A guest post from @foreverheady

Serendipity. Just about my favourite word, meaning, as it does, a happy accident or a chance discovery. It was serendipity that led me to The Arsenal back in 1997. I am aware as I write this that it disqualifies me from ever being regarded as a proper fan, although I shan’t lose too much sleep about that. My first team was Portsmouth, being the closest side geographically to where I grew up, and I followed them with the enthusiasm that only a boy can manage. My parents were kind, taking me to a few matches, including one memorable birthday treat, a midweek match under lights against Hull that led to a resounding 4-0 home defeat. I still recall the smarting embarrassment of explaining to the two carefully chosen friends I was allowed to take that we were normally much better than that, though of course in my heart of hearts I knew that that was about our level. I suppose enduring an away League Cup defeat to South Coast rivals, Brighton and Hove Albion, then a whole division beneath Pompey, had already taught me not to rely too heavily on sporting idols. We went posh in the stands then, but my true ambition was always to be behind the goal at the Fratton End. John Milkins was my brilcreemed hero, and I remember every detail of his pre-match routine when I finally strutted my stuff on the terraces: it is hard to imagine Szczesny removing his false teeth and placing them with loving care in the little bag that held cap and gloves before acknowledging his fans with gap-toothed grin, but no doubt whatever he does will be etched firmly in the memory of today’s urchins.

In my late teens I moved along the coast to Brighton, and unforgivably they began to supplant Pompey in my affections, largely because I was able to go and see them fairly regularly. Some of my friends got to know a couple of the players and they would leave tickets on the gate for us. It was my first real experience of supporting a successful team, and my memory is of seeing them go from Third to First Division in successive seasons, mainly due to the trickery of Peter Ward: exciting times, and it was down to The Seagulls that I first went to Highbury, for the FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday, a thirty yard screamer from dead-ball specialist Jimmy Case seeing Brighton to Wembley for the first, and perhaps only, time. I drifted away a bit after that, leaving my old life behind.  I moved close to Reading and a new career took over, while football itself lost much of its glamour: Heysel, Hillsborough and England’s reputation for thuggery didn’t do much for its image, and if I remember rightly the BBC even dropped Match of the Day. There didn’t seem much incentive to stay in touch, and the highs and lows of the Turf began to take the place of Football, especially as for geographical reasons I no longer really had a team to support and there wasn’t much to watch on TV in the late 80s and early 90s.

But in February 1997, Jim, a good mate and diehard Palace fan, was keen to go and watch the Fifth Round Cup-tie with another friend, subsequently Best Man at my wedding, who followed The Arsenal. I tagged along and high up in the Clock End saw possibly the worst and most boring game I had ever seen. 0-0 but terrible though it was it was good to be back at the football and I realised how much I had missed it all. As luck would have it the replay was on the TV the following week, and I began to recognise some of the players. They still weren’t desperately convincing, although they won the tie, and points adrift in the League and surely destined to progress not much further in the cup, they seemed a reasonable side to pledge my allegiance to. My father had supported The Arsenal, my best friend did and it seemed appropriate for me to do so. I wanted to be able to say I had a team again, and could surely never be accused of glory hunting for siding with such a seemingly dull side managed by such a strange and owlish man. That the league form immediately turned round, that they chased down United and went on to win the Double was the stuff of fantasy: the tenner on Overmars to score the first goal at Wembley the icing on a rich and unexpected cake. In hindsight it wasn’t a bad time to start following The Arsenal. Serendipity indeed.

But despite the astonishing success that followed on from that great season, I couldn’t really claim to be a proper fan. I looked for the results of course, enjoyed the highlights on TV, basked in the vicarious glow of the side’s success, but I wasn’t with them all the way. There was too much of my own career still to do to spend any time worrying about the careers of strangers, too much of my own life to live to need to live through the life of others. And – and this makes me feel uncomfortable for what it reveals about me – there was also a slight discomfort about supporting such an invincible team, for what is the point of following a side if they are never going to lose? In my formative years I’d regularly been let down by Harry Harris, Ray Pointer, Nicky Jennings: what right had I to go through a season unbeaten? I might as well have been a United or Liverpool fan, a plastic twat in the eyes of many, and maybe myself too.

