BY AHMED YUSSUF / @AHMEDYUSSUF10
It was the 2nd of October 2004; I was a smug 10-year-old bossing around people half my age. I was in a surreal venue in Kenya, Garissa to be precise. There was this mood. I couldn’t really grasp it at the time. Everyone just wanted to sit and watch the Arsenal play, and paid good money to do so. And I made sure they did, standing in front of the ‘Brothers Centre’ asking for 10 shillings for each person who entered.
Everyone took their seats and then it was silent. The whistle had blown, Arsenal had begun to play. Sounds of “oh and uh” echoed through the shabby shed, my uncle tapped my shoulder and smiled. He hadn’t supported Arsenal - he was a Leeds fan who suffered the heartbreak of relegation a season earlier- but, it didn’t matter, true football excellence was on display. I was asking to whoever would listen, who’s this player and what’s that and how’d he do this. It was a memorable moment. A passion had been born, something I knew that would last a lifetime.
This article first appeared on The Arsenal Collective in 2012
One player I recognised had been simply magnificent, even though I didn’t know the sport, was Thierry Henry. There was this sequence, he’d be juggling the ball and the defenders couldn’t contain him, and as the saying goes he was just “unplayable”.
All I could hear among viewers was “hat-trick Henry,” despite him not scoring a hat-trick. The brace he scored was unforgettable. His backheel, oh his backheel, it just brought sheer glee and emotion to me. I didn’t think at that young age someone could do that, at that level.
After the 4-0 win, even the Charlton manager held his hand up and said, “When he scores goals like that people have to sit back and admire him. Without doubt in the last two years he's the best forward there is”. And I did admire him.
He quickly became my favourite Arsenal player. The way he moved, manipulated the ball and his uncanny ability to pull off the sublime. Wow, he was a real player and that was a real team. I remember being told they were unbeaten, a team going 49 games unbeaten. Coming from an Australian witnessing this, it changed my whole perspective of what I’d assumed was a ‘boring’ sport. The Gunners’ quick counter-attacking football and slick passing game had me hooked and I eventually returned to Australia a changed man. Football was my sport and Arsenal became my one and only.
Fast-forward and I still love the Arsenal. No matter the result, no matter the trials and tribulations, this is my club. A bond I’ve made that I said will last a lifetime.