First, I am a middle-aged American, so I am always the little brother, I suppose. Never to be a Proper Gooner, at least by the old meaning of the term, never to stand on the North Bank. And despite being an avid sports fan and playing the game, that’s fine. As a result, this isn’t a story about my first trip to Highbury, or a lofty tale about away boys on the terraces in the 80s, or some distant memory of watching Pat Jennings or Charlie George from my Dad’s lap. This is, however, a story with the same net result, be it plastic or proper. It’s a story of love and passion for The Arsenal. And in the end, it’s a story about my sons watching Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott from my lap every weekend morning.
For me it started when I needed a pair of workout shorts sometime in the early 90s and found a pair of Arsenal shorts I thought were cool. I just liked the name, that’s it, pretty boring and silly, I’m aware. When you come from a place where it’s Braves and Falcons and Hawks, Arsenal sounds awesome. From there it was a random CL match aired on ESPN 2 long before the Premier League was on American TV. I’d look for Arsenal when I randomly saw the table because it was the only team I knew, or I’d remember the shorts when I heard the names of Thierry Henry or Dennis Bergkamp, who were big enough stars to cross the Atlantic. Then I grew up, got a job, and got married with ‘soccer’ always on the back burner to Super Bowls and World Series.
Then I had my first son and it started to change. Then I had to get up with said son on the weekends and was looking for something interesting on TV in the mornings. I decided English Premier League on Fox Soccer was better than any kid’s show. Then I remembered those stupid old pair of shorts and tried watching only Arsenal matches. For every sport I enjoy, I watch one team and one team only. I guess I just enjoy knowing a lot about one team and seeing their pursuit through a season.
Then I saw the since maligned Robin van Persie tally a hat trick against Blackburn—just two short seasons ago—with my son on my lap. That was that. That match was the turning point. I know a 7-1 drubbing of a side destined for relegation isn’t exactly winning the league at Old Trafford, but that was the tipping point for me. I remember my son, who was just learning to talk, singing ‘We Love You Arsenal’ at 8 in the morning. I remember him figuring out the cannon meant Arsenal on that cold winter morning. It will always be etched in my memory as one of the first sport-related things I shared with my son. Not the MLB Braves or NFL Falcons, who I have been watching since I was his age, a club thousands of miles away. The Arsenal.
From there it was learning all I could about an incredibly rich history, connecting with Gooners—or just Arsenal fans if you prefer—from all over the world on Twitter, consuming blog after blog after blog every single day. Waking up early to watch matches, streaming weekday games at work on pop-up riddled sites, joining Arsenal Player, annoying my American friends and my wife with conversations they knew nothing about, ordering my first Arsenal shirts, singing 1-Nil To The Arsenal in the car on my morning commute, and following insane transfer talk all summer long. Funny stories, I discovered Piers Morgan through Arsenal, not CNN. My son saw an old Civil War cannon in Tennessee just last weekend and thought it had something to do with Arsenal.
Then I had another son to begin sharing this with and it all starts again every Saturday or Sunday morning. Me and my two boys watching The Arsenal is what it’s about. The love.
I also found the get-the-fuck-out-of-my-club-boys, the Kroenke-doesn’t-care-boys, and the it-ended-when-we-left-Highbury-boys. The exclusive trying to exclude some fans instead of include, which is something that doesn’t really happen here. To me it makes no sense even having grown up right in the middle of a sports town. I would love to talk to a Braves fan from another part of the world, or an African or Asian that had even heard of the NHL Carolina Hurricanes. The Arsenal is a truly global brand and the 10th most valuable sports franchise in the world. Having a global network of fans and the added money they bring in is the reason Arsenal is able to compete at the top of the Premier League and in Europe. Why want us gone? Why assume we are plastic and ignorant? Why not try to share your experiences? Why lament changes to the periphery of the sport? Why not focus on the love of the game and the common experiences from other fans wherever they may be and whatever generation they were born into? I really feel sorry for the fans that don’t grasp this.
On Twitter, I follow Arsenal fans on five continents and feel the same passion from them as I do from the Travel Club Members I follow. Sure, I absolutely love hearing the away boys sing, and hearing the Highbury boys tell their stories, and appreciate the hell out of the pictures from grounds all over Europe, but the feeling is generally the same. Gooners in India, Nigeria, and right here in NC—shootout to Triangle Gooners, by the way—love The Arsenal. The love is what pulls me in deeper every day.
So yes, I admit it, I am American and have only been an Arsenal fan for a few years and am nearing 40. The thing is that I self-identify myself as a Gooner now, at least by the new meaning of the term, just like I self identify myself as a father, husband and Braves fan. I’m pretty much like you I think, this club is in my heart and is a part of me now. While I may never have the legacy or be a Gooner by the old meaning of the term, my sons will come up knowing about the club, and that makes me happy. My dream is to one day take both my boys to the Emirates and sing with them.
The funny thing is I never threw away those shorts even though they didn’t come close to fitting my current waist line, I am American, after all. Last season I found them at the bottom of an old drawer and had a tailor cut off the patch and sew it onto a plain cap I bought.
I wear that hat every day.