I miss going to see my boys. I left home this year in search of adventure and in escape of a city I had called home for 25 years that some sad day in my youth decided there was nothing that wasn’t for sale. I miss going to see the Arsenal more than my family and friends, that may be sad, but it’s true, the sensations of that love perpetuate in many ways; nothing replicates being at the ground though.
I miss being there with my Nan, one of the lights of my life. Yet, beyond a common sense of right, wrong and the necessity of compassion for any sort of human decency, this is all we share. It is the medium that expresses a love affair that has lasted my lifetime. I miss her screaming every time the ball enters our half as we defend a 1-0 nil lead. I miss the way she bites her nails until they bleed at big games, and when she says “how could you, how could you do it” over and over when we make a mistake. She took me to my first game when I was 6, I have loved it since and it remains all we ever talk about.
I miss walking down the Liverpool road with the sense of expectation that exists before every game. I miss people coming out of their houses to ask the score as we walked home together, but that ended years ago; Islington isn’t that place anymore, quaint and communal with bonds beyond wealth. I miss popping down to Chapel Market to see KakaKnacka the morning of the game and exchanging predictions, Eddy is his real name, the guy on the right of the picture above this blog, and like me he has faith. We always see it the same way, an Arsenal win, and if facts don’t allow us to claim to be the best, then it is just around the corner.
I miss Highbury, but I love the Emirates too. There is no space for remorse, just affection, for that home of charm and memories; the game is the thing, the buzz is too big, and you take it where you get it. The Emirates is a handsome stadium, when I first walked through the arch of gate 29 into the stands, it took my breath away and put a tear in my eye. We are a lucky club with a beautiful home.
I miss the lady with the curly ginger hair who stewards at that entrance telling me to “behave this time or I’ll twist your ear”. Good for her, I never do and neither does she. I miss the lads at gate 4, where I sit when I take my disabled young cousin, who never forget his name and keep us entertained at half time whilst he points at them and screams “your mad you!” They are real people, and that’s what I think of when I call north London home.
I miss texts from Fennley, the most reasonable Spurs fan you will ever meet, and half my family are Spurs fans, who watches the games on the box and sends me his running opinion. My Great Aunt married a Spurs fan, so for 50 years, for our family being above the scum at Christmas remains nearly as important as being top of the league, and thankfully it happens more often. That is part of being a local, there remains the true rivalry.
Of course, most of all I miss the game itself. Where once we watched in hope more than expectation, and that was its own joy and thrill, now we delight in the beauty that so often brings victory. Now home or away, a draw is a bad result, once upon a time it was a good one. But, with success, so regular and seemingly assured, we are given different treats to fighting spirit and the battled points, now we see art. That I truly miss, those bits of beauty crafted in Wenger’s vision and provided by such heroes. Most of all I miss the goals, that is my fix, the buzz for which I crave. Some people enjoy 4-0, some people need titles or trophies and get there joy outside the game, revelling in something less intense. I miss 1-1, tight game, bit of niggle and mouthy away support; then a goal.
That is where the cathartic and communal sense of combined yet self-expression is its sharpest. When grown, coarse men embrace, forgetting themselves in jubilation and dancing their merry jig; each of us sharing something that is so much a part of us uniquely, but also a part of us. I miss the lusty singing that accompanies that relief, the savour of victory, the celebration, and the adulation of our heroes.
Football at its best is art, a combination of intelligence in conception and skill in delivery – some may have played the game more effectively, but Dennis Bergkamp was always its greatest artist. My Nan probably wouldn’t know what you meant if you called her a purist, but she was; “I don’t care if he scores in our goal, I just wish they would keep him” she said when Bergkamp left, that was her showing it. We are lucky at the Arsenal, and I miss terribly being removed from all of this in its full intimacy, and I feel for anyone who somehow understands but has never seen it.
I guess in some way I miss the stupidity, for being a fan at its root has something of pure irrationality about it – blind faith, born of desire and pleasure – that is at its purest when you are there. From the celebrations, to singing yourself hoarse in the hope it might help, the pre-game rituals and superstitions, and the feeling that all true believers walking into the ground have that this is somehow deeply personal and theirs. I miss it all and I can’t wait to get back there; I just hope the boys sing up for me in my absence.