I still remember finding out about Arsenal for the very first time. We had just gotten cable and I had subsequently learned of rock ‘n roll. To that point in my admittedly young life, I had subsisted on the thin gruel known as Duran Duran, not yet knowing that actual music existed. I would stay up into the wee hours to watch Friday Night Video Fights, The Young Ones, and, later, Headbangers’ Ball. During one of these late night fests, I stumbled across
soccer football. The idea that professional football existed blew my mind, and the fact that it was on t.v. blew me away even further. Sure, I knew football existed, but 1980’s America was hardly a hotbed of football action. At any rate, the picture was pretty grainy, and I could barely make out the players nor could I understand the broadcasters very well due to their accents.
It was only when the table flashed on-screen that I snapped to attention. Amid a sea of unfamiliar or downright irritating names, standing out in that hodgepodge of cities and hams and -wiches and and -tons, one name seemed to shine forth like a beacon: Arsenal. Even at my tender age, I knew the definition of the word, and it floored me to learn that teams could have any other name besides the city in which they play their home games. What a perfect, perfect name for a team. Even now, when my pacifism and generally liberal political bent might otherwise agitate for a more politically correct name, “Arsenal Gunners” wins, hands down. I was hooked. Further helping matters was that they were not in first place, appealing to my early preference for underdogs. Sure, had I paid closer attention or if the good people of Swansea FC had been more creative in naming their club, things might have turned out differently. However, I rather like the element of destiny that seems to have brought me here and look forward to exacting a bit of revenge on said Swans in due time.
When the highlights came back on, I was drawn in more deeply in the Gunners’ embrace through the uniforms, that pitch-perfect shade of vivid red and high-contrast white not only just works for my vision (I have mild red-green color blindness and this combination simply arrested my gaze. Put it all together, and the romance took flower and has bloomed ever since. Each night, still too young to realize that Prem League was more of a weekly thing, not a daily one, I’d turn to ESPN hoping to see more Arsenal action. I figured it out after a week or two when I finally saw that highlights only came out on the weekends.
Ever since then, I have followed this club through thick and thin, surviving on a meager trickle of ESPN highlights in the days before the internet and the growing popularity of football in America prompted newspapers, magazines, and television finally saw fit to cover European soccer. Now, instead of hoping to get to ESPN in time to catch a 30-second rundown of the best Prem League games, as I did in the 1980s and early 1990s, I can actually watch complete games. The difference has been not unlike going from flirting with someone through text messages to actually embracing and kissing.
I see fit to consort with fans from other clubs, like Man City, Chelsea, or Man U. It’s like high school community service–I listen patiently to their stories and ask polite questions, making sure to say mm-hmmm and “oh really?” from time to time to give off the appearance that I’m listening. Inside, I feel sorry for the poor saps who learned about football only recently and who cast their lot in with whoever happened to be in first place or whoever had won the FA Cup at time. For the most part, these fans have never had their loyalties tested and have know little else but salad days. Do I envy them, even ever so slightly for having experienced their successes while we wonder why our club has faltered? I guess I do, but, still, I would never trade what I’ve had and will continue to have for what they have. Am I crazy? Yeah, but aren’t we all? “Fan” comes from “fanatic”, after all.
Sorry if this echoes previous musings, but it’s been on my mind a lot. In the absence of actual matches, and in the light of my attempts to ignore transfer-talk, this old man’s mind tends to wander back into the past….