When the Arsenal team had tea with the Queen in Buckingham Palace
- Credit: PA
The Queen would never admit it, but Arsenal fans would like to believe she is a Gooner.
Her Royal Highness has never taken her place in the Clock End or waved a "Wenger out" banner. But in 2007 she did something for the Arsenal squad that has never been preceded or repeated for another Premier League team.
The story began back in the summer of 2006 when the Gunners moved from their long-standing base at Highbury to their current home in Ashburton Grove, the Emirates Stadium.
Queen Elizabeth II had been scheduled to cut the ribbon of the new stadia and usher in a new and, so far, not particularly successful era for the team. But after reportedly pulling out of the squad with a back injury, the self-described "world’s most experienced plaque unveiler", Prince Philip, took her place. The new season kicked off, Dennis Bergkamp retired, and it seemed that would be that.
Except it wasn’t.
The monarch had allegedly expressed her "disappointment" at missing the event – words, it could be noted, that have never been attributed to her after missing a Spurs match.
And so, Arsene Wenger, the late chairman Peter Hill-Wood and the men’s first team all received a hallowed invite, not just to a Buckingham Palace garden party, but inside her official residence for afternoon tea in February 2007.
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A BBC documentary on the Queen shows Ivorian wing-back Emmanuel Eboue practising his bow before the team boarded a coach for a trip across town to the palace.
On the ride, Ken Friar, the then club director, told cameras: “I have been in the business a year or two now and have been very fortunate to do many things, and I would think this is a highlight.”
Wenger told the documentary: “I think she is interested in people and will make them feel relaxed.”
The manager, a staunch believer in proper nutrition, would have been happy with the sandwich selection on offer – with cheddar and fig chutney on granary, smoked salmon tort, and roast beef on brioche all on the menu. A selection of scones, chocolate cake and pistachio macaroons were also available.
Before their meeting, the team were given a private tour of the state apartments by royal collections expert Desmond Shawe-Taylor, who admitted beforehand he was “nervous” about showing around the players.
It sounded like the day of a lifetime for the rest of us, but not everybody loved every moment. Presented with the Queen’s signature drink, goalkeeper Manuel Almunia said: “I don’t like tea, but you just have to do it."
Then, preceded by her corgis, arrived the Queen.
Captain Thierry Henry introduced the team one by one.
“This is Julio Baptista, from Brazil,” Henry says. The Queen and Baptista shake hands.
“Gilberto Silva,” Henry moves down the line, “from Brazil also.” Another handshake.
“This is Denilson…who is also from Brazil.” The Queen stops and does a double take, perhaps wondering if she has mistakenly been presented with the Brazil national team.
“Oh, three of you!” she says as the players laugh.
The very un-Brazilian looking German Jens Lehman then stops the trend.
“You have a very international side,” she later tells Henry after a run of Ivorian players.
The Queen had reportedly been studying recent results before the meeting, which impressed Henry – although he courteously did not ask her if she had watched the games.
“It went really nicely,” he said afterwards. “I have no words to describe the experience the Queen has given us.”
A silver emblem of a canon, the club’s logo, was presented to the Queen before she departed. Palace staff then gathered to give the team a round of applause.
Cesc Fabregas, 19 at the time and one of the few members of the team still playing, said the monarch had disclosed she was a fan.
"It appears the Queen follows football and she told us she was an Arsenal fan,” he told Spanish radio. “She definitely knew who I was and we exchanged a few special words.”