Following from this morning’s main post, Ospina Confirmed, Chambers On His Way; Arsenal Get Down To Business, the last post in the series commemorating the US tour arrives. Having dragged herself out of The Waffle House for a road trip to New York City for this weekend’s festivities, alabamagooner is misspelling her way through a recent match from Anfield… As a neophyte Arsenal fan, I always get nervous whenever people start discussing “classic” Arsenal moments. These are the times when my meager Arsenal fan credentials are most in danger of being exposed. Anfield ’89? Um, yeah, I’ve heard about that. The Invincibles? Let’s see, Thierry Henry was part of that squad, wasn’t he? Tony Adams? He’s got a statue, right? And when the talk turns to one’s favorite match, I get even more nervous. For one thing, I spell favorite without the “u”, which instantly gives me away as American. And every match I’ve ever seen has been enjoyed on television, the large majority of those watched in my pajamas (I know, I spell that differently, too) with a cup of coffee. So, my usual response to discussions of such things is not to talk, but to listen.
I gave it some thought, though, and decided maybe it was time I told some of my Arsenal fan story. But still, choosing a favorite match? Hell, I’ve only really been following the team for two years (pauses to let all of you think about that for a minute). Two years. That’s hard for me to say out loud, for fear you all will dismiss me out of hand. For me, it has been the greatest ride you can imagine. Most of you would say that’s because I don’t know any better. If you were to choose your favorite match, would you choose anything from the last two seasons? Maybe the FA Cup final – but that’s too raw. I almost had a heart attack during that match, so it’s going to take some distance before I can call it a favorite (although the outcome was brilliant). There’ve been a couple of good NLDs in there, but honestly, I don’t like derby matches. Too much pressure, and people go freaking mental about them. All that being said, I’m going to break with tradition here, and choose not one match, but two. And one of them isn’t even an Arsenal match. Let me explain.
Before I became an Arsenal supporter, I was a soccer fan. And I use the term soccer deliberately, for I was an American with a passing interest in the sport. I always stopped to watch when it was on TV, which wasn’t that often. International soccer was the only thing I had access to – World Cup, Euros, Olympics, etc., and US Women’s soccer. I didn’t really even understand the club system. Then, in the spring of 2012, we got a satellite TV package that included Fox Soccer channel, and I started learning a little bit about the whole club soccer thing. I was excited to finally be able to watch Premier League games. But the season was over before I had a chance to really pick a favorite team. I was determined, though, to choose one for the next season, because it’s always more fun to watch if you have a team to cheer for.
That summer I had a lot of football to watch (and I was calling it ‘football’ by then). I watched the England/Italy Euro 2012 quarterfinal match while on vacation, at a bar in Savannah, Georgia. It was a room full of English ex-pats, singing at the top of their lungs about Steven Gerrard – and it was awesome. I’d never experienced anything like it. And the penalty shootout? Lord, the drama. Nothing like that in American sports, that’s for sure. It was brilliant. Then came the Olympics, and the first of my two favorite matches: Team GB vs. South Korea. I know, I know – just bear with me for a moment, it will make sense.
I had managed to avoid the result of this match all day, and sat down to watch it in the evening after work. I was Team GB all the way. I actually recall very few specifics about it, except for one thing – the penalties. All of them. In the first half, there were two. When the first one came, Team GB were down 1-0. And a fresh-faced young man walked nervously to the spot to take it. You could see it in his eyes. The pressure. I willed him to stay calm, all my mom instincts on edge. He did, and he scored. Equalized! So exciting. Then came the second penalty, and a chance for Team GB to take the lead. And the same young man stepped up again. Again I sat on the edge of my seat and willed him to score. But it was saved. The chance to go ahead was gone. I felt for him. The match drug on after that, the penalty shootout looming. And when it finally arrived, who was the first to step up for Team GB? This same young man. What courage he had. Even though Team GB lost, I was so impressed by him. Who was he? Who did he play for? I soon learned. His name was Aaron Ramsey, and he played for Arsenal. And just like that, I had a new favorite player.
I had made up my mind over the summer that I was going to choose Liverpool as my team to follow. They had hooked me in that Savannah bar with their Stevie Gerrard chants, and I had friends who followed Liverpool. It seemed like a good choice. But after that Team GB match, I wanted to see more of this Ramsey kid, and so I decided I would watch Arsenal as well. I mean, you can follow two teams, right? What’s the big deal? And I did that, for the first few weeks of the 12-13 season. Then came the second match on my favorites list – Liverpool vs. Arsenal at Anfield.
I remember it was a Sunday morning match, so I set the DVR to record it while I went to church. I had not yet gotten to the point that I would skip church for matches (oh, but I do that now!), so I was really looking forward to sitting down that afternoon with a cold beer and enjoying the match. My two teams, playing each other. It was going to be great! Honestly, I don’t really remember many details about it now, though. Podolski scored, and Cazorla scored and Ramsey came in off the bench (yay!!). But what I really remember is that before the match was over, I was no longer cheering for two teams. I was cheering for one team, and that team was Arsenal. I had learned who the players were, and was beginning to be able to pick them out on the pitch, and I loved them. I loved the manager, who was classy and supremely intelligent. Liverpool? Well, they just didn’t do it for me. I had begun to fall in love with Arsenal.
And that’s the way it often happens for those of us far away from the Emirates. You don’t have family ties to the club, or live near it, or have mates who go with you to matches. So you have to come to it another way. I have lots of online friends who came to Arsenal when times were great – during those invincible years. Not me. One impressive young man, and a team full of extraordinarily likeable players led by a manager who was unlike any coach I had ever seen in American sport (he speaks 5 languages for god’s sake!). That’s what did it for me. I still don’t think I picked Arsenal. I think, through those two matches, Arsenal picked me. And I will always be thankful.
Thanks Ma’am. And that closes out the series, Arsenal play their match tonight and return tomorrow ahead of the coming weekends Emirates Cup and Community Shield fixtures, ready for the real thing in three weeks time. Thanks to those who have helped with this week’s posts, it was much appreciated.