musthavelondon

Left a piece of my heart somewhere in N5

Time to dust ourselves off, and get on with it.

Well that was pretty fucking deplorable, wasn’t it? On top of the neighbors for the first half hour or so and we have to hit the goddamn self-destruct button again. In the span of just two minutes our biggest flaw as a team was exposed to the delight of the home support. Those cunts reveled in our misery and our miserable high line. 2-0 down and there was delirium at the Lane. They celebrated like they were winning the Champions League final, because that’s what beating us is to them. To be at the point where winning a league match against Arsenal is akin to celebrating a trophy triumph? Doesn’t that illustrate just where the balance of power remains?

Because I’ve just about had it. For the past two days I’ve sat and listened to abuse from all ends. Of course those LWCs deserve to gloat a little bit, but my god. You’d think they had condemned us to relegation. You’d think that they’d condemned us to fucking Blue Square League relegation. But let us have a brief reality check. Before they celebrate completely, they had better make sure that they actually finish above us. And after they’re done celebrating that, before they champion some sort of power shift in North London, perhaps they should finish above us consistently over a period of decades. And even after that, they might want to try winning the league on our pitch once or twice, or maybe making the Champions League 16 straight years, having an unbeaten season, or maybe just not being a batch of shit over-reacting cunts.

Yes, it looks like they will finish above us this season. Yes, it’s going to be a bloody difficult task for us to make the Champions League. Yes, it’s looking pretty gloomy from an Arsenal perspective at this point. But there is absolutely no use feeling sorry for ourselves because no one else is. I hate to say it, but look at what they did after we destroyed them 5-2 at the Emirates. They are unbeaten in 15 out of 16 league matches since then, and they would be 16 for 16 if they hadn’t chucked away a lead in injury time at Goodison Park.

If those shit cunts can do something like that after we demoralized them, I ask you why the hell can we not do the same? It’s down to the team to dig deep and pull themselves up from the ashes. It’s up to us to support them whole-heartedly for the rest of the season. I said on Twitter that I was close to giving up on them, but that was reactionary and dramatic. I cannot give up on them. This is when the team needs its supporters the most. Starting in Munich, the team need to hear just how behind them all of us are. The ‘hopeless’ 2nd leg against AC Milan last year sort of catapulted our season to new heights even though we lost the tie. If we can give it a real go in the Allianz Arena, I think we could take some great confidence from it. A spirited 2-2 over there would do us wonders. And from then on we’ve got 30 points to play for in the league, and we’ve got to get just about every fucking one of them if we’re to have a chance at the Champions League.

I’ll spare you all that ‘darkest before dawn’ shite and anymore emotional pomp. This is all about gritting our teeth from here on out. No one is going to feel remotely sorry for Arsenal supporters. They will revel in our misery, and we really need to use that as motivation. Fuck the lot of them, they want to see us fail so bad. Are we gonna just cave in and let them or are we going to dust ourselves off and get on with it? I don’t think that sounds like much of a choice.

As always, come on Arsenal.

Once more into the fray.

I was ready to leave. I had accomplished my goals and seen what I’d needed to see. London had embraced me with loving arms, and I’d enjoyed its warmth for as long as I could, but my restless soul was ready to get back to some familiarity. On my final evening in the best city in the world, after spending a few more moments with a pretty waitress whose smile had made my every Wednesday so much better, I took the time to hop on the Piccadilly Line from Earl’s Court and head back to the ground. It was the reason I’d come to London and I needed to bid it farewell one last time.

After buying some souvenirs for my best friend, I made my way across the bridge toward the stadium. Its glow was a lighthouse guiding my weary ship to shore once again. I gazed up, sighing, taking it all in and reflecting upon the sort of motivation a man needs to undertake a task like the one I’d just completed. From the depths of a shattered life I’d pulled myself to get to the Emirates Stadium, all for the love of the Arsenal.

My trip home went by quickly, and within a day I was already back to work and it seemed like this semester of school came about even faster. I’ve watched every match on the telly and enjoyed them even more than I used to. Pointing to people watching with me where I’ve sat in stadiums is quite fun, though I must admit my mother still can’t quite grasp why it was such a big deal for me to have been in the Madejski stadium on a cold October night. Arsenal remained a massive part of my life even as girls, school, work, and my future took over where London had left off. For awhile, the nostalgia didn’t hit me and I began to believe that my time amongst my fellow Gooners in London would just remain a cheerful, happy memory.

So it surprised me when last Friday night, on the eve of our match against Aston Villa, that I jumped onto Google Maps and started tracing the overground route from Willesden Junction to Highbury and Islington. It surprised me that I was watching video after video of Arsenal fans celebrating, of them singing in pubs, of legends in the red and white achieving glory together. I watched Walcott’s run against Liverpool. I watched Dennis’s goal against Newcastle. I watched Henry turning and firing over a motionless Fabian Barthez. And I thought about all those Saturday mornings where I arose and got my red and white on and headed out of my homestay toward the tube so that I could head to the Emirates, where I would join all those delirious fans in those same songs and same celebrations.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s only natural that I would start to experience such feelings when something as big as this weekend was beginning to loom.

The subject of my last blog post, the North London derby, is upon us once again and I should not have wondered for a second why that fact would instill such emotions in me. That I got to experience the last one live and in person is assuredly the reason.

I can remember it with remarkable clarity in spite of the absurd amounts of alcohol I consumed both before and after the match. In spite of Friday night’s pub crawl which led to me stumbling around Euston with a pair of girls wearing red peacoats, I woke up with my alarm at 8:30am sharp and made my way to the Tollington. There were familiar faces abound. Everyone was there. It seemed like I had encroached on a family reunion.

Forget encroaching though, I had been welcomed with open arms.

We quelled our nervous energy with drink and conversation. Time evaporated like the foam on our mugs and soon enough we marched into the ground to experience what I can only describe as delirium.

The Arsenal went to war and smashed those fucking shit cunts 5-2, again.

Memories of that day have been flooding my thoughts and dreams for the last two weeks as we march closer to part two. As important as the last North London Derby was to me as a person, this one is even more important to our club. We sit adrift of the top four, and they are once again above us in the table, but only by four points. They are flying high from a nice run of form whilst we’re still licking our wounds from an FA Cup exit and being dispatched by Bayern in the Champions League. They are eying up the possibility of winning the Europa League while we’re looking at an eighth straight season without a trophy. They have the greatest player of all time Gareth Bale while all our players look shorn of any sort of confidence.

But a wise man once said you can chuck that all out the window.

None of that shit matters when the players hit the pitch on Sunday. It’s us vs. them in a battle for North London supremacy. Pride, passion, and a spot in the top four are all one the line in this installment of one of the sport’s greatest rivalries.

Understanding washes over me as I think about it. Of course my strings are being tugged, my heart is being pulled from an ocean away. A ghost of James O’Mara will travel up Seven Sisters Road with the Gooners he left behind. A ghost of James O’Mara will sit in the Tollington helping to quell the nervous energy. A ghost of James O’Mara will be sardine-packaged into the away end of the shit hole. A ghost of James O’Mara will sing and cheer alongside you all as we take on the scum once more.

I’ll be getting up bright and early to have a pre-match pint. My best friend will be coming over, and my television will be turned on and not a thing in the world will distract me from the match or stop me from singing, yelling, and cheering, adding my energy to yours from across the fucking ocean the same way every Gooner from around the world will do.

I may not be able to join the fray with you all in person, but I will be there in spirit. Let’s fucking remind those shit cunts just who the fuck we are.

Come on Arsenal.

War.

War has changed. Once, local boys fought other local lads in front of local fans, participating in a sort of tribal warfare on muddy and unkempt pitches. Now, overly paid mercenaries take to a meticulously groomed pitch and are watched by millions all over the world. Advertisements are splayed on everything from jerseys to signs and are played at half-time. But not everything has dissolved in to a Kojima-esque dystopian nightmare where things are all regulated. The spirit and energy has not been drawn out from this clash, and on Saturday afternoon 11 will be pitted against 11, and the surroundings will get a glimpse back into the past as Arsenal FC face Tottenham Hotspur. I’ll be there for the 12:45 kick-off, sitting in the Clock End ready to get my first glimpse of North London Warfare.

Both armies are licking their wounds. That lot from the Lane have lost two on the trot and their new boy in charge is in hot waters that Redknapp sailed smoothly for as long as he could. They seem unable to grasp the fact that they are not entitled to Champions League football and any suggestion that they might not be good enough just yet and need to show patience is met with blithering stupidity that you could only really expect… from Tottenham.

As for us? What can you say? I’ve highlighted what happened at Old Trafford. Since then we’ve thrown away 2-0 leads twice and are floundering with a manager looking more and more lost for words in the face of his worst start to a season in history. While our defense was looking decent we couldn’t create anything, and then when we start banging in goals, our defense falls apart. This team are a frustrating conundrum.

You can throw all that out the window on Saturday.

At 12:45 we will march into the Emirates, and we need to let our army know that we are unequivocally behind them and so very completely against those in the lily white. We need to put aside our anger at the board, our frustration at the manager, our desire to club Andre Santos like the cute baby seal that he is. All of it needs to go into the sub-cockles of our inner thoughts in favor of one singular feeling. Love for Arsenal coinciding with hatred for Tottenham. If we create that energy in the ground, our lads will feel it and their mingy bastards will as well.

I can’t speak on this match as well as, say, Goonerholic or arseblog can. I have only just begun hating them with true vitriol and I cannot possibly hope to match the understanding of Gooners that have lived over here in London all their lives, experiencing these wars throughout the years. But I know that on Saturday I will be alongside my team in red and white, facing that deplorable batch of miscreants, and I will be ready for fucking war.

Let’s do this. Bring on Saturday. I would have sold my soul to get to this match and there I’ll be. I’ve already warmed up the vocal chords. Our team need us more than ever and I aim to do my part. As much as war changes, no matter what mercenaries step onto the scene and no matter how many non-locals like myself become a part of the battle, nothing will ever take away the team’s need for its supporters.

Come on Arsenal.

High and Low Pt. 2

Sports give us great moments like that cold Tuesday night in Reading, and they also unfortunately have a habit of giving us what they gave me in Manchester that Saturday.

Excitement built all week as I imagined what the match would be like. We were underdogs, heavy ones. And rightly so. But we’d been underdogs against United before, and I felt like we could get a result. The idea of celebrating a late winner against those vile, deplorable packs of excrement kept me up at night. Asking that Dutch piece of shit what the score was? Unthinkable. The week pressed on.

Having missed Halloween, I decided to dress up as Arsene Wenger for my trip up there. That night I turned down going out and getting hammered because I knew I’d need to get up ferociously early. I woke up and  got breakfast, then suited up.

