Tag Archives: Alan Sunderland

The Arsenal and Me – Wils’ Story

I can’t remember how it started, this love affair with the Arsenal. I don’t know why I chose Arsenal, maybe Arsenal chose me.

I’ve supported the club for as long as I can remember. When I was about 3 or 4 years old, I remember my Uncle buying me a Man United kit. He was a scooter riding Mod during the sixties so I presume he became a plastic Manc on the back of the George Best era. I was having none of that. Whether I was attracted to the mercurial cannon, or Charlie George laying on the emerald, sun-drenched Wembley turf, or the Bob Wilson Panini cards I really can’t say and being born and bred on the Isle of Sheppey, I can’t even say it’s because I come from the area, although my Mum hails out of Hackney. My Dad didn’t like football.

Arsenal wasn’t born into me, in my blood or passed on via a family member. But from a young age, from likeminded people around me, I learnt the history, the passion and the true meaning of what it meant to be a Gunner.

Once I started primary school in 1972, I began asking for Arsenal bags, kits and any merchandise that I could find and take to school, where I found a few other lads who were into the same club as me. My football life was now being mapped out.

My neighbour and best friend was a Wolves fan, his Dad Q.P.R. and his brother a yid. My neighbours dad took us to our first top flight game, Q.P.R. v Cloughies Notts Forest, with Peter Shilton et al. I soooo wanted to go to Highbury to see my heroes in the flesh, players from the posters on my bedroom wall such as Richie Powling, Frank Stapleton, Graham Rix, Liam Brady and Alan Sunderland and the following year, my dream came true.

My neighbour told my friend and I that he had got us tickets to see Arsenal v Wolves at Highbury. HIGHBURY! I’m actually going to Highbury! The feeling as we walked out of the Arsenal tube, and saw the entrance to the North Bank quickly filled me with uncontrollable excitement. We sat in the West upper. We lost 3-2 and John Hollins scored a screamer, but I was more transfixed on the North Bank crowd, singing and swaying. This was where I wanted to spend my Saturdays and mid weeks when I grew up.

The next year, I had a paper round and my own money. My Dad informed me that a regular coach was going to start running from his local pub to Arsenal home games via a group called the Medway and Swale Arsenal Supporters Club. This was where my true Arsenal apprenticeship was done. I learnt how to be an Arsenal fan with lads my own age who were in the same boat as me, from the elder supporters. We spent the next two seasons I think it was on those coaches, going to as many home games as possible. I loved it. When the coaches stopped, me and the lads of my age that went on them decided that we couldn’t stop so we carried on going on the train. We were now 14 year old ‘big boys’, using Persil washing vouchers to get on the train, or we just bunked it. We were on the North Bank for the infamous ICF incident which was both scary and exciting to us teenagers.

I carried on going through the 80’s with nothing to show silverware wise. I participated in the ‘Neil Out’ protest after a home game and when George Graham took over there seemed a different vibe about the club.

I longed for two things. 1: To actually see my beloved team at Wembley and 2: to see them win the league. I didn’t realise then how close I was to achieving both of these.

After the euphoria of winning at Wh….well that shit hole up the road, I was finally going to Wembley. Charlie Nicholas’s two goals rubbished Rushy’s record and I ended up in floods of tears as we won the Littlewoods Cup. I’d seen my team win at Wembley. I felt like I had a 15 inch cock that day.

1988-89. The film ‘Fever Pitch’ mirrored my life that season. I attended all home games and quite a few away. By now, football or more importantly, Arsenal, ruled my life. If we lost on Saturday, I was a miserable bastard until the Tuesday.

The day arrived for Liverpool away and we had our tickets but we were thinking “shall we go? We’ll only blow it. But what if we don’t? What if…. We could be….We could be champions! Oh fuck, let’s go and at least we can say we gave it a go”. It was a red hot day and as we left on the coaches from Gillespie Rd, the residents came out and waved us on our way. One old boy in particular was waving a couple of flags. It was like we were going to war.

