I don’t know about you but Christmas has always been a time out of time for me. Even the days of the week cease to follow their usual pattern. We abstain from the conventions of Monday to Sunday, preferring instead Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. These will bleed seamlessly into The Day After Boxing Day followed in this instance by Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and New Year’s Eve.
It’s the only time of year that does this and I love it. A little holiday from humdrum reality and other than when we change the clocks is probably the only chance we have to allow ourselves to toy so fancifully with such rigidly imposed temporal norms.
Apart from not actually knowing that yesterday was a Sunday (until I resorted to inspecting a calendar) other significant facts my mind glossed over in its Yuletide reverie were that I had a blog to write and Arsenal had a match to play.
I don’t think anyone here will mind therefore that I have nothing prepared for you today. I’m sure you all had far more important things to do than give even a fleeting momentary thought to such distractions as football yourselves. Don’t panic, there was no danger of me actually forgetting the match entirely. You may recall a few weeks back when we played Tottenham that my nephew came and watched the match with me, he having, at the age of nine, decided that the mighty Arsenal was the team for him.
Well we’ve already been given notice that he’s coming again today, resplendent in his most prized Christmas gift of the year, his Arsenal first team kit. He has been an ever present with me, for day time kick offs at least, and it’s been a fascinating change to my routine.
Apart from when Kelly and Mike visited us earlier in the year I haven’t watched a match with anyone else in the room since the League Cup final against Birmingham, preferring to sit alone in a state of tense, twitching anxiety for the duration of the game. However seeing the whole thing through the eyes of a child has been a tonic for me.
If I allowed my perception of football to be dominated by the pathetic online squabbling and faux expertise of the so called adult population I seriously think I would give up on the sport altogether. The warm, funny, insightful community I joined all those years ago has disintegrated and is now almost entirely monopolised by point scoring demi trolls on either side of the debate who have lost any obvious love of the simple thrill of following their favourite team.
The young man who will sidle in next to me at three o’clock today knows none of this. He also struggles with the offside rule, why everyone doesn’t get booked for kicking the ball over the sideline as Francis Coquelin did, and why, if he can see a bad decision on the screen, can’t the people in charge of the game see it also. He cheers and whoops with delight when we score, and purses his lips and just stares at me for guidance when we concede.
It is fair to say I’ve learned a hell of a lot more from him in the last six weeks than I have from Twitter in the last several years.
Unfortunately for me he missed the City game and came round the next day to watch the replay with me forcing me to do that which I never do – watch a defeat all over again. Once more it was a salutary lesson. I survived the ordeal, no one died as a result of it and surprise surprise neither our tactics nor the individual performances of our players were remotely as bad as the internet had led me to believe. I put the highlights of our six nil thrashing of Ludogorets on when the game finished and the boy went home happy.
So as you lot all wind each other up with talk of ‘must win’ games and dark tales of Pulis and his sinister past my nephew and I will balance our lucky soccer cards on the keyboard of my computer and compare his new Arsenal shirt with my old style one. We’ll yell encouragement at the deaf, uncomprehending screen as our boys go forward and sigh and shake our heads at any setback. And I’ll bet I enjoy the whole experience a thousand times more for taking it so much less seriously than any of the games I used to watch with only the internet for company.
I predict a thumping win today with goals galore and end to end action all cheered on with gusto by those lucky enough to get their hands on a ticket. If not I predict a kick about in the back garden under the lights and something fizzy to drink. Smashing.