When I was a mere stripling, Arsenal was my be-all and end-all. If we lost Iâ€™d mope around all weekend, and if we won Iâ€™d be bouncing off the walls. Iâ€™d pore over league tables, cut out clippings from the papers, crouch over my portable radio and gen up on Arsenalâ€™s history. I couldnâ€™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 donâ€™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. Iâ€™m fairly sure I didnâ€™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 whoâ€™d given up going to Arsenal, I couldnâ€™t fathom why anyone would want to do that. Iâ€™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. Iâ€™m not saying Iâ€™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, Iâ€™d say Iâ€™ve gone from about an 8 to a 6.
I canâ€™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. Itâ€™s happening, folks.
But age does have a habit of putting things into perspective, and as for responsibilities – well, thereâ€™s no getting away from them. And thereâ€™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 donâ€™t watch Match of the Day as much, and there are several games this season that I confess have entirely passed me by. I havenâ€™t even watched the goals yet.
And – do you find this? – I canâ€™t even concentrate through a live match because Iâ€™m constantly picking up my phone. Social media is brilliant with football – but itâ€™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, Iâ€™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 thereâ€™s the team. This version of Arsenal – running WengerOS 4.3 – while far from terrible in historical terms, can be rather… humdrum. Itâ€™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 itâ€™s hard not to compare ourselves to the current frontrunners, isnâ€™t it?
Weâ€™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 thatâ€™s been run into the ground, so thereâ€™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 itâ€™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 Iâ€™ve only made one match this season – Bournemouth. I think it was 3-1 but I canâ€™t remember who scored. Was it Steve Williams?
Like I said, Iâ€™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 Iâ€™d dearly love to get a bit of my mojo for the team back. Iâ€™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, hasnâ€™t it? But this lack of connection – or more accurately, lower level of connection – is something Iâ€™ve been thinking about for a while. Itâ€™s based on numerous factors, not all related to the team, and itâ€™s been slow-burning for a few years now. Maybe Iâ€™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