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Monday
Jan162012

The only Arsenal fan in the room

BY GOONERBOY / @GoonerBoyBlog

For a lot of Gooners, supporting Arsenal was something that was passed down from father to son. For me, it was the other way around.

While I was born in North London (Barnet to be precise) I moved to Wales at a fairly early age. My Dad, who’s from south Wales, had been a Cardiff City fan while growing up, although thankfully he never tried to impress this upon me. If anything, I think he was somewhat relieved when I started supporting Arsenal as a very young boy, after our league triumph in 1991. Trust me, Georgie Graham’s Arsenal might as well have been Brazil circa 1970, compared to the slop served up at Ninian Park.  

Yet after 1991, a lot of kids in my school switched to supporting Leeds, and then United. Most of them then stuck with United. Impressionable kids often support whoever’s won the league, especially when the local alternative is a team like Cardiff. But I stuck with Arsenal, even though, by the time I reached secondary school at the age of eleven, I was probably the only Gooner left in my year. The combination of my London roots, plus my heroes – Adams, Merson, Seaman, Wrighty – meant that I was hooked. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to support anyone else.

But this meant every time Arsenal lost was absolute torture, as I was basically on my own. I’m not going to lie, while I was (and still am) a total nerd, I faked being sick on at least one occasion after Arsenal had lost a big match, rather than face the abuse of my classmates. The fact I was an Englishman growing up in Wales only made things worse. The nadir of all this was a P.E. class in 1999.  Particularly torrential rain (welcome to south Wales) meant that we were forced to sit in a classroom, rather than play football. My teacher had, for some reason, taped Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final defeat against United the night before and put it on for us to watch. Why? Ryan Giggs, of course, and his stupid hairy-chested goal. So, as part of my education, I was literally forced to re-watch one of the most painful defeats Arsenal have suffered in my lifetime, in a classroom where I was the only Arsenal fan, just because the scorer of the winning goal was Welsh. These are the types of thing that make therapists very wealthy.

Over time, this built up an ‘outsider’ mentality within me. Indeed, I’ve always felt with Arsenal that it’s ‘us vs. them’ or, for large parts of my youth, ‘me vs. them’. I celebrated our triumphs on my own, and defended Arsenal in the playground on my own. I ended up turning all my immediate family into Arsenal fans just so I could have someone else to support Arsenal with, although, thankfully, this wasn’t too difficult.

Then, from the age of around 16 onwards, I basically moved home almost every year for about a decade. My family firstly moved back to England. Then, while obtaining my doctorate, I went to three different universities in about eight years, which saw me move not only all across the UK, but also to Paris for a year. Then, in the last year, I’ve moved to the States .

In all this, there have been few constants in my life, aside from my family, a small group of close friends that I’ve managed to maintain despite my travels, and, more recently, my wife. Beyond that, there is Arsenal. No matter where I’ve gone, or what I’ve done, there’s always been Arsenal. I made some great friends in Paris thanks to Arsenal (and in particular the Arseblog community). I got through a really shitty year in 2007, doing a job I hated, because I had an Arsenal season ticket for the first time. And now, even in the States, Arsenal are still here for me, even if I do have to drag my arse out of bed before midday on a Saturday.

Nowadays, it’s a lot easier to feel part of a community of Arsenal fans wherever you live in the world, because of the massive online community that follows Arsenal via blogs, Twitter and Facebook. But even as late as 2005, I often felt that it was Arsenal and me against the world. That was the year I went to Oxford to start my postgraduate studies – something I had worked feverishly hard to achieve over the previous three years. Yet, when I got there, I once more felt out of place. I felt like half the people there looked down on me for not having done my undergraduate degree at an Oxbridge college. Most of the people I met seemed hell-bent on becoming management consultants, something I just could not fathom. And a worryingly high number of people actually preferred rugby to football due to their weird upbringing in England’s private schools – during the bloody Six Nations, I once almost missed an Arsenal game because seemingly every pub in Oxford city centre had the rugby on, rather than the football.

So, naturally, I doubled-down, and if anything became even more obsessed with Arsenal. Not yet having discovered that you could find local pockets of Arsenal support via the internet, I often used to wonder around Oxford city centre trying to find places to watch the game. I ended up watching the infamous Arsenal draw with Spurs in 2006 in a pub full of Spurs fans, which ended in a rather vicious slanging match after Eboue and Gilberto ran into each other. I similarly watched the last game at Highbury next to Spurs fans who wildly celebrated both Wigan goals. Thank god for dodgy lasagne.

But the memory of Arsenal that I remember most from my time at Oxford was the second leg of the Real tie. For some reason, I decided to watch it in my college bar. I somehow managed to wind up being surrounded by old Etonians, who decided to support Madrid as, and I quote, ‘they are more of an English team than Arsenal because they’ve got Beckham’. I bit my tongue, watched Arsenal eek out the greatest 0-0 in history, got drunk and then loudly celebrated on my own. Yes, it may have been a bit obnoxious – even the small number of other Arsenal fans there looked on a bit sheepishly – but I didn’t care. I was used to being the only Arsenal fan in the room.

It was around this time that I started blogging, and found that, actually, there was no need to be an Arsenal outsider any more. There were millions of people on the internet who would support Arsenal with me, some of whom were even prepared to meet up and watch games. The next year I got my season ticket, which I held until I moved to America.  And thanks to all this, I no longer feel like an Arsenal outsider. I became one of the collective, to borrow the name of the site. I found other Gooners who actually made my obsession with Arsenal look like a small distraction. And, at last, I finally felt at home. 

Reader Comments (3)

Nice post. I can empathise with you. Me and my youngest are the only gooners I know. We live in Neath, south Wales. Work was a dreaded experience this morning, what with all the jacks there. They are enjoying their moment of glory!

January 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterwelshgooner

If you ever come to East Africa, link up with me. Here Arsenal rules and other club supporters are made to feel like outsiders!

January 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaustin

hey only found this article after i googled for arsenal fc pubs in oxford. apparently, my search was futile. i'd be glad if you suggested any courteous places or pubs where am assured of catching arsenal games in oxford. i love watching arsenal games in pubs. just moved to oxford. thank you.

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermichael
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