It was fucking show time.

I boarded my train at Euston, and was surrounded by Man United fans. It was disgusting to see so many of them, but I can’t really complain about football fans making pilgrimages to see their club, now can I? The train ride there wasn’t as quick as I’d have liked. I really wanted to get to the ground and enjoy pre-match festivities with the rest of the Gooners at the ground, but there was a delay. More time for me to get anxious.

Upon arrival at Manchester Piccadilly it became apparent that I had no plan for getting to Old Trafford. When I’d gone to City before, Eastlands was only a half hour walk from the station and I managed to hop on a bus that took me straight there. Old Trafford was a different matter. I began to ask around, and after getting some confusing advice, I just decided to walk around until I found some more traveling Gooners.

It didn’t take long. I ran into a few heading away from some pub, and just asked if they were headed to Old Trafford. Yes was their answer. It was a father, his son, and his son’s friend. Their only question was “Are you a United fan?” My response, “fuck no!”

Between the four of us we didn’t have much of an idea of a quick way to the ground, so we hailed a cab and were on our way. I have to keep saying that the reception from pretty much everyone over here has been fantastic as far as me being an American Arsenal fan. I had figured from day one I’d have to earn people’s respect because they probably see American “fans” quite a bit who are fake and don’t really know anything about the club because they haven’t put the time in to learn. Not the case at all. I told them I was dressed up as Arsene Wenger for Halloween and we started singing “There’s two Arsene Wengers! Two Arsene Wengers!” in the cab. I asked them questions about their favorite moments and told them about all the matches I’d been to and how I’d saved up money for two years to get over to watch the Gunners. I don’t expect people to be impressed by my determination, but it feels nice to have it acknowledged. We sang songs together in the back of the cab until we were dropped off a short way from the ground. The march began.

On the way toward the stadium, the two younger ones had the balls to start up “Can you hear United sing? NO. NO. Can you hear United sing? I can’t hear a FUCKING THING!” and I got my nuts together and joined them. We were surrounded by the enemy though. My suit hid my true allegiance but my voice could not. We got told to shut up, got called wankers. It was exhilarating. Once we got to the ground, we were separated (I was in one section of the away support and they in the other). We vowed to meet after the match, but sadly I never saw them again and probably never will. Shame.

We’d only just arrived about ten minutes before kick-off and despite my desire for some alcohol I rushed to my seat, which was right next to the United fans. The ground filled up, and in short order we started singing. Most of it was about our former Captain, now waiting poised in the wings to haunt us. The ghost of over a hundred goals, floating across the pitch in ugly checkered red drapery. It was well and truly on.

Out they came, and we were in full voice in support of our lads and so completely against them, and him. I have never before heard such vehement hatred for an opposing player and I have never before FELT it. I’ve hated a lot of players in my time as a sports fan, but never have I hated one as much as I hate Robin Van Persie. That lying, disrespectful piece of dog shit deserves everything he gets even if I can’t bring myself to sing about a false rape accusation. One thing’s for sure though. Oooooh Robin, you are a CUNT.

So with the biggest match of the season having just begun and having been hammered 8-2 on this ground last year, a little defensive solidity for the first 20 minutes would have been an excellent plus, especially considering the attacking talents of aforementioned traitorous cunt. So of course in true Arsenal fashion we did the exact opposite.

To the surprise of exactly zero people on the entire planet, Andre Santos was left completely exposed (being fair, the flick on was brilliant) down the left, and the ball into the box wasn’t dealt with well. Vermaelen mis-kicked it and it bounced once. I shouted “No!” as it floated perfectly in the air for who else? Van Persie’s affectionately dubbed chocolate right leg smacked the ball. It wasn’t the cleanest hit we’ve seen from him, but it did enough to bundle it past Vito’s outstretched hand. Not two minutes in and we’d conceded to our former Captain, who had the gall to not celebrate scoring against us as if that display of good will would ingratiate him to us. No, now I wanted Jack to break his fucking legs even more.

Wilshere quickly picked up a yellow card for being a complete bulldog. We all chanted ‘Super Jack’ but I shouted ‘Jack, save that for Van Persie, fuck’s sake.’ It was a sign of things to come for Jack, and the goal was a sign of things to come for Arsenal.

We couldn’t create anything and United just came at us wave after wave, mostly down the left. I cannot figure out why nothing was done to either aid Andre Santos or swap him positions, but he clearly couldn’t cope with what United were doing. This had been obvious in several of the previous matches, and that Arsene couldn’t see what was bloody obvious to everyone in the stands is a little worrying.

The first have pressed on and we created fuck all. The United fans were well and truly awful. If we’d been winning 1-0 at home against a team we hated, the place would be buzzing. I know the Grove had been deathly quiet against Schalke, but we had played like shit and lost. United were WINNING and playing quite well and still there was no noise from the ‘Cockney Boys’. We goaded them with questions about their famous atmosphere. We told them it was so quiet, and then shouted that we’d race them back to London. We couldn’t even get a peep out of them sans the few wind up merchants sitting right near us. Pathetic.

At the end of the first half, they won a penalty because of a Santi Cazorla handball. Van Persie declined taking it, in what I suspect was another show of good will toward Arsenal, or perhaps he wanted Wayne Rooney to feel a little bit better about himself since his relegation to second best striker at United. Regardless, Wayne missed the penalty in hilarious fashion and that should’ve been the platform we took into the second half to build off of.

Instead it was more of the same. Frustrating lack of penetration and movement. Waves of United attacks, mostly down the left. They hit the post and should’ve scored. Giroud missed a decent chance. Wenger brought on Walcott but it didn’t change too much. United were offside several times, wasting glorious chances to put us out of our misery and finally they did it. Evra headed home a cross to put them 2-0 up, and as if that hadn’t made things feel hopeless enough, Wilshere was sent off for a second yellow soon later. It was well and truly over.

I guess the most frustrating thing about the match aside from letting that cunt score two minutes in, was that despite being completely outplayed from whistle to whistle, we could’ve still gotten something from it. If we had been more clinical in front of goal and less toothless in possession, this is a match we could’ve gotten a draw out of, at least.

From the dark clouds over our club that day though, rising above the cries fouling the name of Ivan Gazidis and through the massive amounts of discontent, one bit of joy emerged. With fifteen minutes remaining, some of us began. Just as our Gooners in arms had done all last year in the face of a loss at Old Trafford, we sang it loud and proud. “We love you Arsenal, we do.” Was the sound that the final 15 minutes of the match were played out to. We got our very deserved consolation in the form of a nice goal from Cazorla.

I sat and reflected after the match, taking some pictures of the Theatre of Nightmares for novelty’s sake. Some of the other Gooners screamed obscenities at the United fans, who just laughed. They don’t care. They really don’t care nearly as much as we do. What an existence totally devoid of any fun, for them. For them, winning as as much of a novelty as my pictures of the stadium. They can in no way appreciate glory the same way we could.

And that’s where my point about the overall effects of being a sports fan comes in. The teams that I’ve supported over the years feature some dominant champions as well as some complete and utter stinkers. My Yankees are probably the most historically dominant sports franchise in the Western Hemisphere. They are Real Madrid in Baseball form. However, I have followed two teams that have endured decades of futility. The St. Louis Rams, my NFL team, are in the midst of futility right now. And my hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, were so bad at one point that they were very nearly moved out of Pittsburgh for greener pastures. I endured with the Penguins and watched them when they were finishing last in the league. I wore the cap, the colours, I supported them as they were battered over and over.

And then, from the ashes they built a core of fantastic young players. Two of the best, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin formed a tandem not much unlike Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. That team rose up and defied expectations and gave me the greatest moment I’ve ever had as a sports fan. After losing the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 to the Detroit Red Wings (while I was living an hour outside of Detroit, surrounded by Wings fans), they fought and clawed their way back to the Finals in 2009. We had lost one of our best players from the previous year, Marian Hossa, and he had signed malevolently enough with the Red Wings who were facing us down in the Finals once again. The Red Wings defeated us in the first 2 games of the best of 7 series, just as they had in 2008. Things looked bleak. But showing heart and character that I struggle to describe, the 2009 Penguins battled back. We won Games 3 and 4 to level the series.

We were then blown out of the water in Game 5, because their star player Pavel Datsyuk returned and led a masterclass performance to put us on the brink of defeat. Game 6 was a tight, gritty affair and we quite literally clung on til the very last second for a 2-1 victory, setting up a decisive Game 7. I have waxed poetic about this game so many times. That brisk June night, I watched by myself as I’d had a cold. The Penguins came into that game as firm underdogs, as they’d been all series against the mighty Red Wings, but on this night each player had received a text from Team Owner and former Penguin legend Mario Lemeiux (the second greatest player of all time) telling them he’d be seeing them at center ice later on. They took it to heart and played one of the most amazing games of hockey I’d ever seen.

With six seconds to go, this happened. It’s probably tough to understand if you don’t know hockey, but I know any Gooner can recognize the joy on the faces of those Penguin players, and I matched it completely. I went mental. I ran around my house screaming that we’d won the Cup. I went outside and shrieked it at the people at the convenience store across from me. I ran back upstairs and then collapsed in a heap of tears on my floor, completely unable to believe what I’d just seen and totally drained of energy. My joy could only be expressed with tears.

Would I have gotten that moment? Would I have been able to enjoy that fucking brilliant moment of bliss that was better than anything else thus far in my entire life if I hadn’t stuck with the Penguins when they were in the doldrums of the league? Would I have been able to properly grasp how great that feeling was if I hadn’t been stung through the heart by our loss to the Red Wings in the previous year? Absolutely not.

So when I see the disillusioned Gooners talking about going on strike, talking about giving up on the team for good, I just can’t fathom it. We were all disappointed at Wembley when Birmingham beat us. We were all gutted when Bendtner missed that chance in the Nou Camp. We all were ‘nearly there’ with the team as they just about turned around 4-0 against Milan. Just as we were all torn apart to watch our club outclassed once again at Old Trafford by a team clearly several leagues our better.

But giving up? Are you fucking joking with me?

Yes, criticize the manager and the board. They aren’t infallible, but if you give up you are going to miss out on moments like Reading. You are going to miss out on nights like 2-1 against Barcelona, or days like5-2. In order to fully appreciate those moments you need to go through the tough parts. You need to sit through beatings at Old Trafford, you need to grit your teeth and bear through the pain of letting a trophy slip through our fingers in the dying seconds. You cannot give up and leave your fellow Gooners in the trenches because when we all come out, we want you to be with us, singing “We love you Arsenal, we do.”

