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How It All Began 

BY LEANNE HURLEY / @ladyarse

When writing my blog and talking nonsense on Twitter one of the questions I get asked regularly, after ‘how do you stay so positive’ is ‘how did you start supporting Arsenal?’  This has been phrased many ways over the years from people who have a genuine interest to those who think that I should support my local team instead of one which is located some 300 plus miles from my house, but football isn’t logical. We don’t get to choose the teams who find their ways in to our hearts, like love, it just happens, and that’s the way it was with me with Arsenal.

Until I was 11 I didn’t support any English teams, I was quite happy supporting my local team, both home and away, and even though the standard of football was poor in the Irish League, even back then, I didn’t know any better. It was all I knew and I couldn’t get enough.  Sure I watched old First Division matches when they were on TV and my friends were always trying to get me to declare loyalty to either Manchester United or Liverpool, but I flat out refused because they just didn’t feel ‘right.’

Then, in 1987, when I was 11 years old and on a school trip, my footballing world was transformed forever.  The trip had been to Germany where I had lead the girls to a narrow 4-3 victory over the boys on the banks of the Rhine, my one and only ‘proper’ match in which I scored a hattrick, the third coming from the ‘spot’ and which was just about allowed.  Girls didn’t play football in Belfast back then and I can’t say I don’t often wonder ‘what if.’  On the way back home, an arduous coach journey from Germany to Northern Ireland via just about every country they could travel through, we stopped overnight in London.

As part of the trip the school had organised a visit to Highbury and my love affair with Arsenal began as our coach pulled up outside the iconic East Stand on Avenell Road.  What was this place? What was this club which played its football in such a magnificent stadium?  Until then my only experience of football grounds had been Windsor Park and some other grounds which might as well have been fields with a few sheds strategically placed around them. I was hooked.

We were led inside and given a full tour of the stadium, from inside to out. We sat in chairs in the boardroom, listened to the wonderful history of this great club, marvelled at the trophies, were shown around both dressing rooms and stood on the hallowed turf. If I’d known more about anything I’d have known that it was David O’Leary and another player standing on the pitch not 25 yards from us being photographed with the Littlewoods Cup, but I didn’t. My only regret from that day.

As we left we were all given a pack of goodies I’ve long since lost, well, I didn’t lose them, but that’s another story and that was that. Arsenal were my club and there was no discussion needed. I felt at home in Highbury.  All the feelings others had tried to get me to muster when it came to the likes of Liverpool (my uncle’s team), United (my cousin’s team) or even Newcastle (my granddad’s team, the man single handedly responsible for my love of football) flooded over me. I just knew that Arsenal were the team for me.

I never had the chance to get back to Highbury to see an actual game, a fact that will always weigh on my heart, but every time, without fail, when I’m over at the Emirates I take a few minutes to stand outside the East Lower and remember that day. I marvel at the stadium, as classy as the club which once used to play there and I say thank you. Thank you to whoever organised that trip, thank you to my parents for paying for me to go on it and thank you to Arsenal for the way we were treated that day.

It changed my footballing life and without them it just wouldn’t be the same.

Reader Comments (1)

Great stuff, Leanne.

had a similar experience when I was with the scouts travelling from Dublin to Liverpool. Fortunately I was wise to their brain washing ways. Fecking Cults. And anyway, I knew the truth by that tender age of 8. "And it's Arsenal, Arsenal FC,...

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Cass
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