Before you go and get too excited, however, let me explain.
By most teams’ standards, we’re in fine shape. Of course, we’re not most teams. We’re Arsenal (I hope you were sitting down so that that stunner didn’t floor you). By our standards, it’s been a bit of a rough patch. However, I don’t mind it. In fact, a part of me actually enjoys it. Well, “enjoy” might be a bit strong. To help explain what I mean, I want to bring you back to the late 1980s and the Chicago Bulls. Year after year, the Bulls would put on a strong showing and make it through a round or two of the playoffs. Then, they’d run up against the Detroit Pistons–think of Stoke City but with an actual offense. They’d dump us out of the playoffs. Then, in one glorious year, we swept them, winning the best-of-seven series 4-0. This led to the Bulls’ first-ever NBA championship, which became three in a championships in a row. Michael Jordan retired, tried his hand at baseball, and came back to help the team win a second set of three championships in a row. In that final, sixth championship, the Bulls won a ridiculous 72 out of 82 games, a feat of near-invincibility that perhaps even the Invincibles would struggle to match.. It was a wild ride. However, by the end of it all–maybe as early as the 4th or 5th championship, I was bored. Even our nemeses, teams like the New York Knicks or whoever we’d meet in the championship, didn’t seem to offer much resistance, and there certainly wasn’t as much passion around winning as there once had been. The Shot–his 1989 game-winner against the Cleveland Cavaliers–was one of the most ecstatic sporting moments of my life. By the time he hit the game-winning shot in to win the 1997 championship, the thrill was gone. We won, and, yes, it was enjoyable…but not exciting. Is it my fault for getting jaded? For letting myself get spoiled? To an extent, yes, it is.
That’s a feeling we’re all guilty of.
Now, I’m not arguing that teams should go out of their way to have miserable seasons just to enhance the joy of the splendid ones. I’m just reminding myself and anyone else who cares to listen that the occasional dry patch (even if this so-called dry patch is one that hundreds of other clubs would gladly trade for) may actually be a good thing. In those moments, of course, it’s easy to get lost in the apparent misery of it all and question why one even bothers to watch a match for two hours or pin one’s emotional well-being to a squad of strangers who just happen to be wearing a particular jersey. In those moments, it’s hard to remember how glorious and exquisite and–yes, I’ll say it–orgasmic those moments of triumph will be when they do see fit to find us.
I’ll admit that my timing, if not my actual message, might come with a small dose of envy as I look at who’s above us in the league standings. I’ll also admit that these words may end up feeling hollow and may offer cold comfort if we do drop out of the top four this year. However, I don’t root for Arsenal because I want something inevitable. If I want that, I’ll root for death or gravity or the sacking of Chelsea’s manager. I don’t root for Arsenal simply because it’s been two decades and countless hours that I’ve put into watching and hoping.
I root for Arsenal because the club has gifted me so many moments of glory, yes, but also because I believe that similar moments of glory will come. Will they come as quickly as I hope? Probably not, but they will come, and when they do, the shouts will resound more loudly, the tears will flow more sweetly, and the glory will seep more deeply into our marrow.
Sorry for the poetic flippity-floo there at the end.