We curse or bless our children with our choice of club. We pass our passion on to them like a genetic inheritance. I have a chum who is a fan of Doncaster Rovers. He has no qualms about the distress this will cause his poor child at school and beyond. Worse still is the Tottenham fan, who rather than break the chain of abuse chooses to curse his offspring to supporting a club who manufacture cinematic presentations of the season they failed to win the Champions’ League.
That is the difference between the two clubs; I was at the final against Barcelona. I have never watched it replayed on the magic lantern and never will. I do not wish to hear the game referred to in any circumstances. I have drummed this attitude into my own progeny, who accompanied me to his first Arsenal match this weekend last.
The lad in question, my first born, is named after the first six letters of the Arsenal motto, Victoria Concordia Crescit. He has, until recently, viewed his father’s obsession with this football club in rather the same manner as one observes a ranting street preacher. He has kept his distance in footballing matters, preferring the literary company of Mr. Potter. Then a year or so ago something clicked and the obsession became real. Very real. The boy is bewitched by our club. He has become a voracious reader of club history. He demands replica kit. His bedroom is festooned with players past and present. He is forever watching Woolwich compilation films on Mr. Yu’s Tube. He copies out player autographs. Arsenal is now a part of every cell in his body. He cannot quite name a likely starting eleven, but then the likely starting eleven don’t seem to be able to do that at the moment.
And so it was this last weekend that I took him to his Mecca. I was approaching the match with some trepidation; Emery’s Arsenal are fragile and incoherent. They are dull and lifeless. They lack substance and sparkle. Wolves are not an easy side to beat and this match might have proven to be the match at which reality sets in. When you realise what the club has become. That day will arrive for the lad. But that day was not Saturday. It served to remind me that despite the tribulations of six wins in eighteen matches, of a captain who throws an armband to the turf, of a team who has scored 16 and conceded 15, a side who seem to have no idea what to do or how to do it, the pure love of a club can bring such heart-thumping joy to an eight-year-old-boy with a yellow hat on his head and a red and white scarf round his neck.
As we walked down Holloway Road and he caught his first glimpse of the stadium, he pulled that hat down over his overwhelmed little face. We entered the emporium whereupon he relived me of a not insignificant amount of money for bags full of trinkets, including a photograph of his favourite player, O’Bannon. We made our way into the ground, where he was struck dumb with emotion.
I was taken back to my own first time at the old place. Seeing the players warm up in front of one. Somehow real but not real. He has only glimpsed them in magazines and television, and then suddenly there they were. They’re really there, Daddy. That’s really them. Not for him the concerns over defensive frailty or players out of position. The unadulterated pleasure of seeing the first team, in the flesh, was almost too much for him.
So when his favourite player scored in front of us, under the clock, on 21 minutes, that will be a goal that one little boy will remember for the rest of his life. To us, it was one bright spot in a dreadful game where yet again we made myriad tactical errors. But one eight-year old boy was moved to tears by it. And that is why we have to stay strong. This club means so much to so many people and it will prevail, despite the damage being done to it by the current coach.
I did, however, spare him the information that Arsenal were playing away in Portugal this Wednesday last as my crystal ball foretold of suffocation and boredom.
There are limits in my encouragement of his obsession.