As the 2014/15 season slowly passes into history it is time for one of ours to reflect on a remarkable personal achievement. I think Snowy may overestimate just how many people have achieved the ‘complete’ domestic season, and how often. I know I only achieved it once, in a time when it was very much cheaper than today both to watch matches and to travel to them (and they were mainly 3pm on Saturdays). Anyway, it’s time for me to thank Snowy, take a back seat, and let you digest her tale.
As I clicked on ‘Purchase Train Ticket’ for the third and final trip to Manchester this season it finally hit me. Provided I didn’t fall under a bus before the last few games of the season, I would realise an ambition that I’ve been chasing pretty much ever since I started watching football. To attend every single Arsenal domestic league and cup fixture in one season, both home and away.
Now I know there are many who post here who have achieved this many times over, and my little landmark may therefore seem impossibly minor. But it means a lot to me because in recent seasons when I’ve got pretty close there’s always been something that meant I missed a couple. An illness, the moving of a distant away fixture to midweek, a last minute meeting being put in my diary by an inconsiderate work colleague.
So, for want of a better word, it had become a bit of a “thing” for me to achieve of late, and this season – despite the best efforts of Sky and the BBC schedulers – I finally got over the line. And now that I have, is there anything to commend it?
Well clearly every season will offer occasions where watching the game on a dodgy stream that freezes every thirty seconds seems, with hindsight, an infinitely preferable option to seeing it in person, if only for the fact that it wouldn’t be what is occasionally several hundreds of miles from home when it’s all over, and we’ve just lost.
So be aware: there is absolutely no redeeming feature about the mileage you will rack up going on the road. The early starts. The late finishes. The public holidays spent travelling with a monstrous lurgy when you’d rather be in bed. The rearranged holidays when fixtures are moved. The long walk back to the station in the cold and rain after an utterly baffling loss, only to discover that not even the Costa Coffee is open, and the train will not have a buffet service.
Then there’s the rail replacement services. The moving of fixtures after you’ve arranged (and paid for) your travel. Getting back to London after the last Tube has gone and wondering if you’re ever going to find a Cabbie who’ll drive south of the river when it’s the middle of the night and pouring with rain.
All of these are the grubby motes in the otherwise sparkling eye of the regular travelling supporter. And while we’re all fairly sick of these niggles by about Christmas, by the tail end of the season they are just so soul-sappingly wearying, that I swear you can feel every last one of them aching in your bones, and that’s before you even start counting the cost in money terms, a rookie error I made once several seasons ago and won’t be repeating anytime soon.
So why should anyone put themselves through all this when every second of every game is available at the click of a remote control or a mouse? Well mainly because, at the time of writing, football is still a live event not a television programme, and absolutely nothing on earth beats being there.
Sometimes it’s the small things. Watching the pre-match warm up and catching someone being ribbed by a teammate for some minor error. Hearing that clever/funny new chant for the first time. Seeing a pass so utterly sublime that you look in wordless wonder at the complete stranger standing next to you, to find they are looking back at you with exactly the same ‘did that actually just happen?’ expression. The players coming over to the away section to say thanks after the game. The nod of recognition from a familiar face for which you have no name. The ‘war’ stories of thumping defeats. The funny stories. The jokes.
And sometimes it’s the big things. Being entirely consumed by a visceral collective roar as the ball finds the net. The times when the atmosphere crackles with so much shared energy it could light a small town. That particular feeling the entire away section experiences as one when you hear the final whistle after a bruising victory. The singing until your voice has gone after a loss.
Clearly those things can also happen at home games. But there is something about being outnumbered and surrounded that makes us feel somehow braver and noisier on the road. So we sing and we chant and we occasionally lurch roaring into the air like a single being in a way I wish we’d do a little more often at home.
But mainly what really makes it is the people. The people who are kind enough to offer a lift to an ‘impossible-to-get-home-from-using-public-transport’ fixture. The people who make the effort to block book train tickets for a large group. The people with the stories and the jokes. The people who bring the rum.
Of course we have our fair share of muppets, like any club, but over the years I have never stopped being amazed by the many acts of kindness, large and small, you can see on pretty much every match day.
There are probably as many reasons to love being a regular away supporter as there are Arsenal supporters, and I count myself as fortunate beyond measure to be among them. Also I am hugely grateful that the Club, who we are often quick to criticise, who were thoughtful enough to arrange chartered trains for those tricky Monday night fixtures this season. Without that, my ‘every domestic game’ would still be a distant dream, so thank you Arsenal – a classy gesture much appreciated.
So would I recommend going on the road for the whole season? Hell yeah. But if you do, please don’t come running to me in early December to complain because (a) Sky has rearranged all the Christmas fixtures at the last minute and (b) you’re broke. I’ll be too busy looking for someone who remembered to bring some rum, and nodding to all those familiar faces whose names I’ll never know.