As is the way with opening nights in London's West End, Fever Pitch dragged out a liberal seasoning of celebrities. On this occasion, they were football fan celebrities. The comedian Rory McGrath was there, wearing an Arsenal change shirt, chummily putting his arm round David Dein, Arsenal's chief executive.
Nick Hancock was there, escaping from Room 101, and delighted that his team, Stoke, had a name check in the first minute. Angus Deayton was there, too, less happy that the first half finished with a crowing, gloating, salivating description of the 1979 Cup Final in which his favourites, Manchester United, were done over in the last minute by Alan Sunderland: "unsavoury" was the word that sprung to Deayton's mind at that memory.
George Graham, however, was the last person you expected. The play's producers obviously didn't expect him to turn up, otherwise they would not have mounted a giant portrait of him on the stage, an image so inaccurate it was positively insulting. But there he was, out on the town. A man with all his problems showing no inclination to hide.
In fact, hide was the last thing he could do in the theatre. An army of photographers waited for him in the foyer. Worse, he had been given a spot right in the middle of the auditorium, as if some sadistic Spurs fan had been in charge of the seating arrangements. He was, as it were, the centre of attention.
Beside him sat a small blonde woman and a totally bald man. There was some speculation in the cheap seats as to who this man was. Alan Sunderland was one guess, after a final perm that went hideously wrong, or Charlie George desperate to prove his manliness after all those "looks like a woman and wears a bra" chants. It was, it turned out, neither.
That, though. was incidental. What we all wanted to know was what Graham himself, in his camel coat and Savile Row threads, thought of the show. It was an odd sensation, watching the action on the stage and then checking to see his reaction. Everyone in the theatre was at it. Particularly as some of the lines were extremely adjacent to his Highbury home.
"Entertainment as pain," said the Hornby character at one point, remembering his first visit to the North Bank. "Exactly what I had been looking for."
"Until Arsenal sort themselves out," the Hornby-alike yelled later, "then neither can I."
As we looked for hints, George remained inscrutable, staring straight ahead. Those of us behind him could read little from the back of his head. All that was revealed from that vantage point is that he has a significant bald patch, which he tries to disguise by a bit of judicious brushing: a hair-dressing patch-up job equivalent to the signing of Chris Kiwomya.
Those to Graham's side, however, report that he seemed to enjoy himself, chortling and applauding vigorously; a lot more, certainly, than he did on Wednesday night.
Ah, Millwall. The play's producers spared Graham nothing on that front.
Skilfully writing on the hoof, they had inserted a line which the Hornby character yelled as if in the crowd on that fateful evening: "For fuck's sake, Campbell, we're only playing Millwall."
Graham seemed less cheery about that one. But, as he left the theatre into an electric storm of photographers' flashes and a torrent of portentous headlines the next morning, the Arsenal manager could take some comfort from the play's last line: "I'm doomed to live a life of disappointments. I relish the misery football provides. When Arsenal are good it feels uncomfortable."
At least, then, someone is getting something out of his team's performances at the moment.Reuse content