So please realize that in sports, there are highs and lows. In order to enjoy the wonders of the highs, you have to be strong through the lows and sing that fucking song whether we win or lose. Come on You Gunners.

High and Low Pt. 1

It occurs to me that though I’ve only been alive for just 24 years, I am swiftly approaching 20 years as a sports fan. I know to most people this isn’t a remarkable milestone, especially as these days I am meeting fellow Arsenal fans who have been dug in the red and white trenches for twice as long as I’ve even been alive, but I’d like to think that my time as a fan of many teams has led to me growing very wise and understanding more and more what sport can bring us.

Of course, it’s well documented the pure unbridled joy we can get from sports. When our team wins, we’re elated. The pure unadulterated bliss one can take from their team winning a title is hard to measure. But are there certain levels even to that?

And before going too far into that, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other side. The feeling of hopelessness or despair when our team loses. Whether it be to a close rival or anyone, really. Watching some other team celebrate at the expense of your own is disparaging beyond reason, and that goes to different levels as well. But is it necessary? Let’s examine in a moment.

First, I want to tell you about my week. As is usually the case for Arsenal fans, there is never a dull moment. Last Tuesday I set out for Reading for our match in the Capital One Cup. We were going to be playing our second team and I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was ready for a fun night out. There were delays with the train from Paddington, but because I was wise and booked myself so much time in advance I got to Reading really early. I also made it to the ground really early and had plenty of time to try and sneak into the Madejski Hotel bar, which was not allowed.

So I had to wait out in the cold for them to open the ground up for us. This wasn’t a problem as I’d covered myself in four layers, having sat out at the Emirates on Saturday freezing off all of my extremities because I hadn’t dressed appropriately. Eventually they opened up the ground and I got in to have beer and watch the Season Review from 2011/2012. It was a lot of fun watching and talking about the matches with fellow Gooners. Commiserating over losses and cheering wins. Good fun. One highlight was when they showed Thierry’s return goal against Leeds, the whole lot of us broke out into ‘Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry.’

Ominous though, was the figure of Robin Van Persie, collecting goal after goal each seeming to become better than the next. I pushed his looming shadow out of my mind to focus on the task at hand. Drinking and watching football.

Once I was warmed up enough I went outside to my seat. The place was buzzing, excitement permeated the ground. None of us could have predicted what was coming, but you could just feel a certain electricity about the place. At least I could.

The match began and we were loud and proud. I’d read in a stadium preview that the away fans were able to generate phenomenal noise there and we did our part, going back and forth with the Reading supporters through the first ten minutes. It didn’t take much longer for the wind to be knocked out of our sails completely.

Boom. One goal. Boom, an own goal. 2-0 down to Reading. I couldn’t fucking believe it. But oh, it was going to get worse. Boom, a third that deflected in off our hapless goalkeeper. I turned to Tone, who has been sort of apprenticing me into a full fledged Arsenal fan. Hearing his war-stories about dreadful away days and glorious victories had made me appreciate what it means to be a true supporter. Unfortunately this was shaping to be one of the more dreadful away days, that fact driven home as their fourth goal bounced in off the post from a header. 4-0 in 37 minutes. “We want our Arsenal back.” Cried some amongst us. “Ivan Gazidis, you’re killing our club.” Cried others. The rest said nothing, but voiced their displeasure with their feet. They made their way to the bar area, and some indeed out of the ground (though not as many as those pile-on cunts in the media would have you believe).

The Reading fans gave it to us in full. “He’s laughing at this, he’s laughing at THIS. Robin Van Persie, he’s laughing at this.” “You’re gettin’ fucked on the telly! Fucked on the TELLY! You’re gettin’ fucked on the telly!” and “FOUR NIL on your big day out, FOUR NIL on your big day out.” were the main ones I can remember. It was well and truly brutality.

In added time, we got a consolation goal. It was, actually a pretty brilliant goal. Arshavin’s through pass was incisive and Walcott’s goal was a wonderful chip. 4-1 at half time. I turned to Tone and I said “We can get back into this.” He sort of laughed and said “Alright” but I could tell he wasn’t convinced. I went off to the bar and drank as many beers as I could during half time. When I came back out, the first thing I saw was Reading come close to netting their 5th. That would’ve been it.

‘We love you Arsenal, we do.’ Began emanating from all around us. I never expected that we’d have to be defiantly staring down the barrel of a hammering against Reading, but these are the things football can throw at you.

Anyway, we huffed, we puffed, we got control of the game and made some substitutions (finally). Giroud and Eisfeld came on and immediately there was a difference. Walcott’s corner went in from a brilliant Giroud header and it was 4-2. I was going nuts, beginning to believe my own words. We could indeed get back into this.

Time slipped away though. The Gooners around me were brilliant, we refused to give up and refused to let our team give up. I’d like to think that they drew on us a bit. If we helped them even the tiniest of a percentage then I am truly glad. The Reading fans were shitting bricks until the last 10 minutes or so with the score still stamped at 4-2. They were starting to feel safe, and who can blame them? In the 88th minute we finally got our 3rd through a Koscielny header from a corner. I went nuts even though some around me thought it might have been a little too late. I must have shouted “COME ON! LET’S FUCKING GO! LET’S FUCKING GO!” about a half a dozen times.

Time ticked on though, with the ball stuffed down in our own end. It was looking hopeless. I had my phone out, matching the time on it with the amount of time the fourth official had added on. We weren’t going to have enough time. “He’s going to blow it.” I said. I was certain he would. We all were. We were in added time upon added time due to a Reading substitution, and then it happened. We lumped the ball forward into the box for what was surely the last chance. Chamakh rose highest and headed it into Theo’s path. He took it down wonderfully and struck it with venom across the keeper. Federici got his hand to it but not enough, and despite some cunt’s best efforts it crossed the line (and if it didn’t Jenko smashed it in to remove all doubt). Cue delirium.

I hugged Tone. I hugged the old guy next to me. I went absolutely fucking bonkers. We all did. There was some kid up behind me running around with his shirt off twirling it above his head. I jumped around. I screamed. I lost my voice. It was pure fucking madness. To come back from 4-0 down away from home is just something you don’t see. Hell, coming back from 4-0 down AT ALL is just something you don’t see. I could never have pictured in my mind what I had just seen. Never could I have imagined we would do something like that in this game. I didn’t believe it myself when I said we could do it at 4-1, but the team believed and they willed themselves back into it.

And there was still more (contrary to what Giroud and Coquelin believed).

Extra Time provided more insanity. Chamakh scored our 5th to give us our first lead of the night and we well and truly gave the Reading fans back everything they’d been hitting us with in the first half. “He’s laughing at you, he’s laughing at YOOOU. Robin Van Persie, he’s laughing at you.” and our own rendition of them getting fucked on the telly. My favorite was “You should’ve scored more, you should’ve score MOOOORE. Four against Arsenal, you should’ve scored more.” It was just total bedlam, with us singing about going to Wembley and jumping up if you’re 5-4 up.

Things weren’t finished. Arsenal can’t ever do anything the easy way, and with the second half of extra time winding down we conceded a 5th goal. I was despondent, but not totally against the idea of seeing penalties live. I’m one of the few football fans who can stomach them.

Nervously we watched as Arshavin broke down the left with pace drawn from some sort of otherworldly vortex. He drove all the way into their box, and when it seemed easier to cut back, he shot across goal. He did beat the keeper, but some cunt got back to block it just in time. Unfortunately for the cunt, he blocked it right into the path of Theodore Walcott, who wasted no time smashing in his third, and our sixth. Cue more delirium. Cue me going up into the row behind me to celebrate with the fans up there. Hugging random people, joining in the trenches with supporters who’d never given up even at 4-0 down and reaping the benefits. This game was well and truly a microcosm of everything it means to support a football club.

With time ticking away once again, they pressed for a 6th of their own, and were caught out by a defensive mistake. Chamakh raced in on the keeper and lobbed him from 30 yards out, scoring his second long distance goal of the match. More delirium, I ran past Tone and nearly dragged poor Goonerholic down on top of me as I hugged him. It was fucking mental. I couldn’t believe it.

The match ended at last, and the consensus from every single one of the Red Army around me was that they’d never seen anything like that. These are Gooners who have been doing it for so long, and they’d never seen anything like it. This was only my 11th live match, and I got to see something that was so rare and so special that these guys had NEVER seen something like it. I am the luckiest person on the face of the Earth.

The commitment to this club rewarded me on a cold Tuesday night in Reading. As classmates of mine spent their mid-semester break flying all over Europe, seeing Italy, seeing Barcelona, Prauge, etc, I can saw that without a shadow of a doubt there is no place in the WORLD I’d have rather been than at the Madejski Stadium to support my Arsenal. Ooh to be a Gooner, indeed.

 

To Be Continued.

Every time is like the first time.

I’m sure a lot of Arsenal fans can easily look back in their memory to pick out their firsts, so I’m happy to say that I’ve ticked a lot of those boxes in the past seven days. Let’s go back.

My first away trip.

Wiping the grogginess from my eyes I got up at some unprecedented hour and headed outside where it had ominously began to rain for only the second time since my arrival in England. In my pocket were a set of tickets. Some for the train to get me to Manchester, but the other an unfeasible item that would grant me entry to the Etihad Stadium deep within the heart of the Middle Eastlands. There’s a common acceptance among Arsenal supporters that while the Emirates crowd is nice and all, they cannot compete with the traveling Gooners. I can recall many an away day listening as we took over a stadium and out sang the home support with ease and being proud. The aforementioned singing at Old Trafford during the 8-2 comes to mind.

That I was set to be a part of this gloriousness made my anticipation unmatched. I got on the overground to Euston where I waited with nerves for the platform with my train to be listed. Finally it happened and I got in line, wondering if I was headed the right way. Of course, the red and white jerseys getting in line behind me made me feel better. And yet somehow once I’d gotten on the train and started reading, I began to be surrounded by sky blue jerseys. At one point I had two City fans in front of me, two behind me, and one next to me. I felt like a prisoner of war. I had my scarf kept in my bag so they didn’t know I was a Gooner until I told them and they didn’t really say much to me after telling me how far the stadium was from the train station. Oh well, my book was more interesting than listening to them have a Man United jealousy wankfest. It amazes me that they won the title last season and still have an inferiority complex.

We arrived at Manchester Piccadilly and I told them I wished them luck, the sort of luck that would see four of their players sent off and 8 goals put past Joe Hart. They returned the favour and off I went to try and find a pub I’d heard about on Twitter. It took a little wandering but I saw some red jerseys standing near the entrance to the place and headed over. Packed though it was, I sidled through and found a spot near the TV where I could catch the second half of Liverpool vs. Man Utd. The score was 1-0 Liverpool, but I’d learn from my friends on the train that Jonjo Shelvey had been sent off. 10-men Liverpool with a 1-0 lead and United pressing? WHAT COULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN?

