“That wasn’t fair Dad. We should’ve won that. We’ll win it next year” My first Arsenal cup final defeat that I’d seen set the tone for the rest of my Arsenal supporting life. Its May 2001. Arsenal have just somehow managed to lose to Liverpool in the FA Cup final, a mixture of missed chances, fantastic goalkeeping (from Stephan Henchoz) and Michael Owen’s finest ten minutes had seemingly absolutely destroyed my seven year old life.
A year on, Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljungberg set me on my way to four years of absolute ecstasy. I grew up watching the best team in the world at the time, and even though we were conned out of another title in 2003, by 2004 I was a fan of the Invincible Arsenal. Everything that team and stood for was the Arsenal; flair, passion, strong at the back and entertaining going forward. All of this taking place in the best stadium in the world, our Highbury. By 2005, with the team still superb, but in a steady decline, I had started to manage to get hold of tickets on the north bank.
The final season at Highbury brought about the most painful memory I have as a fan, and one of the most painful in my life in general! Our heroes lost their only European Cup final 2-1 to Barcelona, in the rain in Paris. Up until then, every setback we’d had, I had the attitude that “we’ll be back.” That tonight, there was something different. It seemed like our one and only major chance to be the best in Europe (officially) had gone. I remember sitting on my sofa, crying my eyes out, absolutely desperate to avoid school the following day. My Mum wasn’t having any of the “I feel a bit sick” lie at 8am the next day…
Now, I go regularly in the clock end. I have grown up, through my teenage years, through university, and am now a teacher in a secondary school, defending myself against teenagers who ridicule me for supporting a team that “never win the league” like a real life version of Fever Pitch. I’ve gone full circle. The FA Cup wins had galvanised me again, and I was sure this year was the year. Obviously that didn’t go to plan, but I think we’ll win it next year.
It’s this sort of blind faith that only comes about from supporting a football club. The sort of faith that makes you think differently about somebody who appears a nice bloke, only to reveal they are a Spurs fan. The sort of faith that makes you treat anybody that scores a goal for the Arsenal like a next of kin, and the sort of faith that makes you wish them nothing but misery once they join a new side for more money.
We’re not the most vocal fans in the world, mainly because a lot of atmosphere has been forced out of our controversially sterile, corporate bowl. But you try getting a ticket for an away game. Good luck. From Hull to Zagreb, every Arsenal away section is a sell-out. We’re blessed with more blind faith than others. Whether you’re Wenger In or Wenger Out, of all the banners I have read, one hits home more than others – “Support The Team, Not The Regime.”
Managers, players, greedy American and dodgy Uzbek owners come and go, but one thing remains the same. These fans are for me, of course slightly biased, the best in the world.
Up The Arsenal.
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