This piece is easy for me to write since it relates to a series of events that have dominated my life as an Arsenal supporter. You see, I have a tale to tell – a sad tale – and while I am sure that you will appreciate what I am saying I doubt that there are many Arsenal supporters out there who will be able to relate to Exactly what I am feeling since my circumstances are, I’m guessing, tragically unique.
To begin this tale we need to go back in time a bit to the early 90’s and to the first Arsenal game I can remember seeing –the league cup final between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday. At the time I was a keen footballer but I had yet to discover the joys (and heartache) of watching football but I was in my dad’s room and he happened to have the game playing on a tiny portable TV next to his bed. My dad told me to pick a side and - knowing nothing about either team - I chose Sheffield Wednesday. Arsenal subsequently won the game and the cup, the TV was switched and off and I went to play on my Megadrive. That was that.
Down the road, however, the family which looked after me after school were going mad. A family of keen Arsenal fans (including one Myles Palmer), they were as happy as I was indifferent and there must have been something in the way they talked about Arsenal that flicked a small, red switch in my brain. It wasn’t long before I declared myself to be an Arsenal fan and a commemorative cup winning Arsenal shirt on my birthday in December made it official.
But despite my new allegiances I still preferred to play football than to watch it and I struggled to develop any sort of emotional attachment to the team. Infrequently stumbling across results in Match magazine I just about kept up with our progress in the Cup Winner’s Cup and when the final finally came I watched it with interest but not with passion. The win felt nice, but not amazing, and again the TV went off without much of an afterthought.
Another year gone, another cup won, another chance lost.
The following year was different for several reasons. The World Cup in 1994 was excellent, I thought, and I began to enjoy watching football on TV a lot more. My dad, a massive England fan, started taking me to England games on a regular basis and we had also just bought Sky which opened up a whole world of seemingly un-sexist Andy Gray-filled Premiership excitement. On top of this there was the one thing guaranteed to grab the attention of any fan: a successful cup run.
Our route to the Cup Winner’s Cup final that year had some truly magical moments - Wright’s delightful goal against Auxerre and Seaman’s fantastic penalty save against Lombardo were particularly special to me – and for the second year in a row we reached the final of a European competition. Wright had scored in every round so far and for the first time I sat down to watch an important moment in Arsenal’s history with a genuine feeling of pride and passion. Zaragoza scored first but Hartson equalised (however badly Wright wanted to claim that goal) and I hoped and prayed for a winner. None materialised in normal time so extra time began before disaster struck – for me that is. I had been sick all day and my dad decided that I should head to bed and watch the remainder of the match in the morning. He promised to tape it for me so I could get some rest and come back fresh for what I was sure would be a memorable occasion for Arsenal FC.
How memorable it turned out to be. I doubt I need to go into much detail but I can assure you I was in tears before breakfast. This wasn’t to be the first time I felt such heartache.
The following season brought Dennis to our shores but ultimately no rewards and in truth there was little to be excited about until the appointment of a certain Mr Arsene Wenger a year later. Little did we know that Arsenal were quickly heading towards the most successful period in the club’s history but just a couple seasons on they were to clinch an unforgettable double that would signal the true beginning of Wenger’s reign. It was magical time to be an Arsenal fan.
Except for me.
For reasons unknown to me even now I fell out of love with football almost exactly half way through the 1997-1998 double-winning season. I stopped playing it, I stopped watching it and I stopped caring about it. The greatest catastrophe of my Arsenal following life was in full motion and I was blissfully unaware of its existence. Amazingly, and tragically, the next Arsenal game I watched was in 2005.
1998-2005. Three titles. Two FA cups. The Invincibles. I missed it all. Not just missed it, but perfectly missed it. Even the F.A. Cup Final in 2005 – the first game I watched in seven years – I only followed with the same sense of detachment that I had the 1994 Cup Winner’s Cup final: I was pleased to see the win but it meant nothing. I hadn’t followed the team and most of the players were alien to me. This was to be the last trophy we won and my last chance to share in victory.
