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An Indelible Mark

BY @Yogis_Warrior

Football has always been a source of conflict in our house. Not because my wife supports another team, she just does not see the fascination. Nor does she understand the tribal culture. Which is surprising given that her family hail from Barcelona. And she does not like the antagonism that the mere mention of one of that cities professional clubs brings out.

And she definitely didn't appreciate being dragged along to a friendly between Maidenhead United and Arsenal in the summer of 2009. As I explained to her, a rite of passage was taking place; our youngest son would be witnessing an Arsenal match of the first time.

Our oldest son defected to the dark side when Thierry Henry signed for them. Having had his photo taken with the first team squad in 2005/06, sitting between Henry and Bergkamp, there was no little surprise when he bowed to his grandmother's pressure and supported Barcelona. A Faustian pact emerged; she could have the oldest, the youngest was Arsenal's.

And so it led us to Maidenhead United on a balmy summer's eve. Youngsters waited in vain for a close look at their Premier League heroes, oblivious to the fact that they were in Austria for the pre-season training camp. "Is that Arsène Wenger?", they wondered as a well-dressed gentleman strode purposefully by. I wonder did he hear and was he living for the moment with the kudos so mistakenly bestowed?

York Road was well-filled, a typical non-league ground with terracing for this rite of passage. It is something that all youngsters should experience at least once in the early stages of their football careers. As for the parents, well, I for one was more than a little misty-eyed as Junior moved to the front, leaning against the advertising hoardings. It was, I am sure, sentimentality but he had the stance, the look of someone who had arrived at the time they were meant to be, the place they had been looking for; his moment in time.

It didn't matter that this was essentially the Arsenal reserves and youth; it was billed as Maidenhead United v Arsenal XI. It was his first match. My wife turned and observed that there were seats there, we should move. The inference became insistence; I could not accede to such a request, this was a special occasion. Fortunately a neighbour wanted to sit as well, the pair went to discuss the latest playground gossip.

The match passed, Maidenhead took the lead leaving a six year old boy suffering the initial torments that chasing a game brings. There was the unmistakable banter, the teases, the taunts, delivered in a soprano by his peers, peppered with the staccato machine gun fire of his older sibling's ill-intentioned bravado about what Barcelona would be doing to the Thames Valley had they been here.

Obligingly Arsenal could not let matters rest. An equaliser shortly after half-time settled the banter, within fifteen minutes of that goal two, three and four had turned bragging rights on their head. By the time Chuks Aneke rounded off the scoring with five minutes to go, the ascendency to top dog was assured for the two weeks left before the season proper started.

Seven goals in his first match was, as he put it, the best night of his life. "It's only Maidenhead" from his older brother meant nothing. It didn't matter; his club had delivered. It set him up for a lifetime of disappointments but at least he will know that when the highs come, they are worth it.

An indelible mark was left on him, reinforced by a scrapbook put together for him, a permanent memory of my first game. It led to bigger things. His debut at The Emirates has been and gone. Hearing him describe the smells, sights and sounds took me back to my youth. No matter what may be said, there is something unique about the smell of a burger at football. Culinary delight is not something for which the game is noted - nor should it be - but aromas never change, not food nor the stench of an overflowing toilet. A 21st Century rewind to the 1970s.

His first match led to the second, to the number where you lose count. Or stop bothering to count as it becomes a ritual. Little steps, we always tell them, when confronted by something that instils trepidation. Little steps lead to tube station steps to The Emirates steps. And now he can shout, "Stand up if you hate Tottenham", with the best of them. 

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    The Arsenal Collective - A Home for Memories of The Arsenal - The Memory Bank - An Indelible Mark

Reader Comments (7)

Brilliant! I really loved reading it. " It set him up for a lifetime of disappointments but at least he will know that when the highs come, they are worth it." Haha that is so true :)

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAttasmani

Very nice article. thoroughly enjoyed it.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterabhi

Lovely Yogi. Your best bit of writing for some time, or is it the sentiment that gets to me?

Took me right back to my first game, with my father, which was actuallt Argyle v. Rotherham. 0-0 of course!

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterconsolsbob

My wife and I recently separated and she took my baby son with her. Between me seeing him he is looked after by a father-in-law who has already adorned a nursery in Everton paraphrenalia and refers to him as 'my son'. My response? A tile at the Emirates entitled "Alfie W. His first home." and a trip to the solicitors! Excellent, unpretentious and well-crafted piece which really struck a chord. One day...

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJJMcJ

Nice reminiscences, YW. Must have been interesting in your household the last few seasons with our CL encounters with Barca and the transfer sagas. In the Book of Genesis it is a constant pattern that the eldest son is surprisingly skipped over for the younger son for a special spiritual and historical inheritance received from their fathers. Isaac, Jacob, Benjamin and Joseph and so on. Also in medieval Mongol tradition of Genghis Khan and his successors, the younger and often youngest son acceded to overlordship as Great Khan, over his elder brothers. So your youngest has done well in continuing the tradition of supporting noble Arsenal and receiving the greater legacy from you!

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLimestonegunner

absolutely wonderful piece. Truly emotional

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMadRuskiGunner

I was lucky to be at Highbury
And to hear the North Bank sing
When the man in charge was Bertie Mee
And Charley George was king.

Charley, Charley, Charley, Charley,
Born is the King of Highbury.

Boxing Day, nineteen seventy-one
I was there that day with my ten-year-old son
That simple hymn we learned together
Will stay in our hearts and minds forever.

November 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterR Soul
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