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Sunday
Nov272011

A Dream Fulfilled

BY JORDAN IMRAY/@Jordan6509

One of my favourite Arsenal memories occurred this year on October 1st, 2011. Arsenal didn’t play that day, but I was able to witness a former Gunner, and my lifelong hero, score a wonder goal right before my eyes.

His name is Thierry Henry.

I grew up just outside of Toronto in a small suburb without any way of watching games. My family had basic cable, and other than the occasional “Soccer Sunday” roundup early in the morning, I was ignorant to football in the first decade of my life.

At this point I’ll tell you how I became an Arsenal fan, but I warn you, having just written it out it all sounds a bit…well a bit sobby. It’s not really romantic or funny (unless you find femur breaks funny) so bear with me for a little bit. If it gets too much, just skip to the part where Henry scores. For now I’ll give you some of the prologue in point form:

-I became an Arsenal fan in 1998.

-I had broken my femur playing football and was held in traction for the summer. Unfortunately, that was also the summer of the World Cup. I had just been getting into competitive football when my injury struck, so I was crushed to find out I was not going to be able to watch any of the games at the hospital.

-I lived on newspaper updates delivered by my grandma, reading statistics and scores and…not quite knowing what any of it meant.

-I was released from hospital at the beginning of September and waiting for me at home was my first Sony Playstation along with FIFA 98: Road to the World Cup.

This is the part where the romance really dies. I’ll be honest, the only reason I became a fan is because of that video game. A video game! Maybe it was alphabetic luck, being that Arsenal were at the top of the team list, maybe it was scanning the roster and recognizing some of the names from all those newspapers during the World Cup, maybe it was to pick a different team than Manchester United like those prick bandwagoners. However, whatever compelled me to pick Arsenal -like the ‘Crystal Method’ soundtrack from FIFA 98- they’ve stuck with me.

Over the next two years as my love of the club grew through actually following them as best I could and dominating every subsequent FIFA game with The Arsenal, I saw the rise of Thierry Henry. Seeing the elegance of his playing style and watching him perform the way I had never witnessed inspired me during the year I learned to walk, run and kick a ball again. See, sob story, eh?

Anyway, back to the original point of this piece: living in Canada has kept me relatively sheltered from professional football. It’s no secret that Canadians have a fierce love for hockey and there will be no sport that shares its popularity on this soil. However, there is a pocket of the population that ignore hockey and indulge in the beautiful game. The passion of this pocket was evident in 2006 when Toronto became the first Canadian city to join the MLS. As we all know, the MLS is in no way comparable to European football, but you know, it’s the best we’ve got. And since I have yet to see my first Arsenal game in the flesh, it’s the best I’ve got.

I’ve managed to go to as many games as possible to surround myself with the atmosphere of a football stadium. We’ve got some pretty passionate patches, but generally the crowd is disconnected.

If you’re scanning, here’s the proper football bit:

In 2010, I had been able to see Thierry play his first game against Toronto FC. It was one half of a dream realised. I walked down to my seats at BMO Field and instantly rushed to the first row as Thierry started making his way out onto the pitch. I started singing the only Arsenal song I knew, “We Love You Arsenal”. He didn’t look at me but…he probably heard…right?

It was then I actually stopped and looked around the stadium and saw the bright reds and yellows of the Arsenal kits. I could make out so many JVC sponsors, Fly Emirates, a few Dreamcasts, and many of my personal favourite: O2. I suddenly realised I was not alone. Up until that point in my life I had never met another Gooner and was subjected to the endless teasing by the Manchester United fans that grew up with me (we didn’t have any channels that broadcast games, so kids with little to no knowledge of football would bandwagon).

The other half of my dream was to see my hero score a goal. Unfortunately, having transferred to the MLS only months before, Henry was having a difficult time finding his form. He didn’t score that day, but showed a few flashes of individual brilliance that gave me goosebumps and pushed the hundreds of Gooners around the pitch to yell, “OOOHH!”. I’d have to wait another year to see him score.

Fast forward to October 1st, 2011 and the Red Bulls return to Toronto. I managed to score seats four rows from the pitch, but it wasn’t until I’d fought through traffic, grabbed a panzerotti and moved people sitting in our place that I finally got to sit down. My girlfriend and I (another Gooner (who grew up in Dubai and began supporting Arsenal through the Fly Emirates connection before I had even met her…score!) had our kits on and scarves ready to be held high at any sign of Thierry weaving his trademark magic.

The Frenchman had been in good goal-scoring form in the build up to the match, and I knew against a team like Toronto that I might actually get to see Dream: Part 2 fulfilled.

Overall, it was a decent game. Toronto had taken the lead at the beginning of the second half and New York’s play-off chances seemed slim. TFC had been defending fairly well, reducing Henry to only a few piercing through balls that ultimately made no impact.

That was until the 87th minute.

Down 1-0, New York began pressing. They won a corner down in the end I was sitting. The cross was curled in and the ball bounced once on the ground through some legs. Toronto’s giant centre back Andy Iro ignored his mark (Henry) and moved forward to head the ball away. Iro missed the ball by inches, and Henry pounced. Deftly flicking the ball behind himself on the bounce, Henry swivelled and volleyed the ball into the bottom left corner with the same foot. (Watch it here)

I instantly stood up and made some incomprehensible, “AAARRRRGH!” noise as I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed! Right before my eyes I saw my hero show me the class that had inspired me years before. The crowd erupted in boos as Toronto’s slim play-off chances were dashed, but still standing I could see the reds and yellows of the Arsenal faithful clapping their hands and yelling for Thierry. I hugged my girlfriend and we knew then and there we had witnessed something very special.

It was a dream come true and a moment in time I’ll never forget.

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    The Arsenal Collective - A Home for Memories of The Arsenal - The Memory Bank - A Dream

Reader Comments (2)

Thanks for the video link! Just realized that at 21 seconds you can hear the dying cat scream of my girlfriend.

November 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJordan (@Jordan6509

Such a great memory and awesome story Jord. I am the girlfriend and i did in fact sound like a dying animal...all worth it for the legend Theirry

November 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSasha
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