x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Arsenal win again as Spurs fan gets shirty for a cause

Calling all you Arsenal fans out there.

Arsenal has a long and mutually beneficial connection with Emirates.
Arsenal has a long and mutually beneficial connection with Emirates.

Calling all you Arsenal fans out there. I want to hear from you. I crave your attention. I need your help.

Those are words I never thought I'd write. As a loyal supporter of Arsenal's bitter footballing rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, I tend to avoid contact with fans of the other team from north London.

The only time I seek their company is after a defeat, such as the occasion last November when we beat them 3-2, or after the Wembley final last week that the Gunners lost to lowly Birmingham in humiliating fashion.

In those circumstances, I'm happy to spend time with Arsenal fans, to hear the excuses, the moans of despair, the self-pitying recriminations, to see the tears of disappointment flowing down their cheeks. Schadenfreude was never so sweet.

But apart from those occasions, I shun them. It pains me to say it, but defeats such as the two I mentioned have been all too rare in recent years, Usually, Arsenal wins, and I want to be anywhere other than with a crowd of crowing Gunners.

Now, however, I am seeking them out, for the best of motives - to raise money for a very worthy charity, and to relieve me of an article of clothing I never thought I would own: an Arsenal shirt, signed by the full first team.

How did such an object end up in the possession of a Tottenham fan, you might ask? It's a longish story, but is worth the telling.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the birth of Emirates Airline, and to celebrate this historic occasion a dinner was held this week at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray hotel on the Palm in Dubai. The creme de la creme of Dubai's business community gathered at the hotel, built in true Dubai "monumental" style with echoes of Ottoman imperial architecture.

It was, as they say, a glittering event, organised by Emirates, the British Business Group (BBG) and Jumeirah, which manages the hotel. All very splendid.

BBG's chairman, the convivial Mark Beer, welcomed guests and outlined the evening's proceedings. The highlight was to be an address from Sir Maurice Flanagan, the executive vice chairman of Emirates who has been with the airline since its inception and who must take a lot of the credit for its success.

Also on the agenda was a "silent auction", designed to raise funds for the very good charity Angels, which helps merchant sailors in the region. The process is simple: you write your name and contact details on a piece of paper, plus the price you want to pay for the auction item and the highest bid wins.

Then Mr Beer announced the auction prizes. Top of the list was an Arsenal football shirt, signed by the first team. (Arsenal has a long and mutually beneficial connection with Emirates.)

Hearing this, I muttered (well, OK, I shouted actually): "I'd love to buy that, just to burn it in public." My table companions laughed, and that was it: we got down to the serious business of dinner and chit-chat.

It was excellent. I can recommend the cuisine in the Zabeel Saray very highly indeed, the service was tip-top, the environs breathtaking.

The table conversation was good too. Two of my companions were in particularly good form: Nick Lunt, the dashing Middle East head of the PR company M Communications; and Paul Reynolds, the urbane banker responsible for debt and equity advisory business for the illustrious house of Rothschild in the region.

Sir Maurice certainly lived up to the big billing he received from Mr Beer. His after-dinner speech was a tour de force, taking the rapt audience through the Emirates story from its launch on a budget of US$10 million (Dh36.7m) and two leased planes in 1986, to where it is today: a leading player in the global aviation business with a fleet of 137 planes flying to 100 destinations, and increasingly regarded as a serious threat by the established airline giants in Europe and North America. It was fascinating to hear Sir Maurice's insider version of the story.

Then, all too soon, it was over, and Mr Beer got to the close the evening and announce the auction results: "And the winner of the signed Arsenal shirt, with a bid of Dh18,000, is … Frank Kane."

Shock is not an adequate word to describe my reaction, but I'm sure you can guess what happened: Messers Lunt and Reynolds, acting out of the best of charitable motives, wanted the shirt to be sold for a big price, and have a little fun into the bargain.

We all had a laugh about it, and the charity gets a nice big cheque. Winners all round, and a great way to round off a very enjoyable evening.

Except for one thing: I am now the not-so-proud owner of a garment I will never wear, and which I am publicly pledged to destroy by fire.

So the message to Arsenal fans is simple: pay up, or the shirt gets it. All extra proceeds go to the Angels, so you don't have to worry about enriching a Tottenham fan. It's time to get your wallets out, you Gunners. Or else.

fkane@thenational.ae