As I watched the Arsenal/Brighton game on Thursday night from my seat in the North Bank Lower I noticed a small child being held aloft on his father’s shoulders for the duration of the game. He was about 5 or 6 I think and I wonder if he will remember the evening at all.
I can’t remember my first football match but that’s because, according to one of my aunts, I was only about a year or two old. I cried a bit and fell asleep, completely uninterested, she says, in what was going on around me.
Perhaps that’s because she took me to Spurs, not the Arsenal!
My family was split between the two north London teams and in the early 1960s my aunt can perhaps be forgiven for choosing the Lillywhites ahead of the Gunners. My dad was an Arsenal fan, as was his before him (as a club steward in the 1930s), and so when I was about 7 I can just about remember going to Highbury for a Saturday game.
I think this might have been an early game in the 1971-2 season because I distinctly recall we lost 1-0. Looking it up I can see that John Ritchie (Stoke’s all-time top scorer) won the game with a goal in the 20th minute. It didn’t matter to me, I was 8 and I’d fallen in love with Arsenal. We (my mum and dad and my little brother I think) were part of a crowd of 36, 637 and had seats in the East Stand.
My dad and I went, infrequently, after that and dad went to the FA Cup Final, which we lost to Alan Clarke’s 53rd minute goal. We’d won the league and cup double the year before but I can only vaguely remember that. I have distinct memories of Charlie George (my playground favorite) scoring THAT goal at Wembley but since I’ve seen it (and images from the WHL league win) so many time since that I’m not sure what I recall from then and what is a more recent memory.
I do know that in 1971 I became an Arsenal fan and that meant I had to wait another eight years before I saw them lift a trophy I can properly remember. 1978, 79 and then 1980 (when I was at Wembley to see us lose to West Ham) are all vivid memories, especially Alan Sunderland’s winner against United. Me and my mates from school stood on the North Bank throughout the late seventies and early eighties until I drifted away from going to football for a while as music took over.
It was a long time before Arsenal won a league title in my supporting ‘lifetime’. 1989 was an amazing moment for me. I was working in Milton Keynes and living about an hour away, commuting to work on a moped. I left work that evening getting home just as the players ran out at Anfield for the second half. It was 0-0 and so everything was still ‘up for grabs’.
I rode to work the next day with my bar scarf floating behind my Honda C-90, at 26 I’d finally seen my team win the league title!
Me and all Arsenal fans have been very spoilt since then. The Wenger years were amazing and the football of a standard I can only dream about as I watch the current team struggle. But this is still my team, my Arsenal, and while I might have watched with as much bewilderment as the young lad a few rows in front of me I still clapped, sang and encouraged Freddie’s players on Thursday night.
We have to.
We are Arsenal supporters and we have to support the team, whatever we think of the individuals involved. There is no certainty in football, no God-given right to win trophies or play in Europe. There is only us and our club, we don’t get to choose, we don’t get to dump them and pick some other groups of footballers just because things aren’t going well.
This is our time now, a time to pull together, back the team, and back whoever comes in to lead them – whether that’s one of our own (Like Freddie) or someone else.
Form is temporary, class is permanent, and Arsenal is for life.
Drew Gray, AISA Chair