Now being a young lad from the leafy suburbs of the East End of the district line I grew up surrounded by all things West Ham in the late 70’s. However, my uncle born and breed Islington man had the foresight of introducing me to a club called The Arsenal. He told me about the history, the badge, showed me old and current programmes talked about the 71 double year (the year before I was born) and by the age of six I was hooked listing to the radio for scores on a Saturday and waiting for the final scores, and of course pestering my uncle to take me to a game who used to reply “when your old man says you can come I will take you”
May 1978 Arsenal played Ipswich in an FA Cup final (again asked about going cried when I was not allowed). However, I was allowed to decorate the front window in Arsenal Yellow and Blue rosette and pictures of Brady etc. Day of the game, I woke up early put my Arsenal scarf on and took every minute of the build up on TV. in those days the FAC final was a massive event and one of the only live sporting events you could see on TV. Well at 5pm I was devastated and knew when I went to school on Monday I would have all the Alf Garnets giving it to me. However, my love for The Arsenal was not dampened.
1979 we got to the final again same routine same answers but what made it worse was my dad went with my uncle, in later life I would discover my oldman was a Manc !!!!! This time we won I was dancing around the front room singing songs and felt 10 feet tall on Monday at school.
1980 we got to the final again but was playing a division 2 team called West Ham!!!! For what seemed ages every lunch time I was sent to the Headmaster for fighting. You guessed it, I was sticking up for my team, my obsession, my Arsenal. I knew I would not be allowed to go as got told at the semi final stage but when I asked my mum if I could do the front window in yellow and blue like the last two years seeing their faces was a picture, in the end it was half as the other half had to be claret and blue or my brothers.
My dad tells me know that every night our house was budded (for the younger generation this is where you pick a rose bud throw it at a window and run). Well we lost, more fights at school and Wednesday we lost in another cup final, my world was falling apart.
In 1982 after years of nagging and, aged 10, I was taken to my first Arsenal game at Highbury. The opposition that day was West Ham United. Now for a first game it was so exciting I remember approaching the ground seeing the large crowds, the smell of burgers stools selling Arsenal scarves, etc, being told to stay close to my uncle and then going to our seats in the East upper, seeing the pitch, the crowds the noise. I think Fever Pitch really did capture that moment very well, oh and then an orange smoke bomb with all hell breaking lose in the North Bank with people being carried out or arrested for about 20 mins. I was hooked, I asked my uncle was it like this every week.
I then went on the odd occasion but by the time I was 13 I was travelling into Highbury for every home game using all my paper round money to get there and in (I earned £7 a week) and I still had change when I came home, I was hooked and just coming into a George Graham years. My favourite years of following Arsenal so many firsts for me, seeing us win a trophy Littlewoods cup 1987, first league title 1989 (I was lucky enough to be at Anfield), first FAC Sheffield Wednesday, first time in Europe Standard Leige away (now that’s a story in itself) the list goes on.
I have seen us lose cup finals in this country and foreign lands, win doubles and as an Arsenal fan have probably seen there greatest moments in their history live and all because my uncle has the foresight to teach me that once The Arsenal is in you it will never be the same.
I don’t go as much now (I still do the Euro away’s, with my son) as the club I fell in love with and spent tens of thousands following has changed. I no longer feel part of it, although I still meet my mates that I have made through Arsenal and that bond will never die. Its true The Arsenal will never truly leave me, it’s on my skin, its in my heart, and has shaped so much of my life. So I end this piece with these words “thank you uncle Tom for showing me The Arsenal roll out that red carpet.”
If you would like to tell your Arsenal story, click here