THE RETURN TO GUNNERSTOWN OF DB’S SEASON DIARY…..
So here we are, on the eve of a crucial European second leg tie against Benfica, hanging in the balance after a 1-1 draw in the first leg.
(If you are of a certain age, those very words will send a shiver down your spine!)
Okay, so it might not be the Champions League, but there’s not much we can do about that at the moment, is there?
The nerves and the buzz are starting to kick in now, as we find ourselves facing yet another “must win” game.
It’s quite amazing to think we’ve had “must win” games against Benfica and, erm, West Bromwich Albion in the space of just a couple of months.
I was having a little scroll through the absolute joy of joys that is Twitter Dot Com, when I came across a tweet asking if Mikel Arteta should be sacked should Arsenal fail to progress to the next round. Now, maybe it’s just me, but that is the last thing on my mind today (the answer is “no”, in case you were wondering.)
If anything, I’m more concerned about who we might get in the next round rather than a pointless debate around what should happen if we go out.
Some of the replies were more ridiculous than the question itself, spouting pathetic buzzwords they’ve heard from someone else, eager for Arsenal to fail so that they can spout some more.
(Thankfully, there were also enough people suggesting the question had been posed by a bit of a c*nt to prevent my faith in humanity being completely shattered.)
I know these people should really be ignored, let’s be honest it’s pretty pathetic behaviour, but for some reason, this kind of thing winds me up more than it should.
None of it is a new thing, of course. I’ve long since accepted that it’s likely there will be a “thing” about the manager – whoever it may be – until the end of time.
This was on the cards as soon as someone discovered that you could monetise disharmony among Arsenal fans, preying on those without the basic intelligence or integrity to realise they’re being played, and who wouldn’t know an independent thought if it kicked them in their stupid face.
What we have now is the debris from the fan TV explosion, people to whom Arsenal are nothing more than a hobby, a pastime, an app on their phone where they can sit there all day belittling the club, the manager, the players and, worst of all, actual Arsenal supporters.
If it’s in your blood, you’ll understand the difference. These people will never know how it feels to get the buzz that we get. They have no idea what they’re missing out on.
One of their favourite “things” at the moment is the suggestion that if you’re not losing your sh*t at every given opportunity, you’re “accepting mediocrity” and, therefore, “part of the problem”.
What complete nonsense.
Before I go any further, let me tell you something about that. Anyone who had to, as I did, skulk into school the Monday after being at Wembley in 1988 for the “Gus Caesar Cup Final”, after strutting into school wearing an Arsenal scarf a year previously, following the Littlewoods Cup Final that saw us “f**k Rushie’s record up”, is entitled to a lifetime’s exemption from such accusations as far as I’m concerned. If you know, you know.
Also, as much as I’m not exactly over the moon about how this club has been run in recent years, and in no way claim to be an expert on what goes on inside Arsenal Football Club, I’m happy to put my neck on the line and state that I am 100% certain that nobody within the club hierarchy looks at my Twitter timeline after a poor performance and says “Don’t worry, Berry’s not losing his sh*t. As you were, lads….”
Honestly. Listen to yourselves.
The more ridiculous, pathetic and childish this stuff gets, the more I can’t help asking myself why it winds me up the way it does.
The answer to this became clearer a little later that day, as I found myself doing a few hours work at what is now known as Highbury Stadium Square. Formerly, of course, The Arsenal Stadium, Highbury.
The Arsenal are in my blood.
It’s something I was born with.
I say that even though I’m not second or third generation Arsenal, or whatever.
My Dad is a Tottenham fan. I can only apologise on his behalf for that. My grandad, God rest his soul, supported Leyton Orient. – So, in my family, I consider myself a visionary.
I guess my own allegiances developed from growing up in Islington. I lived and went to school a stone’s throw from Highbury. I still do (well, I live down the road from the ground, I’m not at school anymore.)
Even so, that was no guarantee that I would become an Arsenal supporter. Not purely because of my unfortunate heritage, either. I grew up during a time when Liverpool dominated English football and, kids being kids, there were quite a few at school that “supported” Liverpool back then. It’s a lot easier just to pick the best team rather than to put yourself through the suffering you go through when you do actually “support” a team ain’t it?!
I don’t think you really have to come from a long line of Arsenal supporters, live in the same borough or even the same country to have Arsenal in your blood as far as I’m concerned. Maybe that wasn’t the case so much years ago, and don’t get me wrong; the local connection will always be something unique, you can’t help geography! The world has changed, however, and the reach has expanded. I consider myself extremely lucky to have the connection I do to The Arsenal. It also makes me proud.
It’s not something you can put your finger on, being an Arsenal supporter, much less define using actual words. It’s a “feeling”. If you have it, you’ll understand. If you don’t, you never will.
I’m sure that’s not unique to Arsenal, but I couldn’t give a toss about anyone else, to be honest. I think it’s that pride I feel that causes some things to annoy me more than they should.
As I sat there having a bit of lunch, I looked around and remembered what I had seen there over the years or, more to the point, what I had felt there….