Equalizer and of course a late penalty which some cunt whose name I don’t remember scored. It was nice during that game to join together with the City fans in our hatred of Man Utd, but the real fun was when they previewed the upcoming City/Arsenal match. The City players walking into the Etihad were shown first and all the Gooners gave a hearty BOO while the City slickers shouted CHAMPIONS CHAMPIONS CHAMPIONS. We cheered when our lads came on the TV and especially Arsene Wenger. It was all a bit of fun and despite hating it’s light truth, I got a kick out of it when the City guys sang “You’re just our feeder club, you’re just our feeder club” at us.

I bolted for the stadium after Van Douchefuck scored their penalty. After wandering a bit, I discovered that a nearby bus would take me straight there. I hopped on, the only one with red and white amongst a sea of pansy blue and I relished the siege mentality. Those around me talked of their need to ‘stamp their authority on their league, as the champions’ in the match today and I just thought to myself that it’d be a long time before Manchester City could call the premier league ‘theirs’.

One arriving I headed toward the away end and had my excitement bubbling over as I heard the sounds of the Gooners singing in the bar area. I practically raced up the steps toward my entry gate so I could join in. This was the sort of thing I’d only ever seen videos of, the away Gooners enjoying themselves. I had to be a part of it. Once I was in I got myself a beer and had at it. There was a particularly riveting rendition of “10 men went to bed with Ashley” that I got on camera but overall it was just fucking fantastic. Yes, the Emirates was nice, but the traveling fans were the ones willing to sing any and everything. I took advantage and got my vocal chords warmed up for the match.

Once I got out there, it was amazing. The away support is as loud as I’d heard on the television and we didn’t stop singing. At one point we had RED ARMY going for a solid 10 minutes and it was all I could’ve asked for.

The match itself was entertaining. Arsenal were very good, putting on a confident display from top to bottom with the exception of Gervinho. Much has been written about the one man ATV (Yao Kouassi sounds like a brand of 4-wheeler) and I for one have just given up on him. Yes, you can flail your arms about when he engages in frustrating you but ultimately he will produce goals and assists so it’s easier to just give up and smile whenever he does something ridiculous like using his first touch to back pass right to Joe Hart.

Arsenal went behind after not defending a set piece well at all. People will talk about the zonal marking but the reality is this, if the goalkeeper comes for the ball he should get the ball. Simple as that. It was a rather well placed corner and Lescott’s header was unstoppable so there you go. The home fans, having been relatively quiet apart from mocking us when we thought Gervinho’s side-net effort had gone in, finally woke up and made a bit of noise. “We forgot that you were here.” Was our response as the half came to a close.

During half time I was really hungry due to skipping breakfast and trying to substitute beer for the nourishment. I tried to grab a hotdog and after receiving it and going to sit down to enjoy it, I made a sharp turn for some reason and the hotdog flopped off the bun and onto the floor. I stared down in disbelief as the guy next to me laughed and told me I should still eat it. “Not a chance” was my response as I went to throw it out. Upon returning, the guy laughing knocked over his beer onto the floor and I told him he should still drink it. We laughed and commiserated upon our poor luck. The moral of the story is not to waste your money on overpriced stadium concessions. Have a full meal before going and one after so you don’t drain your pockets and drop your overpriced hotdog on the fucking floor.

But I needed to drown the sorrows of my lost hotdog in another beer or two, so I did and returned for the second half. The second half was a lot of fun, we went back and worth with the City supporters, and even joined in when they started calling Gary Neville a wanker. It was just a fun novel experience for a first timer. Also their chant about the 6-1 against United was applaudable “It should’ve been ten, YOU LUCKY BASTARDS, it should’ve been ten.”

Of course, we were playing them, so that needed to be put aside to focus on the hatred and as I mentioned earlier the siege mentality was great. As the second half wore on I’d like the think the team started to feed off us. We turned up the noise and attacking toward us, the Gunners turned up the pressure. Eventually we were rewarded with the goal we deserved. Koscielny collecting Lescott’s poor clearance and smacking it home to level. We went absolutely bonkers and I shredded my vocal chords. We proceeded with the Poznan to rub it in for full effect and then bunkered in to press for the winning goal. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, due to the ATV’s wastefulness with a glorious chance and we had to settle for a draw. But a draw at the champions is nothing to be upset about and the Gooners left the happier set of fans to say the least. The procession back toward the train station was filled with Arsenal heavy song and it was fun despite the gloomy weather filled with rain. I had to wait two hours at the train station for my train and wished intensely that I’d booked an earlier trip but I suppose it could’ve been worse. I ran into some Gooners who talked to me about the match and again I was surprised at the relatively positive reaction I got to being an American. I also had a Man United fan come up to me and chat for about ten minutes about how City were jokes and how Utd and Arsenal were the only two legitimate teams, and that clubs like City and Chelsea were ruining football and whatever. I told him I’d have to look for him after we crushed them 8-2 at Old Trafford in November. Heh.

The ride home felt like forever, but it was honestly just a fucking brilliant experience. The away support was marvelous, we got a great result, it was everything I could’ve asked for. Next up was another first.

My first League Cup Match, sitting club level

Now, I was excited to see the youngsters in a relatively pressure free environment and I was completely chuffed to get a ticket to this match and get to go to it. I was running late on the way to the match and sprinted from the Arsenal tube station all the way to the Tollington to get my ticket. I found I’d been upgraded to club level (another first)!

I knew the seats would be great, having been at that level during my stadium tour, but I was a bit worried at what the support would be like there. I had every right to worry. I made my way over and got to my seat, which was fantastic. But noticeably barren as well. The suits and ties slowly made their way in and my early attempts to start songs up were met with silence. This was what I’d expected.

The match was great, the youngsters and first teamers getting a pressure free opportunity played really well, Giroud got his first goal, Arshavin played well, and the likes of Miquel and Coquelin looked impressive. But the atmosphere at club level was dire. Half the people were just showing up at halftime, they wouldn’t sing, and I felt like I had to reign it in every time I got excited about something. My seat was up against the wall, so there were none behind me, so I figured I’d stand up for the second half (I spent the entire match in Manchester on my feet). One of the stewards came over to me about 10 minutes into the second half and told me to take my seat. I was confused and asked why, but he was stern in the re-telling. Not wanting to cause a problem I grumbled and took my seat. Annoyed by this, I decided they weren’t going to stop me from having fun and I ramped up the singing. I didn’t give a fuck if I was the only one in the section being loud but listen. I come from 3,000 miles and an ocean away. I don’t get to be at these matches every week, or you know, for one half at a time like the suits and ties surrounding me. I am not about to sit and fold my arms and be quiet and not enjoy myself, if I wanted to do that I’d have stayed in America to watch the match in my bedroom. Fuck that shit. I was rowdy, launching into as many songs as I could and fair play to the people around me they took the hint and started to sing more. But fuck.

It was a stark contrast to the away support from the weekend. Few of them actually stayed til the end to cheer as Theo and The Ox showed their appreciation and at that point it stopped really bothering me.

Afterward I headed back to the Tollie for drinks. Met some great Gooners and heard some stories. I love hearing about where people were for Anfield 89. To have been there and experienced that, when just watching the highlights of it gives me goosebumps. Too good. Anyway, I ended up chatting with this French Gooner and his friend who really liked Steve Bould (didn’t even care about his lack of hair) and drinking beer for so long that I almost missed my train. I went from the Tollie to the Holloway Rd station and rode the Piccadilly Line back to Piccadilly Circus where I caught the VERY LAST train to my stop at Stonebridge Park just as it was arriving at the platform. If I’d missed it I would have been stumbling around drunk trying to figure out the night bus with no cellphone (it had died). Ugh. I slept off the booze and prepared for what would be the very last first of the week…

My First Loss

I’m going to write as little about this as I possibly can because I’m still unhappy about it and this post is getting long-winded. I knew the loss would have to happen at some point with the volume of matches I was taking in. Still, did it have to be to them? Did it?

It did. Listening to those blue cunts in the away corner go on and on about being Champions of Europe was fucking maddening, as was the fact that we conceded two via set pieces. 3 of our 4 conceded goals have been from set pieces this year. Defensive improvements are easy to see, but we’ve still got a long way to go if we’re ever going to wipe out that serious achilles heel. People will talk about the decision not to start Mertesacker for a long time and I will just say this. I did not agree with the decision to start with, but maybe when I’ve managed a team as long as Arsene Wenger has I’ll be qualified to vehemently disagree with his selections. Arsene made a choice based on what he thought would work, and honestly if you look at the way we stifled their creative players for most of the game the decision wasn’t that calamitous. Kosc was at fault for letting Torres score and Verm gave away the two free kicks in the first place. Either way, one of them would’ve been out there with Mertesacker on the pitch, so it is what it is.

The thing for me was our lack of clinical finishing. We had plenty of chances to get something from that game and failed to do so because of our erratic finishing. That’s what worries me the most. On a day where we weren’t at our best, we still created enough chances to get a result and couldn’t do it. Frustrating.

The walk out of the stadium was a lot of fun to see, in a commiseration sense. I’m so used to being alone in my anger and misery when a poor result goes Arsenal’s way, but to see thousands of other just as angry faces storming their way out of the ground was pretty neat. I’m part of that collective now. EVERYONE here is fucked off for a few hours after a result like that. My feet quickly carried me away from the stadium and back to the pub, leaving the Chelsea fans singing to fade away. Yes, we know what you are too. A pack of utter fucking cunts.

So another week down and I got to experience a myriad of firsts as an Arsenal supporter. My first away match, my first League Cup match, and my first loss. The fixtures are coming thick and fast now, with my first Champions League tie coming in midweek against Olympakos and a trip to Upton Park to take on West Ham at the weekend. I’m becoming addicted to this shit now. I don’t know how I’ll be able to go back to just watching on the television ever week, but for now that’s far off in the future so I’ll just have to enjoy this while it lasts. Come on you Gunners.

More later on from me, my few readers. Cheers.

 

It was beautiful…

I got up early (for me) to a sunny Saturday morning in northwest London. I quickly got a shower and got ready, getting myself set for what was going to be an excellent day. I armed myself with my cellphone, with my camera, and my red and white scarf. Clad in a pair of jeans and my newly purchased Mikel Arteta jersey, I headed toward the Stonebridge Park tube station with a smile on. I even gave some dude a few pounds for bus fare on my way because I was in such a good freaking mood. I took Stonebridge Park to Willesdon Junction where I hopped on the London Overground and waited.

