By Brett Chase
There are moments when time itself points out the differences between supporting Arsenal from London and supporting Arsenal from New York City. It is frequently made plain when I'm talking to a friend of mine there at 1pm and he says he's headed home at the end of the work day. And on Saturday at about 6:30am, I was sprinting to catch a bus in order to make it to our pub, The Blind Pig, in time for the match, while Londoners were likely finishing up an early lunch and strolling toward the Emirates.
Yet for the differences in time and place between us, I would wager that the state of mind that all Arsenal fans have in common doesn't vary all that much. Our hearts and minds are with the Arsenal, after all. When we score, we all celebrate just like those fans lucky enough to be in attendance.
The day started brilliantly. After a week of anticipation for the North London Derby, the Arsenal faithful in New York huddled outside the pub in the early morning cold of a crisp November day in New York City. We were waiting together for the doors to open and admit us into the warmth of the pub – and allow us all to have a pint to open the eyes or steady the nerves.
As we focused on the many screens displaying scenes from the ground and the fans gathered there in the sunshine, we sang songs in praise of the Arsenal and denigrating the neighbors (many of them focused on their manager and his unfortunate capacity for involuntary muscle spasms). It was as it usually is among the NYC Arsenal Supporters, only intensified. That’s the magic of the Derby: whether you’re in attendance or witnessing somewhere across the globe, it’s an Arsenal match times 1000.
As the match kicked off, the pub was rocking with chanting voices. And when Samir Nasri beat Gomes and slid the ball home from the tightest of angles, we erupted in celebration. Oddly enough, Nasri's song that has become so popular with the Londoners hasn't caught on here (New York preferring to co-opt the "King of [New] Highbury tune), but I chalk that up to lack of exposure to KC and the Sunshine Band. I'm having "Baby Give It Up" added to our pre-match playlist.
We were of course lapping this match up and the only thing better than scoring against spurs is doing it again. Our joy was doubled when Chamakh bundled home Cesc's pass from close range. As the strains of "Oh to be a Gooner" faded, our own tribute to the Moroccan rose up as we sang “Marouane” to the tune of Van Halen's "Panama." He’s become a fan favorite here just as he has at Emirates, and I shudder to think where we might be this season without him leading the line. Last season our diminutive Russian was pressed into service as a centre-forward out of necessity, and I doubt we’d have been two points off the leaders without Marouane Chamakh.
Needless to say, with a cushion like this over our rivals, the atmosphere in the pub was electric.
Several of our missed opportunities in the first half were greeted with surprise, although largely good-natured. Admittedly however, for all the goodwill with Gooners that Chamakh has earned so far this young season, his dallying with the ball in front of goal shortly before halftime drew the ire of more than a few of us. After all, this is the North London Derby; those mistakes are certainly more forgivable against the likes of Wigan, Fulham, even United. A clash with spurs is always going to be that much more important, the celebrations more joyous and errors more intensely pored over.
Still, a 2-0 lead at halftime over the lilywhite neighbors was as much as any of us could have hoped, and we looked forward to what would surely be a welcome three points and going top of the league for the first time this season.
I don’t need to tell any of you that those plans were unraveled over the next 45 minutes. We watched as Arsenal proceeded to try playing keep-away with the ball, the intensity having gone missing since halftime, and a foreboding silence hung over The Blind Pig as we watched. While Tottenham seemed to mobilize and urge themselves forward into attack, Arsenal seemed content to sit back and try to hold the ball without doing much with it. It wasn’t long before spurs had pulled one back. I saw it happening in slow motion at the time, and knew it would be a goal before it was scored. That we allowed the five-foot-nothing Jermaine Defoe to win a header and knock it on as though he were a towering centre-half was infuriating to me at the time, and in fact it still burns me when I think of it. Van der Vaart found Bale and set him up one-on-one with Fabianski, and the Pole had no chance.
2-1, but hope was still alive, although all of us in the pub were chafed a bit at the nature of the goal. We kept singing with renewed vigor in the hope that we might magically be heard at the ground, although this is nothing new. It’s part of being an American Arsenal supporter, really.
When referee Phil Dowd awarded a free kick after Modric had a bout of vertigo (the only logical explanation for his plunge to ground, as he surely wasn’t fouled), my stomach began to knot. Van der Vaart’s unthreatening free kick was batted down by Cesc’s raised arm, and I recovered from a momentary fugue caused by the horror of the penalty being awarded in time for their Dutchman to slot coolly past Fabianski.
Yet even at 2-2, we were still alive and shouting for a goal of our own, for Arsenal to attack and take back what is ours by right, victory over Tottenham. And we were rewarded, it seemed, when Cesc latched onto a free kick and found Squillaci for a goal, but our jubilation was ended as soon as it began by the linesman’s flag. Not long after, we could only shake our heads as Koscielny contrived to miss a wide open header from 6 yards.
Time was ticking away, and our songs became more desperate, some of us having resigned ourselves to the awful prospect of a home draw with spurs. Gone were the songs about Twitching or any papal visit Tottenham may have made, it was all Come On Arsenal. Had we known what was to come, we’d have happily accepted the one point if offered.
Yet another free kick for spurs in a dangerous area and, as though it was preordained, the ball bundled in by Younes Kaboul to give a late lead to give the neighbors a late lead. The same Kaboul whose masculinity we had loudly questioned for much of the match and derided for his seeming penchant for wearing eyeliner, in addition to being a pretty terrible footballer in our eyes. The shock of it led to much silence until the final whistle blew and the gravity and reality of what had just happened settled in.
What does a fan do after witnessing his team suffering such a defeat? After the initial shock wears off, some express anger. Others resign themselves calmly and discuss where it all went wrong in our own little postmortems, as though we were guests on Match of the Day – except good people (apologies to Lee Dixon). Some of us drown our sorrows inside the pub to the delight of the barman, and still others storm off in silence, presumably to take it out on the dog.
For all the differences between us divided by the Atlantic Ocean, it’s comforting to know that there are some things that are just universal, even if they are just the methods we employ to console ourselves in times when we lose. We fall, and we get back up and go on. It’s not English, it’s not American, it’s just human. And it’s Arsenal, at home and abroad.
Let’s just hope we don’t have to employ any of those methods after we play Villa.
COME ON YOU GUNNERS!
Brett Chase is the vice president of the NYC Arsenal Supporters and a regular contributor to the popular Arsenal blog The Modern Gooner.You can also find him and his fellow New York Gooners on Facebook and Twitter.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 25 Nov 2010