OK so when I first said I’d write a piece on why I love the Arsenal I assumed it would short and sweet. Something along the lines of “I was born into the Arsenal family” or “it’s who I am and all I’ve ever been” which may sound strange coming from a bloke born and raised in the Lake District, where football allegiances tend to be formed more by the fact “they’re Northern and doing well” rather than they’re my local team or my families team. But the fact remains this is the way it is, and that is the way I am. The bigger question is why is it that I love the Arsenal instead of one of the Northern teams? Those football “giants” that have sat atop the football ladder. The teams from Manchester and Liverpool who all my childhood mates supported. The teams that I made it my business to mock, insult, and endlessly wish failure upon.
Looking back I guess it was inevitable that I’d love Arsenal Football Club. There is no doubt that if I had to give just one reason for this it would be that my family have roots in North London. My Dad was born and raised in Islington, and for 40 years lived in the area. The Arsenal was a part of his, his parents and his siblings’ lives.
Soon after I got to thinking about this topic I realised that this alone wasn’t enough, after all my mum supported George Best and United, and her Brother was a Liverpool fan (who bought me giant Liverpool soft toy as a christening “gift”, which was in landfill soon after I learned how to read). Add to this the fact that peer pressure is a massive part of any young lads life and being born in 1986 there had to be more than one reason I didn’t just fall in line and support United or Liverpool like all my mates. My Dad was indisputably the driving force behind my love for the club but other factors increased my feelings towards the Arsenal.
The first Christmas I remember is 1991 and the only gift I can remember getting was the full arsenal home kit. I remember thinking it was incredible, the excitement of putting it on and posing in it, ecstatic to be wearing the famous red and white. Other early memories of the Arsenal include the 93 domestic cup double. Of course I remember my favourite players Wright, Adams, Merson, Seaman, Jensen and Limpar amongst others. Whenever my primary school had a fancy dress event I went as an arsenal player (my blond hair meant that Lee Dixon was the obvious pick, as much as I’d have loved to have gone as Wrighty it just never seemed plausible)
All of the above set the tone, but the first time I properly knew I “loved” the arsenal was in February 1995 when I went to Highbury for the first time, 8 years old. I remember the day before the game seeing George Graham walking out of the most amazing building, approaching him with my Dad and chatting to him for a couple of minutes. The fact that this man, the club’s manager would stop to give time to a bloke and his kids said it all, knowing now what was around the corner for Mr Graham speaks volumes of the respect he had for the club, its fans and dare I even say what the “arsenal way” of doing things should be. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I’ll never forget that day. The manager signed a merchandise catalogue I had in hand and was on his way, my uncle later told me to look after it as he’d be gone before long (how right he was).
The next day I went to my first match, the whole day was incredible, it didn’t matter that I had an obscured view I’d never been as excited in my life. I was sat inside Highbury watching my team live for the first time, I heard as Ian Selley broke his leg, I watched on as Merson scored and I saw us inevitably throw it away and concede a sloppy goal to draw 1-1 with Leicester City. I remember seeing my name on the scoreboard and the stadium announcer read the same message “Arsenal Football Club would like to welcome Lee Upton on his first trip to Highbury” these memories are imprinted in my mind. Arsenal were classy, the stadium was classy, hell everything down to the tiles in the toilets was classy. I remember having to write a piece of homework about the best day of my life and writing this same story down then, almost twenty years ago.
OK so some could say that other clubs would have been the same, as a northern born Gooner I’ve had my fair share of experience with certain northern teams. When I was young I went to soccer schools, these week long events included a trip to a Premier League ground and training facility. We always seemed to have to go to Old Trafford. I remember my first year going to United’s training ground, nothing was classy, from the welcome, to the make shift stewards right down to the players, who were more concerned about not getting a scratch on their car than they were talking to fans. It was awful, I didn’t want to be there, and they didn’t want me there. I got some autographs took them home, sold them to some glory boys and used the money to get my latest home shirt printed with our newest additions name and number (BERGKAMP 10), that was it, all I cared about was the Arsenal nothing else came close.
There was no doubt about it then, I was in love with Highbury, with London and most importantly with Arsenal Football Club, and those feelings grew stronger over the years, going to more and games with my Parents, home and away. Watching Mr Wenger come in and build some amazing sides with some unbelievable players. Going off to University just after the invincible’s had lifted the title and meeting some like minded fans to go on away days with. My love for The Arsenal was still as strong as it was in February 1995 nothing had ever, nor could ever have knocked it. Arguing with Northerners about Schmeichel/Seaman, Shearer/Wright, Sheringham/Bergkamp, Keane/Vieira, Van Nistelrooy/Henry was what growing up was about for me and I loved every minute of it because I loved the arsenal and everything about it.
So there it is, I love Arsenal Football club primarily because of my family, because of the players, because of Highbury, because of class, because of rivalry, because of mates, because of the friendly touches that meant I knew I belonged, because being at a game was about as good as got, and because of everything that THE ARSENAL represented.
I’m going to end by talking about my feelings today. Do I still love Arsenal? Of course I do. Do I still have unwavering support for the 11 wearing red and white or yellow and blue? (or purple?) absolutely. I used to support everything about the club no matter what and to hell with everyone else. It’s here, this element that has unfortunately changed over the last few years. The Arsenal I fell in love with because of my old man and because of the classy place that was Highbury and because of the family friendly feel around the whole club has slowly been chipped away at, which means that today more than ever I question the club I love and not because I only care about what they win on the pitch, but because of how much I love everything about the club. I hate the fact that I’m left unsure about what it is I support, the identity of Arsenal Football Club seems less clear cut than it was 20 years ago.
While I know that I will give unconditional support for the team I love in the future, I go full circle to the point I made at the start.
I stated that on its own the fact my family were Arsenal fans may not have been enough for me to fall in love with the club. I have a fear that if I have kids my love and passion may not be enough to get them to feel the way I do about my club. The little touches that engaged, maintained and multiplied generations of the same family to come together in common feelings seem to be on the decline. I hope that I’m wrong and the future generations of my family share my love, but I no longer view it as a certainty.