It was a few stops before I saw the first one. Another person dressed in red and white, at his side was his son, also clad in the famous colours. A few more stops passed on the way to Highbury and Islington, and more of these people wearing red and white filled up the train. I was well and truly headed in the right direction.

After what felt like an eternity, we reached our destination. Funneling off the overground, I managed to ask the man with his son if they were headed to the match. He told me they were, and I asked if I could follow him, because it was my first time, you see. He told me they were going for lunch at a nearby McDonald’s, but he told me that it was easy to get to the stadium from there. “Just follow the red and white procession,” he told me. And so I did.

Going left out of the Highbury and Islington station, I looked up and saw a sign pointing me in the direction of ‘Arsenal Football Club’ and heading in that direction were hundreds of other folks dressed in red and white. I followed. It took me about twenty minutes, but it was a pleasant walk on such a beautiful day. I turned right, following the procession and another sign, and sure enough I could see the Emirates. It was still a few hours until match time, so after asking for directions I found my way to the Tollington Arms, referred to on arseblog affectionately as “The Tollie.”

The place was fucking packed. Shoulder to shoulder Gooners. Madness! I didn’t exactly know what to do, I knew there were people in there from the arseblog that I could find and that knew I’d be showing up, but it dawned on me at once that I’d no clue what they looked like. I ordered a beer from the bar and sat back to watch the West Ham/Norwich match, meanwhile texting one of the arsuers to find out what the others looked like. The description I got for one was that he was short, with short red hair. Downing my beer and then another, I went about the task of asking every red haired bloke in the place if they were the person I was looking for. This led to about five or six very confused looking red-haired dudes.

Eventually I found someone I recognized from TWITTER of all places, another Arsenal blogger, and she pointed me in the direction that I needed. I found Ollie and co. and I had a drink with people I’d only ever typed to. It was great. Everyone had great fun talking to me about the fact that it was to be my first ever match, and Sly of course informed me that if we lost I could never return. Indeed.

I had to go find my way back to the stadium to get my ticket (and have another beer) so I bid them adieu, and ran into the Arsenal blogger I recognized from twitter. I spoke to her and her parents about my adventure over and it was nice to see the reactions to the abridged version of my story. Along the way I’ve felt like being an American, not a lot of people are going to take my rabid Arsenal supporting seriously. And I know that doesn’t really matter in the long run but as someone who gets up at 7:45 when they’ve gone to bed drunk at 4:30 to watch a North London derby, it’s nice to be given proper consideration.

Polishing off my alcohol, I made my way back toward the ground. The Emirates rose up, dominating the horizon. I went to the Tony Adams statue to wait for wd to bring me the ticket she’d so graciously got for me (mostly to shut me up from whining about not being able to get the tickets). She arrived and I met her family before heading over to wait for mrswoo. I was meeting a whole cast of characters that I’d only known by text and screen names. It was utterly surreal!

Not as surreal as the moment I headed through that gate though. For four years I’d dreamed of little but that moment. Ticket swiped, green light activated, turnstile went through and there I could see it. Like the gateway to a new world, was the tunnel toward the seats. I asked if I had the right seating details, and the security dude told me I did. So I walked on through to the other side and it was beautiful…

I’d only ever seen a match-day Emirates pitch from my television set, and in person it was just so much greener. The red surrounding on the stadium walls was so much more red in person. And if I’d wanted I could’ve ran out onto the pitch and tackled Carl Jenkinson as he warmed up right in front of me. I couldn’t do that from behind the television set!

The match began in short order and I sat there like a first timer, taking pictures and videos in obnoxious fashion. I had discussions with myself throughout the first half about all manner of things, who would take our free kick (I was right, it was Podolski, and he smashed it in) and I sang every single time someone started a song. Oh, the glorious songs that I’d spent time memorizing and singing by myself in my bedroom. Now I could sing them alongside the 60,000 some odd Gooners in the stadium.

It was a brilliant first match. Arsenal hardly put in a foot wrong, and we obliterated Southampton 6-1. They were hapless and their lone goal came from an Arsenal error. I struck up conversation with a Gooner who had traveled all the way up from Southampton herself! She and I talked about how we’d nearly let third place slip at season’s end last year, she’d actually been to the Norwich match that finished 3-3. It was great talking to her and laughing about how she had to journey home on the train with all the disheartened Saints supporters.

The match ended and I was out of energy after singing my lungs out for a solid two hours and shouting about every decision that didn’t go our way. It was a good result for us, and it was great to see us really put an inferior side to the sword instead of letting them off the hook. From a football perspective it was utterly brilliant to watch Cazorla and Podolski click into action from the stands. Those two just “get it” and behind them Arteta provided a fantastic screen and outlet. On one hand it’s a shame that his creativity isn’t unleashed because on his day he’s a marvelous creator (though not quite on Cazorla’s level) but to see him adapt and flourish in his new role is inspiring. He’s quickly becoming my new favorite, but it will be a while before someone takes De Verrader’s place I think.

I went back to the Tollie after watching through the grating to see the Arsenal players leave in their vehicles with wd and family. At the Tollie I got a few more drinks and chatted with Ollie, met Goonerholic and a few more arseurs. I’d have loved to have stayed, but I hate missing dinner and thus had to begin my trek back to the tube station.

The sun was setting on me as I passed Gooners on my way back and I reflected on the day. Had it been everything I expected? Had a four year long build up perhaps left me too hyped? I don’t think so. It was just as amazing as I’d envisioned it. For four years or so I’d been singing about how Arsenal FC were by far the greatest team to no one in particular from my bedroom. Now I’d done so right and proper, from the terrace in full voice with my Gooner brethren. I’d managed not to break down into tears but it wasn’t until sleep came that the smile was able to melt away from my face. And come morning, it returned in quick fashion with the knowledge that while that was only the first time, there would be many more.

In short order, too. I’ll be at the City match tomorrow. COYG🙂

 

 

Must. Have. ARSENAL

 

            I am an Arsenal supporter. I feel most of the time that this is a good thing, but it can also be bad for things like my blood pressure and my sense of humanity because you see, in order to be an Arsenal supporter you need to have a fair bit of hatred in you, some of which should be reserved for yourself. I’d say about 5% self-hatred, 95% Tottenham-hatred is a good split for any worthwhile Gooner. It’s not all about hatred though, so don’t get the wrong idea. This is, in fact, a love story.

I became an Arsenal supporter through some rather contrived and confusing means. I’d imagine for most people it begins with parental indoctrination. Fathers in and around North London tell their offspring that if they support another team they’ll meet their end with the spin cycle in the washing machine, which I think is pretty reasonable. I didn’t get to experience this introduction to my club (or a father for that matter). Unfortunately this meant I missed out on a lot. Michael Thomas, Tony Adams, Ian Wright. These were names I’d never hear, legends with exploits I’d have never known about if the series of fortunate events leading to my Arsenal discovery hadn’t happened.

To get right down to it, I’ve got video games nature to blame. I could say it was fate and in a way I think it was, but that’s lazy story telling. Anyway, in or around 2002, my best friend (a soccer player) purchased FIFA 2002, the video game, for Playstation 2. It somehow made its way into our rotation of Super Smash Bros. and whatever shooting game was popular at that point, I think because he was very persistent. Anyway, I was utter shite at the game, but I’d play just to make him happy, and the team I used for some reason or another was Arsenal. Despite losing most of the time, I would score some goals here and there. They were mostly scored by some guy named Thierry Henry. I can remember being so perplexed when the announcers kept calling him “on-ree”. What a weird fucking way to pronounce that name.

Well On-Ree scored goals for me, but FIFA didn’t stick in our rotation for very long, and my interest in Arsenal was put in the dark once more. An ocean away from me they battled on pitches, claimed victories, and earned the title of invincible while I remained totally unaware. Those proud warriors in red and white marched on without me. But it wouldn’t always be that way.

2006 was my senior year of high school, and also a World Cup year. My best friend, previously mentioned, was rather hyped. The World Cup wasn’t even on my radar, but because of my proximity to him, I started to see some video coverage leading up to the event. YouTube was just getting big at the time, and sure enough there were a myriad of football videos. The Joga Bonita videos starring Eric Cantona were particularly impressive. I loved the music in the Ronaldo vs. Zlatan one, and of course the brilliance of the Brazil video is something anyone anywhere can admire. But what’s this? Is that Thierry Henry? That name sounded familiar to me. And that was the link. I recognized On-Ree instantly as my goal-scorer. Turns out, not only could the guy score goals in FIFA, but he could do pretty much anything. I checked out more of his videos. Turns out, there was a fuckin’ truckload of them. The more I watched, the more I was hooked. I didn’t know it, but Thierry was slowly luring me into the web of Arsenal. I was becoming enamored. The beauty, the power, the pace, the speed, the joy when goals were scored. What had I been missing all these years? I made a decision, on a whim. Most of the best decisions come that way. I would support Thierry On-Ree in all of his endeavors. Suddenly I was pumped for the World Cup, where I’d be supporting France. And of course I’d have to support his club team as well. It only made sense, after all I’d used them in FIFA hadn’t I?

Before the World Cup, there was Paris. The 2006 UEFA Champions League final. Some would say that it’s rather ironic that my baptism as an Arsenal supporter came with this match, I’m sure. Others were say I’m fortunate. I feel more pain going back and watching that match now than I did at the time. I simply couldn’t grasp the magnitude back then. It was my first match as a supporter and I just didn’t know how to react yet. I sang “I’ve got soul, but I’m not Sol Campbell!” when our goal was scored and indeed I thought I was really clever. I was disappointed when Barca equalized and took the lead, but my pain could not match the faces on the television. The traveling Gooners were crushed, and I had no way of knowing that their pained expressions would be on my face soon enough.

This was the last match of the European season, but fortunately I had the World Cup to look forward to, and it was a great one. I honestly can’t give the 2006 World Cup enough credit as far as cultivating the football fan in me. It was such a great tournament from top to bottom with great goals and Zinedine Zidane being on full display. What a footballer. It’s a shame he never made it to the Premier League, but I count myself rather fortunate to have at least been able to experience how great he was for at least a few games. The tournament gave me everything I could’ve asked for. Great goals, dramatics, and Cristiano Ronaldo breaking down in tears. In the end, France didn’t win and I was upset but the important thing happening was that I got hooked. Football had caught me in its embrace and there was no escaping. Not that I’d ever want to.

