I’ve not had a chance to write in a while due to a combination of work, illness and university applications, so I thought I’d start the comeback with a general rumination over my brief time as an Arsenal fan, then move on to some more relevant pieces in the coming days and weeks.
I say brief because, relative to the vast majority of fans out there, my support is a sporadic, stuttering blip on the Arsenal radar. I’m 17 and fully aware that there are a number of fans, probably the majority, that’ve been supporting the club for longer than I’ve been alive. For me, however, my support of Arsenal has lasted longer than any other connection to any other entity aside from my family. No relationship, no opinion – whether it be mild approval or passionate hatred – and no interest has lasted as long or held as firm as my love for Arsenal. Unfortunately, my support, no matter how unflinching, seems to count for less in the eyes of, if not a majority, then at least a huge minority of other fans. Part of that has been arrested by my writing for this blog and the fact that the only people I have regular contact with that share my interest in the sport are my own age; I certainly don’t get accused of a lack of commitment by any of them. However, outside of my own personal sphere I am well aware that many fans would look down on me, the type of people who often apply inverted commas when they refer to me as a ‘supporter’.
To be fair, they’d have their reasons. As I’ve previously said, I’ve been living for a shorter time than many have been supporting the club and going to games. I also live in Derbyshire, which means Arsenal aren’t exactly my local club, and, to top it all off, I’ve never been to a competitive Arsenal game. But there are reasons for that, reasons that I’m sure the majority of ‘armchair fans’ share.
The problem is money. Now I know Arsenal tickets aren’t exactly cheap for anyone that isn’t on wages comparable to those of the players their paying to watch, but when you’re my age a fiver is a pretty steep investment. I could probably afford to cough up the fee for a year’s membership at the most basic level, although even that would be a stretch. Plus there’s the fact that, even with that fee paid, I’d struggle to get to any of the matches and unless you’re going to at least half a dozen games a season it’s a ridiculous amount of money to pay. To be honest it’s a ridiculous amount to pay just for the privilege to buy tickets anyway but we’ll gloss over that – this isn’t going to turn into another rant about modern football and ticket prices. Probably. But anyway, imagine I somehow got the membership fee paid, I then have the small matter of paying the exorbitant ticket prices Arsenal and modern football deem appropriate. Last time I’ll mention it, I promise. The thing, even if I go to the lowest class, cheapest game possible in the worst seats, I’m still looking at fairly colossal outlay, and who really wants to spent a veritable fortune on what would be, for me, a hugely significant event, just to watch us slog it out with Sunderland or Stoke? Admittedly even that would be a great experience and I’d happily sit at the Emirates and watch balls being lobbed at our defence from the opposition keeper for 90 minutes, but would it really be so unfair for me to expect a little more from something that would cost about half a year’s worth of spending money? Add travel costs to that – both trains to and from London and the tube ride to the Emirates – and any 17-year-old not related to an oil baron is effectively priced out.
I’m not trying to turn this into some dramatic sob story about the little boy that couldn’t go watch football when he wanted, and I’m doing my best not to make it a rant about finance and overpricing. All I want to point out is that there is a very good reason us ‘armchair fans’ are forced to watch from the sofa and not the crowd. Trust me, it’s not our choice. Which is why I find it incredibly annoying when other fans look down on us as if we’re inconvenient acquaintances prying in on a personal discussion; it’s amazing how territorial some people can get about their little corner of the internet. Just because I’m not pitch side doesn’t mean I don’t care as much, and it definitely doesn’t mean I don’t know as much. Just saying.
I also dislike the aspersions that the younger generations of fans have less credibility when we make negative comments about the club. We’re accused of being too fickle, or of being glory supporters, or of not knowing how good we’ve got it. I can see where these ideas can have come from – a generation raised on Bergkamp and Henry are likely to complain when fed the likes of Squilacci and Almunia, especially if they’ve never experienced a comparable drought like those of the pre-Wenger era. But shouldn’t every fan question how we’ve gone from Pires to Gervinho? On my part, my main argument against these accusations is that I wasn’t really around when Arsenal were last successful. I was alive, obviously, but, in case you haven’t heard, there’s a little known stat that Arsenal haven’t won something for eight years. No one mentions it much I know. Eight years ago, I was nine. Old enough to recognise what was going on sure, but my love for Arsenal largely revolved around hero worship of the iconic figures the Invincibles possessed. Bergkamp was my equivalent to the stereotypical child’s obsession with magic tricks – in my mind he could do anything, and there was more of the fantastical than the physical in his type of athletic prowess. He was incredible, and I was in awe. Henry, too, was perfect for the young viewer. No fancy tricks, no subtleties that you have to be an avid watched to pick up on and admire, just pure, straightforward brilliance. Lightning pace, spectacular runs, ruthless finishing. Beautiful.
Since my interest in football has developed, however, Arsenal’s star has fallen. Just as I got to the stage where I understood things like finances and stadiums, Abramovich arrived. Just as I developed an interest in tactics and formations, Arsene gained his reputation for tactical naivety and stubbornness. Just as my passion for football lead me to be truly, deeply affected by how my club performed, Arsenal lost their spark.
Since my attachment to and understanding of the sport has become concrete, the things that inspired that childlike wonder has disappeared, and yet I still stick it out. The fact that I support my club will never change, how that support manifests itself has. Before all my fandom required was wide-eyed admiration. Now I write articles, if not normally like this, then like others I’ve written for this site. It’s not enough for me to sit there and take it, I have to feel involved, get my opinion across. I have to try, however much I know it’ll have no impact, to fix this club’s problems. It’s like watching a sick family member, studying their symptoms, researching obscure medical journals, trying to diagnose them. It doesn’t matter if the chances of you actually finding the real illness, not to mention the cure, are slim to none – after all, there are top medical professionals being paid ten times as much to do the same thing – and it doesn’t matter that even if you found the answer, the doctors probably wouldn’t accept or even listen to your theories. All that matters is that something dear to you is dying, and you have to do something to save it.
So please don’t tell me I’m not a real Arsenal fan because I wrote this from my sofa.------------
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