I woke up with a thwack this morning, thinking I overslept for work before realizing it is Saturday. The blue digits on the alarm read 08:29. Still dark outside.
Believe me; winter gets very dark in Sweden. Normally the snow helps to light up an otherwise pitch-black country, but this year, so far, not a measly snowflake in sight. Actually, unless there is snow on the ground there is not much in sight except the 5 month long darkness that surrounds Sweden from October ’til March.
I really do hate getting up in the morning when it’s cold, dark and raining outside. Luckily, my lovely wife has already put on the coffee this morning and the rich fully flavoured scent reaches into the bedroom and wraps itself around me as I wake this cold January morning.
Despite the weather I drag myself out of bed and into the kitchen with a smile on my face. I pour the hot black coffee into my mug, the one with the Arsenal Crest in a brown relief on the side.
The mug I have to use at least once a day in order for Arsenal to do well, twice on match day. Superstitions. A funny thing.
I read an article about it on Arsenal-Mania not too long ago and it struck me how similar fans from England and Sweden are in the sense that we all are equally screwed-up, believing that the choice of coffee mug in the morning has the slightest impact on the result of a football game played in London, hundreds of miles away.
As a Swedish Gooner I have often met UK people who find it fascinating how anyone from Sweden can love an English Football Club as much as I and many of my fellow Sweden Gooners do.
English football in general is very popular in Sweden, much more so than the other big leagues in Europe. I believe the reason why so many Swedish people have favourite teams in English football is that it has been broadcasted on Swedish Television since back in 1969 when a program called "Tipsextra" was introduced. This excellent program was the start of a 35 year era of English football on a regular basis, every Saturday.
The first match was Wolverhampton vs. Sunderland in a game which Wolves won 1-0. Since then, English football has been a reoccurring event on Swedish Television every weekend.
Today, football supporters in Sweden have the option to watch 6-7 games every weekend.
The first Arsenal-game to be broadcasted in Sweden was Arsenal-Stoke in the FA-cup (believe it or not) on the 27th of March 1971. The result was 2-2, Peter Storey scored twice for The Gunners.
Because of the long history of English football in Swedish television a lot of people developed a liking for the league and they found their favourite team in England. My parents (and grandmother) are all huge Arsenal-fans and this "Goonerism" has been passed through the generations, i.e. to me.
One of my earliest Arsenal memories was watching a World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Sweden with my father. This was in 1980 and only 9 years old I was watching my first game of football. I took a liking to the spectacular goalkeeper in the Northern Irish team.
"Who is that amazing goalkeeper?" I asked my father.
"That, my son, is Pat Jennings, the best goal-keeper who has ever entered a football pitch. He plays for Arsenal. Our Team, Arsenal."
I didn’t cheer for Sweden in that game.
I didn’t cheer for Northern Ireland either.
I cheered for Pat Jennings.
I cheered for Arsenal. My team. My father’s team. Our team.
Arsenal won that game, 3-0.
The rest is, as they say, history. A week later I got my first Arsenal Jersey.
Naturally my brother, who always was a bit of a rebel, went with Liverpool. Like most Pool-fans he hasn’t got the slightest clue about football, he just went with the team that was on the top of the league back then. Much like United-fans in the 90’s.
On that note I realize that the coffee has turned cold, as it always does when I am writing articles for some reason. Heading back to the kitchen I notice my 1-year-old son playing in his room, wearing the Arsenal home kit.
"Generations", I think to myself and smile, "Good boy. Gooner already. The 4th generation of Gooners in my family."
I remember Monday mornings when I was at High School. Chemistry. We didn’t talk about acids and alkalis in those classes; we talked about the weekend games in the English Division One.
0-0 against Ipswich or if I was lucky: "one-nil to the Arsenal".
Having Spurs-fans taking the piss because they happened to be in 10th place of the league when we were still struggling at 12th.
All men (and a handful of women) born in the early 70’s in Sweden all have English Football in common, talk to a Swede born in 1969 or later, they will all tell you the same thing. They all have stories like mine above. English Football is as common in Swedish every-day life as Fish & Chips is in England.
Swedish people are generally considered quiet, shy, strong and blond. Most people who encounter Swedes on travels will describe them as somewhat careful and timid, organizational skills like few others, but slightly cold people.
I guess it has to do with the weather I described starting off this article.
But when it comes to English football, when it comes to Gooners, the Swedes are not your average, typical Swedes anymore. Few things upset and stir up as much emotion in Sweden (for football fans that is) than a clash like the United games every season. We are still blond though, most of us.
Just like all Gooners, the Swedish speak breath and live Arsenal. On the few occasions we can afford to travel to London and visit Highbury, I imagine it must be like Muslims going to Mecca. Holy Ground.
I was there the last time last season for the final unbeaten game of the season against Leicester. I stayed the night in London and went to see the Victory Parade as well.
After the parade it was back to the hotel to pick up my belongings and head back to Heathrow for the flight back home.
Before going I could feel Highbury calling me back for a last farewell. I took the tube to Arsenal Station and got off.
Avenell Road was almost empty, the streets were quiet. I could see some kids further down the street playing football and couldn’t help thinking if one of them just might be a new Ray Parlour or Ashley Cole.
A hardly noticeable breeze caught the back of my head and made me turn towards Highbury’s East Stand. The world stood still.
Another gust of wind, warmer and stronger swept over Avenell Road.
Highbury embraced me with her East Wing as if she was thanking me for visiting her.
She told me she is alive, she loves Arsenal, she love’s its fans and she is eternally grateful for us.
Her name is Highbury. She is Arsenal. She is forever.