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Tuesday
Mar272012

Home and Away at Highbury

BY VEGARD THORSTENSEN /  @ArsenalNorge

In my country, English football is sacred and far bigger than our own domestic league. The likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham and Leeds all have a huge number of supporters here, this down to the likes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, John Arne Riise, Erik Thorstvedt having long careers in the Premier League. By now of course, you’ll recognise I’m talking about Norway…

When I grew up my love for football came from watching international football. My big hero was Roberto Baggo and I still recall being in floods of tears after he missed his penalty in the 1994 World Cup final. I was only 6-years-old at the time, but things like that you do not forget – it’s just the type of affect football has on you.

I didn’t know much about English football back then, but one day in 1995 (or maybe it was 1996) my Dad bought me a copy of FIFA 96 on the Super Nintendo. I was still very young and not speaking the language could only understand the basic commands such as: “Yes,” or “No,” or “Start Game.”

Every time I turned the game on I just pressed one button until the game started. It meant an exhibition showdown between Arsenal and Aston Villa, with me automatically selected to play as the home side. I still remember evenings spent trying to score goals with my favourite player Alan Smith, or having David Seaman saving penalties like he famously did in real life.

Some years later Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signed for Manchester United and many of my friends automatically plastered their walls in posters of him wearing the Red Devils kit. I though, despite not knowing much about him, had pictures of Tony Adams – the captain of my team, The Arsenal!

My Dad travels quite a lot because of his job and I still remember the time he came home and gave me my first Arsenal kit with the JVC sponsor on the chest – I still have that kit in my drawers actually, although it obviously doesn’t fit. I was very lucky, every time my father travelled to London he returned home with more Gunners goodies including jackets, calendars, shirts etc.

Many years later my older brother, a Spurs supporter, moved to London and despite his affiliation he offered to take me to an Arsenal game when I visited him in 2004.

We didn't have any tickets, so we arrived early hoping to buy some on the black market. I remember we took the tube to Highbury and Islington and it took us a while to find the stadium. After a little walk, it suddenly appeared in front of us – a perfect sight. I think even my brother was impressed by the vision of this big arena blended in with small houses all around. We struggled for hours to get tickets, until five minutes before the game we found a guy willing to sell them for £120 each! My brother, seeing the desperation in my eyes, paid up.

The tout just looked at me after the sale and said, “Good luck lad.” At the time I thought he was talking about the game, which was against Charlton, but soon realised he was talking about something else. As I was only 15-years-old I’d really dressed up for the occasion…and I mean really dressed up! I had the home shirt, an Arsenal jacket, a red and white scarf, a red Gunners cap and even branded sweatpants! Seeing as we were running late we ran to the Clock End and offered our ticket to the guy on the turnstile. It was at this point he told us it was for the away end!

I had to turn the jacket inside out, the cap had to go and I was told in strict terms not to celebrate if Arsenal scored. As we ran to take our seats amongst the Charlton fans we heard huge cheers for not one, but two Arsenal goals. I was thinking it was a great game to be at, there was sure to be more goals for the Gunners. Some of you may remember, but the only goal left in that game was a free-kick that went past Lehmann by the post.

It still remains the day I not only fell head over heels in love with Highbury, Arsenal and my fellow Gooners, but the day I fell for English football.  The atmosphere in the stadium, the build up, the singing on the tube, the curse words…everything. It was fantastic and I couldn't wait to get home and tell everyone.

I got to visit Highbury again, this time with my Dad, for a match with Cardiff and still remember the away fans chanting the ‘Highbury Library’ chant. Thankfully I was sitting with the home fans this time and finally got to see where my Dad had stood when he visited in the 70s.

I now make it to London twice a season to watch the Gunners, but while I love the Emirates, nothing will ever compare to my first match at Highbury with the away fans.

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