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Thursday
Nov172011

A Lasting Memory

BY CONOR FOLEY / @FoolishOthello

It was a Tuesday in February. That day will always hold enormous significance for me for two reasons. Firstly was the game I witnessed, the 2-1 comeback to beat Barcelona.

I had only been watching the sport for a few months at the time; living in the United States I’d never gotten much exposure to it. When the World Cup rolled around the previous summer and I found myself watching every game, I realized I needed to find a club team support. I chose Arsenal for the cool name and for Robin van Persie. Months later, when I saw the Champions League Round of 16 draw, I was excited about the game solely on the strength of the two teams; I’d had no idea about the 2-2 in 2010.

I drove up to my parents’ house to watch the game. My father was on vacation from work at the time and sat down to watch the game with me. I don’t remember much of the first half, just moments.

Messi’s chip going inches wide, Valdes saving against van Persie, Walcott making a darting run at the Barcelona defense. Villa’s goal. I remember the frustration in the second half, the bad free kicks from van Persie and Fabregas. But then Clichy lifted a ball past the Barcelona defense for van Persie, who slammed it past Valdes at the near post. I jumped up to celebrate. I looked at the clock, hoping we could hold on.

Arshavin’s winner is the most enormous memory of Arsenal I have. I’ve watched it so many times I know it by heart, Bendtner passing to Wilshere, Wilshere passing to Fabregas, the ball from Fabregas splitting Barcelona’s defence and releasing Nasri, Nasri’s pullback, Arshavin’s finish. The yell of the commentator, the roar of the crowd. I jumped up to celebrate again.

This time I stayed standing. I paced around the room, terrified of an equalizer. It seemed like the Arsenal goal was under siege for the remainder of the game. When the referee blew for full time I was exhilarated. I’d gone from casual fan to diehard Gooner in ninety minutes.

My dad never really liked soccer, but that day he watched the game with me, and he was there with me for the game that ensured my undying loyalty. The second reason that February 16, 2011 will always hold enormous significance for me is what happened after the game. My mother got home from work, and in the kitchen she and my father held hands and told me he had cancer.

A little more than five months later it killed him. After all the baseball games with their walk off home runs, the improbable rise of my university’s football team to a number two national ranking, all the great sporting moments we’d experienced together, the last and greatest one was Andrey Arshavin’s bending winner finding its way into the net.

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