My alarm sounds at 9:45 AM EST. I jolt out of bed, free of my regular daybreak lethargy and indecision. There is pressure in my teeth, pressure in my jaw. I put on one of my Arsenal kits. Careful now, I am being deliberate in my word choice. I put on one of my Arsenal kits; not a t-shirt, not a jacket, not a poncho. A kit. The cannon must be over my heart. It stops it from bursting, or something. This is why the 2005-2006 home kit (the commemorative Highbury one) is particularly problematic. Its crest is centred.
Always nervous, sometimes full of dread, I walk out of my room and into the adjacent one. A TV is found here, as well as a couch. Sometimes even a dog, a brave and dispassionate foil for a passionate fool too cowardly to watch Arsenal defend a corner (something, something, zonal marking). This room has all I need these days, really. Sometimes too, my family gathers in front of the TV upstairs, hoping that I will join them. From my position downstairs, I hear my mom ask, “Is Quinn up yet?” More often than not, I do not reply. More often than not, they do not come down to check. I sit on the couch in the aforementioned room adjacent to my bedroom. I turn on the Arsenal match. I watch.
This is my routine. This is not the routine you’ll typically find described on an Arsenal blog, however. A good number of Gooners enjoy consoling each other at pubs (heh), spilling drinks in celebration, and singing Santi’s name. It can be a lot of fun. For the season opener, I was at the home of Toronto’s “T-Dot Gooners,” The Fox on Yonge, and Aaron Ramsey’s injury-time winner was a special moment. I’d be lying if I said it represented a regular matchday in my life though. I am a futon fullback, a loyal member of the basement back-four. There are a number of us out there. Here is my account.
I read Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch during the holiday season, and although it took me some time to find the right words, it brought me here: in front of my laptop, to the right of an empty coffee cup, and to the left of Hornby’s book. (For those of you who have not read Fever Pitch, it’s an autobiographical account of the author’s life growing up and growing old as an Arsenal “obsessive,” commenting on how football and his own life became tangled. It’s a great read. Though it absolutely drips of Arsenal, there’s something for any sports fan in Hornby’s reflections. It has also been made into a film that is worth your time, starring Colin Firth and touching on some of the moments from the book.) His words shook a few out of me.
My current routine, described in the beginning of this piece, is to my mind, a snapshot of my own Arsenal obsession. Evidently, I too, have some pregame superstitions. I mean, I know that if I just wore any old shirt, Arsenal could very well win. But then again, what if they lose? It’d be my fault. Why take the risk? Further, how could I watch a match with my family, who are ultimately watching for entertainment? Even as I’m writing, I can hear my dad laughing at an Arsenal chance fluffed. Cheering, not suffering. Hornby writes the words that I want to:
“There was no sniggering at Arsenal games, however – not from me, anyway. And even though I had friends who would have been happy to accompany me to matches, significantly my support soon became a solitary activity: the following season I watched around twenty-five games, seventeen or eighteen of them on my own. I just didn’t want to have fun at football.”
Still, even at this point in this piece, you probably wouldn’t think I’m any different from the next eccentric fan.
I am, however, also a man who struggles to maintain any sort of mental health. This is where my identification with Hornby, who discusses his experience with depression in Fever Pitch, is strengthened. As he puts it,
“I had the blues, and when I watched my team I could unwrap them and let them breathe a little.”
Later, he continues,
“Like most depressions that plague people who have been more fortunate than most, I was ashamed of mine because there appeared to be no convincing cause for it; I just felt as though I had come off the rails somewhere.”
This is exactly it. Sitting on that couch, cheering on the Arsenal in my basement isn’t just something that I can look forward to – “punctuation marks (if only commas) between bleak periods” – but the activity also gave me somewhere to be, and something I could justify being miserable about. (There’s a joke to be made here about Arsenal being at fault for all of this. I, however, am more inclined to blame the club for an inevitable heart attack.)
There are people who’d say that I could still watch the matches in a pub if I just kept to myself. I could embrace the environment. I could keep to myself. Unfortunately, a much more recent struggle with anxiety, one that surfaced inexplicably, fascinatingly, tellingly, during my time in New York for Arsenal’s preseason fixture, has gotten in the way of public displays of Arsenal affliction. The last couple times I’ve tried, I’ve only been able to stomach having a cup or two of coffee, while battling anxiety-induced nausea until I returned to solitude. It’s not ideal. To be clear, this isn’t Arsenal specific; restaurants in general are problematic at present. Hornby’s words prove useful again:
“It is easier to explain why Arsenal and Spurs needed a replay than it is to explain why I needed a psychiatrist, so I shall begin there.”
Comically, it takes him a couple of pages to explain the “easier” of the two conversation topics. Again, it’s the same for me. I know our players. I can tell you what boots each player wears. I know their strengths. I can make sense of what we lack as a team. My own mind, however, often escapes me.
So, why am I sharing this publicly? Why here? Perhaps the simplest answer is that I saw myself so vividly between the lines of Hornby’s book, that I had no choice. It’s pretty incredible if you think about it. Hornby is 57; I’m about a week shy of 23. In fact, only the final two and a half pages of Fever Pitch take place during my lifetime. He’s been to countless games, home and away, and I’ve never even stepped foot in England. But still, there is something that we share, and that something is Arsenal. The club brought me to his book. It brought him to Highbury. It brings him to the Emirates. It brings me to the room adjacent my bedroom. It brings us to this: wherever we are on a match day, we are Gooners. Gooners first, teachers, cab drivers, doctors, second. Unwell last. For 90 odd minutes, it’s fever pitch.