He rocks.

WE LOVE YOU ARSENAL

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 terraces?

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 you.

 


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