In the Fall of 06, another Premier League season was beginning and I could not watch any of it. I was beginning my freshman year of college and frankly getting wasted and having unprotected sex were a lot higher on the agenda than Arsenal, but I did my best. I took a break from a group project to sit in the computer lab following the updater as it told me that Adebayor had scored last-minute to defeat Manchester United. I kept up with our League Cup encounter with Tottenham, unfortunately missing out on the “Two nil and you fucked it up” craze. And I was very fortunate to catch the highlights of Henry’s header against United at the Emirates. But it was still rather frustrating.

Enter SopCast. I discovered the program during our Champions League campaign. I was in Michigan with my girlfriend at the time celebrating her birthday, and someone linked me to our match with PSV on SopCast. It was incredible, being able to watch Arsenal live even though they weren’t on TV! I still get incredibly angry thinking about the needless free kick Hleb gave away that led to Alex’s goal which knocked us out, but being able to watch Arsenal whenever possible was a huge plus. I started watching whenever I could, even though it involved waking up really early sometimes. I caught our match at White Heart Lane that year, and Jermaine Jenas equalized for them late on. I still wasn’t a full fledged Gooner, but my hatred for that lot was beginning to fester. I didn’t understand quite yet what it was to hate Tottenham Hotspur but I knew right then that seeing them happy was unpleasant. I didn’t want it to ever happen.

Anyway, that season ended and I was still in my infancy as an Arsenal supporter. Things in my life were completely out of hand. As I’d said earlier, I was more focused on pussy and alcohol than I was on grades and homework, and that showed to the tune of a GPA nearing 0. My mother all but kicked me out, and our strained relationship meant I needed a change. I decided to move with my girlfriend to her place in Michigan. Fresh start, new chapter, new life. I’d be leaving behind a multitude of things like my friends and job, but this would test my mettle as a human, something that needed to be done for a long time.

There was one thing that I couldn’t leave behind in my six hour journey from PA to Michigan. Arsenal. No, Arsenal stuck with me, and I was sure I’d have Arsenal to look forward to even if there was nothing else. Over the course of that summer I discovered arseblog.com and that made following our transfer market dealings even easier. Discovering Arseblog has been fantastic, but our transfer dealings that summer were not.

This was the summer we sold Thierry Henry to Barcelona, the team that had defeated us in my first match as an Arsenal supporter. Why? How could this happen? The man who’d inspired me to become a Gooner was leaving for another team? ‘Henry to Barca’ headlines had dominated all news that summer and the sinking feeling of despair grew and grew. At first I dismissed it as lunacy, but as time went on more and more people felt the truth in it I had to accept it. I’ve never felt more despair as an Arsenal fan. Here I was, out in Michigan by myself with no friends, no family and now no Thierry Henry. The world had basically fucking ended, and my budding interest in football had been dealt a vicious blow. How could I recover?

Over to you, Arsenal.

The 2007/2008 season was it. If I was even a little bit on the fence about Arsenal, this was what wiped out any doubt. We were going into the season without our talisman, with the team supposedly in a transition period. No one was expecting anything out of us that season, least of all for us to improve upon our fourth place finish of the previous year. And to top it all off, in the very first minute of the new season Jens Lehmann fucked up in incredible fashion, letting David Healy put Fulham up 1-0. I remember sitting there dumbfounded, as I was laughed at by a Spurs fan, thinking that this was it. This was what life without Henry would be like. Oh, was I in for it.

In the final ten minutes, after a frustrating amount of futility in front of goal, we were given a penalty which Van Persie scored, and then Hleb scored us a late winner, my first as an Arsenal fan. The euphoria of running around the house on that early August morning, punching the air and stifling shouts as my girlfriend and her mother slept—how had I gone my whole life without experiencing that?

That season would have so much euphoria to offer up. What can I remember? Where was I for these moments, sitting in a small computer room watching a stream and talking with Gooners on the sopcast forums. I remember being snowed in one Sunday morning as we battled Chelsea at the Emirates. William Gallas scored just before halftime and the lads ground out a tough 1-0 victory, which nearly led to fisticuffs between Cesc Fabregas and Ashley Cole. I can remember staying up all night so that I didn’t miss the home match against Manchester United, going behind twice and equalizing at the death, with Cesc shouting “FUCK OFF!” at Rio Ferdinand. I can remember Adebayor’s brilliance against Spurs (and all season). I can remember that scintillating demolition of Slavia Prague. I can remember banter with my Italian friend long before the fateful draw with his Rosoneri, and I can certainly remember the phone call after Cesc’s stunner put them out of their misery. Walcott’s run. Bendtner’s header after just coming on. What else?

I can remember one morning in late October when my girlfriend wanted me to come on a double date with her to Frankenmuth, which is apparently a paradise in the Fall. Of course, we had a date at Anfield that morning, so I turned her down. This I think was the beginning of the end of my relationship with her. Sadly, I wasn’t about to cheat on Arsenal with her and I was rewarded with an amazing game that was rounded off with our undefeated record to start the campaign still intact as Fabregas equalized late on. I can remember being within moments of going 8 points clear at the top of the table with only weeks to go…

But I can also remember Eduardo’s broken leg. The penalty conceded moments after Walcott’s run. The thrashing at United’s hand in the FA Cup and the subsequent ‘title decider’ at Old Trafford. Head in hands, I sat and watched as they celebrated, and our lads resigned themselves to second (and eventually) third best. A few days after that match a youtube video cropped up on arsebog of the traveling Gooners remaining at Old Trafford long after the match had ended, to show their love to the effort we’d given that season. All at once I saw what it meant to support this great club. You got to share the euphoria, and you also got to bear the heartbreak with your fellow supporters. That video meant everything to me, and I still go back to it every so often and get chills.

The season ended in disappointing fashion, but the good thing is that my induction was complete. I was now fully part of the club, and I started soaking up as much of it as possible. I began learning the songs, purchasing jerseys, and finding out about its history. Somehow, this wasn’t enough, and I started imagining what it might be like to experience some of that euphoria live and in the flesh. This was but a pipe dream. At that time, I was still in Michigan working as a shift manager at KFC. I can remember being completely fed up with my direction in life. My relationship had ended, I had nothing out there. I can remember at the beginning of the next season, heading into work at 8 in the morning. The sun was shining outside, but it was shining on everyone else who was out enjoying their Saturday, while I was missing my Arsenal (who were in the process of an embarrassing loss at Fulham). I thought about being there, being where my team were and getting to be a part of it, whether we were beating Tottenham or losing 1-0 to Fulham.  That’s when I made my decision.

That Saturday morning was a turning point that sent me down the path I’m on now. I can remember the phone call that night with my mom, telling her I was coming home, that I was going to go back to school. That would be phase one of a multi-part plan and I didn’t know how long it would take but I was determined to somehow get myself to an Arsenal match. Within a few months I was headed back home to middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania and enrolled part-time at a Community College to try and get my academic shit together. I had to haul my GPA up from a literal 0.50 to something respectable before I could even think of trying to study abroad.

That season was frustrating as hell. There were certainly high points, like our run to the Champions League semi-final, Arshavin’s four goals at Anfield and Nasri’s double salvo to give us the win against United at home. But we were well out of the title race early on. Slip ups like the one against Fulham were frequent, and being honest we were never ever going to beat Ronaldo’s United in the Champions League. As disparaging as young Gibbsy’s slip was, we were the far inferior team at that point and we’d have lost to Barcelona in the final anyway.

At the Community College I did well enough so that my University would take me back the following year, and I was well on my way, but England was still just a pipe dream. Arsenal lost Adebayor to his absurd greed and ego, and had been paid handsomely for his transfer to City, but we were still a very dangerous team. I managed to get my best friend, previously mentioned, hooked on the team as well, which was brilliant because I finally had someone in my own social circle to enjoy Gooner-talk with. His first match over was our trip to Old Trafford, the Diaby own-goal game. Arshavin had scored a first half belter to put us 1-0 up (sssshh) and we had United massively on the back-foot before conceding an absurd penalty to Rooney, and then Diaby pulled off a brilliant header into his own net. Few losses have frustrated me more, because we’d looked to have scored a late equalizer only to have it pulled back for offside.

That season was heartbreaking but incredibly exciting. Arsenal did their damndest to stay in the title race as long as they could, while trying to give me cardiac arrest. I can remember Bendtner’s late winner against Hull (fuck off Phil Brown) and I can remember his header to beat Wolves on a day where I refused to leave the game to go into work. When I arrived ten minutes late I simply told them there was an Arsenal match that I had to see the end of. For some reason my boss didn’t think that was a reasonable answer. Odd, yeah?

By this point Cesc Fabregas had firmly taken Thierry Henry’s place in my heart, and in the hearts of most Gooners. His majestic passing was tops in the league, and his pure and utter desire to see Arsenal succeed was made into legendary status at home to Barcelona in the Champions League. 2-0 down, we battled to 2-1(Get in Theo!) and late on Puyol committed an absurd foul in the box to gift us a penalty. Up steps El Capitan to bury the ball in the back of Valdes’ net despite suffering from a goddamn BROKEN LEG. He hobbled back up the pitch, and hobbled around for the remaining five minutes. With a broken LEG. The way we fought back, with Cesc’s refusal to go down even though he’d banjaxed himself was awe inspiring. The captain and team never quit, and my god did I love it. I didn’t so much love the return leg at the Nou Camp, but I figure the less said about that the better.

I was tearing it up in school at that point. Two nearly 4.0 semesters were reeled off in succession and I’d begun asking around about how to Study Abroad. It apparently wasn’t that complicated of a process, but it was fucking expensive as everything is. I worked hard at my job and in my classes, keeping my nose pressed down to the grindstone with a solid goal in sight. Sometimes it was tough to go to school for 18 credit hours, then spend 30 hours in the restaurant over the weekend but for fuck’s sake if Cesc could score a penalty with a broken leg I could do anything.

That season ended with us coming up empty handed once again, and then a nightmare started to recur. ‘Fabregas to Barca’ began to crop up during the summer. ‘Not again’ was all I could think. Surely he wouldn’t abandon us? It seemed Arsenal’s position was quite resolute (for the time being) but I think we all had a lingering, sinking feeling in our hearts that our captain would soon be El Ex Captain.

Fortunately it wasn’t going to be that summer. He was sticking around, despite our lack of further investment in the squad (another recurring theme), and was ready to will us on that season. That season presented some highs and lows as well. Probably the highest and lowest point I’ve ever experienced as a fan. Let’s start off with the low.

I’d performed in a showing of our school’s theatre production of ARMS AND THE MAN and gone to the cast party right after, getting relatively intoxicated and staying out well into the night with my cast mates (one of whom was a Spurs fan). The North London Derby loomed at 7:45 that morning. Dragging my hungover carcass out of bed that morning was perhaps one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, but I was quite hopeful that I’d be rewarded. Sure enough, we took the lead through a brilliant Nasri goal, and then Chamakh finished off a fine passing move. Those cunts were hapless. 2-0 to the Arsenal at halftime and it should’ve been more. For some reason I was really upset that Chamakh hadn’t made it 3 with his glorious opportunity right before the half, but surely we’d go out and hammer them in the second half, what was I worried about?