It wasn’t until the 2005-2006 run to the Champion’s league final that I began to reignite my love for Arsenal and by the season’s end I had become more emotionally tied to the team than I ever was before. But just as I rediscovered Arsenal we suffered one of the greatest disappointments in our club’s history and I was back where I started. The League Cup in 2007 brought more of the same, the third 2-1 loss I had witnessed and still the only score line in a final I know.
Since then chances for victory have been few and far between. The 2007-2008 title was ours to lose until it was snatched away by the cruel hand of fate and the studded feet of Martin Taylor. Our few semi-final appearances have always ended in bitter disappointment and there have been times in the last six years when we could not have looked further from winning a trophy. But all the way through my passion for Arsenal has grown and grown and my need for a trophy with it. I am now at the stage where I cannot even speak to my family when we lose and I feel no shame in shouting ‘I’d have Cesc Fabregas’ children!’ directly at my girlfriends unsuspecting cousin*. But it has all been in vain until now.
Now is the chance for me and Arsenal to claim our first victory together. A chance to feel something which I have never felt and do not understand. I have no idea what it feels like to see Arsenal lift a trophy, I cannot comprehend what it is like to share this feeling with other fans and I don’t know how I would act when it happens. But I want to. I want to more than anything else and I’m desperate for it to happen. And now we have a chance - a genuine chance - to bring me the feeling that I have been craving for far too long.
This is the reason that it is not ‘only’ the Carling Cup to me. It’s so much more than that and I am sure you will understand why.
Thank you for listening,
*This took place after he scored the free kick against Villa in his 20 minute cameo appearance last season. Me and my girlfriend’s family were having a quiet festive gathering and sit down meal when I saw the free kick go in. I promptly leapt to my feet and shouted directly into my girlfriend’s cousin’s face before calming down a few minutes later and apologising.
Mean Lean's Response
Absolute quality article there Will, enjoyed it thoroughly.
You brought back so many memories of my childhood. I used to watch the Gunners and then switch onto my Sega Megadrive or Super Nintendo (I used to collect them you see)
I find it fascinating that you fell out of love with the game, the same happened to a good friend of mine, we are of the same age and watched many games together as kids at Highbury. All of a sudden he had enough of football and just threw it all in. Even today he has no feeling or attachment to the team or sport anymore.
I really cannot get my head around it. Football is like a drug to me, a habit, an obsession. One that floods my mind far too much. Much more than it should. I cannot imagine what it would be like to not have the sport and club take over so much of the brain as it does at present.
But what a time for it to happen. Some of the best times in the clubs history, certainly the best time since I have supported the club. I truly felt for you when reading that, it made me realise how lucky we are as Arsenal supporters and that can easily be forgotten.
Football fans on the whole are famously fickle and we always want more but we should not forget the quality football that we get to watch on an almost weekly basis. Whilst we haven't had those shiny big tin pots to raise above our heads for the last erm how many years again? It should be repeated more often on Sky Sports and Match of the day just so it sticks in my head.
What I will say is that as much as it is a shame that you have missed out on those great years, I can say with certainty that we will have many more fantastic years coming very soon. Perhaps even this season.
Arsene Wenger once again is one step ahead of the competition, our rivals are now trying to rebuild and structure their squads to meet the new financial fair play criteria.
We are well on our way and I am not just talking about the depth of quality youngsters we have coming through the system. It now feels like Arsene has finally finished restructuring his team template. It feels like he has been tinkering with this 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 template for the last few years and the balance hasn't quite been there but now he can press save and back it up.
Offensively we look strong, defensively Johan Djourou has risen from reserve to top class performer. Koscielny is already top class and will get better. How good is Jack Wilshere? So much so that we have almost forgotten how good Aaron Ramsey was. I could go on.
My point is that Arsene has been spending every day since our last trophy adding water, cement and bricks to the foundation of the Arsenal playing side. Now that the building is almost complete, hopefully the Carling cup will be the house warming party to many more trophies in future.