Born to an English Mother and Zimbabwean Father, my passion for the Arsenal stems from the former, albeit it from a distance, as I was raised in the land of milk and honey, Zimbabwe.
They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. As far as I’m concerned, no wiser words were spoken, and this saying certainly resonates throughout many African nations. You’ll be hard pressed to drive down the high street without spotting an array of Premier League football shirts, predominantly the “top four” clubs. I have never seen anyone don the Sp*rs shirt – we have taste, you know.
What is fascinating about the support in Zimbabwe, unbeknown to many, is the sheer passion and rivalry which exists between fans. It goes without saying that for many in Africa there are no ties to any specific club, and the choice of team that one supports revolves around success, history, personal preference or an attraction via individual excellence in the form of your Bergkamp’s, Henry’s et al, but you wouldn’t think so on match day. Pubs and bars thrive, beer flows, tensions rise and everyone gathers to watch the games without fail, week in, week out. In all honesty, I cannot remember ever missing an Arsenal game, be it in pre-season, friendlies, warm up games and so on.
My career as an Arsenal supporter took a drastic turn the day I arrived, fresh off the boat, on English soil. Extenuating circumstances meant making the move from the country of my birth, but best believe, the return of the King sped up the process. Before I knew it, there I was, watching the man I idolised, worshipped and even prayed to in times of desperation. It was an overwhelming and euphoric experience although I was never tempted to whip out the iPad, or other such devices, to “capture the moment”. These moments were for no one, other than me.
Since my arrival, I’ve been fortunate enough, thanks largely to @SWLGooner, to follow the Arsenal over land and sea (and Leicester). Obtaining a season ticket in my first year wasn’t much of an ordeal (I put this down to our rather lengthy barren spell and departure of certain individuals I dare not mention) and away games were attended if finances permitted. It was here, at away games, where I truly discovered the football culture I yearned for, and imagined, growing up. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some exceptional games at the bowl which got me firing on all cylinders, but when all is said and done, it’s the away games which have me pining for more. The passionate away fans, the constant singing, the standing (crazy how that’s seen as a positive these days), the regular faces and the trips to and from games whilst sipping on the golden waters of glory in various watering holes around the country, and Europe.
I am mindful of how times have changes since the “good old days”, and countless articles remind me of this, leaving me, in some ways, green with envy. I spend the best part of my disposable income on following the Arsenal and although this is a personal choice, and one I wouldn’t change for the world (much to the disgruntlement of my missus), it really shouldn’t be that way. I am contributing to modern football, but I truly am stuck between a rock and a hard place on the issue. Having said that, the football culture here is nothing short of what dreams are made of. If anything, being deprived of it growing up has made me appreciate it so much more. Hopefully, we’ll meet soon.
Up The Arse.