We got stuck on the M1 and M6 in sweltering conditions with no refreshments, and we missed kick off. As we got in the ground, I felt a huge buzz, and also uncontrollable nerves. 0-0 at half time was good and the continuous “Georgie Graham and his red and white army!” chant was unbelievable. When Smithy scored we were like “this is typical of Arsenal, get one just to tease us”. Liverpool kept plugging away and we waited for the equaliser. But it never came. Steve McMahon signalled one minute. It’s all over. I knew we wouldn’t do it. We’ll never get this close again. Fu….Hang on! Here comes Mickey T! FUUUUUUUCKKKKIIIIIINGGGGGGG YEEEEEEESSSSSS!! YEEEEEESSSS!!! YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSS!!!

Now they say that heroin is like a thousand orgasms. Well I felt like I’d had a million ‘hit’s when that final whistle went. We were Champions. The hairs still stand up on the back of my neck when I watch or even think about that night when The Arsenal, my Arsenal, my family were champions of England for the first time in my lifetime.

I could go on to say how I celebrated that weekend like it was the last of my life, or reminisce about the other titles and trophies that came along after but this is where I’d like to end my story as this was where I probably felt I had reached my own Utopia. What followed was an exceptional period for me and the club and although the early Wenger years were unbelievably successful, I felt that the Arsenal family feeling was slipping away. I used to regularly drive up to the shop in mid-week, meet a couple of players, maybe George Graham even, but when Wenger took over, that all seemed to stop and I feel like the club lost its identity a little then. We weren’t looked at as fans, just a commodity. Don’t get me wrong, I had my season ticket from 1991 to 2001 and Arsene Wenger took us to another level on the field with breath taking football and astounding success, but also another level off the pitch.

I gave up my season ticket when my eldest lad started coming with me then my second son also came along and now my young daughter who is 10 also likes to come to games.

We are now all Silver members/Junior gunners and my lads are Arsenal through and through, they have Arsenal instilled in their blood and have grown up knowing what it is to be and Arsenal fan. I’m proud of them, they know their history and I’m sure they will hand it down to their kids too. I’m now 46 and have Arsenal tattoos, a huge collection of programmes and shirts in my loft. I don’t go as much as I’d like to now, it’s just too damned expensive, but I do get up there when I can. Arsenal has always been, and always will be in my heart and in my blood.

UP THE ARSE!!!

Wils

The Arsenal and Me – John’s Story

My father was a docker back in the 70’s and worked a lot of shifts in those days and although he played football with me when he could he could never really take me. He did take a Saturday off one miserable Saturday afternoon and as a five year old boy took me to a rain drenched Cold Blow Lane in the old Dockers stand at Millwall.
Needless to say, the pitch was sodden the football not great and the language was not what a 5 year old boy should be hearing.

My dad though, was one of them. He knew lots of folks around the ground and had laughs with them all. Me however, sat on the bars at the Old Den watching this miserable game v Carlisle soggy wet was nearly enough to put me off going again.

Oh the game… well that finished 1-0 to Millwall with an injury time winner. Me and my dad? Yes we missed it as he wanted “a quick piss” before leaving…

My mother on the other hand wasn’t a staunch Arsenal fan but her 4 brothers were and were all season ticket holders in the West Stand (2 still are). My mothers parents died when she was 13 due to various illnesses and was the youngest of 4.

Her brothers, my uncles were 5-15 years older and all worked. My mother had to go to school, come home cook them dinner and wash and iron their shirts to earn her keep in the house… gradually they all moved away when my mum met my dad.

This brings me onto the Arsenal part and me (I know it’s taken a while). The eldest of my uncles took me to Arsenal v Ipswich in 79 in which I think was a 1-1 draw. I don’t remember much but I think Mariner scored for Ipswich. Score didn’t matter.. game didn’t matter.. I was Arsenalised.

My Uncle knew it would happen. you’ve all seen fever pitch when a young lad walks out of the West stand gobsmacked. That was me. Sold

From then on I would pester my uncles to take me games not realising it would mean one of them giving up their tickets for me to go. However, this didn’t stop my closest uncle taking me every other week to the reserve games. Proper adult football with the likes of Sparrow, Devine et al in front of just the east stand hundreds. I just loved it, watching the trains go past opposite and hearing the echo’s of players shrieking to eachother was magic. I remember a reserve game against Man U where Pearson who was kind of a star for them was playing and both stands had to be opened…. I was in love with the ground.

