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The Routine

By BEN SMITH / @LimparHalfway

Initially I wanted to write about the first game I watched at Highbury but, in all honesty, I can’t remember it. My Dad took me for the first time when I was just six and I don’t remember an awful lot from when I was six, apart form the fact I had a mullet. I’ve narrowed it down and the opponents might have been QPR, possibly Southampton, who knows? The important thing is that I was at The Arsenal.

I’ve tried asking my Dad but he can’t remember the exact fixture either, the opponent wasn’t important. Going to Arsenal has been a compulsion for him ever since he chose to travel to his first game, on his own, as a sprightly youth in the 50’s. The fact that he would drag his kids along one day was never in question. My first game wasn’t seen as a special event, like learning to ride a bike, and it wasn’t viewed as a treat either; it was just something that had to be done. As soon as I was sturdy enough to be plonked on the barrier, I was ready to start going to football.

The next five years of my life, until the North Bank was closed for redevelopment in 92/93, feel like they were mainly spent on the North Bank. It’s not until the latter stages of this period that I can remember individual games. My reminiscences are dominated by everything that goes along with just being there.

Every visit, every other weekend, the routine was the same. We’d park up on Highbury Fields, walk through the park, stop at the chip shop at Highbury Barn then carry on down the road before turning left into Gillespie Road. Every week my Dad insisted on buying his programme from the same seller. We’d then clunk through the turnstiles, greeted by an aroma unique to Football grounds -  onions, cigarettes, urinals and booze. Then it was up the concrete steps to be blown away by the sight of tens of thousands of people and the dazzle of the brilliant green turf.

The routine was always the same but the sense of awe and wonder never changed. I never once got blasé about going there. Even when the place shut in 2006, a grown man of 25, I still knew I was visiting somewhere special.

Not too long ago I became a father myself. My little boy will be two very shortly. As with my Dad, there is no question that he’ll be a Gooner. When I walk to The Emirates from Highbury and Islington station I still get a glimpse of Highbury and I remember those days vividly. I can’t help but feel disappointed that I won’t get to take my own son into that beautiful old building. I debate whether my son will feel the same wonder I felt back in 1987?

It’s been five years since Highbury yet the buzz I get on match days is still the same. The Emirates has it’s critics but personally I think it’s fantastic. The landscape of football may have changed but my love affair with an afternoon at the Arsenal has never diminished. As lucky as I was to know Highbury, it’s a devotion to the club that keeps us coming back and it’s that devotion that will imbue our new home with that same spirit. After all, the spirit of Highbury was only the spirit of the club and it’s supporters.

It might take a bit of time but this is why I know my son will feel the same as me, my brother and sisters and my Dad. He’ll have a new building to visit but he’ll still have the routine, the superstitions and the history. Every time I go to a match I look at the flags that flutter on the Ken Friar bridge to celebrate former players, I look at the testimonials printed on the side of the stadium and the huddle of legends that circles the ground. I can’t wait to school him in the ways of Arsenal and let him know the sheer depth of what he’s getting into. Once he’s experienced his first match day at Arsenal, how could he ever look back?

On our way to the Emirates we’ll still stop at the same places and his Grandad will still buy his programme from the same pitch. He will be struck dumb by the Emirates as I was, time and again, when I saw Highbury.

In truth, it’s not about the stadium itself, it’s about the recognition that this is where his heroes are and it’s where people like him, his Dad and his Grandad turn out every week, for the simple reason that they are Gooners and they just can’t kick the habit. He’ll have highs and he’ll have lows, far too many lows, but the next Saturday he’ll want to do it over again.

Reader Comments (2)

How I feel you! My son will be two in january and I can't wait to introduce him to the magic of being an Arsenal fan. Wonderful story. thank you for sharing

October 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMadRuskiGunner

Fantastic, sums up my feelings on Highbury too!

October 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEd
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