The Arsenal and Me – Leon’s Story

So it begins. My father, who had separated from my mother, met me at Watford junction station one chilly autumnal Saturday morning. He rarely came bearing gifts but on this occasion about his person was a small white carrier bag. He leaned over and gave his son a kiss, (I could smell he had been out on the booze the evening before) and he handed me the white carrier bag. I was delighted. A present.
I looked inside and I saw a piece of yellow clothing, and as I pulled it out the letters JVC became apparent. It was the 88/89 away shirt and it was to be my first arsenal shirt of many. My grandfather was a Gooner, as was his father. so my dad was passing the tradition on and quite rightly so.
That year my dad took me to the a QPR match. I have very little recollection of it, I could barely see a thing and the noise was overbearing. He also took me round Highbury Fields showing me where he had grown up, and where our different generations of family had lived. It was a strange feeling taking all this information in. I had the concentration of a gnat at school but this really hit home. This was personal. Dad would go home and away, bringing me programmes every two weeks when he came to meet me at Watford junction.
I became obsessed. Pannini stickers every week, buying score and match when I could barely even read.  My walls soon became drenched in red and white with all the arsenal greats. I loved Rocky, and I loved Tony Adams. They were my favourites.
My mother allowed me to watch match of the day on a Saturday, and when the arsenal played I would have my mum tune the radio-if she could bear it! If not it would be a case of me sitting in front of teletext every Saturday afternoon. I didn’t mind either way. Even then being a mere 6 yr old kid it mattered.
Saturday couldn’t come soon enough. I followed diligently all season and when playing football at school I wanted to be Tony Adams. Now as we all know Liverpool were at the top of their game in the eighties, and arsenal had made it difficult for themselves in the latter part of that season. It would all come down to that final game at Anfield.
I was delighted I could watch it on the TV and was looking forward to it all week. I knew the task ahead was tough, even at that age but I had no reason to think it wasn’t possible. the optimism of youth you might say. So that night I put on my yellow shirt, got my favourite cushion and sat 2 feet away from the box. I forgot to mention that my stepfather, who had lived with me for sometime was…yep you guessed it. A Liverpool fan.
Mum had gone out to work and he confidently roamed about the house warning me that the Gooner’s had no chance. He’s a good man, and I didn’t hate him for it. I just didn’t like him very much that night. As the players came out the tunnel at Anfield I tucked in to my chocolate and lemonade, my eye’s firmly fixed on the screen . The hairs on my arms stood up as I saw the players enter the pitch and when I saw the away boys singing their hearts out the adrenaline began pumping around the newly turned 7 yr olds body.
For sometime I just didn’t think we would score. Then smithy popped up and it was 1 nil to the arsenal! or was it… a sea of red shirts surrounded the ref and lino. My stepdad assured me it was offside and wouldn’t be given. players were ushered away as the ref made his way to the linesman to evaluate the outcome. It felt like they were conversing for an age, and the ground went almost silent. My heart was in my mouth. Then the ref blew his whistle and pointed to the circle. it was one nil. Fucking get in!
I was a quiet kid but on this occasion I roared out of delight, while my step father shook his head at the apparent injustice of the situation. As the game went on It just didn’t look like it would happen. The clock was running down and 90mins was soon approaching. My lemonade had gone as had my chocolate. I bit my nails in anticipation and they were soon gone too. Then suddenly, Thomas comes charging through the midfield, its up for grabs now..Thomas!!! Right at the end
I sat there frozen. I was rushing. I couldn’t believe it. the arsenal fans were going mental, the players were going mental. needless to say, my stepdad wasn’t.
I watched us lift the trophy stunned. I could barely speak. inside I was bouncing off the walls. The sea of Gooner’s celebrating made me tingle. it was a truly exhilarating experience. My first season as a Gooner, 7yrs old and we had done the bin dippers on their own turf. I went to bed wearing my shirt that night. And as I lay there awake that night I replayed that goal over and over until I drifted sweetly off to sleep.
So here I am now 24 years later. as I grew up I went a lot with my dad, and now I’m there at most home games, and some away if I can get a ticket. My dad doesn’t go anymore and most of my mates just aren’t willing to pay the prices nowadays. So I go mostly on my own. I hate the upper tier so I wait for a game to sell out,  get on the exchange and try to get a seat in the North Bank block 5/6. Because it’s just me, nine times out of ten its fine.
I like standing at games and can’t tell you the countless times I’ve been told to sit in other sections. When we beat Chelsea 3-0 at home a few years back at the bowl I was in block 3 and this bloke shouted at me ‘sit down you cunt’. I couldn’t believe it. We were 3-0 up against Chelsea and I was ecstatic and this miserable bastard said that to me.
I don’t know the solution. But when I go I want to sing and shout and be proud. we have to be the 12th man. Everyone is on their feet when the yids come over so why not other games. I’m a BSM member and I should probably start the ‘Billy No Mates Gooner Club myself.
I live in N5 still and like a pint in the Gunners Pub. I’m optimistic this season, but is anything going to beat that first year as a Gooner at Anfield 89…I very much doubt it.
Leon

 

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