This post was inspired by friends with whom I have shared many gooner moments; pain, near-losses, victory, joy, increduility, magic, beauty, the invincible season…you name it. We seen it all in the decade and more since we signed our allegiance over to the Arsenal. It is a trip with bumps, fun and dull moments; it is a trip in my search for an epiphany.
My first game supporting the Arsenal was in the era of the JVC-imprinted jersey, the precursor to the SEGA-imprinted one. Can’t really remember who were playing against but I do remember it was at highbury and the moment I flipped the channel to the match, the ball was at Dennis Bergkamp’s feet and he was facing the opposition goal.*insert sigh here*. He moved, he dribbled, he passed and the passes kept going. The movement on and off the ball, the stroking, then the thruoghpass to Nicolas Anelka, a goal could not be better crafted. I was in love and could not wait for the next game. This predated blackberries, predated google-reliance, predated having info at your fingertips; it was a time when the world cup and other international competitions were more prestigious and eye-catching than club footie.
Being young, I watched because of the beauty of the play; the silky skill of Dennis and Kanu, the speed of Nicholas, strength displayed by Patrick and the terrier-like look of the defenders, especially Martin Keown. The relationship was cemented over the course of that season, I don’t even know if the Arsenal won the league; that was of no concern to me.
Fast-forward to the 2001/2002 season, I know now what the ambitions of my love is; I know it is not just about playing well and winning most matches but also was about being the best at season end. In that season, I learnt to hate man utd and its gumchewing boss and dislike everyone else. I rooted for the Arsenal and the first of two doubles was achieved. By this time, a legend had left (Ian Wright), a legend was around (Dennis), a legend was being newly-written (Thierry). That season is why I am still writing this post as an Arsenal fan. What a season.
Started out on the back of a treble of wins for Man utd, a Uefa Cup final loss to Galasataray and other bad news. The contenders were the usual suspects: Arsenal, Man utd, Liverpool and Newcastle (yh,Newcastle) and so it was. The best part was not winning with a game in hand. Nah, not that. It was winning the season at Old Trafford, the one time I agreed it really was a theatre of dreams as ours came to reality there…and it was a double.
When you have a Viera at his peak, a selfish defence, a freescoring forward, a skillful foil in the form of Dennis and Kanu, flying wingbacks, what do you get?.. You get The Invincibles!. Going a whole season unbeaten, playing the best soccer around at the time and then… the love started hurting. A salve in 2005 with a FA Cup victory and nothing since.
8 seasons since the last trophy, 8 seasons of pyrrhic victories, shocking losses, near misses (UCL 2006, Carling Cup final loss to Chelsea, ) and the love dissipated. 8 seasons of seeing the exit and betrayal of those cherished.
Now, we are here. We are different, we seem proactive. We look rejuvenated. Energised. Ready. But it is early days, so should I believe this is IT; should I believe the wait is about to end; should I believe godot has arrived; should I believe it is to be not afraid anymore? Should I believe.
Long live the Arsenal.