The Arsenal and Me – Wils’ Story

I can’t remember how it started, this love affair with the Arsenal. I don’t know why I chose Arsenal, maybe Arsenal chose me.

I’ve supported the club for as long as I can remember. When I was about 3 or 4 years old, I remember my Uncle buying me a Man United kit. He was a scooter riding Mod during the sixties so I presume he became a plastic Manc on the back of the George Best era. I was having none of that. Whether I was attracted to the mercurial cannon, or Charlie George laying on the emerald, sun-drenched Wembley turf, or the Bob Wilson Panini cards I really can’t say and being born and bred on the Isle of Sheppey, I can’t even say it’s because I come from the area, although my Mum hails out of Hackney. My Dad didn’t like football.

Arsenal wasn’t born into me, in my blood or passed on via a family member. But from a young age, from likeminded people around me, I learnt the history, the passion and the true meaning of what it meant to be a Gunner.

Once I started primary school in 1972, I began asking for Arsenal bags, kits and any merchandise that I could find and take to school, where I found a few other lads who were into the same club as me. My football life was now being mapped out.

My neighbour and best friend was a Wolves fan, his Dad Q.P.R. and his brother a yid. My neighbours dad took us to our first top flight game, Q.P.R. v Cloughies Notts Forest, with Peter Shilton et al. I soooo wanted to go to Highbury to see my heroes in the flesh, players from the posters on my bedroom wall such as Richie Powling, Frank Stapleton, Graham Rix, Liam Brady and Alan Sunderland and the following year, my dream came true.

My neighbour told my friend and I that he had got us tickets to see Arsenal v Wolves at Highbury. HIGHBURY! I’m actually going to Highbury! The feeling as we walked out of the Arsenal tube, and saw the entrance to the North Bank quickly filled me with uncontrollable excitement. We sat in the West upper. We lost 3-2 and John Hollins scored a screamer, but I was more transfixed on the North Bank crowd, singing and swaying. This was where I wanted to spend my Saturdays and mid weeks when I grew up.

The next year, I had a paper round and my own money. My Dad informed me that a regular coach was going to start running from his local pub to Arsenal home games via a group called the Medway and Swale Arsenal Supporters Club. This was where my true Arsenal apprenticeship was done. I learnt how to be an Arsenal fan with lads my own age who were in the same boat as me, from the elder supporters. We spent the next two seasons I think it was on those coaches, going to as many home games as possible. I loved it. When the coaches stopped, me and the lads of my age that went on them decided that we couldn’t stop so we carried on going on the train. We were now 14 year old ‘big boys’, using Persil washing vouchers to get on the train, or we just bunked it. We were on the North Bank for the infamous ICF incident which was both scary and exciting to us teenagers.

I carried on going through the 80’s with nothing to show silverware wise. I participated in the ‘Neil Out’ protest after a home game and when George Graham took over there seemed a different vibe about the club.

I longed for two things. 1: To actually see my beloved team at Wembley and 2: to see them win the league. I didn’t realise then how close I was to achieving both of these.

After the euphoria of winning at Wh….well that shit hole up the road, I was finally going to Wembley. Charlie Nicholas’s two goals rubbished Rushy’s record and I ended up in floods of tears as we won the Littlewoods Cup. I’d seen my team win at Wembley. I felt like I had a 15 inch cock that day.

1988-89. The film ‘Fever Pitch’ mirrored my life that season. I attended all home games and quite a few away. By now, football or more importantly, Arsenal, ruled my life. If we lost on Saturday, I was a miserable bastard until the Tuesday.

The day arrived for Liverpool away and we had our tickets but we were thinking “shall we go? We’ll only blow it. But what if we don’t? What if…. We could be….We could be champions! Oh fuck, let’s go and at least we can say we gave it a go”. It was a red hot day and as we left on the coaches from Gillespie Rd, the residents came out and waved us on our way. One old boy in particular was waving a couple of flags. It was like we were going to war.

We got stuck on the M1 and M6 in sweltering conditions with no refreshments, and we missed kick off. As we got in the ground, I felt a huge buzz, and also uncontrollable nerves. 0-0 at half time was good and the continuous “Georgie Graham and his red and white army!” chant was unbelievable. When Smithy scored we were like “this is typical of Arsenal, get one just to tease us”. Liverpool kept plugging away and we waited for the equaliser. But it never came. Steve McMahon signalled one minute. It’s all over. I knew we wouldn’t do it. We’ll never get this close again. Fu….Hang on! Here comes Mickey T! FUUUUUUUCKKKKIIIIIINGGGGGGG YEEEEEEESSSSSS!! YEEEEEESSSS!!! YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSS!!!

Now they say that heroin is like a thousand orgasms. Well I felt like I’d had a million ‘hit’s when that final whistle went. We were Champions. The hairs still stand up on the back of my neck when I watch or even think about that night when The Arsenal, my Arsenal, my family were champions of England for the first time in my lifetime.

I could go on to say how I celebrated that weekend like it was the last of my life, or reminisce about the other titles and trophies that came along after but this is where I’d like to end my story as this was where I probably felt I had reached my own Utopia. What followed was an exceptional period for me and the club and although the early Wenger years were unbelievably successful, I felt that the Arsenal family feeling was slipping away. I used to regularly drive up to the shop in mid-week, meet a couple of players, maybe George Graham even, but when Wenger took over, that all seemed to stop and I feel like the club lost its identity a little then. We weren’t looked at as fans, just a commodity. Don’t get me wrong, I had my season ticket from 1991 to 2001 and Arsene Wenger took us to another level on the field with breath taking football and astounding success, but also another level off the pitch.

I gave up my season ticket when my eldest lad started coming with me then my second son also came along and now my young daughter who is 10 also likes to come to games.

We are now all Silver members/Junior gunners and my lads are Arsenal through and through, they have Arsenal instilled in their blood and have grown up knowing what it is to be and Arsenal fan. I’m proud of them, they know their history and I’m sure they will hand it down to their kids too. I’m now 46 and have Arsenal tattoos, a huge collection of programmes and shirts in my loft. I don’t go as much as I’d like to now, it’s just too damned expensive, but I do get up there when I can. Arsenal has always been, and always will be in my heart and in my blood.

UP THE ARSE!!!

Wils

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