And that is how it stayed for a good while, through the good seasons, through the move from Highbury, through the disappointments, which while not massive on a global scale, were, none the less, disappointing. I enjoyed supporting The Arsenal, but it was all fairly lukewarm until my boy Daniel started to take an interest four seasons ago, and that – well, that changed everything. Although we didn’t know it at the time it was van Persie’s last season, and he was Daniel’s first hero. I didn’t know how to break it to him that he was leaving, and I didn’t expect him to stay loyal, but despite constant bullying from a United fan, he remained committed to the cause, and suddenly for me there was a real point to supporting the club. Posters went up on bedroom walls, kits were bought, the first family trip to The Emirates arranged. And perhaps crucially for me there was a vulnerability about the team that made supporting them all the more important. Of course they lost to Bradford, of course they got knocked out by Blackburn, of course the new signings took time to settle in – but these reversals made the triumphs all the more worthwhile, and when the team clicked and played the kind of football that only a Wenger team can play, then I really knew I was following by far the greatest team the world had ever seen. Like many dads who have bought their child a trainset too early, The Arsenal took me over completely. I discovered football websites and the whole paraphernalia of social media, and gradually began to find like-minded souls from around the world with whom I could share my hopes and fears. I also began to discover bias, treachery, propaganda and disinformation, which at first dismayed but then, far from annoying me, merely fuelled what was by now becoming a full blown obsession. I began to feel personally responsible for my team.

It would be ridiculous to say that The Arsenal has taken over my life, for there is far too much going on for that to be the case. Both of my children have their own sport to play, and I get to spend plenty of time ferrying them from this pitch to that one. If Netball tournaments get arranged for Cup-final day, then Netball takes priority, if midweek matches coincide with cricket nets, then the cricket comes first. It has to be like that. My job gets irritatingly in the way, and my wife’s career also takes some juggling, so all in all I ought to be able to say that I am not totally dependent on The Arsenal to give meaning to my days. Nevertheless, there are few moments where I am not agonising over the latest result or looking forward to the next match with that familiar and awful mixture of hope and fear. I would love to be able to go to more matches, and maybe in a few years’ time that will be easier to do, but for now I feel fortunate to be able to watch so many games on the TV, to read and write so much about the club, and to have met, either virtually or in real-life, so many wonderful fellow travellers on the Sunshine Bus. To some I may not be a proper fan, but in my heart of hearts I know that very few care as much about The Arsenal as I do. That it took a nil-all home draw to put me on the right track merely confirms that the condition is now probably terminal.

26 comments on “Serendipity

  1. had this hot pressing question and came and saw a new post which i shall go back to read after asking this question….

    Why do we need Petr Cech – is he necessarily better than Ospina? Does he come in and usurp Ospina and WS1 whom he shared golden glove with the season before now? Would he come to seat on our bench since we are not likely to pay him more than Chelsea? we wanted him when he was younger and now he has given his best years to Chelsea there is rumour he is coming to us? just my thoughts on the matter


  2. very nice and honest account forever….you nearly got me writing honesties about the garden shed of alcoholics i got to know in early mid 90’s ..hehe..and remember ..a proper arsenal fan understands that prior to wenger we were category b-c while with wenger we are category a.

    team spirit …i would sign him immediately. we effed up with v de sar….


  3. Bliss is being retired, no tennis/cricket practices to worry about, grand kids no longer needing baby sitting, an understanding and supportive wife and Arsenal to support. Even when we weren’t very good, (after 67 years supporting some memories refuse to go away) they were always a joy to support.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Tremendous stuff Tim and ample fare for the international break. Took the pledge in 97 and almost a 20 year man already.

    As my wife says all too often “you’d have got less for murder”.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Very enjoyable read!

    Watching Dennis Bergkamp for Holland was what actually brought me to the Arsenal… I wanted to watch more of him and so had to find where he played his club football… It helped greatly that about that time, Kanu was signed up so i could even have a local hero along with him (U17 W/C 1993/ U20 – 1995; Olympic gold 1996).

    have followed since then… in increasing degrees too and been most unhappy with the present day abusive fan base having first hand seen the unfolding of the teams of AW – he is the only manager i have known and it is his arsenal that actually made me stay even when DB10 was no longer in it….

