I’ve taken my eye off the ball

When I was a mere stripling, Arsenal was my be-all and end-all. If we lost I’d mope around all weekend, and if we won I’d be bouncing off the walls. I’d pore over league tables, cut out clippings from the papers, crouch over my portable radio and gen up on Arsenal’s history. I couldn’t get enough of it.

It meant so much. I remember driving back from Birmingham after the FA Cup semi-final replay in 1999 and I don’t think anyone said a word to each other. Just the sound of rubber on tarmac mixed with a bad dose of the black dog. I’m fairly sure I didn’t say a word to anyone for a day after that, either. I imagine I was terrific company.

Back then, when I heard apocalyptic tales of people who’d given up going to Arsenal, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to do that. I’d bend over backwards to make all the home games, even if it meant inconveniencing the plans of others. That was what you did.

But with age, I see how drifting away from the thing I once besotted over could happen. I can now see why people stop going to Arsenal. I’m not saying I’m there yet, but on the renowned Stillman Scale (which really is the only way of measuring this) where zero is forgetting there was a game on, and ten is Tim Stillman, I’d say I’ve gone from about an 8 to a 6.

I can’t put it all down to age, though with every passing year I do appear to be getting older. Not even breathing in the steamed essence of Tomas Rosicky can halt that. It’s happening, folks.

But age does have a habit of putting things into perspective, and as for responsibilities – well, there’s no getting away from them. And there’s no doubting that Arsenal means a bit less to me than it once did. The big games, the big days, the cup finals – those stick long in the memory. But the rest of the season disappears from my mind in short order.

I don’t watch Match of the Day as much, and there are several games this season that I confess have entirely passed me by. I haven’t even watched the goals yet.

And – do you find this? – I can’t even concentrate through a live match because I’m constantly picking up my phone. Social media is brilliant with football – but it’s also ruinous. Put your phone down man! Somehow I find that hard, because when Ospina ambles across his penalty box like a new-born foal for the fourth time, all I want to do is megalol on Twitter. Before I know it, I’ve missed 5 minutes of the match. Oops. Maybe I should sign up for the Twelve-Tweet program with Twitterholics Anonymous. Anyone with me?

Then there’s the team. This version of Arsenal – running WengerOS 4.3 – while far from terrible in historical terms, can be rather… humdrum. It’s not the upgrade we were hoping for. It drains the battery quicker than it ought *bludgeons metaphor with a mallet*.

Current status: winning without wowing. Nothing so very wrong with that I suppose, but it’s hard not to compare ourselves to the current frontrunners, isn’t it?

We’re nestling roughly where we expect to nestle at the end of the season – 4th to 6th – with little expectation of being whisked off on the wings of a title challenge. This is a subject that’s been run into the ground, so there’s no need to go over it now – but it does affect my love of the team at the moment. Shallow? Maybe. But true. Thousands of empty seats suggest it’s not just me.

All of these factors (in summary: getting a bit older and being a taxi driver for my children, combined with the team not being the Invincibles) mean I’ve only made one match this season – Bournemouth. I think it was 3-1 but I can’t remember who scored. Was it Steve Williams?

Like I said, I’m not planning on giving it all up anytime soon. I still love it, I like the routine too much and I like catching up with my mates.

But I’d dearly love to get a bit of my mojo for the team back. I’m quietly confident my attendance is about to pick up (circumstances swinging back in my favour), and maybe – for what is there without hope – now that the team has stabilised we can get a taste for ruthlessness.*

This has turned into a bit of a middle-aged ramble, hasn’t it? But this lack of connection – or more accurately, lower level of connection – is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s based on numerous factors, not all related to the team, and it’s been slow-burning for a few years now. Maybe I’m just over-dramatising a perfectly normal chronological pattern for football fans. Or maybe I just have to be honest and admit that – shock, horror – I really am a few stops further down the line aboard the Stop-Going-To-Arsenal Express.

*This may or may not have been said before

7 thoughts on “I’ve taken my eye off the ball

  1. Great article – it echoes the way I feel and I’m sure a lot of other fans would agree. I’m a season ticket holder but I’ve only been twice this season and the whole thing has started to feel like a boring routine.

    The night we played Leicester, I was at the Olympic Stadium watching Mo Farah win gold at the World Athletics championships and in the excitement and electric atmosphere of that night I did briefly touch 0 on the Stillman Scale and completely forgot that Arsenal were playing until I got home and heard the result on the news. I remember thinking that night ‘This is what sport should be about’. When was the last time I felt that way at an Arsenal match? It doesn’t happen too often nowadays.

  2. It is so very comforting to discover one is not alone. Having been a season ticket for more years than I can remember, if it wasn’t for being cajoled by my teenage son to renew I would have given up The Arsenal ghost of great yesteryears upon AW’s latest contract renewal. By chance I have recently stumbled across my local non league team, Hadley FC, who have reminded me of what football should be all about. Highs and lows; rather than this seemingly static situation where we find ourselves, with no great hope of 1st place nor any real danger of falling below 6th.
    Spoilt? Maybe. Bored? Definitely.

  3. Yep. For numerous work and family-related issues, I’ve all but given up my season ticket, and even fail to catch some of our matches on TV these days. Due to working on the other side of the world for a while, I stopped watching games altogether because of the impracticalities of time zones. I can’t help but feel however that were our team (or manager) a little more exciting — at the beginning of something rather than long past the end of something — I would be finding more time to be emotionally involved with the club. The cup finals, for instance, all felt like the kind of giddy nostalgia of seeing your favourite bands reform for reunion tours.

  4. I think this is a natural course of action – I think that the running theme is that older fans should potentially just call it a day when they reach the point where they are writing articles like this one and hand over their tickets to younger blood.

    The middle-aged demographics of the Emirates no doubt contributes to the lack of atmosphere, hum-drum culture and ultimately to the lack of electric football.

    There are thousands of under 30s across London and the country who would give an arm and a leg to regularly go to games. We need a new generation of fans – only then will we get the real change all gooners are looking for.

    The complacency of so many older fans just makes me disappointed about modern football.

  5. Very good article, does indeed echo a lot of what myself and many others feeling. Touching on the 99 semi final bought memories back of my personal rock bottom – the 91 semi final, when Gazza scored I got to understood the expression ‘when your blood runs cold’. Looking back on that day it was remarkable how relaxed GG looked after the game in interview, but of course he knew we had the league title virtually in the bag. Our first basic requirement is to get back up there challenging in the pack again then after Easter anything can happen. Sadly under this regime I cannot see it, would be nice to see Arsene step aside and let Ancelotti take over.

  6. Jimmy, can’t argue with your point about atmosphere at the Emirates bit our home form is hardly the issue these days is it? Our away support seems as top class as ever but we can’t buy a result.

    Arsene should have left in 2014. Every day He’s in the job makes his successors job more difficult.

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