Fulham Broadway, No Thanks. Give Me North London Any Day !!

Sitting there among detesting Chelsea fans, watching Arsenal attempt to scrap themselves back into the game at Stamford Bridge, it all became clear. No matter how shit it is being an Arsenal fan, holding on tightly to a bare thread of hope with sweaty hands, getting beat down after beat down by your biggest rivals to the crown, thank goodness I chose the red and white trip of life over the blue and white one.
I didn’t have a ticket for this game, although my West Ham-supporting dad had been offered into a box at the Bridge by a city contact. I’m very working-class when it comes to football, and the catering of Chelsea FC wasn‘t attractive, nor was the thought of missing out on an Arsenal win with my pals. But after a day’s deliberation and not wanting to insult my dad, this haphazard Gooner obliged.
In hindsight it might have been a sad mistake; regardless of where I watched this game though, there would have been a dark cloud of interim depression. I began to look for the positives of a misspent evening travelling across London and found it in the pure simplicity that just being an Arsenal fan was a winner.
First of all, what kind of football club has a Marco Pierre White restaurant attached? This was horrible to see and encapsulated everything I find distasteful about Chelsea. Around the ground there was an under-whelming and ordinary match-day atmosphere, like Lords in-between overs. With it’s tacky swimming-pool style west stand and tight walkways around the ground, Stamford Bridge was more Championship than Prem.
Inside the distaste continued. One man at half-time was reading the Financial Times with his legs crossed and jacked-up slacks revealing fine nylon Italian socks. A boy had been hired to wave a giant Chelsea franchise flag and I felt far from the Emirates. Arsenal’s home is like a hive of excitement attracting buzzing fans from all different directions. Stamford Bridge was the end of the line.
What had I learnt about Arsenal’s performance though? Nothing I didn’t already know and worth writing that hadn’t been on repeat like a scratchy 1950s record. What about the last five years though, as the Chelsea fans humiliatingly sang, “five years and you’ve won fuck all”? After a kick in the teeth which brings around the annual forfeit from the chasing pack, something I had read Wenger saying sprang to mind.
Last week I picked up the official merchandise catalogue. On page 28 a picture of Nicklas Bendtner modeling a brown towelling hooded robe was enough to give you nightmares, but it was a message from the manager on the inside page which really lodged in my memory: “With this team there is something in the side that is light-hearted and enjoyable to watch,” Wenger says.
What a great summary of the last trophy-less spell. Arsenal haven’t just been enjoyable to watch though, because sometimes the football world has been left speechless at the caliber they can play the game. Arsenal do own tremendous football players and I recognise that talent. On the contrary, Wenger has it in a nutshell when saying the attitude is light-hearted, which only prevents their skill turning into trophies.
While Chelsea and Manchester United ply players with hunger, Arsenal opt for the gifted, yet light-hearted. Never will Nani become Ronaldo but his desire last week put Arsenal’s to shame. Yesterday afternoon, Didier Drogba defined exactly what levels of hunger are necessary, clearly not bored with rolling Arsenal over.
Of course there are plenty of footballing issues to question, like tactical errors and indifference in attitude between the fans and the club on spending money. Still, only one team can win the Premiership, and as millions of young men grow up fantasising about being the worlds best player, the challenge will become increasingly tougher. At the moment, Arsenal are pushing hard to win, but in the most competitive league in the world, it still isn’t enough.
Are the Arsenal fans light-hearted? In a positive way they can be, which isn’t to say they aren’t as passionate. Nonetheless, they understand the funny side of Arsenal which makes defeat easier to bounce back from. Also, it makes Arsenal easier to carry on supporting. The club collects weird players of all shapes and sizes, nationalities and personalities, and hearing the away support bellow Eeee-manuel E-boooou-eey to the tune of White Stripes on the crest of another embarrassing defeat raised a smile. There definitely is something special about being Arsenal.
Chelsea are a serious club with serious players in a serious area of London. This has contributed to their dominance over Arsenal in the past five years. But defeat will come their way sooner or later and it will be then where the deadpan feeling I experienced, disguised among Chelsea fans, will be all the harder to cope with.
I’m feeling happy knowing one day the league will come back to North London. Yes, Wenger and Cesc could long be gone. I remember the last time Highbury and Islington hosted street celebrations. A ball was being kicked around and police attempts to move the Arsenal fans were feeble when they sat on the ground and couldn’t be moved. Long did the singing continue. Even if Arsenal didn’t win yesterday, at least I did by choosing the right club. Fulham Broadway, no thanks, North London any day.

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