    Glad we are getting back to vintage Arsene’s Arsenal and hopefully better than earlier versions… 2008/2009 remain the most painful… 2006 lose of CL final and lesser 2011 and one other year loss of CC finals spring to mind! Ah Eduardo and the midfield quartert of Hleb Rosicky, Cesc and Flamini with Adebayor supporting act… what that team was primed for till the loss of Eduardo and then Rosicky which was actually as costly as the loss of Eduardo to that team… painfully they broke up after that and we are now getting back to that standard again! Greater times are certainly ahead again!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Who says Ospina cannot be our Van der ser … my point is we are not really in a keeper crises are we?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. no no they didnt break up …..they were viciously attacked by the ‘upholders of decency and fair play and traditions of the sport’ because lets face it…..the prospect of arsenal/wenger defeating those who had invested BILLIONS for the epl/sky carousel to the title with kids and semi-cripples and shrewd transfer moves would have been too much ……..

    t.s if ospina was van de sar/petr czech potential he would have cost 25-30mill in his late teens early twenties and not be playing for nice or arsenal now.

    dotn get me wrong… i love ospina ..i think he is solid keeper who plays like goalkkepers should…calm and very agile but imagine we play real madrid for the last 16 or 8 and ospina is injured and we have to play that guy with his selfies…. why put yourself through such a disadvantage when you can have a petr cech? he is here he is 31-32..perfect age…experienced..veteran…world class and a fine character..and he can play music with tomaas too..

    i dont understand why it has ot be one or the other….whoever is good ..bring them in i say! its why i would have had both suarez and sanchez and cesc ..oh yes ! its only if we can afford it ..thats the only issue..


  8. The Arsenal manager, since his arrival, has never shown an awful amount of interest in Arsenal’s youth set-up.



    you see..we are dealing with nazi propaganda machine here……

    Liked by 2 people

  9. In fact, if he paid a little more attention to building a core of homegrown players then perhaps, like Ajax, AC Milan, Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Arsenal might have won the Champions League by now.

    OHHH AHAHAH ….you see? you all see?

    ajax! ac milan! barcelona! bayern munich ! why arsenal? whay are you not as big as them?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Cech in particular is not just an upcoming talent, he is leaving Chelsea for first team footy out bringing him and snuggling whether he should be on the beech or not… WS1 for be has the potential of Chelsea s present no 1. so why should we bench him for cech? except the rumours are true and he is leaving? Cech is not likely to leave the Chelsea bench for the arsenal bench i am sure!

    As for the press i truly have no faith in their intellectual capability to understand and appreciate Wenger hence they lash out at him at every little chance!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Please keep walcott rather than getting sterling… its important that a team like ours grow together, the less the disruptions the better.

    we have Ox and Gnabry also we really do not need sterling

    Liked by 2 people

  12. WS1 for be has the potential of Chelsea s present no 1.

    hmmm i dont know about that one ..not too sure. if he gets serious..maybe.

    oh and yes obviously not to bench petr cech..if ( huge if ..close to impossible/unlikely) it ever materialises…im just describing how i would approach it…id have cech 1st choice opsina second and wojo if he wants to really stay and learn as 3rd till he maturers as a man/person/character… he can and should wait a bit .

    as for last year ..well last year we had a solid defensive partnership and ….sagna…. my only negfative feeling is that we let him go like that…a fine servant..always gave 100% ..didnt miss much games like others who were alwayse injured….lead by example…and we couldnt pay him a little bit more? why ivan and stan? wtf guys? would we drop as many points with sagna partnering a struggling mertsaker earlier in season?

    chelase is nothing special..last year again we were top for 5 months….those with eyes can see we are the best and should have won both league titles.. last year and this ..but for silly mini stupid reasons we find ourselves chasing instead of looking back and laughig at them all. last year when arteta was called to hold the fort in ramsey’s absense he effed up big time with the peak of embrassment being getting owned by barkley …a 17 year old in a 3-0 at everton …and lets not even go at the level of communication and leader ship mert and mikel showed in s.b. this year i swear..if we had sagna early season to slot in the missing /injured positions we would a long way ahead…


