Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal celebrate FA Cup victory with parade through streets of London on open-top bus

By Jim van Wijk

In their thousands they waited, but after nine long years what was another few minutes around the red-and-white streets of Islington?

"This is where I was in 2005," Sarah told me, the 52-year-old life-long Arsenal fan standing in the shade off Highbury Station Road. "We will get a good view from here."

It was not long, though, before that clear line of sight through to Highbury Corner was obscured by more massed ranks of Gooners, many of whom probably had not had much thought for sleep following Saturday's remarkable FA Cup final triumph, secured with an extra-time goal from midfielder Aaron Ramsey to beat Hull 3-2 and bring an end to almost a decade without silverware.

Not everyone, though, had got the message about road closures, as one car was quickly turned back.

"I am trying to get down Holloway Road," the driver told a perplexed steward. "Not today you are not mate, not today."

Mike, 32, had brought along his two sons, Jonas and Kyle, neither of whom were born when Patrick Vieira lifted the 2005 FA Cup in Cardiff.

"When will the bus come, dad?" they asked, both now balanced somewhat precariously on a combination of Mike's shoulders and a nearby concrete bollard.

"You will know boys, don't worry," he said. And Mike was right. Moments later, club mascot Gunnersaurus was spotted through the trees and the decibel levels drowned out the overhead TV helicopters.

"If they don't turn around the square, we will go mental," said Bob, 63, who as a season-ticket holder for a quarter of a century has seen it all before of course, if not for a while.

Then, finally, the two bright red open-top buses came into view - giant German defender Per Mertesacker playing up to his role as crowd favourite with the famous old trophy aloft, before passing it along to anyone and everyone.

"I will remember this for the rest of my life," Kyle, seven, told his dad as they waved their heroes down Upper Street on to a reception with the mayor at Islington Town Hall.

"Let's just hope you don't have to wait as long as I did for another one," Mike replied as the crowds slowly dispersed.

Strolling down the empty bus lanes on Holloway Road, you could pick up an Arsenal FA Cup winners' flag for a fiver, or how about bright red T-shirts with 'Arsenal 3 Hull 2' emblazoned across a mocked-up Wembley Stadium?

"Printed them through the night, got the names of the scorers on and everything," the seller told me. "A tenner if you want, or two for £15."

Tempted as I was to pick up a couple for Arsene Wenger and Stan Kroenke to mark the occasion, it was onwards down towards Emirates Stadium.

Piebury Corner cafe - vandalised by rampaging Napoli fans ahead of a Champions League tie earlier in the season - was resplendently decked out in yellow and blue bunting, and offered some light refreshment before heading back out into the glorious May sunshine.

Getting down Hornsey Road, however, proved a bit more tricky, seeing as local police had closed access given the vast numbers already gathered outside the Armoury Store ahead of the team's return.

Rather than risk embarrassing myself clambering over some nearby railings as many desperate Arsenal fans did, I resorted to the old BAJ Press Card - not that I would get much further down than the Little Wonder Cafe, but it was close enough.

The highlights from Saturday's match were being replayed on the jumbo TV screen. Fortunately I had missed the nightmare opening eight minutes when Hull raced into a 2-0 lead. Just in time to see Laurent Koscielny's equaliser and Aaron Ramsey's winner before the bus arrived, as, led by Gunnersaurus, the players walked up on to the stage.

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who was on the bench at Wembley, took to the microphone, revelling in some Tottenham bating along with England midfielder Jack Wilshere, before encouraging out-of-contract Bacary Sagna to sign a new deal and Mertesacker then led the chants of "Arsenal till I die".

After a ticker-tape explosion, the final words were, perhaps fittingly, left to Wenger, who is set to formally announce his contract extension in the coming days.

"We would like to thank our fans really deeply, we realise how much they love our club and we are grateful for that," said the Gunners boss, who was soaked with champagne in the players' post-match celebrations at Wembley.

"Our players are great, but our fans are even better, they show it again today."

And, for this long-overdue moment in the sun, few could argue.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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