Football has always been something that I have done with other people – never alone.
My first game was on 15th October 1995. We beat Aston Villa. I was 10.
With me that day were my mum, dad and brother. None of whom had much of an interest in the beautiful game.
For my birthday 2 days later I was given a Junior Gunner membership. I have had a membership ever since.
From that first game, I began to go a little more.
Coming from a poor working class family in London. We had to pick and choose our games. It was usually the big ones. Manchester United, West Ham and Tottenham.
It started at 3 or 4 times a season. Usually with my mum.
As we went more, her interest in football became more than just being my chaperone. These days she is a proper Arsenal fan. Getting up early on a Sunday morning to watch Match of the Day.
In 1998 we saw Arsenal lift the Premier League together against Everton. I will always remember Ian Wrighthanging out the window of the East Stand as we stood below.A shared memory I will never forget.
Gradually I began to go to games with my mum less and mates more. We always had two memberships. Mine and hers. So as we entered the new millennia and I reached my mid teens I was trusted to go with friends rather than family. Having the spare ticket made me very popular.
I watched us win the league again in 2002, this time with a mate that I still go with rather than my mum.
Standing at the top of the Avenell Road and looking down the hill was another one of those great memories. We ended up on the Cali after the game celebrating with my mates family.
Then it was off to university.
Studying at the University of Essex in Colchester, I was close enough to drive back down to London for the odd game. Again usually the big ones – Tottenham, Manchester Unied, Liverpool.
I would always have someone else in the car with me. Never alone. I still had those two memberships, would always buy two tickets and take someone – never chating above face.
And when I was not at the game I was in the SU, surrounded by fellow Arsenal fans. Mates I lived with, played 5 a side with twice a week.
Whether it was watching on TV or in the ground, football was always something to do with mates.
In 2006 with the move to the Emirates I got my first season ticket. None of my mates did. So I started to go to games with one of my mates old men. Meeting them in the Twelve Pins before the game and heading back in there after. Sitting next to them in the ground.
As the next few years rolled on, more of my mates finished University and began to get season tickets. We all started to drink, drink together. A mob of us young and old in the Bailey.
In the early 10’s, we began to increase the away games we went to, getting Away season tickets in the process. It was at this time us “younger” lot seperated from the elders and went our own way, Drinking in The George with other people we met on our travels up and down the country.
I miss The George.
It was one of those pubs where everyone knew each other. You could arrive an hour before you were due to meet your mates and still stand around chatting to people that it felt like you had known for years.
It built those relationships where everyone knew each other, but no one knew eachothers names. A nod of the head, an “alright mate”.
A bit of me died when that place shut down.
There could be anything up to about 20 of us going to games, home away and abroad. That group could grow above 30 for Cup final games as the young met back up with the old. One memory is us taking over the Blue Check’s music system when we beat Hull City. We only went in for one drink and ended up staying to closing.
As time has gone on, the group has grown and shrunk. With people going less due to family comittments, and new people being introduced. But there was always a group of us. You were never alone.
Throughout last year, able to sit in gardens together, we remained meeting up going to games. Uusually sitting in my back garden, with me ahead of the game and getting a garden bar some years ago.
There was about 12 of us in the garden as we won the FA Cup final.
It was a different final, but I was still surrounded by friends. Some of whom at that point I had known for over 20 years!
Despite not being able to go into grounds together. We still went into pubs to watch games.
It was very much a blended family. 3 dads and their 3 adoptive sons. We were not in the ground, there was not a big group of us, but we were still watching games together.
And then the latest lockdown hit.
No pubs, no meeting people outside. And with that football changed.
For the last 25 years, football had been something I had been done with friends and family.
Whether going to those early games with my mum, going with mates, watching on TV in the SU bar, or the big group of us who went home and away during the 10s. Football had never been something I had done on my own.
But this last 4 months it has become something I have done on my own. And it just is not enjoyable.
Sitting there alone at 8pm on a Saturday night watching Arsenal play. Win lose or draw it is just no fun.
I have barely watched a full 90 minutes since we have been forced indoors. Football has just become a really boring film. Often with an ending that lets you down.
I end up changing channels at half time and then forgetting to change back. Or just lose interest in a gme completely and my attention drifts elsewhere. Usually cooking.
Football is something you should be doing together with friends and family. It is a community event. A chance to meet up with people every other week and have a beer. A catch up.
Football is not something which should be done alone, in a room watching on TV. It is not a film, it is not a TV show.
After lockdown, I will go one way or the other.
I will return to games week in week out, home and away, throwing myself nto what I have missed so much.
Or I will lose interest completely. Not even watching a game on TV.