I almost became a Chav. I actually thought that Zola was the best player ever to play the beautiful game. I knew about Chelsea players more than the likes of Wright, Lee Dixon, Kevin Campbell, Merson, Bould, Alan Smith, George Graham etc. for the sole reason I grew up surrounded by Chelsea fans and watched some of their matches and only the odd Arsenal game.
It was difficult to watch any Arsenal matches back then. We didn’t have that coverage to such matches easily. You know the technological problems of a 3rd world country like Kenya in the 90s and I was just 5 yrs old then! I had never heard of a mobile phone back then let alone the internet or cable television, imagine! Most of the information about the EPL came from reading the daily newspapers which will be a day or two late!
I only read about The Arsenal signing the likes of Bergkamp, AW, Petit etc. in the papers. I also read about the 1998 double in the papers though I had watched just two matches that campaign one against Southampton I remember! At least I was ten back then and running away from extra tuition and Madrassa classes to just go watch football would earn one a thorough beating.
Good thing though that was a world cup year and everyone watched the world cup. I came to know more about Bergkamp, Petit and Vieira from just watching the world cup matches. We later signed Henry and Davor Suker; Croatia and France top scorers in that tournament. Sadly, I didn’t get to watch them play for The Arsenal as I had now moved to the upper classes and needed to concentrate a lot more on my studies. Thanks goodness I only read about the 6-1 loss to Utd in the papers!
In Feb 2002, I joined a national school in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya for my secondary school education. It was there that I met Ian Kipchirchir, a devoted Gooner and my transformation to a fully pledged Arsenal fan was complete. He sneaked a small portable radio to school and we would listen to the 5 o’clock BBC live commentary every Saturday and the midnight sports news in midweek just to know how The Arsenal had fared. It was risky as it would lead to 2 weeks suspension if we were caught but who cared!
I could now watch more games when I was on holiday or not in school. It was now easy to catch the matches at the local joint as many people now had cable television coverage. I became completely engrossed in football and The Arsenal. I didn’t want to miss a single match. I would stay late into the night or walk long distances just to find a place to watch The Arsenal play. What a team we had then.
The years 1996-2005 were great years. The squad was complete. It was composed of players with great technical ability and just sheer physical strength. It was a great blend of players who complemented one another very well. It didn’t matter whether we lost key players because they were adequately replaced. The desire and passion to win was just vivid and add to it the panache in the overall team play. Winning was the only thing.
The years that followed that very successful period were very difficult as the club underwent many changes. The summer of 2005 saw an overhaul of the squad. The old guard was replaced by unproven precocious players and saw the shift from big, tall players to small, technical players. This came just after the greatest achievement for the club and English football; going the whole season unbeaten and just before moving to the new stadium. I really thought we would dominate English football for years to come after such an achievement. I was wrong…
The approach the club took their after was not the best at least in my opinion. Trophies were replaced by the ‘top four trophy’, returning injured players became LANS which was the biggest flaw in AW’s management in that same period, average players became overpaid, signing quality players became a taboo, the young players would be killed if better and proven players were signed, the cups lost their importance, more players became susceptible to injuries and would be sidelined for longer periods leaving the squad even thinner, change of formation and we started selling our star players without adequate replacements or completely fail to replace them.
In a nutshell the winning mentality was gone. Excuses for poor performances became the order of the day. Most players were average and/or not suitable to play the Wengerball. Players started being played out of position. Same tactics were used regardless of opposition and most players were almost similar to one another with absolutely no squad depth. For eight consecutive seasons our capitulation was just as similar as the season past yet nothing was done about it. Mistakes were never learnt and have never been even this 2013/14 season.
We always dither in the transfer market. Indecision and penny-pinching takes the better of our manager in the transfer window and still refuses to address the glaring problems of the team. 9 seasons since we last won a trophy the squad still has one 2/3 players short more notably a super striker and a proper winger. OG is a good player but we will never win the league with him as our main striker even if he were to stay fit the whole season. By our own standards he is not the best out there. Can we do better? Absolutely…
This season we can win the league but let us not deceive ourselves that this already thin squad can sustain a title challenge. Let 2007/08 be a great lesson. We must sign another striker and he should be better than what we have. Hope we win something this season. The whole team and the fans deserve it.
That said it is easy to brush aside the overseas fan base just because we’ve never stood on the terraces of the North Bank at Highbury nor been to the Grove but we share the same passion. We win we bask in the same glory; we lose we share the same pain and angst. I am Arsenal and always will be…