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Monday
Nov072011

A Letter from George

 

BY CHRIS BOOTH / @Faxthewax

I don’t really recall why I started following Arsenal. Maybe it was because I grew up in the Lake District which isn’t known as a footballing hot-bed, or maybe it was because all my friends were Liverpool fans (complete with Candy replica strips), but for some reason I ended up being different. Thankfully my dad never pushed his support for Manchester United upon me. Maybe in fact it was because I was just mesmerised by those classically cool JVC strips. My earliest football memories date from the ‘89 season and I was a 5-years-old sitting on my parents’ bed watching the title decider at Anfield. Obviously I probably wasn’t quite aware of the significance of the match and I don’t recall the emotions I experienced but it had a profound effect on my long-term loyalty towards the club.

From that point forward I was an Arsenal fan and I subsequently spent many an hour doodling prospective home and away kits during my free time and while in school. One day in fact I came up with such a spectacular design of multi-coloured stripes and squares that I felt the desire to send it onto the club naively assuming that George Graham himself would read it and demand it be made for the following season.

Astonishingly I received a reply from the manager himself. He thanked me personally for such an ‘interesting’ design and enclosed a signed picture, a fixture list and a recent programme. I recall looking at the letter and being mesmerised by this. The letter had a cool elegance, especially with the ‘old’ club cannon crest, and the gesture forever bound my loyalty to the Arsenal.

My ensuing years as an Arsenal fan were played out during George’s time in charge. These years were not the glorious free-flowing years we’d later experience under Arsene but their impact upon me remains significant.

The Arsenal centre backs were my idols and this dictated where I played at school in the football team. In fact my Man United supporting best friend and I even formed a centre back partnership in which we played the roles of Adams and Bould. There was one school game where he executed a perfect front post flick from a corner from which I converted at the back post, just like the Gunners used to do at the time.

On the field there were highs and lows. We won the league in ‘91 but suffered in the same season by losing to Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final. There was redemption when Adams scored in the re-match two years later and further glory tasted with the double cup success against Sheffield Wednesday. Then there was Europe – a rare treat at the time. Nowadays we almost take continental showdowns for granted given our year on year qualification for the Champions league and the plethora of live European coverage we experience. Back then though we were just out the other end of the Heysel ban and foreign TV football was limited to Channel 4’s much missed coverage of Serie A.

I was so excited that the Arsenal were going to mix it with Europe’s best and fight for the highly regarded European Cup Winners’ Cup (I do miss the instant knock-out nature that the old European competitions had from the first Round) . There was also something completely unique about these two-legged games against the cream of Europe’s football leagues that is missing today. This certainly wasn’t a time when ties against teams in the Belgium league could be taken lightly or indeed with a reserve side.

In my personal opinion the highlights of this glorious adventure include the 1-0 aggregate win over Torino – a highly accomplished feat given the ascendancy of Serie A and, without doubt, the final success in Copenhagen against another Italian giant Parma (how times have changed!).

My memories of this game are quite vivid and for the life of me I still don’t quite know how we won. Though with the classic back five you knew we always stood a chance. I remember Parma coming out like an express train and we couldn’t handle their movement. They hit the post, Seaman made saves and we hung on. Then in a moment of Italian eccentricity, a defender for Parma attempted an overhead clearance. The ball fell to Alan Smith and he fired an unbeatable volley into the net (via the post for that classic ‘in off the woodwork’ effect).

From memory I remember the goal being from at least 30 yards but having looked recently on YouTube it was actually just outside the area, nonetheless a truly great finish. Into the second half it was all Parma, wave after wave of attack was nail-bitingly tackled, blocked and cleared by the defence until finally we had done it and achieved European glory.

12 months later I was to experience the biggest low I have felt as an Arsenal fan losing the same final to Real Zaragoza with Nayim’s last minute ‘fluke’. I couldn’t quite comes to terms with the suddenness with which glory had been taken away from us as I was convinced we’d win the penalty shoot-out. I most definitely cried myself to sleep that night and not since have I been affected by a single game as much of this.

What I did come to understand and appreciate though is that in supporting Arsenal there could be horrible low points as well as incredible highs, but despite the rollercoaster emotional ride my love for the club would remain unwavering.

Reader Comments (2)

Terrific article.Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterabhi
November 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbaby
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