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Tuesday
Jan102012

An American Gooner

BY CHARLIE MELMAN / @AmeriGooner

Not too long ago, I regarded football as a boring, niche sport, unworthy of my attention.

After all, as an American, I was merely conforming to the unfortunate social perception that, with so many more exciting and uniquely “American” sports to follow, football – or “soccer,” as it is more commonly referred to here – is a boring game that is followed only by immigrants and strange people who live thousands of miles away.

However, it was this very sense of patriotism that got me hopelessly addicted to football during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. I easily adopted the U.S. National Team, and became captivated by the sport while watching my beloved Yanks’ heart-pounding run to their top of the group finish. (Sorry, English readers, I feel for your perpetual international failure).

My adoration for football was not yet sealed though. Relapse to ignorance was still all too possible.

Landon Donovan would provide that seal. I watched helplessly as the U.S. came excruciatingly close to scoring the one goal they needed against Algeria to qualify for the Round of 16. In stoppage time, we had one last chance. Tim Howard heaved the ball forward desperately. Clint Dempsey missed from point-blank range, but Landon Donovan, the face of U.S. football, was there to stab home the winner and send the Americans hurtling to the top of their group. I have never felt such elation, such unbridled ecstasy from a football match since that wondrous moment.

After the conclusion of the tournament, I knew I had found my favorite sport. The passion, intensity, suspense, and constant flowing movement of the game was enthralling.

But, without another World Cup for four long years, I needed a club to support. After some consideration and research, I narrowed my options to Manchester United or Arsenal. I was tempted to go with the most common and easiest choice, beckoning me with open arms and a full trophy case. However, there was a certain something about Arsenal and Cesc Fabregas in particular that I found difficult to resist.

The history of the great club was fascinating, its players interesting, and seeing a young captain like Fabregas with so much talent and so many plaudits drew me to a club that seemed to have so much more than just recent success.

And so it was tentatively decided: I was to be a Gooner. I resolved to learn as much as possible about my new squad, which became my passion, and I soon knew the biographies of the entire Arsenal first team.

But my support was not yet sealed. I had not even watched any matches, and I was the typical ignorant American supporter that many English football purists scoff at.

On October 30, 2010, I logged on to the most reliable online stream I could find, and watched my adopted team struggle to break down a gritty West Ham side, lead by Robert Green, who was having the match of his life.

Chance after chance was wasted, shot after shot repelled by either Green or the stubborn West Ham defence. I felt every emotion and the passion of every chant from an enthusiastic crowd, even though we were 3,500 miles apart from one another. Despite our distance, our cause was the same, and our frustration identical.

As I repeatedly threw my hands up in anguish, I recalled the emotions I felt during the World Cup. I wondered what I was getting myself into. What a cruel sport, I thought. So much tension repeatedly built up, with a goal surely forthcoming, and yet the score was still 0-0. Surely, this would be the first of many such matches I would be forced to endure, should I continue to follow The Arsenal.

But, then, a minor miracle occurred. With the Gunners throwing all their resources forward, Gael Clichy lofted a hopeful cross into the box with what I would later discover is his usually useless right foot.

Somehow, Alex Song separated himself from the mass of bodies in the penalty area, and headed a rare goal past a helpless Green in the 86th minute. It was 1-0 to the Arsenal. At that moment, I was completely hooked.

That one glorious instant solidified my love for the sport, and, above all, my unbridled love for Arsenal Football Club.

Since that wonderful fixture, I have become a more cultured and learned connoisseur of the beautiful game.  And with each passing match, I grow ever more thankful to Alex Song for making me a Gooner.

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