Ich bin ein Gooner.
Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final victory against Reading brought me back. To the Fox, to my basement, to the true north strong and free. For those who aren’t aware (read: everyone; you), I am currently travelling throughout Germany, and have been doing so for three weeks now. At the time of writing, I’m in my room in Berlin, accompanied only by a few empty Berliner Pilsner bottles and an empty bag of curiously flavoured “Balsamico” chips. I only ate the whole bag because my curiosity never faded, and because I was testing my willpower to withstand this disgrace to one of my favourite preparations of veg. Anyway, a lot of things are different here in Germany. The love of Arsenal however, is not.
Saturday, the 18th of April was a day of football to rival all others. Just 50 metres from my room, there’s a dusty football court. On Saturday morning, I laced up, threw on my Özil (Germany) kit, and kicked around as if I was Mesut’s slightly less-skilled, long-lost (in more ways than one) younger brother. The excitement of Arsenal’s looming semi-final was pumping through my veins and the skill of Gervinho on one of his oft off days was present in both of my left feet.
After about an hour of pretending the left post was Michael Owen, the right post was José Mourinho, and the crossbar was the lady from Bulk Barn who didn’t hire me years ago, I returned to my flat. Before long, however, I was to walk out the door again. I had a ticket to see Hertha BSC host Poldi’s beloved 1. FC Köln at Olympiastadion Berlin. Besides beers and brats, a nil-nil result meant there wasn’t much to write about. I should point out that Hertha played Chelsea-reject, Solomon Kalou, up front, so I suppose “goals” were a bit too much to ask for from the home side.
Next, I was one of those fans who you shake your head at for leaving a match early. I wasn’t racing to get ahead on the Lakeshore or the Gardiner, but I did have places to be. I had to go to what turned out to be a home away from home. Blarney Irish Pub in Kreuzberg, the home of Berlin’s gooners, was the endpoint entered into my phone’s GPS. In the end, I didn’t need my phone to navigate, for in the U-Bahn I saw one of those red torso’d, white sleeved jerseys that I am/we are so fond of. The man’s name was Stefan, he was German gooner, and he went out of his way to help me feel welcome in his little part of the big #GoonerFamily. He didn’t just let me walk with him to the pub; he personally introduced me to the other gooners and kindly opened a beer bottle with his teeth for me upon arrival. Germany.
It starts to get hazy from there for a number of reasons. Blarney’s is owned by a Manchester United supporter, and since our cup tie was at the same time as their league match against Chelsea, gooners were relegated to a separate, small room in the back. Germany’s smoking laws are a lot less strict than Canada’s, so it was a bit like watching a game from inside a telephone booth with Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny. The rest of the haze came from the clinking, sloshing, beers, and perhaps the pandemonium of the match itself.
One of the loudest cheers that filled our little room came as a response to the sound of United fans cheering in the other room. The Berlin Arsenal contingent was optimistic, willing to cheer for United at the expense of Chelsea and thus to the benefit of our title hopes. Anyway, it was an interesting dynamic to be in a pub split with two rival fan bases, whose teams were playing in two separate matches, and as a gooner, to be cheering that rival team on too (though I suspect they weren’t doing the same for us, the Fellaini loving jerks).
What I remember of our match, besides the goals and Ramsey hitting the post, was my feeling of confidence throughout. At no point in last year’s cup run did I ever feel like I did at Blarney Irish Pub. We’ve done this already. We’ve played ourselves into worse corners before, and we’ve prevailed, over clubs big and small. Every gooner wanted last year’s silverware to push us on for more this year, and while our haul will at best match last year’s, I’m adamant that progress has been made. Our current squad can compete with the rest of the Premier League, we just need to put together a full season for once.
But that’s a post for another day. For now, soak up the win, the return to Wembley; get excited for Sunday’s match versus Chelsea and the prospect of a symbolic victory; and know that there are some German gooners half the world away who will welcome your help in letting a bar of United fans know who we are (the famous Arsenal), where we’re going (to Wembley), and exactly what colour ribbon she wore (yellow).