“Good luck up there.” “Godspeed.” “We’re all with you.” After a while, all the congratulations and well wishes began to blur into one another. But our hero kept a smile on his face, kept shaking hands and nodding. And in truth, the excitement was so strong that it was all he could do not to laugh hysterically. Life provides very few opportunities for true heroism. Here was one.
Assuming he got it all right, of course. In theory the mission was simple, a milk run. Up, round, and back again. But since huge metal machines are traditionally meant to fall to the ground rather than fly through the air, there were a thousand things that could go wrong, and they all needed to be checked, double-checked and triple-checked. Then checked once more for good luck.
“Come on. He’s talking.”
With a nod to his mechanics, our hero hurried across the crowded hangar. He was joined by the other two pilots and by assorted members of ground crew, technical staff. Even a couple of the strategists were here, he noted in surprise. It wasn’t often the suits came down to join the little people. But then, it wasn’t often the man in charge of the whole operation stood up and addressed them all.
There was a brief squall of feedback, and then our hero heard his master’s voice, crisp and clear:
“Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in this history of mankind, and of Arsenal Football Club.
“Arsenal — that word should have new meaning for all of us today. A diverse collection of weapons. We must be consumed by our petty differences for evermore. We cannot be united in our common interests.
“Today is the 18th March, and, though that date has absolutely no special significance that I can discover, you will once again be fighting for freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution — but from cohesion.
“We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist, to be Arsenal. And should we win the day, the 18th of March will be known as the day when Arsenal declared, in several voices: we may or may not go quietly into the night. We might, or might not, lay down without a fight. We’re going to live on, or not. We’re going to survive, obviously, because we make loads of money either way.
“Today, we celebrate our independence, or possibly not, day!”
An almighty roar went up around the hangar. Fists were pumped, high-fives were exchanged, backs were slapped. Even the occasional brave tear ran down the occasional noble cheek. And our hero whooped and wept with the best of them, for a few seconds.
And then he calmed himself. He had a job to do. Returning to his plane, he began to run through his mission one final time. He was the third plane. He needed to be in the air at this minute, to approach the ground from this angle, and follow the first two planes by —
“Sir. There’s a problem.”
“What is it?”
“It’s the engine, sir. It’s … well, it’s completely gone. I’ve been telling them for years that it needs a proper overhaul, but we just got patch after patch. And now, well, look at it.”
Our hero looked sadly at the twisted lump of metal that had once been a proud and efficient machine, but now lay on the floor, a coughing mess. He winced as, with a kerosene-flavoured belch, a large propeller sheared from its moorings and clanged into the wall. And he sighed as his technicians began, slowly, to unhook the banner that he should, at this very moment, have been towing into the sky:
IN OUT IN OUT WENGER SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT.
Behind him, the first two planes roared into the air, heading for the Hawthorns and infamy. Our hero shook his head sadly, and went off to find a drink.