BY ANTHONY OLIVERIO / @WEARETRUEFANS
I wasn’t born an Arsenal fan! I have my former team mates at Field End Youth to thank for my Arsenal allegiance.
I was 8-years-old, just having joined my first football team. At the time I didn’t support a club, my brother was an annoying Spud (still is) but I wanted to be different. One training session later, I was a fully fledged Gooner.
“Mum, mum, mum, can I have an Arsenal shirt, can I have an Arsenal shirt.”
Not so long after I had my very first red and white uniform with JVC spread across the chest! That was it, the Gunners were in my blood.
I followed Arsenal as much as I could, keeping up with all the players and all the results. It wasn’t easy! My dad wasn’t really into football and what with my eldest brother being Spurs through and through, I never got to go to games. In fact, it troubles me to this day that the first live game I saw was at White Hart Lane against Crystal Palace. Needless to say I didn’t enjoy it and I couldn’t resist wearing my favourite Arsenal socks underneath my jogging bottoms.
My love of playing football grew along with my love of Arsenal and I’d always be my favourite player at the time in my head. Giving my own running commentary, “...and it’s Merson on the ball, jinks one way, then the other, bang...it’s a goal!!!!!”
I’d be Merse, Wrighty, Limper…even David Hillier some times. I still credit Stefan Schwarz with me being strong on both feet when playing football. When our Swedish dynamo joined I thought he looked so graceful, had the sweetest left foot and was a great passer; for a few weeks I wanted to be him. I’d spend every evening hammering the ball against the garden wall with my left foot willing it to be as strong as the right.
I even went through a David Seaman phase and good old mum bought me the blue goalkeeper top which I promptly ruined retrieving my ball from a thorn bush. I hid it in my bottom drawer for a while until mum said, “Why aren’t you wearing that top I bought you?” Honesty was the best policy so I told her the bush attacked me!
I considered myself a passionate Arsenal fan but it was a chance meeting with The Arsenal faithful at a train station on the 3rd May 1998 that turned me into the crazed Gooner I am today! It was my sisters 17th birthday and we were heading up to Oxford Circus for the evening. We jumped on the overground from Edmonton Green to Seven Sisters and then the underground to Oxford Circus, via Finsbury Park, where we were meeting my sister’s boyfriend. As we pulled in to the station, you could feel the atmosphere. I can admit at first I was scared. Voices were loud, booming, men, women and children swamped the platform. But they were happy, smiling, they were singing, drenched in red and white.... they were The Arsenal!
In the 14 years of my life up to that point I’d never seen anything like it. Here I was thinking I was a big time Arsenal fan and actually I knew nothing. I didn’t know what it was truly like to be an Arsenal fan, to be part of a family that had nothing to do with blood or birthright, purely the love of a football team. The train didn’t stop at the station long, but it was long enough to etch an idea and memory in my head. I wanted to be there, I wanted to be one of The Arsenal.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Tony Adams had wrapped up the Premier League title for Arsenal with his ‘Would you believe it’ volley from Steve Bould’s chipped pass. As you’re all probably aware the iconic moment now stands captured in bronze outside the Emirates with the legendary captain standing in his celebratory pose with his arms stretched out wide.
It would be another six years before I would take a seat amongst my fellow Gooners at Highbury. I had moved with my family out to Essex a few years earlier but I still worked in Enfield and it was through a customer at work that I bought a ticket. I remember it vividly, Sunday 22nd August 2004. As I strode up the steps to the upper tier in The North Bank, I shivered. I was finally here. Arsenal vs Middlesbrough was to be my first live Arsenal game. It also happened to be the day that Arsenal could equal Nottingham Forest's all time League record of 42 unbeaten matches.
The Arsenal line up on the day was, Lehmann, Cole, Cygan, Toure, Lauren, Ljungberg, Fabregas, Silva, Reyes, Bergkamp, Henry. Subs – Pires, Flamini, Van Persie, Almunia, Hoyte.
The Arsenal legend that is Ray Parlour lined up for Middlesbrough who also had the formidable Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in their side and future Arsenal target Mark Schwarzer was their Goalkeeper.
The match flew by in a blur. My first game at Highbury had eight goals. Arsenal took the lead through Henry, only to fall a shock 3-1 behind after goals from Boro’s Job, Hasselbaink and Queudrue. Thankfully though, Arsenal stormed back through Bergkamp, Reyes, Pires and a second from The King.
What a game! And what a day to be part of the Arsenal faithful!
I have a season ticket at Arsenal now. Eight years I waited on that list. Sure, I’ve been to many games at Highbury and now at the Emirates, but to have my name printed on that season ticket fulfils an almost 14 year dream.
Some people are not able to attend games but that doesn’t make them less of a fan. The 57 thousand or so that fill the ground week in, week out are the lucky ones. Arsenal has a fan base which covers the entire world and each and every one of the fans is vital to the club and its existence. We as Arsenal fans may not always agree on what’s best for the club but regardless of opinions we have one thing in common, our love for the club.
We should always remember - We Are Family, We Are The Arsenal!
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