Well I was right to worry. Twitchy made changes in the second half and we completed one of the worst collapses in North London Derby history. Bale scored to make it 2-1. Then for some reason Future El Ex Capitan handballed a freekick in the box. Van Der Vaart buried the resulting penalty and it was 2-2. We were all shitting ourselves. Cesc had a great chance to make it 3-2, but of course Gomes pulled off a great save to deny him and then, the unthinkable happened. Younes Kaboul rose highest to meet a free kick that was drifted into our box, and his header went past an outstretched Fabianski. That lot in the away end of our stadium went mental before hammering us with their own rendition of our ‘Two-Nil and you fucked it up’ chant. It was not yet 10 in the morning where I was at, and though I still had to perform that night I slammed several shots of Southern Comfort after the final whistle. Never had I been more upset with an Arsenal performance. How had that been allowed to happen, in our stadium against that team? I was utterly disgusted and it made it even worse having to go into perform alongside the Spurs fan friend of mine who greeted me with a hearty ‘Two-Nil and you fucked it up’ as soon as I stepped out of my car. Fucking atrocious, that’s what it was. Absurd.

That season had its ups and downs like most of the others, but I find that match to be basically what defined the season and if it weren’t for its counterpart at the other end of the spectrum I would probably want to banish the whole thing from memory.

They had beaten us in the Champions League last year. Sure, we’d drew 2-2 at the Emirates but Lionel Messi provided a Playstation-esque performance at the Nou Camp to utterly rip us to shreds. They had taken my hero away from us years before, and they were threatening to do so once again. So when FC Barcelona came into the Emirates for a rematch of the previous year I was both terrified and enthralled. Terrified of the prospect of getting shellacked again, but enthralled at the idea of potentially beating them. I didn’t know what to think about the match. Both teams were in pretty solid form going in, from what I remember but with Barca you could always get ripped to shreds by their little Argentine. Arsene Wenger was adamant that we could play with them and beat them, but not many people seem to listen to him these days for whatever reason. I had class during the match, but I set it up to DVR and my best friend was coming over as soon as I was done. We were all prepped and ready, and I’d managed to avoid spoilers (phone was shut off) while class was going on. I’ve never raced from school to home quicker than I did on that day. I slid into the driveway and sprinted up the steps. My friend was there, waiting, and I pushed play on my DVR.

What followed is simply put the greatest experience I’ve ever had as a sports fan. By now I hope it’s clear that my growth as a legitimate Arsenal fan was nearly complete. I could be devastated for a week by a poor result, and put on cloud nine by a great one. This, this was truly majestic. Both teams started well, their offenses clicking. I remember them having some early pressure, and we had a fantastic early opportunity when Cesc chipped the ball over their defense for a Van Persie effort that I think Valdes saved. We battled with those cunts. For all the talk of them being the best in the world, we matched them tit for tat. We’d soak up their pressure thanks to the marvelous work from our defense (Koscielny you hero) and then break at them. Wilshere, Fabregas and Nasri in the mid-field worked together brilliantly. Of course they scored first. Good work between Messi and David Villa saw the latter break through our offside trap and then coolly slide the ball under Szczesny’s legs. Even at 1-0 down it didn’t feel hopeless. Even as the second half dragged on, it didn’t feel hopeless. We were always dangerous, and finally it paid off. Arshavin dished it back to Clichy, who clipped it over the defense with perfect timing. Van Persie let it run, I was positive he would send the ball across the middle to an on-rushing Bendtner but BOOM! Near post, fuck off Valdes. Arsenal were level! Then it got frenetic.

All hell on both ends, both teams pressing for a winner. Messi hit one into the side-netting when it seemed certain he’d score. They were denied a penalty. Then it happened. Messi was stripped of the ball on the edge of our area by Koscielny. Koscielny outletted the ball I think to Bendtner, who dished it to Wilshere whose one-touch pass was magnificent to Fabregas. The Captain turned and found Nasri with a beautiful outside of the foot pass to set him free down the right. Barcelona were scrambling to get back as Nasri took the ball into their box. He cut it back, looked up, and then played a tantalizing ball on the ground across their box. It missed the defender’s foot by inches and then, delirium. I can remember the announcer screaming “ARSHAVIN!!!!” before absolutely losing my mind. My best friend and I ran about the house, shrieking, screaming in pure unbridled joy. It was utter euphoria. The goal, brilliant. The timing, perfect. The opposition, beaten at their own game. The manager, vindicated. I cannot remember anything in my entire life as a sports fan coming close to that moment for me. I’d watched a few of my American teams win their respective championships the year before, but that just didn’t measure up to beating the ‘Best Team In The World’ by outplaying them on the football pitch. The Emirates rained down “Still got Cesc Fabregas! Still got Cesc Fabregas” at the away support just before final whistle. A truly incredible day for Arsenal Football Club and its fans.

We deserved something that year. We deserved to end our trophy drought and potentially kick on and claim our first Premier League title since the Invincibles or potentially win the Champions League for the first time in our history. But I’ve heard a good saying that is rather well-learned, especially as an Arsenal supporter. “Deserve has got nothing to do with it.”

What followed our triumph over Barcelona was a nightmarish collapse. An error cost us the League Cup in the dying moments against Birmingham. A dire performance in the return leg was compounded with an undeserved sending off and yet we still only just missed out on beating Barcelona at the Nou Camp. And a team featuring seven defenders attacked better than we did at Old Trafford eliminating us from the FA Cup. Over the course of about two weeks we were knocked out of three competitions, and to make matters worse in our next Premier League match we could only muster a draw at West Brom that left us five points adrift in the race for the title.

It was such a sucker punch after the euphoria of beating Barcelona, and Wenger couldn’t lift the team after it. We faded away in the Premier League, too. A season where we could have “done the quadruple” left us with absolutely nothing. It’s tough to really describe how I felt afterward. The fans at the final match of the season alternated between singing “We love you Arsenal, we do!” and “Spend some fucking money.” This indicates to me that they were trying to convey a sense of utter frustration while maintaining that they’d love the club no matter what. I can’t say I argue with the sentiment. Then more than ever we deserved something to lift our melancholy spirits. Once again, deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

That off-season was another nightmare. The Cesc Fabregas saga kicked on in earnest. Will he or won’t he? That was the question of the summer as the Boss grasped at every straw available in an effort to keep his want-away captain. Meanwhile, emerging star Samir Nasri, with only a year remaining on his contract, inched closer toward the exit in whichever direction featured the most money. In retrospect the biggest problem with the way the club handled that off-season wasn’t losing our two best players, it was the manner in which the situations were handled. There was a distinct refusal to accept reality from Arsenal, which might indeed have stemmed from Arsene Wenger’s refusal to believe that two players he’d essentially allowed to flourish were turning against him in such a manner. Regardless, both situations should have been sorted much earlier. Samir Nasri started the next season for us in a match against Liverpool before being sold, and the financial windfall of both players couldn’t be invested back into the team until the transfer window was nearly over and we’d already been blown to pieces at Old Trafford.

It was fucking awful. But we don’t give up. Once again, a scene of defiance from the travelling Gooners at Old Trafford was inspiring. Despite our worst defeat in (some amount of time), the Arsenal fans remained in full voice even after the final whistle. New captain Robin Van Persie dragged the lads over to show appreciation after the final whistle even though I’m certain all of them wanted nothing more than to hit the showers and get far, far away from Manchester.

That season, last season, turned around and ended up becoming one of my favorites. Probably second only to that fabled 07/08 campaign that I so fondly remember. A truly ‘us against the world’ mentality developed and it helped foster a total revival in the second half of the season that I loved. The never say die attitude running through the entire team from the captain down to the reserves was inspiring and I can say with full confidence that I earned my stripes as an Arsenal supporter. I say this because in May, I was in Japan. It was a sort of dream come true field trip through my university. For two and a half weeks 8 other students and myself traveled around the country and took in all the culture. The final match of the season, the 3rd place decider, took place at 1 AM over in Japan. I had spent the entire day traveling around Kyoto on very little sleep, and we were staying in a hotel. I couldn’t access a stream and I did not have a laptop, so I dragged my tired carcass down to the lobby where I paid 100 yen per ten minutes to access their computers so that I could read Arseblog’s match updater for two hours.

The rest of my group might have been enjoying their sleep, but tired as I was, there was no questioning my joy when Blogs wrote that full-time had passed. 3-2, we were third. Sp*rs had blown a 13 point gap (mind it, bitches) on us and we were guaranteed Champions League qualification. I stepped out of the computer room in that Kyoto hotel and slumped into the elevator up to my room with a smile on my face. Sleep came instantly as I flopped down onto my bed that night, and despite the searing heat as I dragged my exhausted carcass around Nara the following day, I was still the happiest kid in the group.

I might have earned my stripes by then, but there was still one thing I was missing: Being at a match to support the Arsenal live and in person. My four year endeavor had come to a head that February. I’d done the research and ticked all of the pre-requisites, putting in my application to study abroad in London. It was a fucking incredibly long process, and I can recall being completely unable to pay attention to class one Friday as I feverishly checked my phone to see if I’d been accepted or not. The news came in as I was sat in a computer lab typing something up, and I promptly shouted “I’M GOING TO LONDOONNNNNN!” It was the culmination of four years of hard work to turn my life around and it felt just as good as any of our late winners (except maybe Arshavin’s).

Reflecting on where I was and where I’ve made it to is nice. It’s vindicating. I sit here writing this on a Friday night. That is important because Arsenal play tomorrow at the Emirates against Southampton. It’s a pretty important match because we’ve got a very difficult schedule coming up featuring tough matches with City and Chelsea, but what’s even more important is that I will be there.

From scoring goals with a pixelated Thierry Henry to watching the lads on the pitch against Southampton at Emirates Stadium, this is how far I will have come as an Arsenal fan. I’ve watched them in high definition, on tiny SopCast streams, in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, and in Japan. But now, finally I will get to watch them live from the terrace. Hopefully I’ll be able to convey my sense of appreciation to the team as I cheer them on, to somehow show them how much I thank them for spurring me to turn my life around.

A lot of people have given me confused looks when I’ve told them why I came to London. The concept of travelling halfway across the world just for a sports team seems strange. Certainly London has more to offer and I will enjoy a lot during my three month adventure, but as I step into that stadium and finally take my seat to look at that field and support that team, I know that nothing else will be able to compare, and nothing will be able to take that moment away from me.

