When She Wore gave me the task of writing why I love The Arsenal, I had a long search through the memory banks. It’s a question the majority of fans ask each other. Why that particular team? Many cite family loyalties, ‘I come from an Arsenal family’ or ‘I did it to spite my dad/brother, etc’. Others are down to geographic location, ’it’s my hometown club’. For me, I blame Panini.
I’m a provincial. A child of the countryside. An idyllic upbringing among the orchards of Kent. When I was a kid ‘out in the boonies’, the nearest town was 5 miles away and trips to a sports shop were infrequent and replica kits were virtually non-existent. I had an interest in football but only from what I had read in my Grandfather’s newspaper or saw on World of Sport. I had no allegiance to any one team. Panini solved my problem. I was given this album and about 10 packs of stickers just before the 1977-78 season, and being a bit of a pedantic child, I sorted them out in numeric order without looking at the pictures on the front. Oddly I remember working backwards – no I don’t know why either –and dutifully stuck them in, a touch lopsided.
The final sticker I had was right at the front of the book. It was what kids now call, a shiny. A club crest. Red and white with a big gun on it and the word ARSENAL in that font we all know and love. Below the crest read the words:
VICTORIA CONCORDIA CRESCIT
I didn’t know what it meant but it must mean something to someone.
So who were this Arsenal? The double page was covered with empty boxes but with names underneath. Pat Jennings, Pat Rice, David O’Leary, Liam Brady, Malcolm McDonald to name a few. Who were they all? I looked at the honours board noting that this club and I had something in common. They’d won the Division One championship and FA Cup the year I was born a few years before. Fate surely? In that moment, my footballing destiny had been sown and I devoured every scrap of news to do with the team that I could find.
Luckily for me, the team reached the FA Cup final three years in a row, Roger Osborne upsetting me in ’78, Alan Sunderland sending me delirious in ’79 and Trevor Brooking making me cry in ’80. I’ve told Trevor that since in the car park at The Boleyn. A lovely man. Hand on my shoulder, he apologised for making me cry all those years ago but not for the goal. Then again, I didn’t expect him to.
My debut at Highbury, or any Arsenal game for that matter, was in 1991. The 4-0 win over Palace. I stood on The North Bank. I went with some older work colleagues. Pre-match build up started in The Gunners pub on Elwood Street. A couple of ‘sherberts’, then the walk. At the end of the road there was the end of the East Stand and the North Bank turnstiles, what seemed to be thousands of people milling around, the whisperings of the ticket touts, the programme seller on the corner, the diversity of people in the street, young and old, black and white. Heart thudding in my chest, sweaty palms and a dry mouth. I’d only ever seen it on the television. I remember it as if it were yesterday.
£4.00 – those were the days! – at the turnstile and up the concrete steps. At the top, I stopped. Laid out before me was my field of dreams. The hallowed turf I’d been waiting over a decade to see. An overwhelming moment. That shiny sticker that had captivated me all those years ago had brought me to this. I’d waited all my life for this moment and I fell even more truly, madly and deeply in love with what I considered to be my club. I couldn’t get enough and went home and away for the next four years.
I haven’t been to a competitive league game since 1996 but I’ve lucky to witness the FA Cup finals, good and bad, but like a lot of supporters, it’s down to the cost. What does upset me is that I cannot afford to take my two daughters to experience a game at The Arsenal. My parents weren’t interested in sport at all so I missed out on the matchday experience that I read and hear so much about, and because of the way football is these days, my kids are missing out too. Our love affair with The Arsenal is now sadly from afar.
Throughout the years I’ve been supporting The Arsenal, it’s become to mean more than just the team on the pitch. Of course I’m immensely happy with the success that we’ve enjoyed, the players we’ve had the pleasure to see or read about but one of the key things for me is that we, as a club, have been known for our class and style. We are world-renowned for it. We do things the ‘right way’. We are a club that other clubs aspire to be. Not just now in the present climate with FFP. We’ve always been the benchmark and that’s something to be rightly proud of.
Highbury, the marble halls, Art Deco, the Bank of England club, Herbert Chapman. This may all be history, but it’s ours. Yours and mine. The DNA, where we’ve come from, it’s made our club what it is today. The Arsenal have been innovators, pioneers of what we’ve come to take for granted in this modern football world. As a supporter, I’m incredibly proud that we have a rich tapestry of history, not just from on the field successes and world class players. Not many clubs can boast about the achievements that we can. The first live radio broadcast of a league match, first live television broadcast of a match, first team featured on MOTD, under-soil heating, floodlights, our own Underground station. Our current manager has been rightly lauded as being the catalyst for change in English football. We’ve featured heavily in popular culture whether that be in film, comedy, literature and the theatre. It’s these little things that I love about my club.
The Arsenal plays an important part in my life. It dictates my moods, it elates and deflates me but no matter what it does, I love it. Painfully so at times, to the detriment of everything else.
Every time I pull on a shirt, I feel pride. The shirt and the name on it is my identity.
I’ll end on a quote from our former goalkeeper, the Double-winning legend, Bob Wilson:
‘It was this feeling you were wearing this big gun on your chest and everywhere you went, my word, you felt proud to be wearing it’
No matter what has happened in the last few years and what may happen in the future, that sums it all up. Thanks Panini.