In the first chapter
of ‘Fever Pitch’ Nick Hornby writes about
the time his Dad first takes him to Highbury. I think
it was in 1969, Ian Ure and Terry Neill were playing.
We were still in the wilderness years and still two
years from our first double. Young Nicholas stands
there on the terrace marvelling at …. the magnificent
spectacle in from of him? That heady smell of beer,
fags, and hot-dogs you only get in football stadia?
The gritty but committed folk, fresh from the night
shift down t’pit, bracing the elements on the
Nah. What struck Hornby was the sheer twisted rage.
The hatred. The fury, the sheer misery etched on Gooners’
faces as they watched another 90 minutes of farce.
I often think of this when, ensconced in my customary
plastic throne halfway up the Clock End, I’m
having to listen to Dave, the Cambridge Gooner From
Hell, next to me. ‘Wenger, you've lost the
plot mate!’ Thanks Dave. ‘Kanu,
you’re a waste of space you lanky cunt!’
Cheers Dave, we all know that, but a tad more grace?
‘Toure, you're bollocks’. But
better than you Dave, you racist, provincial, badly-dressed
excuse for a gooner, I’d wager.
I really, really hate gooners sometimes. Maybe it’s
the gratuitous ‘yiddos’ reference (seriously,
this is the 21st century, two of the club’s
main men are Jewish, and Arsenal are only second to
Sp*rs when it comes to Jewish supporters). Maybe it’s
the fact that we are never, ever satisfied, despite
watching fantasy football pretty much every week.
Maybe we’re just bored.
Last season - it was after the Blackburn game -
I fell into conversation with two Neanderthals about
the reason for our frustrating capitulation. Aside
for the obvious reason that we’d just faced
the keeper of the season, they ventured the suggestion
that it was ‘that fucking Thierry Henry who’s
the problem mate’. Well. It’s been there
all along. Right in front of our faces. How could
we have missed it? Arsenal’s problem is Thierry
Henry! Sooo average. Riiight.
Gooners. Doncha love ‘em? Every week we watch
three of the ten best footballers on the planet. Not
playing in Milan or Madrid. Right here, in a small
but picturesque stadium shrouded in terraced houses
in N5. It’s miraculous is what it is. You want
to go back to the days of Ralph Meade and Gus Caesar?
Be my guest. Hanker after Eddie McGoldrick? If that's
your bag then that's your bag. Still rate Hillier
and Morrow? Back to the future for you then hombre.
I think there's a confusion in the minds of some
Arsenal fans, namely that this version of the House
of Arsenal, for all its stellar occupants and their
inter-planetary crafts, has, somewhere along the line,
lost its soul (but found its Sol). Misplaced its true
identity in some way. Thierry Henry’s great,
I hear them say but …. the workrate? The posturing?
The misses? You can hear it on the talkshows and on
Sky. The slight but audible disapproval, most evident
in the ever-so-slightly-xenophobic slights levelled
against Le Boss.
And here’s the thing. It’s the disapproval,
the hatred, that makes this team as much an Arsenal
team as any of the past. It's what Hornby called ‘Arsenalesque’.
Aside from the panache, the verve, the sheer audacity
of this team, what I love about them – and about
Arsenal – is the fact that, well, to coin a
phrase, we are Arsenal and no-one really likes us
that much at all.
The stuff about gooners being arrogant? Misses the
point totally. We weren’t arrogant last season.
Well, a bit maybe. But really, it wasn't arrogance.
Listen to the chants. ‘It’s just like
watching Brazil’. It was about …. well
taking the piss really. Milking it. Champions for
at least one season. Arrogance is Glory, Glory Man
United. Arrogance is Remember 1999. Arrogance is We
Want ‘Our’ Trophy Back. This 2003 model
is just as infuriating, unpredictable, and thrilling
as any of the great vintages from yesteryear, be that
year 1971, 1989, or 1998.
This is what I really, really love about Arsenal.
We shouldn't really be here. We don't really fit.
We’re not a glory team and, I hope, never will
be. ’Course I want us to win it back next season
(and we will). I’d be mad not to want the likes
of Kewell and Recber not to join us next season. I
want the Champions League dream as much as the next
poor deluded fool.
But ultimately there are other things I value more,
and have done for 16 or so years. Avenell Rd, packed
to the rafters at 2.30 p.m. on a Saturday. Seeing
the red and white hordes streaming out of Finsbury
Park tube. The Arsenal World shop on the Saturday
before the start of the season, all bright shining
hope and optimism. A beer in the Gunners on a fine
early season evening before the match. And for every
Cambridge Gooner there's my local mechanic who loves
Arsenal, North London, and all things Greek in that
order. And when I think of the gratuitous anti-Semitism
I also remind myself that Arsenal probably have the
most multicultural local fan base of any team.
So the next time you read some ill-informed attack
on our team, reeking of thinly disguised francophobia,
from the likes of James Lawton or Martin Lipton, or
you read another article about Man United’s
invincibility, just take a moment to remind yourself:
we love you Arsenal, we do, oh Arsenal we love