The East Stand (now the Eaststand Apartments!) – which is the stand that still most resembles the Old Girl – was where I watched my first Arsenal game live with my Dad. (Despite his unfortunate allegiance to that lot up the road, he was good enough to take me to Highbury on numerous occasions.)
I can’t give you the exact date, but it was a friendly versus Cologne, who at the time included Tony Woodcock amongst their ranks. As I can recall, most of my early matchday experiences were in the East Stand.
The West Stand – home to the Junior Gunners enclosure, where I first began attending games with my mates. Before that, I got my first ever season ticket in the Family Enclosure, also in the West Stand, also with my Dad. I’m sure I didn’t appreciate at the time just what dedication you must have to your children to spend a whole season watching a team that you grew up hating. If that were one of my kids, I’d probably have been more likely to just disown them!
The North Bank – the natural progression from the Junior Gunners enclosure for many of us. You came into the ground through the same entrance for both, meaning that you paid just £1.50 for the privilege.
You really felt like you were moving up in the world when you stayed in the North Bank for the game, rather than walking through it to get to the Junior Gunners!
The Clock End – I was in the Clock End with mates the night we won our second title under George Graham. I think we were alternating between Clock End and North Bank then. The title was won before we’d kicked off that game, as Liverpool were beaten by Nottingham Forest, and I remember walking across the green on Laycock Street on my way to meet my mates when the final whistle went in that game, hearing the cheers going up from The Cock pub around the corner.
A few more memories came rushing back to me while I was sitting there.
The moment Vieira slotted home against Leicester to secure the Invincible season is an obvious one.
The one that jumped out at me though was when we beat Everton in the Littlewoods Cup semi-final second leg in 1988.
That was a special night. (The subsequent final less so….)
There are many more, so many that I could be here all day. I even remember buzzing for a game against QPR on New Year’s Day (I think), walking there in the pissing rain to watch a 0-0 bore draw!
As I say, sometimes it’s the feeling you remember, if not the football.
It wasn’t all good. Naturally, there were some nightmares too. Lee Sharpe dancing and prancing around when Man United beat us 6-2 in the League Cup (I think) was a particular lowlight to name but one.
Then I started to think back to when I would take a walk to the stadium that once stood here during lunchtimes at school. The concept of wanting The Arsenal to fail, just so I can say “I told you so” to people I’ll never meet is crazy enough to me nowadays as it is, it would have seemed like something from another planet back then.
That’s when the reason why I find it so hard to ignore it came to me. It reminds me that I have something special that’s been in me since I was too young to remember. I know these people should really be ignored, but I can’t help think back to when I was a kid, backing The Arsenal to the hilt, no matter what. Seeing people masquerade as Arsenal fans, actively wanting the club to fail, in some cases making money out of it, well, I can’t help but let it get my back up a bit.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – I didn’t spend all that time arguing that Martin Hayes was better than John Barnes for dickheads like you to come along 30 years later and make a mockery of it! This is really no different to standing up for my club, no matter what, to those Liverpool fans back at school, only they were probably less childish than the modern internet “fan”, come to think of it. These people will never know what it’s like to look forward to a game that means absolutely nothing, purely because The Arsenal are in your blood.
Sure, I’ll moan as much as the next man during those ninety minutes if necessary, it’s part of the game.
Which brings us seamlessly onto the Benfica game itself!
I can’t lie, I was three minutes away from starting to ask some serious questions myself. But once that final whistle went, I had completely forgotten what the questions were. It was kind of apt that we won in the way that we did. They’re exactly the kind of wins that give you the passion over the years. Okay, we made extremely hard work of it over the tie, but that’s what The Arsenal do, isn’t it?
Arteta got it spot on a few days later at Leicester too. The knives were well and truly out before a ball had been kicked. The fact that key players were (rightly, to be fair) rested was one thing, but seeing Willian’s name on the team-sheet had people frothing at the mouth, tweets in the drafts ready to call for the manager’s head. Turns out Mikel got that one spot on! We were stronger and sharper all over the pitch, Willian had his best game for the club, got a couple of assists and was man of the match.
Alright, I didn’t see that one coming either!
This is why it’s never a good idea to commence the losing of the sh*t before the game’s even kicked off. It’s all a bit embarrassing, unless you are willing to hold your hands up and admit you were wrong. Let’s face it, there’s more chance of Willian being man of the match again than there is that happening as far as some are concerned….
All in all, it’s been a great week.
This is what supporting The Arsenal is all about, and it’s what keeps us coming back for more, despite what they do to us!
If you don’t get that, you never will.
Up The Arsenal.
WELCOME HOME DAZZA
Islington born and bred, Arsenal through and through. Supported the Gunners for all of my 46 years (so far!) through thick and thin.
Clickbait: Life as a Modern Football Fan – released 2019
Currently working on my next book – Over Land and Sea (and Lockdown), Arsenal 20/21 – A Diary of a Season – due for release Summer 2021.
I will back the club I have in my blood to the hilt and I don’t care what you think about that. UTA.
AGAINST MODERN FOOTBALL.