'My first game was at Old Trafford'

By Akhil Vyas

Saturday, March 14, 1998.

A day that changed me forever.

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This first appeared on The Arsenal Collective

The Arsenal Collective

It was the day every football fan in England knew Arsenal were in the title race, but also the day of my first Arsenal away game. By the final whistle I finally understood importance of football and our club, Arsenal.

Under the guidance of a certain French manager, Arsenal were nine points behind Manchester United with three games in hand. If we could manage to get our first-ever win in the Premier League at Old Trafford, the momentum would shift and the destiny of the title would be in our hands.

Arsenal had never scored a goal at Old Trafford in the Premier League era - let alone won - but Marc Overmars changed all that and put Arsene's men on the way to an unbelievable title comeback. Just a few weeks earlier a bookmaker had even paid punters who'd backed United to win the league! Now we were on the brink of overhauling them.

For me personally, this was a massive season. Just 10 years old, I was starting to love football and starting to love Arsenal. I think I took the double of 1998 for granted a little bit, but I remember being totally written off when I said we were going to do it and I couldn't understand other people's lack of faith. They said Manchester United were a far better team but I always believed Arsenal could do it.

At that time there was no social media and no real internet as we know it, so football coverage and other opinions were relatively scarce - it was all newspapers and good old Ceefax! I'm not sure I even had my own opinion; I knew I liked Arsenal and knew I loved Ian Wright but that was it.

Of course I'd been to Highbury and it was a special place, it felt like home, but I was curious to see the difference between home and away games. When I was told that there were 3,000 Arsenal fans going to Old Trafford, I thought that was loads - I thought that would be a quarter of the ground. Having 75,000 people in a football stadium just did not seem real or realistic to me, I was 10 after all!

Back then football was about enjoyment. Of course I wanted Arsenal to win, but after a day I would get over the disappointment of a loss. I learned how to ignore all the glory hunters at school, who despite living in London, all supported Manchester United. It was a happy life.

The win at Old Trafford changed all of that - I could go back into school, look the glory hunters in the eye and tell them that we won in their backyard and now we were going to win the league (I only knew we were going to win the league, because it was written in the newspaper). Even better than that - I was there!

I started to understand the passion of football and the enjoyment of winning. Suddenly, every game become more important. Thankfully I didn't have to experience losing much for the rest of the season, as we went on to win the league and cup double.

But if we did suffer a loss, it hurt a lot more then it did pre-Old Trafford, it stayed in the system for a good few days and only a win in the next game made it better. The stakes were higher now. The bar had been set.

That was the moment I was hooked - I then started to study the history of the club, understand formations, positions and my interest and passion has grown from there.

It's amazing how much of an effect one game can have!

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