I will support any team Arsenal put in front of me without reading the team-sheet.

Thierry Henry. Cesc Fabregas. Robin Van Persie.

 

That’s been the progression of my ‘favorite player’ since I became an Arsenal supporter in 2006. Thierry was just on his way out, and I didn’t get to experience the early parts of his career like most Arsenal fans. Those brilliant, dynamic goals that he scored and titles he helped us to. My fondest memories of him are an exquisite curler against Blackburn and then a last gasp header at the Emirates to complete a comeback against United. When Thierry left I was very wounded, honestly. He was what predominantly got me into Arsenal and I wondered if my budding interest in the club would continue to grow now that the biggest mega-star perhaps in our history had left.

Oh, it would. The season after Thierry left saw the club come together. The advent of Cesc Fabregas certainly helped matters, but really it was the whole club as a collective that basically said “Don’t think we’re good enough, do you? Well, let’s see about that then.” Were it not for some late season injuries and some absolutely shit luck (fuck off Ryan Babel, never a penalty) that team could have really won things.

But anyway, Cesc Fabregas continued to develop into one of the best players in the world, and my man-love for him quickly reached Thierry levels. There were so many great moments cheering for that player. Him shouting ‘FUCK OFF’ at Ferdinand after we equalized against United in 07. His stunner at the San Siro to beat Milan in the Champions League. Coming off the bench to score two goals in 20 minutes against Aston Villa. Scoring a penalty with a broken fucking leg against Barcelona. The list could go on forever. His incredible passing and his drive to win made him a fan favorite for just about every Gooner, myself included. But then the Barcelona saga happened, and we all had our hearts broken as we lost a player just entering his prime without having given him the right tools and right supporting cast to achieve all his goals at Arsenal.

Enter Robin van Persie. A player we’d watched struggle through injury after injury, unable to realize his full potential for us. He took the captain’s arm band upon Cesc’s departure last year and never looked back. He helped carry us out of the darkness last year, and gave us moment after moment of individual brilliance. When everyone had written us off, Van Persie was right at the forefront of our revival and eventual securing of third place and guaranteed Champions League football.

So of course we all fell in love again. I cannot tell you how much I was looking forward to celebrating my first RVP goal at the Emirates this fall. My lungs were all warmed and ready to sing ‘HE SCORES WHEN HE WANTS’. This plus the additions we’d already made to the squad were making my anticipation levels go bonkers. I was so ready for this upcoming season, for us to challenge for silverware, destroy Sp*rs, and to finally get to see my Gunners live and in person.

Well it’s never that easy, is it? July 4th came, and upon returning home from an 11 hour shift at the restaurant I was given a link to a BBC article from a (Chelsea supporting) friend of mine. I couldn’t believe it when I read it. De Kaptein wasn’t sticking around. Despite everything pointing to him signing a new deal: his father and wife being the key culprits, Robin Van Persie was turning us down. I was shocked and depressed all at once. First came the anger at Arsenal, upset that the same exact situation with Nasri and Fabregas was happening one more time, but then I dug a bit deeper and found the initial note posted on VP’s personal website. The word’s straight from his mouth were even worse upon reading into them.

Patronizing hogwash about not caring about money, about how we as fans deserved to know ‘the truth’, and blatant falsehoods about his desire to see the team return to its glory days. That’s what we were given by a man who just a few years ago claimed he’d never leave, how he couldn’t envision himself doing things elsewhere because he ‘just loves Arsenal’. What a fucking crock.

My depression turned to anger rather quickly on that solemn July 4th. As the rest of my countrymen were out underneath fireworks celebrating the birth of the United States, I sat with a bottle of Southern Comfort lamenting and growling about the utter stab in the back that Robin Van Persie had dealt me. His poster quickly came down off my wall. The homage to his name on my facebook was deleted. I cursed him both online and in phone conversations with my friends. How could he do this? After six years of Arsene Wenger and everyone else at the club supporting him without question while he spent season after season in the treatment room, this was how we were repaid? One season of brilliance and suddenly we ‘didn’t match his ambition’? My best friend put it the best. He said that VP claimed himself to be too good for Arsenal while at the same time admitting that he didn’t think himself good enough to lead Arsenal to silverware. What a fucking disgraceful bastard. What a cunt, that’s all there is to it.

Initially there was a bit of ‘well, where do we go from here?’ I was sort of at a loss, wondering what exactly would happen for us next season. Certainly replacing de Verrader’s (the traitor’s) goals would be a tough ask. Could we continue to compete at the top level while losing our main man once again?

You bet your fucking ass.

Slowly the realization hit me that Arsenal is still that collective. We still have a bunch of great players in our side, players that actually want to play at Arsenal. We added Lukas Podolski, an experienced international that I feel will be boosted by the amount of creative players around him. We added Olivier Giroud, who while an unproven entity has shown glimpses of sheer brilliance and I’m certain with the surrounding of great players creating chances for him he can flourish. We’ve got Alex Song, Mikel Arteta, Wojciech Szczesny. We’ll have Jack Wilshere back. Oh, and in case anyone forgot, we’ve still got Arsene Wenger. The greatest manager to ever put the tie on for this club.

I kept coming back to that Tony Adams quote that inspired the title of this blog. “I will sign any contract Arsenal put in front of me without reading it.” Such was the love that the legendary skipper had for Arsenal that he said something like that. And he meant it to. He never had his head turned by big oil money, he was loyal to the end for Arsenal, and that’s the type of player we want. If you don’t have loyalty to the cannon, then you can fuck right off. And I think that’s the mantra we need to adopt as fans. There are too many Piers Morgans out there, ready to flake on the club at the drop of a hat. Criticizing AW and the board, and threatening to throw their toys out the pram and stop supporting the club because of one thing or another. Just fuck right off. If you’re going to call yourself a supporter, be a Tony Adams-like supporter and not a Van Persie-like supporter. Support the club no matter who is on the team sheet, and support our genius manager who has been doing everything he can with very limited resources to keep us in the thick of so many tough competitions. Like I said, we’ve been ludicrously unlucky to not win something in these past seven years. He’s going to grind something out eventually, and when he does it—if we win some Cups or heaven forbid win the league, the jubilation will not be matched by anything I’ve experienced on this planet as a sports fan or a human being. WHEN we claim the league or the Champions League, it will be the greatest moment for me because of all this suffering.

And for my money we’re in a great position even without Van Persie next year. If we can cash in on him and put the money back into the squad, even better. I’d be happy if he weren’t transferred to another Premier League club, but if he is, I hope it’s one that I’ll get to see us play next year. So I can tell de Verrader in person just what I think of him.

I’ve read a bunch of blogs displaying a wide range of emotion about this subject. Sadness, anger, ambivalence, you have it. Me, I’m still angry, but it’s actually a kind of happy anger now. Like, I’m happy that he’s made it clear just what kind of person he is so I can feel so righteous in my feelings against him, and so completely behind the rest of the team. The players that we have to tell ourselves deserve every bit of support and love that we gave to the traitor last year, and so does the manager. That’s what I want to see, I want to see a galvanizing effect on the team. They are going to be written off again just like we were written off with the departures of Henry and Fabregas, and it will be down to them to prove that we’re a collective. And we’ll be behind that collective every step of the way, coz as the song goes:

“We are the Arsenal and we are the best! We are the Arsenal, so FUCK all the rest!”

If Van Persie wants to be with the rest, fine with me. I know what my choice is.

 

64 days

I return to you, dear friends, a world traveler (can be spelled with two L’s). I’ve braved the torrid winds of the pacific ocean no less than twice, and set foot on the cozy little island called Japan. I’ve traversed its land and beheld its sights, and I must say it was incredible. Temples, anime characters, beautiful women, sumo wrestlers, vending machine beer. Japan had it all, and I have to say that I’m quite driven to get back there some day. Before that trip the goal was always: Visit Japan, live in London. Now I’m not so sure.

Oh right, London. That funny little goal I’ve had for four years now? It’s 64 days away.  64 days away from all of my hard work paying off and my goal of living in the city where my Arsenal play will be realized. A stirring thought if ever there were one. I made this damn blog almost a year ago with the idea being that I’d chronicle my journey and my growth as a person en route to my trip and I’ve done a pretty piss poor job of it. I wonder what the reason is for my lack of motivation to write on here? Yeah, I’ve been a full time student for most of that time, but it doesn’t exactly take hours to sit down and write a few words here and there, especially not when you’re trying to be a writer for a living. So, what gives?

Is it the lack of readers? Maybe it’s that I don’t have anything to say that I think would be worth reading? I couldn’t fucking tell you, but the fact remains that I need to get my story told here. I’ve begun writing about the beginning of my love for Arsenal, and in Japan I experienced another part of our sweet and sultry affair. In a hotel in Kyoto I sat, paying 100 yen per ten minutes to stare at a small computer screen as arseblog fed text updates into his website about what was happening in the last match of the season. I’d been awake for nearly 20 hours at that point, and as the rest of my group enjoyed their night’s sleep, my bloodshot eyes soaked in the glow of the screen and I waited to see what my beloved would give me, a smack on the cheek or a kiss on the lips. The latter came in the form of a Laurent Koscielny winner. The referee granted us full-time and the euphoric realization that it was time to celebrate St. Totteringham’s Day. It was just another page in the book of my life as an Arsenal supporter, one that is 64 days from beginning a new chapter.

The fixture list for next season has come out, and a day after I set foot in foggy London town, we will be travelling (fuck off you can spell it with two L’s) to Anfield to take on the scousers. I’m going to try my very damndest to get there. We’ve had some pretty great moments at Anfield the past few years (Arshavin four goals, RVP’s smash and grab) and I’d be foolish to miss out I think, but it’ll be tough to find a ticket and then convince my host family to let me go up north by myself the day after I’ve arrived.

Even if I can’t get to Anfield, there will be loads of other mouth-watering fixtures for me to attend. Home to Chelsea and Sp*rs, as well as trips to Manchester could both be on the cards. Not to mention all the cheapie League Cup fixtures that I could get to. Oh, and did I mention Champions League? I figured I should do in case there are any Sp*rs fans reading this. You know, since they won’t be playing in it this season. Excuse me while I enjoy a hearty laugh. Hah hah hah! That was enjoyable.

So that’s what’s on the itinerary for me as I spend the next two months trying to be a real writer. I’ll give life updates as well as attempt to tell my story as an Arsenal supporter so that when I sit down at the Emirates for the first time, tears trying to fight their way out of my eyes, I’ll be able to point to this blog and say: “There, that’s why I’m fucking crying. This is how far I’ve come. Thank you.”

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