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Friday
Jan132012

No tantrum, just tears

BY NAZ ABDELKHALEQ

Football was an obsession for me in my childhood. I was a 7-year-old child on May 26th 1989. My step-dad was at Anfield. How I wished to be there. I had experienced live football before. I’d watched Arsenal at Highbury a few times and once at Selhurst Park so I knew the ‘stadium atmosphere’ I was missing out on by watching it at my grandparents in Wales. But Anfield, in this type of fixture, I guess, wasn’t suitable for a 7 year old child. My eyes were glued to the TV instead. Liverpool v Arsenal. Win by two goals in order to win the league. 

I believed we would win – and by two goals as well. No problem. I recall differing results during the title run in – losing to Derby County, drawing with Wimbledon, but we’d beaten Norwich City 5 v 0, and we were great that day. I had sought reassurance from my step-dad before the game. My step-dad said we’d win. He sounded certain, so I was sure we would too.

We all know what happened that night at Anfield, and from a personal perspective, something uncontrollable took over in the 7 year old child that I was. I’m sure the same can be said for many other kids too. I was so happy. Ecstatic. A bundle of energy, enthusiasm and excitability. My grandparents, having let me stay up late, couldn’t then get me to sleep. I could safely say now that May 26th 1989 was one of the happiest days (or nights if you like) of my childhood. The thing I didn’t understand at that point was the journey I would go on, as an Arsenal supporter, for the rest of my life. I had experienced a great high, but not yet a low.

Fast forward to January 4th 1992 and I’m not far off my 10th birthday. I’m with my uncle and my cousin (Col U fans) and I’m sitting at Penydarren Park watching Merthyr Tydfill v Colchester Utd – a non league fixture at the time. Again we were staying with my grandparents in Wales. More important than the game I was watching at Pennydarren Park, was the FA Cup 3rd round match somewhere else in Wales. Wrexham v Arsenal. We’d won the league the season before, losing only one game, and Wrexham had finished 92nd in the football pyramid, only saved from eviction from the football league on a technicality – we couldn’t lose. It wasn’t possible.

But something strange happened near the end of the match between Merthyr Tydfill and Colchester Utd. A big booming voice came over the tannoy. It was really loud and clear and every word struck like a dagger inside me. It announced to the crowd at Penydarren Park that Wrexham were winning 2 v 1 against Arsenal. Everyone cheered the announcement like it was a goal. I looked around at everyone clapping and didn’t understand it. Everyone was happy, but this wasn’t good news. I remember seeking reassurance from my uncle. Maybe the announcer got it wrong? Maybe it was a mistake? Then bang. The tannoy came on again. It was the same voice. 

“News from the Racecourse Ground”. Please let it be good news I said to myself. His words took an eternity to reach my ears. “Wrexham 2……….”. We must have scored again, I thought, it can’t still be one. “…………Arsenal 1. Full Time”. Those two words – full time – hurt the most, because it felt so final. Penydarren Park erupted again with more cheering – but this time it was louder. Again I didn’t understand it. Why was everyone clapping? This horrible tannoy man wasn’t delivering good news. In fact it was terrible news, and the fact everyone was clapping made it worse. It seemed I was the only person in the ground who realised that this was bad news. Why didn’t anyone else understand? Suddenly I burst in to tears. Not childish tantrum tears. Not loud sobbing tears. Just the sad, quiet, eyes welling up, tears rolling down your cheeks, type of tears. 

I don’t remember anything about the actual game I watched at Penydarren Park that day. I couldn’t tell you which team won. I couldn’t tell you the score. It didn’t matter. The tannoy man spoilt my day. Once back to my grandparents, I sat on the same sofa I had sat on two and a half years earlier when I saw that night at Anfield unfold beneath my eyes. But this time my emotions were very different. Not yet 10 years old, Arsenal had already put me through an emotional rollercoaster of epic proportions.

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