I found myself bragging at primary school where I’d been and brought programmes in to show my schoolmates (even when my uncle gave me a programme to games I’d never been).

I went to about 10 games a season from about 80-85 not really remembering many. Those I did remember was the days when the crowds were packed and hatred spilling around the ground. Tottenham….. I remember an Alan Sunderland turn and goal in the clock end and the berating of Spurs fans. That moment I fucking hated Spurs… don’t even know why, I was only 7-8.

My uncle took me to away games and the semi in 83 against Utd at Villa park and remember as we got in a burly Utd fan in our section with “you’ll never beat Utd” ringing in my ears. I was 9… I hated Utd now. I watched and marvelled as Petrovic played like a wizard in the first half and Woodcock scored….

I had a bad feeling and sat through the second half with my fingers crossed looking down hoping the time would tick away. Alas no, a goal from Robson and Whiteside made me hate that big fat burly Utd fan more. And Utd

Many more dross games passed and my enthusiasm got better. Pretending to be Rix (I still have my Rixy is magic scarf) at every opportunity.

Anyway in 1986 my Uncle bought me a Junior gunners season ticket for £54. I loved that he did that for me and worshipped my big season ticket book. Every game from then I’ve been too (work permitting) at home and am still a season ticket holder to this day. Anyway, the glory years of early GG I took in as an oldr teenager and really hit me more about the game. 89 Anfield will live with me forever. I was an home in my bedroom watching. With 10 mins to go I turned over to watch Cheers. I say watch but was just hoping that my Mum would come up and tell me it’s all ok. I was so sad I wanted to cry… as Cheers rolled on I heard my mum going ballistic downstairs clapping frantically.. I turned over and just had “how they’d both love to get out there” referring to GG and KD… however as it was injury time the scores had come off the screen…. I had no idea.Then..then the whistle blew and Quinny and Miller were going bonkers on the bench. I ran down and my Mum just grabbed me crying…. (making me quiver writing this).. great times. Kids from school ringing my home number to congratulate me as if it were me… I think they just knew my passion, my love.

My Uncle then bought me a 10 year Bond in the NB in the early 90’s where apart from the cup double win we did endure a lot of mediocrity..

My Uncle took me more and more away games and went Copenhagen with him for the final. We knew we would win just with our defence.

I always met before the games in the Bank of Friendship with my uncle for years and always went away games with him even if mates were coming.

We had to endure Rioch but the magic of Bergkamp’s signing… then all these rumours about a bloke called Arsene and the famous headlines of Arsene Who?

My uncle and me debated for ages and my uncle who had been going since 53 didn’t think much of it. I couldn’t convince him otherwise.

Just for a second whether you are Arsene In or Out right now. Not knowing football from That season to now and how much Arsene changed Arsenal into a dreamy football team. Just stop and think about if we’d got Frank Clark instead what life would be like.

I imagine this everyday. I got up on the Saturday getting ready for Blackburn away in 1996 in to what was Arsene’s first game.
My Uncle died on this day….

Every day I miss him and wish he’d seen one of Arsene’s teams winning.

Whether you are for or against him right now, you are privileged to have seen his teams.

My Uncle would have been.

John
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The Arsenal and Me – Herbert’s Story

When She Wore gave me the task of writing why I love The Arsenal, I had a long search through the memory banks. It’s a question the majority of fans ask each other. Why that particular team? Many cite family loyalties, ‘I come from an Arsenal family’ or ‘I did it to spite my dad/brother, etc’. Others are down to geographic location, ’it’s my hometown club’. For me, I blame Panini.

I’m a provincial. A child of the countryside. An idyllic upbringing among the orchards of Kent. When I was a kid ‘out in the boonies’, the nearest town was 5 miles away and trips to a sports shop were infrequent and replica kits were virtually non-existent. I had an interest in football but only from what I had read in my Grandfather’s newspaper or saw on World of Sport. I had no allegiance to any one team. Panini solved my problem. I was given this album and about 10 packs of stickers just before the 1977-78 season, and being a bit of a pedantic child, I sorted them out in numeric order without looking at the pictures on the front. Oddly I remember working backwards – no I don’t know why either –and dutifully stuck them in, a touch lopsided.

