My earliest memory of going to see the Arsenal is clouded by the mists of time. I know it was at Highbury, I know it was against Spurs and I know I went with my Dad and Mick the Milkman, I know we sat in the West Lower and I know Terry Mancini was at centre half for Arsenal. The year I think was around 1974 and I think it may have been a testimonial and I think we won. I’ve asked my Dad about it, but his memory is worse than mine. But I do know I was hooked from that moment.
After that, my Dad took me intermittently as I was to learn the misery that was following Arsenal in the mid to late 70’s and early ‘80s with the ’79 cup final being the shining beacon in a sea of mid table drudgery.
When I started secondary school I was allowed to go to Highbury on my own. My parents were reluctant but my argument was that if I could get myself to school and back on the bus then Highbury would be easy enough. It was a simple trip, 279 bus from Waltham Cross to Manor House, 60p return and walk from there. If was feeling daring I would stay on the bus to Finsbury Park, even though I hadn’t paid the extra 30p, I knew how to live life on the edge.
I had my first season ticket in 1984, £50 for the North Bank. This was also the year I started going away as well. Travel club specials run by Paul Johnson (and what a career rise he’s had at The Arsenal!), dodgy ham rolls served out of a black bin bag by big Nick. At this time I was going to most games on my own as all my school mates supported That Lot Down The Road, but there was always someone to talk to and share banter with. The one thing that remained the same throughout this was the mid table drudgery.
There was a glimmer of hope when Charlie arrived from Celtic. I was on the North Bank when he jinked his way through the Spurs defence in a 3-2 win. The team however, much like Charlie, flattered to deceive. A few good performances were interspersed by far too many poor ones.
Then George Graham arrived, and the mood around the club changed. As had I, I had now left school and was working. And As I was still living at home, I had money to spare so I started going to every game, home and away. I had also discovered beer and met Dicky, my future best man.
1987 and Wembley, I saw Arsenal pick up a trophy in the flesh for the first time, the Littlewoods Cup. Yes I was there when we f*&ked Rushies record up. Heartbreak returned the following year with Luton and Gus Caesar tripping over the ball and a missed Winterburn penalty. But this was different, the team was changing.
The following year we were to become Champions. Up to this point in my Arsenal career the thought of us being Champions had never occurred to me, we had never even come close. But on the 26 May 1989 we were crowned First Division Champions. I was there that night as I was for every away game that season.
The next few years brought heartbreak and joy. There was another league title with just one defeat; there was the domestic cup double and of course Parma in the Cup Winners Cup. On the downside we had a dire title defence, there was being thumped at home by Benfica, the Nayim Final and Wrexham away.
But I would argue that there has never been a better time to follow Arsenal away than during the George Graham years. I did every game home, away and abroad. I met a good group of mates, there was the afore mentioned Dicky, and there was also Chuff, Stodge, Groper, Thommo and Andy. We had some great days out. Wembley Cup Finals, Euro Finals, League wins, cup exits, Old Trafford punch ups and everything in between but we always had a laugh.
Some of the away trips were a bit odd as well. There was the plank at Shrewsbury station on the same day Tony was released from prison. We had seven hours in a Genoa car park before the Sampdoria game, sausages in Copenhagen, a three day coach trip to Vienna, three day stay in Paris red light district and too many more too mention. But nothing will ever top that Friday night at Anfield.
When George left, I moved to the East Lower, just in front of Tom Watt (no waiting lists in those days, we applied in May and were invited in June to go and pick our seats!). By the time Arsene came into my life, the future Mrs Wazza was also distracting me. Away games became fewer and fewer and disappeared altogether when I became a real adult and got a mortgage.
I still went to home games and made the move to the Emirates (row 13, block32, just behind the away dug out if you’re interested). The Graham years may have been the best time off the pitch, but the early Arsene years were head and shoulders above anything I’d seen before on it. Bergkamp, Overmars, Henry, Vieira, Pires and all took English football by storm as we witnessed football played by the gods. Doubles, cups, titles and unbeaten season all followed. That’s what makes the last 8 years so hard to take. Arsene gave us a glimpse of how football could be, and then he snatched it away from us. This year he may be teasing us again!
But in 2003 everything changed for me. A baby girl arrived in the Wazza household, I carried on going to home games but as money and time became more precious, and going to football became more difficult. In 2008 when baby girl number two arrived it became even harder, to the now impossible as I spend most of my weekends ferrying girls between ballet, swimming and parties (sadly I can now explain the finer points of ballet better than the offside law!)
I still have my season ticket, but it’s currently on loan to Dicky’s stepson and will be for the foreseeable future. One day I will be a regular at that the Emirates again but for now I rely on TV and the radio.
I still love The Arsenal, I always will, I’ve invested far too much time, money and most importantly emotion in them for that to change. I still feel the ecstasy when they win and the hurt when they lose, hell I even blog about them on a daily basis. But as I’ve got older the relationship between us has changed, matured you could say. But I will always be Arsenal ‘til I die.
If you’re a youngster starting out on your Arsenal journey and are moaning about a poor result against some bunch of oil rich mercenaries, have a word with your Dad and get him to remind you that once upon a time, when footy was a simpler game, we considered 0-0 away to Coventry a good result!
Thanks for reading
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