Big Marvin came up hard. Not inner city sump estate hard. A different kind of hard. Big Marvin grew up a part of the only mixed race family in a small hick mining town in the wilds of North Somerset. He endured the name calling, the bullying, being singled out while those around him sniggered or just stared in slack jawed amusement at his plight. That was just the teachers. The other kids could be really cruel. Big Marvin took all they had to give and as a teenager began to grow. He grew at a rate that alarmed his former bullies and he became interested in sports. Not the kind that we enjoy; the sleek, elite racehorse type footballers who grace the Emirates turf. As if life wasn’t hard enough Big Marvin followed the maligned and appropriately derided clogging, huff puff of Bristol City. Football wasn’t his first sport though. The sport Big Marvin excelled at was boxing. He was a fierce competitor. He discovered the perfect balance between aggressive rage, powerful physique and control. Above all he trained hard and he listened to those who’d done their time in the ring. He listened, he absorbed the advice and he remembered it.
After coming out of the Army Big Marvin applied himself to studying. Never particularly academically inclined he now has a string of qualifications, multiple degrees and is employed as a lecturer at the college where I wander aimlessly through my working life. He often stops to chat, we have found we have some things in common, I find him a fascinating man. Something he said to me the other day came echoing back into my mind as I observed the various reactions after our unwelcome opening fixture against Anthony Taylor. I had just complimented Marvin on his ability to hold his tongue, keep his temper and eat the shit the management feed their teaching staff in order to placate the disgraced and rightly derided body that is Ofsted. Big Marvin said he was happy to hear any criticism anyone could give him . Happy to have the positive energy he brought to bear on his work overlooked, ignored and any scintilla of a shortcoming picked at and chewed over. I told him I couldn’t take it. Don’t cope with criticism and as I’m pretty well perfect in everything I do that had never been a problem for me. Big Marvin smiled and placed a meaty paw on my shoulder. I felt that side of my body begin to slowly collapse under the weight.
“Stew” he said in a rumbling baritone which caused an emergency exit sign to fall from the wall above the door behind me “I remember my boxing coach once said something to me. I had just beaten another poor guy, hadn’t lost in fact since I started taking boxing seriously. I was feeling pretty good about myself and I said as much to my coach.” I felt vertebrae popping and tried to show no pain as the weight of the enormous hand on my shoulder began to increase. “Well, the coach looked up at me and said, ‘Son, you don’t learn anything when you’re winning’ and you know what” he gave my shoulder, numb now, the circulation long since cut off, a squeeze for emphasis. I was aware of a frightening crunching sound “he was right. I didn’t learn a thing when I thought it was easy. The first time I found myself lying on the canvas trying to blink through the blood in my eyes and wondering how I’d got there – that’s when I started learning about boxing”. I sagged with relief as the half stone of meat and gristle left my shoulder and took a moment to hope I never met the bloke big enough and hard enough to have put Marvin on his back that day.
Long after the physiotherapy had finished and my shoulder had recovered Big Marvin’s words remained with me. Or rather the words of his erstwhile boxing coach. You don’t learn when you’re winning. I’ve learned a lot about a lot of people after Mr Taylor’s virtuoso demolition of Arsenal yesterday. I have been adding to the pool of folk I follow on twitter and of course I’ve returned to this blog to be with the cream of our support and share the season with those who seem to be able to engage their thoughts before careering off out of control at the mouth. I’ve followed people who seemed not to be caught up in the tsunami of vitriol that consumed so many during the close season. Say something sensible about Arsene or our players and I’ll follow you. It’s always good to have as wide a circle of friends as possible I thought.
And then we lost. Horror of horrors. We lost a football match. I’m not being sarcastic here. For a fan losing at home on the opening day of the season is an horrific experience. You have the pent up frustration of those endless weeks with no football, the excitement as the big day approaches and then the despair, disbelief and a feeling not unlike having Big Marvin squeezing your testicles. And not in a nice way. You don’t learn when you’re winning. Or when it’s close season and you’re not even playing it seems. So what did I learn about my fellow supporters in defeat? I swiftly learned that we all suffer in the same way and we all express ourselves in our own way. Some flew wildly into fits of rage others went very quiet, some seemed to throw away the good sense with which they’d protected themselves from the close season angst and in a frightening volte-face began demanding Arsene increase his bid for Luis Suarez. £60m £70m £80m whatever it takes, you listening Arsene? Maybe I’m missing something here but spending an obscene amount of cash on a player who would have been suspended and couldn’t therefore have been sent off by Anthony Taylor in any case wouldn’t really have influenced the outcome of Saturday’s match would it?
Sunday morning therefore found me whiling away a happy half an hour going through twitter unfollowing and blocking the worst of the knee jerkers. As I did so I reflected upon the good people here at Positively Arsenal and how immensely grateful I am to have found you all. I’ve learned when we’re not winning who the good guys are. The people who try really hard not to allow their despondency, their frustration and their despair get the better of them. People who don’t lash out at their own when they find themselves on the canvass but instead turn their guns on the real enemy. Because here’s the nub of the thing, the part which those we know as the haters, moaners, doomers, bannerwankers and black bag brigade fail to grasp. We who remain positive, optimistic, who refuse to ignore the truth about our great club and greatest ever manager, we still hurt just as much as everybody else when the team gets beaten. We take it just as much to heart, feel tears of outrage and frustration threatening to break out and we hate it to the depths of our football supporting souls every bit as much as the next fan does. The difference, and the lesson I’ve learned, is that the good guys, that’s you, try harder. You try not to start a fight just so you can have an outlet for your emotions. You consider the feelings of those around you and try to put on a brave face, try to keep that upper lip stiff and offer a helping hand to those around you rather than a fist.
It’s why I write for this blog, it’s why I value your company so much and its why you are the only people I want around me to share our inevitable success.