The final sticker I had was right at the front of the book. It was what kids now call, a shiny. A club crest. Red and white with a big gun on it and the word ARSENAL in that font we all know and love. Below the crest read the words:

VICTORIA CONCORDIA CRESCIT

I didn’t know what it meant but it must mean something to someone.
So who were this Arsenal? The double page was covered with empty boxes but with names underneath. Pat Jennings, Pat Rice, David O’Leary, Liam Brady, Malcolm McDonald to name a few. Who were they all? I looked at the honours board noting that this club and I had something in common. They’d won the Division One championship and FA Cup the year I was born a few years before. Fate surely? In that moment, my footballing destiny had been sown and I devoured every scrap of news to do with the team that I could find.

Luckily for me, the team reached the FA Cup final three years in a row, Roger Osborne upsetting me in ’78, Alan Sunderland sending me delirious in ’79 and Trevor Brooking making me cry in ’80. I’ve told Trevor that since in the car park at The Boleyn. A lovely man. Hand on my shoulder, he apologised for making me cry all those years ago but not for the goal. Then again, I didn’t expect him to.

My debut at Highbury, or any Arsenal game for that matter, was in 1991. The 4-0 win over Palace. I stood on The North Bank. I went with some older work colleagues. Pre-match build up started in The Gunners pub on Elwood Street. A couple of ‘sherberts’, then the walk. At the end of the road there was the end of the East Stand and the North Bank turnstiles, what seemed to be thousands of people milling around, the whisperings of the ticket touts, the programme seller on the corner, the diversity of people in the street, young and old, black and white. Heart thudding in my chest, sweaty palms and a dry mouth. I’d only ever seen it on the television. I remember it as if it were yesterday.
£4.00 – those were the days! – at the turnstile and up the concrete steps. At the top, I stopped. Laid out before me was my field of dreams. The hallowed turf I’d been waiting over a decade to see. An overwhelming moment. That shiny sticker that had captivated me all those years ago had brought me to this. I’d waited all my life for this moment and I fell even more truly, madly and deeply in love with what I considered to be my club. I couldn’t get enough and went home and away for the next four years.

I haven’t been to a competitive league game since 1996 but I’ve lucky to witness the FA Cup finals, good and bad, but like a lot of supporters, it’s down to the cost. What does upset me is that I cannot afford to take my two daughters to experience a game at The Arsenal. My parents weren’t interested in sport at all so I missed out on the matchday experience that I read and hear so much about, and because of the way football is these days, my kids are missing out too. Our love affair with The Arsenal is now sadly from afar.

Throughout the years I’ve been supporting The Arsenal, it’s become to mean more than just the team on the pitch. Of course I’m immensely happy with the success that we’ve enjoyed, the players we’ve had the pleasure to see or read about but one of the key things for me is that we, as a club, have been known for our class and style. We are world-renowned for it. We do things the ‘right way’. We are a club that other clubs aspire to be. Not just now in the present climate with FFP. We’ve always been the benchmark and that’s something to be rightly proud of.

Highbury, the marble halls, Art Deco, the Bank of England club, Herbert Chapman. This may all be history, but it’s ours. Yours and mine. The DNA, where we’ve come from, it’s made our club what it is today. The Arsenal have been innovators, pioneers of what we’ve come to take for granted in this modern football world. As a supporter, I’m incredibly proud that we have a rich tapestry of history, not just from on the field successes and world class players. Not many clubs can boast about the achievements that we can. The first live radio broadcast of a league match, first live television broadcast of a match, first team featured on MOTD, under-soil heating, floodlights, our own Underground station. Our current manager has been rightly lauded as being the catalyst for change in English football. We’ve featured heavily in popular culture whether that be in film, comedy, literature and the theatre. It’s these little things that I love about my club.

The Arsenal plays an important part in my life. It dictates my moods, it elates and deflates me but no matter what it does, I love it. Painfully so at times, to the detriment of everything else.

Every time I pull on a shirt, I feel pride. The shirt and the name on it is my identity.
I’ll end on a quote from our former goalkeeper, the Double-winning legend, Bob Wilson:
‘It was this feeling you were wearing this big gun on your chest and everywhere you went, my word, you felt proud to be wearing it’
No matter what has happened in the last few years and what may happen in the future, that sums it all up. Thanks Panini.

Herbert

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