A week without a game, and along comes the inimitable zicoinexile with a more than welcome guest post. With so many, it seems, currently re-examining their options for supporting the institution that is ingrained in us Dr z reflects on his own experiences, and a fascinating read I found it too.
Many may not be too familiar with the play on the words of Burns above, but they formed in my mind when I recently stumbled upon an immediately recognisable, but always absurd, online argument.
At first glance, it was nothing but a run of the mill pissing-contest. One bloke claimed because he was born around Finsbury Park and once had a season ticket for the West Stand at Highbury, that HIS Arsenal credentials infinitely outweighed those of his co-respondent, who as far as I could gather, had never been to either the Emirates or Highbury. I never found out which particular parish he or she came from.
I quickly calculated that my own Arsenal pedigree would probably register about “5% pure” on Finsbury-Park-Boy’s worthi-meter. I had never owned a season ticket, and had ceased regular visits to Highbury some time before George Graham’s appointment began to steer us on to a new and victorious, trajectory.
Not really a fan, then.
Let me say, there have been some mitigating circumstances. Not actually living in London being the obvious one, but there were others. For instance, when I did get to the occasional match, I was treated to the talents of Gus Caesar. Now I probably shouldn’t single out Gus for any more derisory treatment than that which could apply to any number of ordinary players. I simply want to emphasise that, at this point, Wengerball was about as distant as the Moon.
This might lead you to conclude that I had gone back, taken a quick look, misread the future and voted with my feet – not able to see what was forming. The truth is, though, I never really stopped “following” Arsenal, I just found myself with very limited opportunities to do so. Geography, the economy, matrimony, paternity – you get the drift.
But I still considered myself a fan.
The 1989 Arsenal side seemed to be universally disliked in my neck of the woods, and I was continually challenged by anyone with a passing interest in English football, to respond to the cliched ” boring, boring Arsenal” jibe as if saying this out loud, and often, somehow represented “a debate”.
From Shankly onwards, it was trendy where I grew up for punters to claim to have an affinity with Liverpool. Well, fuck that. As well as me being naturally contrarian, Liverpool never got anything more than my grudging respect. My team and I had found each other the first time I clapped eyes on Chippy, so the only fascination I had with the Scouse dynasty was in celebrating their misery when young Master Thomas went charging through the midfield.
In the “missing” years, when Highbury became impossible for me to to get to, as much for capacity reasons as my inability to be there, I didn’t consider myself less of a supporter. I still illogically roared myself hoarse in front of tv screens wherever I happened to find them. In pubs, in flats, in houses of friend or foe, if the Arsenal were on, I’d be watching. These were great years, magnificent moments of triumph and celebration (laced as well with a liberal dose of disappointment on several occasions, such is the Arsenal way). But for me, all at a distance.
Access to Arsenal has obviously improved in lots of ways as the world has become smaller. There is no shortage of delivery mechanisms for the “broken” cannon image to be thrust in our faces, predominantly since the move to the Grove. The shuffle across the road though has also made the team more accessible for me and other infrequent visitors, with an increased capacity and a better-than-ever chance to secure tickets. Luckily, I can afford it. On the other hand, some (many?) locals have been dis-enfranchised through the pricing of those tickets. But that would have been just as true, maybe even more so, had we stayed at Highbury.
With the modern Arsenal there is a pathological need in some to polarise all things into mutually-exclusive camps. Thus it shows up in the “definition of a fan”, debate. I found myself considering this quite recently, when Cent posted in the drinks about a potentially dangerous journey to get to the Viewing Centre where he could watch his team. I thought about it when I broke bread in the Tollington with NorCal, making an expensive and lengthy pilgrimage from the West Coast of the States. It was on my mind again when I was in the packed-to-the-rafters, Arsenal-mad, Blind Pig boozer in New York and when I thought of a certain wild-eyed Israeli kicking every ball in absentia down on his American university campus. And I think about it every time I am lucky enough to get in a round with Lars, or any of the Band of Brothers who come from miles beyond Finsbury Park to celebrate the thing we love.
I have nothing but profound admiration for the Arsenal fans who have the wherewithal to get to every minute of every game, particularly the travelling support who continually do themselves, us and the team proud. I wish I had more opportunities to join them. And for some that is the one and only true definition of a fan. I get that. For the rest of us, though, well, we all have our limits in terms of commitment – and we all have to manage whatever constraints impact on that commitment. It might be geography. It might be fiscal. But, when I think of “supporter(s)”, I don’t think – how big? I definitely get antsy when I’m in the midst of the “Uber-Fan” and his ilk in the crazy backwaters of the internet.
Now that the world has been technologically shrunk to the size of your average living-room, supporting Arsenal, like football itself, has changed forever, and for some, it’s for the worse. At its most extreme, since the move, there are some who say they will never go back, which is a great shame. It’s hard to dispute that something died in all of us when the curtain was finally drawn at Highbury. The club though has to move on – it can only survive and prosper in the world it finds itself in, and like it or not it, needs every fan, however simple or complex we care to make the definition.
Thanks for that z. I have no doubt that will spark a lively debate in the drinks that follow.
It hasn’t been all navel-gazing this week. A big thank you is due for the surprise belated birthday gift of a Savile Rogue cashmere scarf. Those who know me closest know I have a cupboard full of scarves (and shoes too, but that’s another story!). This is a fabulous addition and will definitely make a debut outing for the Everton cup tie. Thanks again.