Hope, despair, tears for Arsenal's faithful

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The Independent Online

As the final whistle sounded on a gallant but ultimately predictable defeat for Arsenal in Paris, the club's adopted pub, The Gunners, resounded with a defiant song: "Arsenal till I die, I'm Arsenal till I die ..."

There was an air of resignation as the fans who had not been able to get tickets for the big match filed out into the street surrounding their erstwhile home, Highbury.

Groups of fans who had hugged in hope and glee as Arsenal led at half-time despite having only 10 men now hung together in commiseration.

Most knew the die was cast once Arsenal's keeper had been sent off after 20 minutes, but their team had kept hope alive for a tantalisingly extended period.

Several fans slumped in tears as Arsenal's defeat in arguably the biggest match in their history sunk in. They had sung and cheered and suffered all the way to the end but now the song was over.

As one Arsenal fan wandered sadly away, drawing heavily on a cigarette, he concluded: "They gave it everything, but in the end there was just something missing and I think it was the extra man that made the difference."

The mood around the now defunct Highbury Stadium was heady before last night's match as groups of Arsenal fans hurried towards their favoured pubs to watch the action unfold.

Outside Arsenal Tube station, however, two vendors of flags and banners were under whelmed by the amount of trade.

"It's not what it could be," said one. "It would have been better if they'd had a big screen at Highbury."

Five lads from Croydon had travelled up under that impression and were now deliberating beside the silent stadium on where to watch the game. It was a tribute to the solidarity of the night that two of the travellers from Croydon were not even Arsenal supporters, with one admitting to being a fan of the Gunners' arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. "I reckon 1-0 to the Arsenal," he said.

In the Golden Fish bar, Peter Mitchell was also deliberating on a venue. "I've come over from Dublin especially for this," he said. "I've supported Arsenal since I was knee high. As soon as I met David O'Leary that was it."

He set off past another Arsenal stall whose goods underlined the fact that the parochial was always present even on this most European of occasions. Among the shirts on offer was one in the redcurrant colours of Arsenal which celebrated Tottenham's record-breaking season of 2005-2006. The least number of games in a Premier season. "Here's to a massive club!" the final line read.

Inside the heaving frenzy of The Gunners pub, Colin O'Garro was settling himself down for what he confidently believed would be a 3-1 win for the Arsenal. "I'm 38, and I've supported Arsenal since the early Seventies. We need to start right and get the game sorted out and then lock up shop," he said.

Near by, Stuart Barlow was a picture of enthusiasm as he bobbed up and down with a pint in each hand. Now 54, he has supported Arsenal since 1958 - a fact to which he attests by rolling up his sleeve and displaying a tattoo that includes that date and the list of Arsenal's subsequent double victories. "Just as well I've got long arms," he said. "I think we'll win 2-0."

The noise within the pub grew to ear-buzzing levels as Thierry Henry almost put Arsenal ahead after five minutes. But the sound stilled as if someone had pulled a plug when the Arsenal goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann, got his marching orders after 19 minutes. Someone somewhere decided that the best rallying call was the old 70-71 double standard adapted by Jimmy Hill, "good old Arsenal".

The song had the same effect as a comfort blanket. But after 37 minutes, when Sol Campbell put Arsenal ahead, the blanket was cast aside and the sound was of celebration was so loud it transformed itself almost completely into reverberation.

"Ten men, we only 10 men..." the cry began. Soon afterwards, with less logic, the cry of "can you hear the Barca singing? No. No." Hardly a fair question in a pub full of Gooners.

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