No one quite knows why one club is more appealing to a supporter than another. Normally, it’s through intense brainwashing from a much-loved Family dictator or due to a slow visual indoctrination from someone who lives and dies in a football shirt.
Wedding:- Football shirt plus a smart jacket.
Funeral:- Football shirt plus full length quilted team anorak. No bright colours, with possibly a sombre and gloomy away kit underneath.
It’s a process that becomes embedded in the back of the eyes and on the base of the brain stem without surgery ever being involved. A subtle penetration of thoughts and beliefs that defy any possible logic.
Supporting a team is a weekly gathering of thousands of like-minded souls, chanting the same names and cheering on a collection of strangers in tight shorts. Well, they were tight in the ’80s, Super deluxe Sporting budgie smugglers with a zero-friction gusset.
My association with Arsenal wasn’t organic, I grew up in South London and was told rather forcefully, on numerous occasions, that my club should have been Millwall FC.
I wasn’t keen on the idea of being a supporter of Millwall FC. I wasn’t very good at looking angry for no reason or using profanities and couldn’t throw anything very far, how would I ever fit in at Millwall FC.
No, No, it had to be a team that gave me a sense of self, one that appealed to my sense of pomposity when it developed in later life. One that looked like its ground could have belonged to the Ministry of Defence, that had a marble staircase and sold reasonably priced burgers and hot dogs outside.
Yes, Highbury was to become my place of worship, my university of life, my church and home ground. Later, through compulsory purchase, my affections moved to the Emirates but my affiliation and devotion to the Arsenal continued.
It’s a relationship that has outlasted the majority of things in my life thus far such as girlfriends, gym memberships, pets, promises, insurance policies, jobs, live casino games, successive popes and Governments but not Coronation street. It’s even lasted longer than this Country’s association with the European Union. The only genuine chance I ever had of some success in a European context.
I remember, as a young boy, heading to the North Bank for the first time and being greeted by the sudden crescendo of sound from the crowd. That was exactly the same moment that I was stuck on the side of the face by a tangerine skin.
It was probably part of a basic ritual, something that I accepted as a token of affection, like a warm welcome or a handshake but with fruit. It shows how times have changed and how much more affluent we have become because you are more likely to get knocked unconscious by an airborne pound coin Today.
Back then, there was no Roman Abramovich, No special one and Fergie time didn’t exist. Matches were played in fog, blizzards, torrential rain, hurricanes and had a volcano erupted, the match probably still would have gone ahead.
Arsenal tended to reflect my own needs as I grew. I needed stability, Arsenal put out the same 11 players, I needed ambition, Arsenal won the domestic double, I needed a hero, along came Charlie George.
My parents couldn’t afford to send me to away games but would quite happily pack me off on my excursions to North London for home games.
Being a supporter in my teens, the thrill of an FA Cup tie became stronger than the necessity to date a pretty girl. The success of winning the title was life-changing for up to a week and any plans, via family or friends, were only accommodated if they didn’t clash with fixtures or inconvenience the season in some way.
Come to think of it, I’ve had a deep and meaningful relationship with 11 grown men in shorts for as long as I can remember.
Yes, they’ve let me down on occasion as a supporter by promising me more than they can deliver. They’ve made me happy and sad in equal measure and have thrilled me until I thought I might burst. They have teased and seduced me without actually giving me anything in return and sometimes they have made me wish I’d never met them or cared for them.
Some months I’ve literally scored more than they have and I’ve also been far more consistent even when under the influence and that was quite often.
You have to genuinely love something with a passion if it continuously fails you. You have to have a special relationship with something to keep meeting up with it every week regardless of the outcome and cost.
When it’s away on vacation and you find yourself playing clips of the more successful times on YouTube, until that first ‘Fweep‘ of the referee’s whistles that signifies a new season, as a supporter, it’s genuine love.
At times, I tell myself that I’m not concerned by a result but when I’m attending a wedding reception, the desire is too strong and I normally find some way of sneaking off to watch the match that won’t end in divorce.
The only news I watch is Sky Sports News, the only part I read of a newspaper is generally the sports section and it’s got to the stage where I’ve become fairly oblivious to any current affairs or changes to the known universe.
I was so consumed by the draw against Liverpool in 2016, I’d even missed the passing of Alan Rickman. Imagine that, Hans Gruber had gone and I hadn’t even noticed.
Being a supporter of Arsenal is a religion but without the collection tray, it’s family but you don’t know them all and it’s a fraternity without the need for ridiculous clothes unless you count the wearing of scarves and reproduction shirts.
Loving Arsenal is like supporting Boris Johnson. It’s not popular with everyone and it seldom makes sense but it has its devoted followers.