The Arsenal

My only heartbreaker is the Arsenal Football Club. It’s painful to support a sports team that should be dominating but doesn’t, that should be making the right decisions but doesn’t. If I could choose, I would have chosen a mediocre team that’s not expected to win regularly, a team that’s offbeat enough to be a ‘cool’ choice and yet, plays the sport with the kind of attitude you relate to. But, any true sports fan will tell you that you can never choose a team to support, the team chooses you.

Having lived my formative years in the random culture-less city of Dubai, I wasn’t born into supporting a football team. It was around 2003 when football starting taking over my life. I watched it, my friends watched it, and we talked about it till we fought over it. We played it at every available instance. We played in our short breaks wearing our uppity private-school uniforms with ties, pants and dress shoes in the blistering Dubai heat. We played on dusty sand fields where the 20-on-20 games we had were more of a chaotic carnage than a football match. We played under the Maktoum bridge in one of the Sheikh’s ridiculously large gardens where we were often chased down by the police. I played in our little apartment where I’ve broken quite a few things to my mother’s bemusement. I had mastered every single FIFA video game since the ’99 version. I was obsessed and I was proud of it.

It was around this time that I realized that the time had come for me to choose a football team to support. For some East-Indian reason, I was very Anti-English but as the English Premier League was the most watched football league, I had to support an English team. I was going to work around this issue by supporting a team that was the most Anti-English English team. So, I made my first mistake of selecting Chelsea as my supposed love – they had a Russian owner, an Italian coach and not a lot of English players – perfect. Or I thought so. It was more like forcing myself to fall for a girl that meets all my prerequisites but just doesn’t make the heart beat faster. Chelsea, quite frankly, didn’t turn me on.

It was while I was forcing to fight through my fling with Chelsea, that Arsenal suddenly came from nowhere with her flawless flowing hair, petit gentle touch and sky blue eyes. Two things massaged this infatuation – (1) Arsenal were playing absolutely sumptuous, literally unbeatable football and (2) Thierry Henry. The infatuation was soon over – I was in love.

Arsenal went unbeaten that season and yes, I did seem like a glory supporter. But I wasn’t. I felt for the team. I felt every win. I hurt after every defeat. I cringed, cursed, screamed and got yelled at by my parents multiple times for waking them up during late night games. There was this unexplainable connection that emancipated my emotions in both directions. When we lost a game, I hated looking at the sports section and avoided my friends. Once the Internet started taking over our lives, I resorted to bloggers and forums for news, updates and most importantly, remorse. Since 2004, Arsenal has struggled and being an Arsenal fan has been painful, but not for one instance did I question my affection. It was beautiful and it still is.

December 2012 was special. I was in London, by myself for 3 weeks with only one goal in mind – to watch Arsenal play. I am not from London, so watching Arsenal live was a pipe dream. But, this pipe dream came to life on December 27th, 2012. I had tickets to watch the Gunners take on the Wolves. I had already done a stadium tour with Charlie George a couple of days ago, but all that meant nothing compared to an actual competitive English Premier League game. I had been supporting Arsenal for almost 9 years then and had watched every single game I could – but that was on TV. To breathe with the Arsenal faithful in our majestic stadium was just surreal. Ten minutes before kick-off, as the players walked out of the tunnel in their kits with the referees, my nine-years of obsessing all came back together and severely overwhelmed me. We played terribly that game and drew 1-1 against a pathetic Wolves team, but my first experience watching the Arsenal with the Gooners was so so special. We might be oceans apart, but every fan was on the same emotional ride, and sharing that love and hate was beautiful. I felt like I belonged there. It was absolutely amazing. I watched two more games while I was there. I saw Henry play on his return and even though he was wearing #12, it was a phenomenal bonus. I traveled with the away fans all the way to Swansea and had the pleasure of experiencing the away experience with one of my best friends, who is also a massive Arsenal fan. We met in Dubai, have partied in Florence and have watched our beloved Arsenal play at Swansea. It was an overwhelmingly joyous time in my life.

My affection for Arsenal doesn’t just revolve around the way they play – it’s the attitude and the culture at the club that meshes so naturally with the way I principle my life. In Arsene, I trust. Even though his decisions off late have been mystifying, I cannot imagine an Arsenal without him. I like how Arsenal is a sound business that does not spend frivolously. It might scare away the best, but I like how Arsenal refuses to overpay a player – it goes a long way in establishing a sense of fairness and equality within the team. Yes, it’s easy to ridicule this wage policy when we are struggling to win trophies, but it’s also forgotten when we are experiencing success. Sometimes, especially when we are not doing well, I wonder if it’s healthy being an Arsenal fan and there is an easy argument against that, but nonetheless I am proud, real proud, to be in the Red Army.

P.S. Arseblog is the best source for all your Arsenal needs, in pain and pleasure.