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The Return Of The King

BY CHRIS FORD / @christhewino

This isn’t about my first game. It isn’t about winning trophies or anything anywhere near as glamorous as that. It isn’t even a tale about a game from the distant past. It is about my experience as a fan, and as a dad. And it happened just over a month ago.

I have been a regular at Highbury and then the Emirates since 2003, a combination of good fortune, good friends, good timing and sheer bloody determination have meant that I have missed very few games in that time and I have seen some belters. Liverpool at home on Good Friday 2004, Barcelona and Chelsea at home last season, that wonderful 5-3 against Middlesbrough that equalled Nottingham Forest’s 42 game unbeaten run and last weekend’s NLD are just a few of the stand outs.

I wont recount the games that stand out for the wrong reasons, most of you will have seen them too and you don’t want to be reminded anymore than I do.

Since 2008 I’ve had my own Season Ticket with my brother Steve sitting next to me but due to work commitments and because he is a good man he has let my son have 4 or 5 tickets a season. One of these games was Leeds United in the cup in January.

You’re probably thinking “I know where he’s going with this now” and you’d be partly right. I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t welcome the return of probably Arsenal’s greatest ever player (I am still torn between him and DB10) but for my eight year old son the return of Thierry Henry meant so very much.

I never took him to Highbury and although he probably wouldn’t have remembered it anyway this is something I will always regret, but he knows all the players and a good deal of the songs from long before he was born. Thierry Henry has always been a favourite of his, why wouldn’t he be? His middle name is HENRY, partly after my Granddad (unfortunately not he of Model T fame) and partly after the great Thierry. Mrs Wino knew what I was doing.

When the chance came for The Boy to see Thierry play, not just live but back in the Red & White, he simply had to go. Steve kindly gave up his ticket and The Boy was made up.

He acts like a bit of an old pro now, he even enjoys a drink (the soft kind) in The Twelve Pins before and after a game, so the pre game routine was pretty normal - I always want another beer, he always wants to watch the team train. I couldn’t deny him this time, we got to the ground half an hour early and he watched with absolute delight, along with 20 or so thousand others who got there early, as Thierry warmed up below us. It was almost surreal, there HE was again, same gait, same confident swagger, even watching him practise reminded me of some cracking goals.

When the game started The Boy said to me “I really hope HE comes on today, daddy.” My response? “Only if the game is already won son.” Am I am bad Dad? A realist? A miserable git? I don’t know.

You all know how the game went. Painfully.

All the way through the 2nd half The Boy kept saying that he wanted Thierry to come on and when he started warming up along the touchline everyone got excited, including some pretty old and often cynical fans around us.

When it became clear that Thierry was coming on the ground became alive with chattering and the noise of 60,000 people reaching for their camera phone. To a man, woman and child the whole ground stood when Henry came on. The flash of cameras around the ground was like being on the red carpet outside the Oscars. Even the lower tier of the Clock End, which was full of Leeds fans (a team TH14 had terrorised throughout his first spell with us) was flashing away. What must that feel like? I can only imagine but just being a witness to it was pretty special, never mind being the subject of all that adoration.

Beside me a little (to me anyway) boy was close to tears with excitement, he was screaming into my ears that Thierry was coming on, he leapt onto his chair and clapped and cheered like he never has before.

A few more insignificant minutes passed and then it happened. It was written. Goal 227 in an Arsenal shirt for Thierry Henry. A run, a pause then a move followed by a trademark opening of the body and right foot shot. We all knew, Arsenal fans, Leeds fans, commentators, even probably the Leeds goalkeeper. We all knew what was going to happen, and it did. Cue pandemonium.

That was it, that moment. The Boy looked into my eyes and I looked into his. I couldn’t hear his screaming, only dogs could, but I could see it in his eyes. The Love. He had found the love for THE Arsenal. This meant more than posters on his wall or curtains at his window. It meant more than all the replica kits in The Armoury.

I hope you all get that to experience that feeling one day. I will never forget it.

Thank you Arsenal and thank you Thierry.

Reader Comments (4)

I can't help but think that you and your lad were stood behind me during that game. There was a young lad behind me who was chattering about Henry and was ecstatic when he scored. Figuring it would have been the only time he'd seen him, I turned around as Thierry scored and he had got the moment he was waiting for.

Having only been introduced to football in my teens (sadly my family aren't big football fans) it was my first game seeing Henry too, so I knew just how he felt. What a fantastic finish! Will definitely stick in my mind for a long time!

March 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark Pascall

Hi Mark
Thanks for taking the time to comment, much appreciated. We were in North Upper, block 100.


March 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris Ford

I dont suppose you were sitting row 23 around 269 by anychance?! Great game, great moment. This is why we love The Arsenal. Ask a spurs fan if they get to experiance moments like that! Ha!

March 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMetaldazza

lucky lad your boy and very touching story. hope he continues to cherish and support The Arsenal for the rest of his days. i hope to experience the same feelings with my boys (3 and 1yr) when the time comes to take them to the emirates.

March 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersam
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