People all over the world fall in love with our club – The Arsenal
The love is intense but the road to that emotion may vary. With some it is a family tradition and with others one game or even a moment in a game. For some of us where we grow up determines our team and for others not fortunate to be local to North London it is frequently, certainly in recent times, a style of football, a swagger or even an individual player.
It is hard to define for some, whilst others are able to describe their love for Arsenal and from whence it came beautifully in long of short prose. One such person is out dear friend and regular contributor, Anushree Nande. Anu is an accomplished writer as we all know and at present she is working on a unique concept which she hopes to publish in the future. It is a collection of short stories on various subjects that have inspired, moved or influenced her and everyone is exactly 55 words only.
As you may have surmised one of the stories describes the relationship between Anu and The Arsenal. However I though initially I might set the scene with the main body of a piece Anu wrote for me, Dave Seager on 1ND2OU two years ag0:
The Redemptive ‘Thierry’ moment and that defines my love of Arsenal
Football is nothing without the raw passion and emotion, the personal connections and collective stories of fans around the world. And just as any other sport, it is nothing without the pure, redemptive moments that make you believe, hope and dream, and matter as much, if not more, than the trophies. This is about one such moment in my life that happened exactly a year ago. But for that we’ll have to go much further back in time.
Right after my initiation into football at the 2002 World Cup, I was introduced to the world of club football in 2002/3. This was the time that football was slowly starting to gain a semblance of a foothold in India, a country that is still to a large extent defined by cricket. That season one of my friends, a die-hard United fan tried his level best to get me to fall in love with the Red Devils. Sure, I enjoyed watching Giggs, Scholes, Becks, Nistelrooy win the title at the end of that season, but it was more my love for sport than anything else. Little was I to know that my heart had already pledged itself to the Gunners. Even my friend (who still loves to label me a traitor) had to admit they were a joy to watch, a force to be reckoned with and it was this ruthlessly elegant play that got me hooked. So yes, the Invincibles season that followed did cement my love towards the club, but I can prove that I’m as loyal as ever if not more, 11 years down the line in the middle of a 7 year silverware drought.
What does a North London team in the English Premier League and a 24 year old girl from Mumbai, India have in common? To this day I do not possess a proper answer to the question of ‘Why Arsenal?’ It is one of those things that you can intensely feel but never fully explain. I’ve tried and tried. And tried some more. All the words that come out seem forced, the sentences too clichéd and something that anyone can write. None of them seem to do justice to my personal feelings about something that I grow more passionate about with every season.
It’s not a matter of choice, becoming a supporter. Many people will call me crazy and dramatic, but most fans and supporters of teams will know just exactly what I mean when I say that it’s the team that chooses you. People joke about fans ‘having relationships’ with their teams. The only difference is that with a team, you are risking your heart weekly, sometimes even twice a week when there is European football, and there is more of a chance that you’ll get badly hurt, knowing all the while that it’s a life-long bond, and hence the risk of a lifetime of potential pain, frustration and heart-break. You may be wondering why we put ourselves through it, day in and day out, even when there is little hope, and even when things look bleak. The life of a fan is never easy but there are moments that make it all worthwhile.
One of my major regrets has been that I was unable to see the Invincibles magic live or ever visit the sacred sanctum that was Highbury. I clearly remember watching the last ever game at that ground against Wigan in May 2006 – Henry scoring a hat-trick, a house-full crowd and Spurs losing to make sure that the Gunners left Highbury without losing their top 4 dominance. But it always hurt that I would never be able to turn back the clock and witness the heroes who made me fall in love with Arsenal, with the game of football, were part of my formative years as a fan of the sport.
In September 2008, I moved to England for my studies, to the North-West where it was any team but Arsenal. Over the last 4 years there, I managed to become a Red Level member and go to games when I could. My sister, a fellow Gooner joined me 2 years later and we have some wonderful electric memories of game days, of the feeling of shared passion among a large crowd, the kindness of total strangers and the magic of watching your team live. But none of that beats the 4th of February 2012. The moment we found out Henry was back for a loan we knew we needed to get to a match whatever it took. We had never imagined it would be possible but there it was and we got tickets to the Emirates for the Blackburn Rovers game, still basking in the glory of that perfect re-debut vs Leeds.
I made the journey down to my sister’s in Birmingham the day before and it was still pitch-black and freezing when we took the train down to London. Henry was always going to be on the bench but we hoped that he would get a chance to come on. Simply wanting a glimpse of the man playing just so we could say we’d seen him live, never mind that it wasn’t when he was at the peak of his deadly form. But we shouldn’t have worried; Titi’s always going to be a class act, a true legend of the club.
There was a moment well into the 2nd half when we heard a roar as Henry starting warming up on the touchline. Surely he’d come on even with the win already in the bag? Especially so? There is nobody like him, that ease of movement, that fleet-footed grace and elegance, the intense burst of speed. A Sheer joy to watch. It was to be all that and more as he made his way onto that pitch to a standing ovation. It was too much to hope that he would score and my sister and I were content to just watch him and the ball for the remainder of the game. It was only with the final kick of the game that we realised it was meant to be. A fluid exchange between Van Persie and Henry saw the Frenchman slot it home. 7-1.
That it was finally ruled to have been an own goal mattered little to two Indian Gooner Girls who had started to dream of a moment like this through countless sleepless nights staying up and watching the live telecasts, scrounging internet streams when the sports channels chose to show cricket on game-day, enduring endless questions about why they would even care what happened to a team that was thousands of miles away in another country, standing up to the plastic United fans who suggested shifting loyalties. With all the snow, we didn’t get back to Birmingham until it was dark; numb and tired from the cold and excitement, but with a smile that took days to go away. It is far from the most defining Arsenal goal, but for us it is memory of one special redemptive moment when everything was perfect.
So there you have Anu describing both her love for the Gunners and a perfect ‘Redemptive’ moment on her journey with Arsenal. So how to encapsulate that in 55 words? Well I am happy so say she has done so beautifully and here is is on a backdrop perfectly designed by Anita Roza (@arsenalofka)
I give you ‘BELONGING’ a 55 short story by Anushree Nande……
Born and brought up in Mumbai, India. An eternally optimistic and fiercely loyal Gooner Girl for life. Bachelors and Masters degrees in Creative Writing (with Media Studies) from Edge Hill University, England. Passionate about words, sports, music, tv, movies, travel and art. Columnist, editor, writer and guest writer for many online publications on different topics.
Anushree has three published short stories, including one on Amazon: “L’Effet De Papillon“. She is working on her first novel.