Good Friday Gooners, how are we all? You find me today in reflective mood. Among the many joys that marriage has brought me, has been the ‘inheritance’ of nephews and nieces from her side of the family. Two of my nephews – 12 and 14 – are Gooners, with one a fully paid up ‘I met Jack Wilshere on a day out’ Junior Gunner.
Having fortnightly conversations with the two lads about Arsenal when we visit Kent has become a lovely ritual, and in the time I’ve been with their Aunt, I’ve taken them to two Emirates Cup days; 2011 and 2013. I’m asked – as if I know – each time we visit “who are Arsenal gettin’ then?” Watching them grow up, following The Arsenal, reminds me of myself, half a lifetime ago…
…In the late Ninties and early Noughties, I lived and breathed every Gunners game, whether listening to the radio, watching TV, or if I had managed to scrape together enough money to get myself to Highbury, soaking it in at the home of football. Each goal lifted my soul, every loss felt like a sucker punch, and as Arsene Wenger’s team grew; the joy resulting trophies brought was as close to ecstasy that I could legally consume. The flipside was that I couldn’t bear to listen or watch the big clashes with Manchester United, and my mood after a loss would be darker than a winter’s night. The despair and pain was too much…the anxiety too pent up to harness without long strolls outside…
As I have gotten older, although Arsenal still remained my first love, my wife, my career, my mortgage and now my daughter have overtaken my priorities somewhat. As oil money forced out Arsenal from the title challenges I’d become used to, so love, life and living had forced away a certain percentage of my attention. What can I say? You don’t stop loving, supporting or following a club that has held your interest since 1990, but I embraced new things. Losses didn’t have the same resonance anymore. Players that I loved moved on and were replaced by those that I didn’t…or couldn’t love…Gallas, Silvestre, Adebayor…players who couldn’t stir the soul like Cole, Campbell or Henry could. Yes, they had my support. Of course. But it wasn’t the same.
Since I met my ‘future nephews’, my Arsenal interest, my Arsenal passion has been reawakened…mutual interests and all that. Contributing some Arsenal thoughts to ‘Sabotage Times’ in the last couple of seasons and writing my novice Arsenal blog this season: culminating in now writing each Friday for ‘Gunners Town’, has made me feel how I used to feel. The signing of Mesut Özil made me believe again; conversely the non-descript January window felt like the gloom that had engulfed my feelings towards Arsenal had returned; had me doubting, feeling, even hurting again, hurting like the seventeen year old Greg did one May afternoon when Leeds United beat Arsenal on the last day of the season to hand the title to Sir Alex’s juggernaught 1998-1999 side. Love and pain had returned to replace the near-indifference felt during the last half-dozen seasons.
On my mother-in-law’s sofa last Saturday, I was a teenager again. My doubts about Arsenal’s chances against Wigan were being confirmed in front of my eyes.
Jordi Gomez’s effortless penalty pushed my stomach firmly into despair territory.
Per Mertesacker’s late equaliser had me off of my seat and punching my thighs in relief.
The penalty shoot-out had me hiding behind my unworn shirt, not disimilar to a child being shown ‘Doctor Who’ for the first time – a Dalek episode perhaps – by a knowing father.
Victory was savoured like a Cuban cigar. A cup final appearence, the very thought of a May day in the sun at Wembley inhaled, lingering on the palate, and exhaled with a satisfied grin. Hope. Hope returns.
A comeback win against a West Ham side managed by Northern charactor actor Sam Allardyce three days later…another grin. Another layer of hope.
A layer of hope that an unlikely Everton defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace – managed by a coach who would hate to do Arsenal or Wenger a favour no less – was added to the very next evening.
All of a sudden a cup win and fourth place looks do-able. All of a sudden, momentum has been started. All of a sudden, the specialist in failure looks like he could be more likely to win a trophy this season than the special one. All of a sudden, this author feels like a teenager in his bedroom again, listening to the radio…hoping…enjoying…feeling.
Hull City are the likely obstacles in the way. An away game at the end of an exhausting week is not ideal, but it represents in my view Arsenal’s hardest remaining league fixture. And in the FA Cup final, you know they will relish their underdog status…just like Real Zaragoza, Galatasaray and Birmingham City before them.
But can Arsenal do it? Well, they are going to have to. Once this monkey is off of the team’s back…I get the feeling that the sky’s the limit.
I love the FA Cup. It has reawakened dormant emotions within my soul. Come the final, I will, no doubt, be a giddy schoolboy again for the first time in a long time.
Have a great weekend you lot.
Thanks for reading.