Originally posted on Goonersphere.
The hazy days of his summer holiday that would take on a golden hue upon recollection as a daydreaming adult – had been and gone.
What replaced those halcyon times was the unmistakeable smell of new pencilcase. Shiny new backpack. Last years ‘Ben10’ bag was now being used to contain mum’s clothes pegs. Everyone loves new. It almost makes returning to school bearable. Almost.
Those six weeks passed in what seemed like a blink of an eye. From the moment the bell rang on the final day of term ( the best day of term, the day you get to bring your finest toys and games to school ) to this moment where he was eating his Coco-Pops, the entire summer sabbatical from education had whizzed past in a sugar-encrusted, football in the park, Barbecued montage.
He was considered one of the group in his class. Not the funniest. Not the Ringmaster when it came to pranks. Not the most intelligent that would help the others by giving them answers in class. Nor was he the best looking that all the girls would giggle and whisper when he walked past. He was privy to the conversations though, he did sit at the same table they all did and he was always present whenever occasions such as birthday parties or off-the-cuff football matches occurred after school.
Friends at school were akin to currency. the more you had, the more successful you were portrayed as. Well, he certainly wasn’t poor. He was starting to take a little heat though. He was a football fan. He had the latest incarnation of the popular football franchise game on the Playstation and would often play online with the very friends he played football with in the park and at school. He kept up to date with all the spurious rumours that sent every football fan into a frothing frenzy. He was a fan of football. He just didn’t share a love of a club.
This brought the inevitable tirades from his friends. They had all been given their affiliation/burden by their parents or another relative who passed it on much like the DNA they shared. Well, he didn’t have a relative who visited the altar of a football stadium and worshipped weekly. There was no one to inform him why he should despise another team. He was well aware of the rivalries and tempestuous games that were must-views. He just enjoyed watching a game unfold.
Every day during the summer holidays he sat quietly whilst his friends discussed who their clubs were signing or selling. He wasn’t one to push himself into conversations but these particular strains were locked to him. One word would bring about an avalanche of derogatory terms as to why he wasn’t qualified to comment. It wasn’t bullying, it was just the way boys on the cusp of teenage-hood behaved. Or men in general if you look at it from another perspective.
So, he had decided that he would risk alienation from peers by picking a team. He would take a studious approach to this consequence-laden choice. He would take into account all factors before making a decision that would affect his entire life. He wouldn’t be swayed into picking another once his mind had settled. He would be a true supporter of this prospective team.
He had finished breakfast and he was now on his way to school. It was only a five minute walk. On the way, he bumped into a few of his mates. He asked them about their teams. What followed was like a dogfight but sped up to ten times the speed. In hindsight, if only these boys could’ve dedicated this rapier-thinking to schoolwork rather than football-based sniping, they would all be in ridiculously well-paid jobs in the future.
” Well, Man United are the most successful team in the modern era mate. Most Premier League titles. Most Champions League titles from teams in the UK. A massive fan base that covers the globe. Regularly sitting in the Top 10 in the money list. Need I say more? ”
” Mate, mate, that’s not what it’s all about. Liverpool are the side that everyone in the world knows. Our teams in the ’70’s and ’80’s swept all aside. We dominated Europe. We had the most exciting players in the world. Even in the Premier League, we’ve had Fowler, Owen, Gerrard. Anfield is the place to play football. It is world famous and when the fans roar out ‘ You’ll never walk alone’, you’ll be a Red instantly.”
” Yeah, but talking of the Premier League, you’ve never won it have you? We have. Three times. We have the cash to rival Utd, we have loud fans that can outsing any, we’re proud of the times we were awful and we’re just as proud of our money revolution that brought about this success. We’ve also won the Champions League. We have Hazard, Terry, Courtois. Players that would slot into most teams in the world and we are almost guaranteed to contend for trophies in the near future. Why would you support any of them?”
His head swam with the influx of information he had been given. The conversation continued but it quickly descended into petty picking and a collection of insults that no person younger than middle-age should know.
The day began and the novelty of a new year at school quickly wore off. The only saving grace was P.E at the end of the day with Mr Halliday. Mr Halliday was their football team coach from the previous year and they shared a good rapport. He was also football mad and would be a font of knowledge in his quest to find a club to devote himself to.
P.E class began and a furious game of dodgeball was in full swing. A healthy competitive spirit left him rather pensive when he was eliminated early thanks to a flukey throw from one of his opponents. He sat on the rigid wooden bench next to Mr Halliday and asked him what club he should support.
” My boy, only one club deserves your adulation. Your future pennies, your time. A club that was the first ever to claim a Double. The team that has an illustrious history and is close to reasserting itself at the pinnacle of not only England, but the whole of Europe. Once our new stadium is built, you will see Tottenham hit our stride and claim silverware every season! You just watch the cock!”
An awkward silence ensued until Mr Halliday had reality dawn on him rapidly. Blustered apology later, the day had ended and he walked home amidst yet another argument about whispered transfer targets. He wisely chose not to interject and walked in silence until he got to his door. They all exchanged the usual curt farewells that boys who are mindful of image normally exchange.
His parents asked him how his day was. His little sister continued her personal vendetta to annoy his every waking moment. It was a usual day but this time, instead of being fully involved in conversations that regularly occur in a family home, he swam through the rest of the day as the dominant part of his brain was weighing up which team was going to be his. The hours dripped by until bedtime. He had ruled out a few teams but was still left with a couple and all the furious contemplating in the world couldn’t untie this problematic knot.
He decided to take the approach that had stood him in good stead thus far. The season had kicked off and there was a midweek Match of the Day to view. He would watch with a keen eye.
One team played football that the purist would vouch for. One team, despite having an owner that was shrouded in mystery, had a settled heirarchy. One team endeavoured to play the right way, even if sometimes it was to the detriment of a result. The fan base spanned the globe so he could converse with like-minded fans at all times. The club was going places and finances were healthy. Plus, the stadium was breathtaking.
Arsenal were his team.
This article was written in response to a conversation I had with a Newcastle fan. A fan who has stayed loyal to his team despite a trophy ‘drought’ that has lasted since 1969. A fan who sees the club install John Carver as Head Coach. A fan who will see his club make a reported £50m of profits yet leave the prospective manager with a miniscule budget to bolster a weak squad. A fan of a team that has set its sight on survival rather than glorious triumph.
We thought we had it bad? How fickle we can all be sometimes.