Hello all. I am a Gooner from India. Like most Indian kids, I was a lot into cricket till I was 16. I used to have the almost all major cricket stats on the tip of my fingers, I used to practice my bowling action and my batting stance while walking and I used to play as much as I could. But then, when I was 16 and a half, came the turning point in my life. It was my summer holidays in 2002, and the Football World Cup was going on. I somehow was able to catch a few group stage games, and I felt I was hooked towards the game. Now, after all these years, when I watch international matches, there are few that I can watch without yawning. But all those years back, every game was a nail biting thriller for me. Be it Spain being knocked out by South Korea (imagine that happening now), or Senegal scoring a golden goal (remember the time we had those?) against Sweden.
Brazil were my favorite team, Rivaldo became my favorite player (not sure that would have been the case had I seen the Turkey game) and till date I only wear white studs cause he did so in that tournament. Eventually, Brazil were crowned world champions and the football world, at least for me, went quiet again. But I wanted more, and after some browsing on the internet, I found out that ESPN and Star Sports televise a tournament called the English Premier League. I had never heard of it before (still not sure how) but decided to see what it was. Not too many games were televised in India back then, but, I started catching a few games as the season went on. The first couple of months, I must have seen around 10 games (surprisingly, none of them were Arsenal games) and the teams I found exciting were Liverpool and Newcastle, who went on to challenge for the title till March in that very season. However, on a fine November day, I saw a game that changed my life.
The stadium looked fantastic and it seemed as if the fans were right next to the touchline. There was a team playing in red and white and they looked magnificent. The other were in white jerseys and dark shorts, and it felt they were there just to make up the numbers. Little did I know back then, but I was watching a team I would go on to support for the rest of my life. And I was witnessing my very first North London Derby. The team in red and white scored a goal, but it was not given due to a rule I dint understand at that time. I knew it was called the offside rule, but I was still not sure what it meant. The opposition team was relieved, but there relief was to be short-lived.
In the 13th minute, I saw the ball fall to a tall bald French guy in red and white and he controlled it on his thigh. This was a skill that was fascinating for me at that time as I had recently started playing football, and the only thing I could do was kick the ball hard. After controlling the ball, he started running with the ball. The opposition player behind him tried to pull him, but he was left in the Frenchman's wake. Now, he was running with the ball and there were 3 opposition players who were forming a wall in front of him. While running at great speed towards the opposition goal, this guy in red and white somehow managed to run laterally in front of that wall. And as soon as he saw some space, he used his left foot (I didn’t know it was his weaker foot then) and guided the ball inside the bottom corner of the goal.
I had seen goals being scored in matches, and how crowds reacted to it. But this was something else. The crowd behind the goal just went up and the noise was deafening. The bald guy had just run more than half the length of the field to score a magnificent solo goal. But, he didn’t stop. He was still running, but this time in the opposite direction and he kept on shouting while he ran. When he was almost at the other end, he slid on his knees right in front of the opposition's fans. And he just stayed there, like a ‘statue’ (who knew, eh) while his teammates came and celebrated with him.
While that player stayed there on his knees, while the crowd celebrated the goal, while all his teammates came and congratulated him, I did not move a muscle. I had experienced goose bumps before, but this was something else. A connection was formed, a bond had started, ladies and gentlemen, I was smitten and it was love at first sight. That was the day I fell in love with The Arsenal and since then, my heart has been, and will always be, red and white.
The club and I have gone through a lot since then. There have been both highs (Invincibles, FA Cups, Emirates) and lows (Birmigham-CC, trophy-less years), there have been moments when I have shouted my lungs off with joy (Arshavin's Barca goal or Reyes' goal against Boro) and times that I couldn’t stop myself from crying (Henry on his knees after UCL final, Ramsey's leg being broken), but we have got through these times, together. And long it may continue.
P.S: The day Arsenal announced that we will have an Henry statue of that goal outside the Emirates, my joy knew no bounds. That goal signifies the day I started following The Arsenal, and now that goal is cast in bronze at the Home of Football. I haven’t yet been to the Emirates, I haven’t yet seen The Arsenal play live, but when I do, that statue is the first thing I am going to see. Even though Dennis Bergkamp is my all-time favorite Gunner, Thierry Henry holds a special place in my heart. Thank you Thierry, for playing cupid that day.
Mean Lean's Response
Nice stuff, I do enjoy reading how The Arsenal grabs hold of people for the first time. I started supporting The Arsenal during the George Graham days, it wasn't really love at first sight in truth, it sort of sneaked up on me. I was never really interested in football as a young kid, friends supported Liverpool because they were the Manchester United of that time so as often happens, I followed my friends whenever the subject of what team you supported came up.
A few years later, I was on my friends doorstep in 1989 when we won the league at Anfield, I had already made the switch to Arsenal but football wasn't my passion back then. It was only when I went to my first game in 1992 (I think) against Crystal Palace at Highbury that I was infected with the Arsenal bug. The best infection I've ever had.
Football was different before the old Division 1 became the Premier League, there wasn't the same hype as you see today.
The Arsenal vs Spurs game was some game to get you hooked, especially with that wonderful Henry goal. I often wonder what it would have been like finding Arsenal during that time, different to where I picked it up that's for sure.
Hopefully the fan who picks it up now can write similar blogs in future about how entertaining and successful the Arsenal team was from 2013 onwards. Here is to hoping.