Reading “An American Gooner at the Home of Football” really brings back my own lovely memories of my own pilgrimage to Highbury at a time when football had not become quite the big business it has today.
The year was 1991 and there I was on a working trip to London, thousands of miles away from home in Singapore. In the days before the advent of the Internet and cable TV, being a Gooner in Singapore was a totally different experience compared to what it is today. Sure some things don’t change much, such as the difficulty in getting club merchandise, though I sometimes rather perversely enjoy the difficulty in locating a set of the team kit, or a book or video, that makes it all the more pleasurable when I do find it.
But back in those idyllic times, being an Arsenal fan was really all about faith, and I had kept it since I was a 7-year old boy way back in the 60s. I had just started playing football, and had bought a book on the history of football. I devoured the pages, learning about legends of the English game and invariably the great Arsenal teams of the Chapman era caught my imagination. Here was a team full of history and tradition and I decided that this would be my team.
In those days and for years to come, all I had to sustain me was a weekly diet of Star Soccer, and later Big League Soccer on TV in which Arsenal were not featured very frequently. Still I religiously followed the team through copies of Shoot magazine, and every Sunday, the first order of the day was to go right to the sports pages and find out how they had done. Usually not very well.
As the years went by, there was greater access to news and telecasts of games and it became easier to call yourself a fan, especially when you don’t live in England. My first taste of “success” was of course the 79 Cup Final victory over Man Utd and it still remains one of my all-time favourite games, coming as it did after a long barren spell. My greatest shame was in sleeping through the dramatic League triumph of 89 (the game was “live” in the middle of the night, but that is no excuse) – I guess my alarm clock just didn’t do the job. On one of the most dramatic nights in league history that featured my team, and I missed it seeing it live. Oh I saw the replay but it just wasn’t the same…
Well there I was two years later on a lovely May evening, standing outside the home of football determined to make amends. As luck would have it, I had some free time in London on a weekday (Tuesday I think it was) and checked out that week’s edition of Time Out magazine and there it was! A game against QPR (yes it was that long ago) that had been postponed from earlier in the season. I persuaded a colleague to go and we gamely took the Tube to Arsenal station with absolutely no idea whether there would be tickets.
A tout (but perhaps I should be kinder seeing as he provided me with a ticket to football heaven) approached us and persuaded us to part with the then-princely sum of 15 pounds each for a ticket – the face value was only 7 pounds at the time! We entered the ground, dutifully bought our souvenirs and then took in the majestic sight of Highbury. I simply fell in love with the stadium.
That season, we were a match for any team in the country and QPR was duly dispatched without too much fuss. I recall at one stage of the game, the fans even engaged David Seaman in a little cameo. The chant was “Seaman, Seaman, what’s the score?” And they roared when Seaman held up two fingers. Another enduring memory was this chap sitting nearby who literally sang non-stop from the start of the game right through to the end. It was one of the best times of my life and I can only envy those Gooners who get to do it week in week out.
As the days of Highbury draw to a close in the next few seasons, I have a burning desire to see it again, but this time with my two older boys aged 7 and 6. They have not quite reached fever pitch (apologies to Nick Hornby – love his book and the movie) in their passion for the Gunners and may not for some time. But I have a feeling that if I bring them to see the magnificent spectacle that is Highbury, I reckon I would have advanced the schedule by a couple of years. Two more converts for the cause from faraway Singapore!