To any new readers, Fred is a character and any resemblance to real people is purely accidental. PG
To all PA readers, my name is John Paxford, and I’m a relation of Fred Paxford, who died about a month ago. We found in his last papers this note that he was hoping for me to write up and send to you as we did in the past but that wasn’t possible. I know it gave him great pleasure to read or for me to read the responses to his thoughts and in a world where he felt increasingly alienated, Positively Arsenal was a sometime oasis. I leave you with his final words…
Hullo there, I’ve found out I’ve got that blasted virus and I wanted to write something to you as Im not sure what will happen. I’m not frightened but its a bit uncomfortable. A lots happened since I wrote last, about a year and a half ago some kids got into my house and garden, sprayed obscene things on the walls, nicked a load of bits and peices and trampled my runners and bloody set fire to my shed. Normally it takes me a couple of hours to get to the shops and back and they must have been watching. The fire brigade was there waiting for me, having put it all out, they did their best but really it broke me. So I moved out after nearly 60 years and ended up here in Milton Keynes in a sterile little flat for one person, no garden nor much else, certainly no runners or my irises, I miss cutting my lawn and looking at the smooth green. After all those years in the same place its been a tough one to deal with. I had to get rid of most of the old furniture and much of my wife’s things–that was a real sore one for me. It was great comfort to still be able to look over at her chair and imagine her lively, witty conversation. You would have liked her.
There’s a widowed late middle aged social worker, Mrs Partridge she calls to see if I’m alright and has a natter, and some of my family are close by but its not the same. Finally life and time and age caught up with me; ignored on the street and ignored in life. Unwanted, But to me its just another thing to take in your stride. Plenty have experienced this before I wound up in this situation, no need to make a fuss.
Then I lost my faith. All those years with the Arsenal, 80years is a long time. It happened sometime before the Cup final, (it was maybe even a year before) and that all seemed a right old to-do, not really a cup final, more of a practise game, but even when he dropped the Cup old Aubameyang has that winning smile that could charm anyone and get through the worst storm. Its never one thing in life that breaks a situation, but many things together. My Grand Nephew comes over and shows me things on his phone and funny flat pad thing. I saw again the Arsenal fan television people, and thought what a load of silly sods, but then they would think the same of me. Not very sporting are they, getting so hot under the collar about it all, yet happy as Larry when Arsenal win. I used to think they were just potty but then I saw the poison working its way deeper and deeper into the clubs veins. I’m not sure what a man of my age was doing looking at them but I simply was always interested in Arsenal and what was happening, but some trains I dont want to climb aboard. The computer world just seems another human dream gone wrong. But that’s just my opinion, Im sure it has great things too—like old PA for instance!
But looking around all my old Arsenal friends have gone on ahead so its just a new generation I suppose, but what a load of much ado some young-uns make about things? I then looked at the owners and like most dealings today they seem concerned to only make a profit? They forget, yes the object of the game is to win, but we play and watch for the sheer excitement and enjoyment of it all, not some bloody profits! Old flyby nights I call them! I’m sure you like the manager, he was a decent player but he’s not my cuppa, I still reckon he needed a few years before taking the job, yes I know we grabbed the Cup, but Sheffield United were formidable with that home crowd, could we have beaten them under such pressure from their noisy fans? Sometimes I wonder if old Wenger walked off with the clubs soul under his arm when he went, just to keep it safe for sometime in the future? I know its state of the art but the shiny stadium seems a bit sterile for me, and seeing it empty isn’t so bad but its seems a bit hard and characterless. But for the new ones Im sure its home just as Highbury was to me and my friends for all those years. Trouble is I just started looking at what I was still following. I saw it was unrecognisable! Who would have believed that Arsenal could have changed so much. I then stopped feeling connected with a lot of the players, they seemed distant, like I’m too old to be doing all this, at my age, the old heroes have all died or gone into obscurity: fame, is only obscurity waiting! For Arteta’s boys time will also come too. When you look back it makes you feel sad really, all that effort and doing your best to just become a memory or just plain forgotten.
I then stopped looking at the results, and just tried to get through each day. It was bad enough losing my wife, but losing your faith in life, your friends, your community after 80 years is no mean thing. It sort of led me to black moods and a strange hopelessness.
Then one day a few weeks ago, I was going through some of mine and Joan’s things, and I found a book she gave me when we got married as a wedding gift, it was the Little Prince by Antoine Saint de Expury. I think there’s a bit of an accent somewhere, but my French wasn’t too hot, Joanie could speak it though. So I dusted it off, and the inscription brought a tear to my eye: “To my darling Frederick, on the occasion of our wedding, April 1956. Only with the heart can one see rightly, what’s essential is invisible to the eye. Ever your wife, Joan”
I found myself thinking about this, and I sat down and thought for a bit. And recalled of all those years, those eighty years of Arsenal, not just the Rolls Royce that Wenger built, nor the new hope George Graham gave us or Terry Neill but way back beyond Bertie Mee and the 70s glories and mishaps, but back the 50s and old Billy Wright and Mr Whittaker from when I first went, my first loves and my first identification with something. Nobody talks about those days and all those faces, all those goals those moments of joy and sadness, the years of frustration, how things changed from rosettes and rattles and jokes on the terraces to the crumbling old lady that Highbury was in 70s and 80s and the shocking fighting and then the new building work, how clean it was on the new North Bank. My last game was Feb 1999. Ha! I was still a young -un then!
I thought of my old mates and the laughs we had, and my old Dads mates, some of whom went to the old Invincta ground, old gaffers but nice fellows who worked at the Arsenal but later still made the trip up North to Highbury, till it got to difficult. All those laughing faces, red shirts and white sleeves and stubble came out of the mists of time and were as real for me as Henry is perhaps for you. I saw them with the heart, Arsenal, my second greatest love. Not the same as the love for my wife but a love as deep as any other you can have for things. My loves were my wife, Arsenal and growing things in my garden. Joan’s last gift to me was re-reading the dedication in the book, even if things are falling apart or no longer what we want we can still see with the heart and hold on to another day.
My Arsenals gone, but its still your Arsenal, and new dreams will be made and hearts broken, in life’s big, daft relay race to who knows where, will carry on?
Well, time for a cup and a slice of jam and bread. All the best to you. Keep your faith as best as you can, do it for me if you cant find another reason. One day it will all pick up again. Take care of yourselves.