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Following The White Rabbit

BY ANDRES SALCEDO / @alfabravoteam

I’ve been following Arsenal on a regular basis for the last twelve years or so, but because I’m from South America I’ve no story about getting myself to Highbury for a first game. While that will always be something I deeply regret, I have instead a story about finding a love without searching, about curiosity and about facing the unexpected.

Until the late nineties access to international football over here in Colombia was very limited. Often expensive and never more than a few matches, it meant the World Cup finals were often the best chance to watch European players for a whole match, as opposed to 30-second video snippets in the news. France ’98 was perhaps the last major tournament that I enjoyed in such a retro-romantic manner, but it was to have a lasting legacy. 

A lot of people will no doubt remember all the hype around Brazil and Ronaldo ahead of that competition, but I cherish the memory of another team. I gathered many newspaper and magazine articles as I tried to read up on all the teams and players and while I actually watched most of the games just for the fun of it, it was the Holland team that I began to favour. I was curious about their humungous goalkeeper and the defender with a really powerful free-kick…the kind of things that spike the interest of young kids I guess. And there he was. I discovered Dennis Bergkamp.

I have a rather vague recollection of his goals against South Korea and Yugoslavia, but the strike that will be forever imprinted in my mind is the one he scored against Argentina. I watched it as it happened: the long pass from De Boer, the shadow of the roof on the field, Dennis running into the penalty box, his jump and control of a ball played 50 metres, his first touch moving inside Ayala, his second elegant touch and then the shot and goal with his third.

I thought it was the best goal I had ever seen and I maintain that view to this day. It was a demonstration of pure talent working efficiently to defeat an opponent. After the World Cup I followed Bergkamp’s career at club level. And there you go, I found the Arsenal. I read and I learned. The interest grew as time went on until we finally got cable at home and I could watch the Gunners regularly. After that I followed the trail of the non-flying-Dutchman as he played great football with amazing teammates like Henry, Pires and Vieira (only with online videos, did I see him playing with Wright). I even witnessed him assisting some fancy guy named Robin in his last matches and spent countless Sundays waking up at 7am to watch the Invincibles in action. 

During all that time I never had a single shirt, poster or even a computer desktop background. I just wanted to learn more as I followed my White Rabbit into Wonderland. It has been a truly magical journey and I can honestly say I’ve fallen in love along the way. I’ve experienced the despair, sadness, joy and elation that comes with supporting a club through highs and lows and love the team and my fellow supporters all the more. Nowadays I can interact with fellow Gunners all over the world using Twitter and I feel a part of a global-family that is going from strength to strength.

All this from following the progress of one man. 

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