Walking across the playground this morning it delighted me in the way nostalgia does, to see a fresh faced, replica of myself slam a green tennis ball inside of the cone goalpost and run off doing the Nicklas Bendtner hand to ear celebration from last weekend. He and his mousy-haired buddy then began a one-line chorus of ‘Super Nick’. Should I join in? Pausing for a moment I remembered I was now a teacher and carried on to the staffroom.
Around the early Nineties and the birth of the Premier League, each school lunchtime would be a black market of child sticker-traders, swapping decks of ‘gots’ for that one Ryan Giggs shinny. A kid couldn’t turn around without seeing a Manchester United lunchbox or a pair of gloves with the red devil on it. There was the odd West Ham woolly hat or annual yearbook for quiet reading time, but generally the school was awash with the sordid sight of United.
It’s impossible to speak for everybody else, but working in a London grammar school is a good place to begin looking for which Premiership team is the best supported among our youth. I know of only one boy in the school who supports Chelsea and the kid half-way through Steven Gerrard’s autobiography is now reading Artemis Fowl. I presume he got bored! The glowing scenes of Super Nick had me thinking that maybe Arsenal just about steal first spot.
To a young lad, supporting the big boys of England is a much bigger attraction than the local Championship side whose stadium is half-full. Being a Junior Hammer never worked for me because I wanted to wear a lightening blue Arsenal kit and score goals against Sampdoria. My Wembley singles ally-v-ally player was Ian Wright of course.
Earlier in the week I was crossing the iron bridge to the school’s main gates when a lower school class were off to the fields for first period games. There was the odd Manchester United shirt, one Barcelona luminous kit, but the message was clear Arsenal were the in-house team. This was a small victory for football of course, lightening the gloom that goes with the inner-city morning noise of road-works and crashing shop shutters.
It would be an even better victory to know for sure if the team of the 21st century are Arsenal. I can’t say, although when Chelsea were so joyously dumped out of the Champions League this week there wasn’t to much goading in the classrooms between Chelsea supporters and the rest, not how it was in my day when you got ‘rushed’ if your team lost. Even with their millions I’m certain Chelsea have failed to capture the hearts and minds of our kids the way that Arsenal have.
The victory would be for football of course, knowing that the kids are inspired by a quality passing game and not just the likes of Chelsea who buy players with oil-stained hands. One smart kid I tutor told me his favourite team was Arsenal. His family are from Ghana and he loves Michael Essien, yet he tells me he loves Arsenal more because they play the best football. Simple and to the point – the kids are alright.