Date: 20th March 2004 at 7:07pm
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I live in a country where the greatest footballing moment came in 1974. Qualifying for the World Cup Finals, a tall task certainly, but for a proud sporting nation such as Australia much, much more is expected. ‘Soccer’s’ big here, real big. Football, as those educated of the game call it, is the largest junior sporting code. Yet our showings on the international scene have been pitiful to the point where it’s the laughing stock of sport in Australia. To be a football fanatic here is tough; the game is dubbed for ‘sheila, wogs and puffters’ and thus has culturally never taken hold.

I’ve seen people wearing football kits here – Milan, Inter, Leeds, Liverpool, United and Arsenal – but rarely. In fact the cult following is only large enough to have one free to air channel that offers it’s services to the football enthusiasts. SBS – Special Broadcasting Service – is a cultural free to air channel, possible part of the reason soccer is seen as an ethnic game. It is allocated one game per week. Thankfully, their producer must be an Arsenal fan.

I first saw the glorious Arsenal play in the season of 1999, and like many my interest was pricked mostly by the timely arrival of the great one Dennis “Ice Man” Berkamp. “That” goal for Holland forever cemented him into the deep recesses of my memory. Perhaps many will call me a ‘bandwagon’ supporter, and that is their opinion. I, however, beg to differ.

I started playing soccer when I was six. It was the ‘in’ thing. I am proud to say I was a rapier-like right winger – eat your heart out Beckham. Sadly, I grew apart from the game while hurtling towards adulthood. Studies and women, mostly the later, took control of my life, but the roots still remained.

I recently got married to the women of my dreams. Unfortunately, she’s not a football supporter. She doesn’t mind watching the games as long as they have lots of close-ups of Freddie Ljungberg hot and bothered to keep her interested. I don’t blame her really.

$70 a month is what it costs me to get my regular hit of Arsenal and even then it’s not guaranteed. I buy replica jerseys; £40 plus shipping and handling, £20 more. I expected the shirt to come by courier for £20, rather, I received the wrong sized shirt. I even try and hold off my purchases till the off-season to help my system recover from withdrawal symptoms.

I’ve met the lanky Patrick Vieira, the relaxed Thierry Henry, and the majestic Arsene Wenger. Meeting these three men did nothing to enhance my appetite for Arsenal, nor for football. It sounds strange but it’s true, I do not hold these men up and worship them, because I cannot, I do not know them nor will I ever. I am limited as is every other fan to just sit and marvel at their collective magic.

My greatest Arsenal memory is not of a victory, or of defeat. Highbury, league match against a red hot Manchester United side, which would eventually go on and win the title. I was with my best mate; it was all happening, the tension the drama the atmosphere, to quote Bill Lawry. The goals went in, and like good fans we each got up twice, we each laughed in each others faces. At the end of the day we sat there mentally drained as we ebbed and flowed with the fortunes of our teams. We were like two school boys again; you don’t get many experiences like this, not at my age.

High season ticket prices? Can’t watch the game on Saturday? Don’t complain. Think about me, at home, sitting on my couch, sipping cheap two minute coffee in the freezing cold, searching for any sign of brilliance, ready to explode at the sight of Henry being set free on goal. But would I give it all up for all the tea in China? Not a chance! And I really like tea.


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