I have, since escaping school at the first available opportunity, travelled a wide and colourfully varied career path. I’ve been a civil servant, a builder’s labourer, a steeplejack, an interior designer and a security guard. That is to name but a few of my interesting and ultimately short lived attempts at finding the ideal method of bringing home the veggie bacon. The role I found suited me most snugly however was that of publican. I ran my bar in the manner I would like any licensed premises to be run, were I the customer. We never made any money but then we were quite disposed to giving away free drinks and paying the people who worked for us. I’d have been kicked out of capitalism college in the first term.
I despise with a passion, soulless, corporate chain pubs. A bar or public house should always reflect the personality of the owner. The best of them thrive on idiosyncrasy, curiosity, the unusual and not on some bland, lowest common denominator, artificial sterility. One way in which our bar reflected both myself and my business partner’s individual charms and dispositions was the passive, friendly and peaceful atmosphere. We enjoyed an inclusive, calm, left-field environment in which we and our friends could get regularly and spectacularly pissed.
We knew we’d succeeded because we never once had to call the police in all the years we were there. Didn’t have trouble, never resorted to violence ourselves and as such never got threatened with it by the clientèle. Proof of this particular pudding was one local hard man who enjoyed the occasional break from his usual watering hole. He would mind his own business, sit at the far end of the bar and drink two or three quiet pints, nod and take his leave. I got into conversation with him once and he said that while he didn’t fit in with the rest of our customers, found them all quite odd in fact, he enjoyed coming to our bar because he could be just another punter. He didn’t have to look over his shoulder, prove himself to anyone or maintain his tough man image. Folk left him alone, and he liked that.
In a similar spirit I’m sure there must be a small number of the malcontented among our vast network of supporters who enjoy the guilty pleasure of reading Positively Arsenal from time to time. Just as some otherwise sane individuals with no obvious character defects might open one of the many negative Arsenal spite blogs with which the internet is so fruitfully blessed. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if those who do are filled with a range of emotions as they shake their heads at us poor happy fools frolicking around in the perpetual sunshine of our delusions.
Like the bruiser in the bohemian bar, I’m convinced we must have some readers who enjoy a break from their daily routine of pouring scorn and hatred on our manager and players. I picture them sitting quietly, like Attenborough on the edge of a troop of fascinating simians, watching us going about our lives as if supporting a football club could actually be different from something akin to an involuntary organ donation.
There is much to be said for our positive attitude you know. As curious as we must appear to those of a less balanced and healthy disposition we are at least consistent. In a season where the club’s fortunes have leapt from hopeless to peerless and back through the floor before bobbing to the surface again we have managed to maintain our equilibrium and just plod on, celebrating the good and trying to make sense of the bad. I wonder if the bloke in the corner of the bar, the visitor, envies us this.
For everyone else this season must be the most discombobulating of rides. Those who celebrate wildly when we’re up and want to burn the whole thing to the ground after every setback must be suffering from a permanent combination of the bends, altitude sickness, oxygen starvation and excessive euphoria. Imagine gripping the tail of the Arsenal fish this season and trying to hang on as it flies, flops, sinks and shoots through the waves. No, I’m much happier keeping to the straight and narrow and hoping for the best.
It has been such a crazy ride this go around that we can face Hull City in the FA Cup and genuinely have no idea how the game might go. They did a fine job of frustrating and stifling us in the home leg, we just couldn’t find a way through. The question for me is whether they will be a little more adventurous, more confident in coming at us in front of their own fans. Their cause would surely be better served with another defend and frustrate performance, looking to hit us on the counter. It’s never quite so easy to do that in the cup when playing at home.
Many people like to pretend that footballers are a species of automaton with all of the more humble human emotions trained and brainwashed out of them. For one thing this allows them to boo and hiss and abuse their own players with impunity. For another it fits their agenda that highly paid footballers ought never to make a mistake nor commit any judgemental errors while on the pitch.
This attitude isn’t only reserved for those for whom a lobotomy would be a waste of time and effort. My late father, a hugely cerebral and gentle man who’s barometer I am not fit to tap, used to shout at Sporstnight “All the money he’s on he should never have missed that” and I can clearly recall my childhood confusion that he would utter such a glaring non sequitur. It was right up there with his assertion that we were pointing nuclear weapons at Russia because, among other things, “They don’t believe in God, son”. My point is even the best of us can stray into erroneous thinking.
Hull’s players are not automatons any more than are ours. They will surely be buoyed up by a ferocious crowd and will find it hard to maintain a disciplined approach. This I feel might provide us with the key to their back door. I hope so. Goodness knows who Arsène will send out there to unlock it tonight but I imagine a few wise old heads will be needed to temper the enthusiasm of youth. Despite important fixtures coming thick and fast and with the FA Cup holding a special significance this season, this is, for me, a massive game and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a strong line up.
Anyway, I need to crack on, I have a final chapter to draft in this damn book that you lot keep demanding I write, so I’m going to leave you to gambol in our happy valley. If you are the one sitting in the corner having strayed in from the harrowing world of endless negativity, pull up a chair, we don’t bite. You’re more than welcome to join us, all you need to remember is we don’t fight either. We support. Each other, the manager, the players and the club. It’s as simple as that really.