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