Monday, January 17, 2022

Some things I like about Arsenal

The Green

The green of the grass. Every time. It’s greener at Arsenal than anywhere else. The only time I can remember it being as green somewhere else is the first time I saw Arsenal play live. It was some time in the mid-80s, in a pre-season game against Shamrock Rovers here in Dublin.

Under floodlights, a packed terrace in a south Dublin suburb, a battle of the O’Leary brothers if I recall correctly (of course it’s possible I’ve just augmented my memory of it). David the Gooner, Pierse playing for Rovers. The pitch was amazing that night.

We lost.

The Red (and white)

I love our kit. Red shirt, white sleeves. It’s timeless, classic and simple. Which is why it’s annoying when Nike get it so wrong sometimes. I like that Chapman added the white sleeves not for aesthetic reasons but to make it easier for our players to pick each other out,

My favourite kit is the one we wore in the 1979 FA Cup final though. Maybe it’s because it’s the first game I remember properly but maybe it’s just because it’s awesome. It’s timeless, classic and simple. Which is why it’s annoying when Nike foist yet another blue monstrosity upon us because of its leisure wear properties.

And if I could find a pair of the hooped socks from the mid-90s I’d buy them in a flash.

The Fans

As difficult as things are at the moment, and as depressing as I find it that people speak to each other online in the ill-mannered, pig-ignorant way they seem to think is acceptable, in real life the Arsenal fans I have met, and meet, are brilliant.

Generous, funny, passionate and intelligent. The first time I ever did that weird thing of ‘meeting people off the internet’ was for the Arsenal v Barcelona Champions League game at Wembley. As part of the Arsenal Mailing List a meet-up had been arranged and off I went to a bar within sight of the stadium. Nobody touched my special area. I drank beer with people I hadn’t met before and despite the result it was fantastic. I’m still in touch with some of those people.

Through Arseblog I have met hundreds more, many of whom I would consider my friends, and those friendships are borne out of one thing and one thing only, Arsenal Football Club.

The Irish connection

Clearly this is what made me an Arsenal fan. I don’t remember clearly why I became an Arsenal fan but as a child of Irish parents living in England I’m sure I was searching for some kind of identity. Much as you might laugh now, Terry Wogan wasn’t it. Remember, this was a world in which I was a Paddy when I lived in England (in spite of my Yorkshire accent) but I was a Brit the moment we returned home.

Brady, O’Leary, Stapleton, Devine, Rice, Nelson, Jennings. All just Irish to a small boy. There are a generation of Arsenal fans here whose first real trauma in life was the departure of Liam Brady to Juventus. A player that many of us never saw play except on TV moving to a club in Italy, played out in tiny snippets in the newspaper, and it was enough to cause heartbreak.

I can only imagine how torturous it might have been to have blanket coverage, rolling news and non-stop rumour and gossip for the duration of the saga. Oh wait, I don’t need to imagine at all.

The Records

I don’t remember the name of the book (was it the Rothman’s one?) but I had one at home as a kid and it listed each club and gave their various records. For example, record win, record loss, record attendance etc.

I used to know that book off by heart and back to front. I knew that our biggest win and biggest defeat had come against Loughborough Town and that our record attendance was somewhere in the mid 70,000s for a game in the 30s or 40s and that no other team could beat it.

I played football stat Top Trumps against all the other teams in the book and Arsenal could win lots of times. And if we didn’t I’d just make them up so we did.

Our record appearance holder is an Irishman, David O’Leary who, as I say, blotted his copybook a bit as manager of Leeds. Particularly when he dared have a go at our dreamiest ever player. What was he thinking?

Highbury

Football moves on and business more than ever calls the shots but there’s no place like home. I’ve always loved city centre stadia. One minute you’re walking down a residential street, you turn a corner and there’s a gigantic football stadium.

Highbury might not compare to the Grove in terms of facilities, ease of access (maybe we should make it more difficult for people to get out) and the rest, but it has all the character. It’s always worth a walk past, to see that amazing East stand facade, and a touch depressing to see the apartments and gardens where so much Arsenal history took place.

But who will ever forget it?

The Cannon

I’ve never been one for tattoos but I always said if I got one it would be the old cannon. What a symbol of a club. It’s not a cock perching on a ball, nor any other kind of bird or wild animal of varying ferocity. I’ll see your wild animal and raise you a cannonball in the face. I think you’ll find there’ll only be one winner.

I get why they changed it, business, copyright, blah blah blah, but the new sanitised, we’ll sue you if you use it anywhere, version just doesn’t come close.

The The

Not the band. The fact that we have a The in front of our name and nobody else does. There’s no The Chelsea. Certainly not a The Liverpool and definitely not a The Sp*rs.

There is, however, The Arsenal. It’s ubiquitous and unique. It is ours. Sometimes you hear a pundit refer to us as ‘The Arsenal’ on the telly and even if that pundit is one who you would like to smear with meat paste then chuck into a pit with a pack of starving jackals it’s still nice to hear.

Maybe it’s a small thing, maybe completely insignificant, maybe you could say we don’t even a need a ‘the’ but the fact is we have a ‘the’ and nobody else does.

We are The Arsenal.

The Players

I know, in this day and age where all our players are shit and useless and should be sold/killed/minced up and fed to cats etc, people’s affinity with players isn’t what it was.

Yet under no other circumstances could I blindly worship another man the way I have with Arsenal players. The list goes back as long as I can remember. Liam Brady, of course. As a burgeoning centre-half I have to admit that Willie Young’s tackle on Paul Allen in the 1980 FA Cup final won him a place in my heart and taught me a football lesson I never forgot.

I can remember fervently praying that when Charlie Nicholas left Celtic he’d choose us and not Man United or Liverpool or Sp*rs. I could barely understand why he’d want to go there anyway. They didn’t have a ‘the’ for goodness sake.

Rocastle, Bould, Merson (the glug-glug celebration did it for me, for some reason … ahem …), Bergkamp, Pires and Cesc were all obvious. But why, along the way, did I have soft spots just as big for Tommy Caton, Edu, Philippe Senderos and more? Players of varying quality who meant as much to me as the bone fide geniuses. I guess that’s the beauty of it.

I’m sure there are loads more if I stopped to think about it for longer, or if I had more time. But sometimes it’s worth stepping back and realising that Arsenal is something that you should cherish. It is, for all intents and purposes, a marriage, a lifelong relationship and committment.

For richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, and all that. We’re a bit sick at the moment and if you, like some columns I’ve read lately, want to leave your poorly partner because it’s all too much of a chore to lift him/her onto the toilet and then do the wiping, that’s entirely up to you. I’m sure you’ll be back once we’re on the mend though; when the good times return, which they will.

We can all be concerned and worried about where we are and where we’re going but we’ve been here before and we’ll be here again. This is nothing new in the life cycle of this football club.

I offer no solution today though, and present this simply as something to counter-balance the bile, hatred and invective that has become far too large a part of supporting … wrong word … following the Arsenal at this moment in time.

Up the arse.

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