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A Passion Undimmed 


It was the sort of day Louis Armstrong used to sing about. The fog hung over London town in a sickly grey green blanket that dirtied the collar and blackened the nostrils. But for an 11-year-old boy with stars in his eyes, this didn’t matter. His parents were taking him to Highbury to watch Arsenal. He had only been once before and it was an experience that would be etched in his mind forever. Arsenal had beaten Aston Villa 2-0 and Don Roper had scored both goals.

Now it was to be Burnley. Leaving a restaurant in the West End, the boy’s father, already muttering about the weather, told the taxi driver to leave them off at Tottenham Court Road tube station from where they could change from the Central onto the Piccadilly line for Arsenal – a station the boy had been told was the only one in the world to be named specially for a football club.

But his father had barely paid off the cabbie when the boy saw the signs and his heart sank. On the Evening Standard placards outside the station, it read, “Arsenal-Burnley – match off.”

Inside the station there was only confirmation of the dreadful news. “Due to fog the match at Highbury has been postponed,” said the London Transport notice helpfully.

The boy was distraught. “But we can still go!” he wailed at his parents. “We can still go and have a look. Just in case. Please, please!”

“Oh, that’s ridiculous,” said the boy’s father. “We can’t go all that way to look at an empty stadium. In any case, we’ll never get in. It will be closed.”

But his mother looked at the tearful, pleading expression on her son’s face and then glanced at his father. This had started out as a special weekend arranged for the boy because they were divorced and it was rare to have both his parents together, just for him.

So the boy got his way and off they went, sitting glumly on a half empty train as it sped through that long stretch between King’s Cross and Caledonian Road and on through Holloway Road before the magic sign sweeps into view – Arsenal.

Apart from a couple of disconsolate stall owners packing away scarves and old programmes, the fog-shrouded streets around Arsenal Stadium were deserted. Turning into Avenell Road, one could just make out the towering East Stand, a sight that had sent shivers of excitement through the boy when he had first seen it a few months before. But there was no excitement to be had on this mournful day. After a few minutes loitering near the main entrance, hoping to catch a glimpse of Joe Mercer or Jimmy Logie or George Swindin through the mist, the boy gave up. The players had long gone. The day was done. It was back to the Piccadilly line and home.

I can’t believe I made my parents do that. I cringe at the thought of it still. But, over fifty years on, I understand why. I’m still a nut about that club. Deranged, I suppose. And no matter if it is Chelsea, Everton, Newcastle United or even Tottenham Hotspur for heaven’s sake, aren’t we all?

I mean what rationale can there be for allowing the exploits of a football team to cloud one’s judgment; ruin one’s week or fill our hearts with a joy and unreasoned passion that makes life’s real horrors fade into insignificance? Anyone reading this will know there is no real answer to those questions but most will understand. Because they will be afflicted with the same disease.  

Reader Comments (1)

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January 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterraywillom12
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