“You’re too young to be an Arsenal fan.”
This blunt sentence was directed toward me on the substitute’s bench at my most recent Sunday League match. The speaker was a Manc-supporting teammate of mine who is eleven years my elder. Admittedly, he’s a good guy despite his poor taste, but I didn’t need reminding that Arsenal hasn’t won a trophy since I was 13-years-old. Besides, I certainly don’t feel “too young”. If anything, Arsenal has made me feel like a cynical old man. At the very least being a Gooner has done a number on my heart and thus my life expectancy. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a year’s time I had the hair colouring of that Dutch skunk who we sold to United either.
My teammate’s jab has been bouncing between the walls of my still-blonde head ever since its utterance. I’ve had numerous arguments with myself about it and have suffered a mixed bag of results. On my drive into the office this morning, with the quote still ricocheting, I was reminded of an article written by Kristian Jack for a blog by The Score called The Footy Blog (the blog is now called Counter Attack). In Jack’s article, RVP & big club status leave Arsenal on the same day, he writes a lot of the things that a loyal Gooner doesn’t want to read. Nonetheless, I encourage you to lick your wounds and read the article, even if you’re only doing so to have a greater understanding of where this CanadianGunners article is coming from.
A mother and her young son approached me at a children’s indoor playground recently and wanted to talk to me about football. I’d never met them before but her boy, who was no older than ten, was a big fan of the game and wanted to chat. He had a problem. He loved the Premier League, something he had discovered in the last year, knew the players but needed a team to follow regularly and wanted my advice. I thought long and hard and after finding out a little more about him I finished my advice off with five words.
Don’t become an Arsenal fan.
To paraphrase the rest, Jack writes that Gooners are stuck in some sort of identity crises. He explains that Arsenal is not able to compete financially with money-bag clubs, and yet Gooners are not willing to accept mediocrity like fans of other clubs such as Newcastle, Everton, Villa, Spuds, and Liverpool. He closes the article by addressing Gooners:
[RVP’s] departure firmly puts you in a different category. You are a great club with a great history but no longer one that is big enough to win and keep hold of the world’s best players.
It is due to these assertions that Jack concludes that the young boy who is looking for a crest to stitch to his heart should support literally any other Premier League side but Arsenal. It’s something I refute, and something that I even feel mildly insulted by. I’m not here to pick apart the article though. Any Gooner that can take off their gloom-tinted goggles and maintain the slightest sliver of positivity can see that the squad isn’t that far off, and that there are definitely reasons to support Arsenal Football Club.
Even though my Sunday League teammate and Kristian Jack had similar hurtful things to say, they’ve done a world of good for me. Their words have brought about a magnificent internal dialogue within me, one that seeks to answer the question: So why do I do this to myself? Before I knew it, this initial question turned into an ever-growing list.
Why do I stick with a club that is such an easy target for abuse? Why did I drive 100 odd kilometres each way to a bar just to watch the first match of the season on a TV with fellow Canadian Gunners? Why did I turn my cell-phone off all day last Wednesday to avoid spoiling the Champion’s League match that was recording and waiting for me for when I got home from work? Why, after a night of heavy drinking until 3:00 AM, did I wake up at 7:00 AM at a cottage in beautiful Muskoka, Ontario, just to find a shitty stream of the match at Craven Cottage? Why do I continue to read Arsenal transfer rumours, even as they threaten to turn my brain into pudding? Why is Sagna’s hair like that? Why do I spend my free time writing about Arsenal? Why?
And then the answer hit me, as blunt as the jab that brought the questions on in the first place: Because this is Arsenal, dammit. And, like Dennis Bergkamp, I really like Arsenal. Not just Arsenal with trophies.
I’m not too young to appreciate and celebrate Arsenal’s great past. It’s a past that I might not have fully understood when it was the present, but there’s nothing stopping me from exploring it through the words of Gooners who did. And the present isn’t so bad either. I don’t think I’ll ever lose the nervous excitement I feel during a match, and there’s still a team of players that run their socks off for the crest. It’s the clock end. It’s Victoria Concordia Crescit. It’s a red torso and a set of white sleeves. It’s bloody Arsenal. What’s more, we’ve got fans in more countries than I can name. I’ve read countless stories of Gooners travelling abroad and being offered a place to stay by local Gooners who they’ve never met. And as for the future, well, keep your chin up friend. We’re a club rolling our Cannon in our own direction. We have the financial base to build great things from, and things will change in our favour soon. Trophies will be won at The Emirates, and the there’ll be plenty of pints to be shared.
So if you ever meet someone, young or old, looking for a team to support, you sure as hell better tell them to support the Arsenal. (And we can help them get started!)