  13. its that sagna type situation that makes be say keep walcot rather than start to bed in sterling afresh please.. we can do with going forward with a settled squad for our type of play even for any team it is priceless.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. FH, What a fantastic piece……proper fan? Not a concept I understand. Sounds like a futile argument. I got a sense that you sympathise with the underdog? Or those more humble? Well, if so, your Arsenal supporting instincts will be sorely tested because I expect loads of trophies and league titles from now on…..

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Excellent piece FH.

    I agree TS, Chelsea would not be letting Cech go if he was still all that, so I’m not sure why Arsenal would pay £20m for a reserve keeper who is surplus to requirements for one of our main rivals. It smells like agent BS to use Arsenal ‘interest’ to get the best deal for a player on his way down.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Nice piece FH.

    One tends to find that those who talk about ‘proper fans’ are those who can’t handle their own doubts and uncertainties. Not the sort of folk you bump into on this page, certainly.

    UTA soon be Saturday.


  17. @ foreverheady – a very interesting read, I always find it fascinating learning how people become Gunners.

    Some people think they’re up there in the food chain of supporters but have spent the majority of the time being negative, always looking for faults and issue with players and the club. Calling these types ‘supporters’ is a bit of an oxymoron as all they love to do is hate.

    To me a proper fan is defined not by how long you’ve supported the club, but how well.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Brilliant post, FH.

    I can identify with your journey somewhat. In my youth I followed Man Utd, as my father and his younger brother were constantly watching their team on TV. It was not until the Champions league run that ended in defeat that I started taking an interest in The Arsenal. The football got me interested, the philosophy of the manager got me hooked. And I also like the fact that for Arsenal to win, they really do have to earn it.


  19. I dont think Chelsea will sell Cech to Arsenal, mostly because of Mourinho. He hates Arsene due to his well justified inferiority complex.

    But I daresay if its a possibility and the Boss thinks its best for the team/squad, then I will be quite happy to see a goalkeeper of that quality arrive.

    Also, I agree with Hunter – this Arsenal team is already the best in the country. In my opinion, what is missing is that other teams are only starting to develop that fear of Arsenal again. I recall Jamie Carragher commenting on being in the tunnel with the Invincibles era team and feeling that his team were beaten before they even stepped on the pitch. I would like to see that again. But is difficult to achieve unless the referees stop tilting as much as they now do. I believe we have Anthony Taylor against us on Saturday.


  20. Back in the mid 00 and with our stadium move ..it made sense to get rid of the 30 y.o on big contracts. but only financial sense. The invincible factor was slowly slowly allowed to erode in order to create something new. Thats where most fans lost their minds. United and fergie could keep their experienced veteran war horses and pay them the running rates. Wenger and Arsenal could not. The result was our young players unable to cope with the aggression and unfairness they would encounter from opponents and refs. When youre 29-30 and have won epl titles, f.a cups, world cups, euro titles etc etc …you can beat the refs easily. But when youre 20-21 and recovering from a leg break and you still dont know what your best position/role is then it will be a struggle. If you combine that with the fetish nature of the english refs and crowds and media panels watching arsenal youngsters getting brutalised by ‘solid honest english pros’ and you get the picture….. there was no hope…even if we somehow
    miraculously have won it it would have been an anomaly…wenger with his 19-21 y.o and 15m budgets VS chelsea/united and city ???? with their 300m budget each? could little cesc and gael repeat it..sustain it..? absolutely no? would love to see it happen though…just for the embarassment factor.


  21. Ospina makes a lot of saves, but looks different to most when he does. I think it would also be fair to say that funny chant aside he isn’t exactly box-office.Szczesny is potentially as good as the very best, but it does seem as if something isn’t quite right with him at the moment. I can understand why people want an upgrade but I suspect that finding anyone better and available will be hard.

