18th of October 1997
That is the day it all started for me, my love affair with Arsenal football club. THE Arsenal.
I was visiting my Nan and Grandad and I remember walking into their living room and sitting next to my Grandad and looking up at him. His eyes were glued to the television. I looked to see what was on it and it was Crystal Palace vs Arsenal. It was a scrappy game at Selhurst Park, that saw Arsenal pick up five yellow cards in a 0-0 draw. Hardly a fairytale beginning to my fandom.
My Grandad looked down to me and asked “Who do you support?” and I replied “No-one, maybe I’ll support Crystal Palace”
And then came a sentence that would change my life from then until today, he said:
“No, they’re sh.t. You may as well support Arsenal.”
That was it for me. It may not be as romantic as a father or mother taking their child to their first game but it’s my story and in my own way I love it because I would’ve supported any team my Grandad suggested to me that day. Any team could have been playing to draw my attention but it was not just any team, it was Arsenal and not only that…
It was Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal
In my time, watching Arsenal since then has painted my entire idea of football. I, like many others, became fixated on attacking, beautiful football. I became an eternal optimist about Arsenal and I was damn lucky to see so many absolutely incredible players in my club’s shirt.
“I believe the target of anything in life should be to do it so well that it becomes art.”
Wenger did not just teach my about football, he taught me lessons of being a man, being a human being. We all watched him closely, we hung on every word for so long and towards the end it became something that no-one wanted but that doesn’t and shouldn’t detract from what he’s given to English football, what he’s given to our club and what he’s given us as fans.
Three premier league titles, seven FA cups in his 22-year tenure but his influence transcends far beyond the titles he has won. He changed our brand from “boring, boring Arsenal” to a team known worldwide for incredible and vibrant attacking play. At a time where the bank balance was low it was the remarkable stability he gave us and his reputation throughout the world that secured us the bank loans we required to build The Emirates Stadium. He agreed to stay and rebuild our team while all around him were spending more and stayed loyal as criticism began to grow even though he was working under financial constraints.
We all know he had offers, too. David Dein has spoken on numerous occasions of Florentino Perez’ attempts to take Wenger to Madrid and most managers would’ve been seduced by such a huge club but not Wenger, who was and has always been a man of his word – for better or worse, no matter what he’d endure for it. His honour, class, humility, empathy and loyalty have always shone through and I have always found that inspiring.
“If you do not believe you can do it then you have no chance at all.”
No-one should under estimate the service he did for us from 2006-2012, to keep us competitive and in the Champions League, had his amazing ability to bring the best of squads so often torn apart by high profile departures been so consistent we could’ve fallen away.
In the last 22 years, we have seen trophies but we have seen so much more. We have seen class, we have seen beautiful football, we have seen world-class players, and we have seen Invincible.
We have been taught to believe and dream because the man leading us did nothing accept this. He inspired so many and when it got down to the nitty gritty he stayed true to himself and he stayed true to us. When so many would have reacted with hate he reacted with love. He took every bullet he could for us and I know as the years go on we will learn more and more of the deeds he has done for us.
“When you look at people who are successful, you will find that they aren’t the people who are motivated but have consistency in their motivation.”
Out of all the tributes I read yesterday my favourite was that of Bob Wilson who spoke about going on tour with Arsenal as their goalkeeping coach after he and his wife tragically lost their daughter, Anna, to cancer. Arsène called for Bob to sit with him on the bus and spoke to him about his daughter and about the human spirit. Bob was practically in tears whilst giving this interview and although he said they won a lot under the late Herbert Chapman he was in no doubt that Arsène was the greatest manager Arsenal have ever had and called him “Without a doubt one of the greatest 3 men I’ve ever met.”
George Weah talks about how in a time of huge racism Wenger showed him kindness and through the love he got from him inspired him to be the best player in Europe and even now to become the president of Liberia.
“The moral values I’ve learnt in my life I’ve learnt through football.”
Players like Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie among many others built amazing careers of Wenger’s trust and belief and even when they turned their backs on him for their own wants and desires he never said a bad word about them like so many others would be drawn to do. He wished them well and always welcomed them back with a smile and a handshake.
“A football team is like a beautiful woman. When you do not tell her, she forgets she is beautiful.”
I do believe it is right for Wenger to leave. It cannot be denied that our performance over the last few years has not been good enough and you can sense that the situation had become too toxic to regain. We were slipping down the line we were already too far towards the back in and we are in grave need of a new, younger, fresh outlook that can give this squad a different education. In terms of positional play and pressing play especially we have lacked in these last few years.
I remember sitting in The Emirates last year, 5-1 down against Bayern Munich and all I could think was that this could be the last Champion’s League game Wenger ever leads us into. That has unfortunately come to be.
I felt the need to write this because Arsène Wenger is more than just a football manager. To me and to many others he is a teacher, a genius, an impervious example of how to stick to your convictions and the greatest manager Arsenal football club has and probably will ever know.
Your love, affection, loyalty and years of service will never be forgotten Monsieur Wenger. You do not just deserve a statue, or the stadium named after you, you deserve so much I would not even know how to begin thanking you.
Wherever you go from here, you have a red and white army marching behind you.
Merci, Mr. Arsenal.
And merci to Luke Walker @LukeSkywlkrr for this lovely guest blog. Thanks for choosing Gunners Town