what?" I replied, not sure exactly what I was being offered. A knuckle sandwich? A hummer? A ticket to Jade Goody's address on racism before the House of Lords?
That's when he reached into his backpack and took out a ... six pack of Stella.
Did I miss something, or can you brazenly drink beer on subways all around the world except in our benighted little country? Or is it just on big game days?
At any rate, I accepted the gracious gift from my fellow Gooner and we clinked cans. "Here's to Arsenal," I toasted. "Fookin' ManU," my new friend added. "What a bunch of shite."
It was at that moment, as I brought the Stella to my lips and wallowed in the shared vitriol toward our most bitter rival — note I didn't say "hated", a designation I reserve for Mourinho's overpriced tarts — that I asked myself the question: Could life get any better?
You bet your Gooner ass it could. To be in Emirates Stadium when Henry headed the winner in the final minute of stoppage time was to witness an explosion of joy that even Dirk Diggler would have envied. The second the ball billowed the net, I was bearhugged by a large bald man, high-fived by a 13-year-old boy and kissed by a halfway decent-looking blonde whom I saved from certain death when, in her crazed exultation, she nearly did a triple gainer off the upper deck. Then came the ear-splitting chant that echoed around the stadium.
"Who are ya? Who are ya?," the fans taunted as United, which seven minutes earlier had the title by the balls, trudged off the pitch still atop the Prem but now looking warily over their shoulder at the three teams — Chelsea, Liverpool and You Know Who — perched below them. Yes, it's no fun anytime you do Chelsea a favor, but considering all the pain that has been inflicted on Mourinho lately, I didn't feel too bad that ManU's defeat kept them in the hunt. See, like the beer-proffering guy on the subway I believe that it's the small, unexpected gestures of generosity that make the world a better place.
(more after the jump)
Besides, who cares about the Special One's problems when I could take such fiendish delight in Sir Alex's discomfort. All that faux bonhomie Fergie spouted before the game about the deep respect he has for Wenger and Arsenal disappeared at the final whistle; he never broke stride or made eye contact when shaking the Frenchman's hand.
Even though the main antagonists who stoked the blood feud between these two football giants in recent years — Keane, Vieira, Van Nistelrooy — have moved on, make no mistake, this was no love-in at Emirates. The only differences between yesterday's match and the famous bustup in the tunnel at Old Trafford were: a) Arsenal won and b) Fergie ended up with egg, not pizza, on his puce-colored face.
Enmity aside, no two teams in the Premiership play more free-flowing, stylish, connect-the-dots soccer than ManU and Arsenal, and yet it took Rooney's goal — his first in eight matches — in the 53rd minute to bring the game to life. Up to that point, Arsenal was strangely subdued, with Henry alternately shrugging and whinging his way around the pitch. As if to remind him of his influence on the Gunners, the PA announcer welcomed the team back after halftime by bellowing, "Here come Thierry Henry's Arsenal!"
Monsieur Va Va Va Voom plays at his own regal pace, but after Rooney scored you sensed the old urgency returning. His clever dummy-jumping out of the way of Rosicky's killer cross-allowed Van Persie to sneak in at the far post and smash home the equalizer in the 83rd minute. Had the game ended then, I would happily have accepted the point and lifted several pints in honor of our gutty comeback. How sweet, though, that it didn't, and that Henry, unlike me, had a glorious last leap of faith in him.
That was one I most definitely fancied, mate.