    There was a time last season when De Gea was having a rough time and made one or two unfortunate howlers, but few United fans would want him out of the club right now. Had either of our keepers let in the two goals that De Gea conceded from Monreal and Welbeck in the Cup-tie then they would no doubt have attracted plenty of criticism. Finding a keeper for a top side is difficult: any one can make lots of heroic saves when you are facing a barrage (think Hart v Barcelona) but it is much harder to make one crucial save when it is the only one you have to make all match. All keepers let in goals, but you only really notice the ones that your own keeper ships: likewise, when Szczesny makes a save an Arseanl fan is more likely to scowl at the defensive error that led to the shot than congratulate the keeper. Similarly we are much more aware of the heroics that keep out our shots so our perceptions of who is and who isn’t a good keeper are often flawed.

    The Sterling situation fascinates me, and not because I would want him to come to us: I think we have three better right wingers on our books anyway. No – what strikes me are three things.
    Firstly, the media outpouring imploring him to stay and learn the game at Liverpool rather than any suggestion that it is Liverpool that are the stagnant and unambitious side that Sterling is right to want away from. I trust they would do the same if it were Oxlade-Chamberlain.

    Secondly, that it now seems to be taken as axiomatic that Arsenal represents an obvious upgrade for him. This would not have been the case a year ago.

    Thirdly, that I wonder if the way Liverpool played fast and loose with Suarez’s contract has led to a wariness on the part of young Sterling.

    And, at the risk of sounding inquisitional, fourthly, I do wonder if the high press, high energy game that has characterised Liverpool over the last two seasons places stresses and potential long term damage on good young players.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. The key, I think, to Ospina’s solidity in goal is that the defence ahead of him has been better, more settled, and had great work done by Coquelin screening and stopping chances. 7amkickoff had a very nice piece examining this that suggested the key difference is not the GK’s but the chances they’ve faced. Better team defending. Both are quite good keepers. Why we shouldn’t be interested in an even better one, whom AW has always liked before he went to Chelsea, is unclear to me. The case might be that we could have more impact for the money somewhere else in the starting 11, perhaps. Or an assessment of his season last year when he was starting that suggests Cech is in serious decline… Otherwise, Barca were willing to let Alexis go and he didn’t start as much there as he wanted. RM were willing to let Ozil go. Or is it just that we assume Mourinho is diabolical and too clever? If a player wants to leave, even Mourinho can’t always stop them, especially if he isn’t playing them.

    But this is a lot of unnecessary argument because just like Demba Ba, Mourinho would be unlikely to sell a player who could help us and would find another acceptdestination–and I think there will be lots of interest elsewhere for Cech. But if Cech preferred us, he might be forced to do it like we were with RvP. FFP may begin to bite Chelsea too. One argument against getting Cech would be that not only does it cost us a lot in a position we have a couple of good/very good options that detracts from our ability to improve elsewhere, it hands a large sum that Chelsea can use to improve their team as well. They clearly have a smaller squad of trusted players and are suffering the effects late in the season. They’ll try to remedy that. For us, the question is what could we do to best improve our team/squad for next season?

    I agree with those that Sterling is not the sort of player we need. We have a couple like him. Theo brings goals and assists, directness to our team. If he is sold, we will need a forward who offers that goal-scoring threat, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Great post and comments.

    To be fair to the modest and shy Brendan he has given periods of rest to Sterling since he broke through. But the contrast with the recent pattern at AFC is there:

    He has played more then the Ox at the same age, and as those of us who weren’t too busy groaning about the end of an era noticed: there’s been a shift at AFC and the teeny boppers are now protected a lot more though unfortunately that won’t save them from being Antony Taylored* or being hacked off the park by another one of Slurgus’ spawn. Again…

    *oh, joy…Gollum’s heir. Again. In case you’ve wondered why Gollum has been acting like Smeagol in recent times my best guess is because he’s planning to move upstairs.


  24. FH

    Superb article, and your comment above, too. Thanks.


  25. Miguel Delaney @MiguelDelaney · 9h 9 hours ago
    Wenger: “Between 66 and 96, no foreign players in England, and it didn’t improve national team.”

    Liked by 1 person

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