Arsenal is a family club. It wasn’t our family club, we didn’t have a family club, we do now! I suppose I better explain. I am from a provincial town not far from Belfast and my late father spent about 20 years man and boy as a merchant seaman, he wasn’t at home so often. He loved football but was never in one place long enough to develop any affection for one team bar Glentoran. He simply didn’t follow any English team. Growing up in Northern Ireland every boy had three teams to follow; there was the local team Glentoran in my case, the Scottish team which was decided by a person’s “tribal” background, and the English team. So we know which English team got me but how did it happen? It was easy, the first game of football that I remember watching on TV was the 1972 FA cup final and the coin came down on the right side, how lucky was I?
The next few years were spent watching MOTD on Saturday evening and The Big Match on a Sunday and pawing over the papers to try to learn everything I could about this Arsenal team. Fixtures would be analysed and it was obvious to me that Arsenal would win every game that they played but they didn’t and I can still don’t know why! I borrowed any books I could from the library, not as many as I would like, and gradually learnt about the great club. In these early years I got my Arsenal fix mainly from radio 2 and I remember many evenings when the batteries would run out hooking my radio up to my Hornby train set transformer to power it. Oh how I miss those halcyon days in the late 70’s when we seemed to play about 10 FA cup matches a season and lose hardly any! Still it wasn’t easy following Arsenal for a child as years are long and we didn’t win anything! Then 1979 came along and I got bragging rights!
I continued following Arsenal from afar as there was no way that my family could afford a trip to London for me to see my idols, it was as much as my parents could afford to keep me and my sister fed and clothed and put us through school, so I had to wait. I left school in 1981 and anyone who remembers this time knows that there was little enough work about and with the troubles in full swing it was probably more so in Northern Ireland. I mucked about for a couple of years and in January 1983 decided I would head to London to see if things were any better. I arrived in London on a Tuesday afternoon with about £5 to my name and pretty much did every penny I had by going to Highbury. I vividly remember coming out of Arsenal tube station onto the Gillespie Road and smelling cooked onions. To this day I’m not at a game until I smell the hot dogs and onions; I’m not going to pay for them in the ground though. I paid on the gate, my memory tells me £3.50 but other lads have told me I’m wrong as it wasn’t that expensive in 1983, and went into the North Bank for the first time and worshiped. Arsenal won 1-0 against Sheffield Wednesday in the league cup quarter final, Tony Woodcock scored the goal and my love of the club was confirmed.
I didn’t last long in London and returned home a few months later as it was easier having mum put my food on the table and wash my clothes but I wanted to go back to Highbury. Over the years I would go back and forth on many occasions sometimes flying in and out on a Saturday sometimes staying for the weekend but always loving the experience. I was at Wembley in 1991; I still don’t think the fat yid can score from there. I was on the North Bank on the day the terrace closed when we beat Southampton 5-1, was it, and Wrighty scored a hat-trick to take the golden boot of that jug eared fecker. In 1997 I moved back to London after my first marriage broke up and stayed for a year. I managed to get to Highbury a fair few times that season and what a team we had, we had flair, we had class, and we had a swagger about us. We also had a snarl and no-one took liberties on or off the pitch, it was a magic time and a magic season for me. We were pretty much out of it in February and ended up with the double. I remember a scorching Sunday, the day after the double was secured, outside The Gunners getting drunk and sun burnt and singing about Wenger’s magic hat and how a certain ex-spud had gone to Manchester and hadn’t won anything; oh how that changed the following year but on that day it was great.
More recently I haven’t been able to afford to get across so often as I’m married again and finances don’t allow it. I still adore the club, I’ve got the obligatory proper crest tattoo to prove it, but I’m so disillusioned with what is happening. I so want to be wrong and for the board, the management and the team to prove me wrong by winning everything in sight. I still want Arsenal to win every game they play but now understand that while we can go full seasons without losing a game it’s hard to win every game. I’ll continue to support anyone who pulls on a red and white or yellow and blue shirt and crosses that white line even if I know that they shouldn’t be anywhere near that wonderful shirt. I’ll continue to yell until I can yell no more for my team, if I ever manage to get to a game again, and my love for the club will go to my grave with me. I’ve been blessed with three fine sons and two daughters, all Arsenal so as I started out saying we’re an Arsenal family, albeit from afar, now and it will remain. My hope for the future is that we get The Arsenal that we love back and that the polarisation of our supporters can be reversed and we can get back to being one big Arsenal family together.
There have been three constants in my life. Since 1972 I have loved The Arsenal; I always will. Since the early 80’s I have been certain that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are the finest rock and roll band in the world; I always will. Since 1983 whenever I smell a hot dog stand no matter where I am in the world I am immediately transported to my happy place which happens to be the North Bank, Highbury; this will always be my favourite place on the planet.Dave
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