“I Would 8 2 Be A Gooner” – The Anniversary
This time last year Arsenal were reeling from one of the cruellest and humiliating events in their 125 year history. At the time I chose not to write the usual match report and opted simply to make sense of it in my own head. A year on and I’ve finally come to terms with telling the sorry tale of that afternoon.
Football matches bring out all sorts of emotions in me. They make me shout and sometimes they make me cry however, there are few times in my life as an Arsenal fan that I can remember having absolutely nothing to say. No words, just total and utter numbness. The undisputed king of ineffable terror reared its head last season, Sunday August 28th 2011. Manchester United 8 – 2 Arsenal.
Manchester United 8 – 2 Arsenal.
I look at that score again and still I don’t quite believe it. I don’t immediately look at it and think “they let us down” or “this is what happens when you sell your best players” I just look at that score, 8-2, and feel baffled. There were obvious reasons why we were so poor on the day but even so, scores like 8-2 shouldn’t happen to Arsenal. They shouldn’t really happen to anyone. Even in a season of weird and wonderful results, this one topped the lot.
8 (E-I-G-H-T) – 2.
It was a puzzling situation made all the more bizarre by the circumstances in which I watched it. I’m a season ticket holder on the North Bank, where I sit with my Dad. I don’t go to as many away matches as I’d like, owing to a young family, but my ritual for televised away games is to drive to my Dads and watch with him and my brother. On this occasion, I had to choose a different tactic. My girlfriend had arranged for us to go to her parents for Sunday lunch so I thought it might do me good to try to be casual about this game. Maybe I could just catch the second half, would it really hurt to miss it all together? Family first and all that.
After a couple of hours at the in-laws, a delightful roast all tucked away, 4 o’clock loomed large. I was getting edgy. Half three, I checked the team news. Coquelin, Jenkinson, Traore. I was worried. Quarter to four and I got a text from the esteemed NonFlyingDutchman (the Editor of this blog), who was away in Austria, “No internet connection here, what’s the team mate? Can you keep me posted with the score?”
It all got too much for me, at five to four I got up “Thanks for the dinner, I’m just going to go to the pub for a bit, see if they’re showing the Arsenal game”. I’m generally quite selective about where I watch Football and who with. I like watching in a stadium or at home with certain friends or family. I hate watching in a pub and I despise watching with people who don’t care about it like I do. For this reason, my already fragile state was aggravated further when my girlfriend suggested my father in law came with me.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my father in law but, centrally to this story, he knows next to nothing about Football. No one in that side of the family does. Coming from a family, as I do, where Football is second on the list of essential things – one below breathing and one above Morrissey – I’m always slightly confused by any group of people who don’t get excited about Football.
So, off we trot to the pub. I’m nervous and having to explain to a Footballing novice why I’m nervous. Arsenal are reeling from the loss of two of last year’s top players and have yet to make any significant enforcements, plus we’re playing Manchester United. You don’t have to know about Football to know United’s reputation. In fact, knowing nothing about Football sometimes seems like qualification to be a United supporter.
We arrive just before kick-off and find a decent seat near the big screen. The actual game is a bit of a blur but one thing I remember vividly is that everyone in the pub, a packed pub in South London, was avowedly anti-Arsenal. There were United shirts everywhere, a few Chelsea fans and a few blokes who, although not actually stating any allegiance, seemed more than happy to revel in the disintegration of my beloved Arsenal. I felt lonely and defensive. The exact opposite of how I feel on the North Bank.
From what I remember we looked sloppy but still, for a while, looked like causing De Gea a few problems. It seemed that everything United did came off whereas some sporadic decent play by Arsenal didn’t get rewarded. After half hour the game was effectively dead. 3-0 and Van Persie had missed a penalty. Sometimes, I wonder why I bothered staying beyond the third United goal. On 45’ Walcott grabbed us a lifeline. I sent a text to Austria, “We’re losing 3-1 and RvP missed a pen. Could be worse”.
From here on the mood bordered on the surreal. To add to my confusion, the half time analysis on the dodgy feed we were watching was actually of a Greek league match, not the game the whole pub had actually witnessed.
Arsenal survived 19 minutes of the second period without further concession. On 64’ Rooney netted another and the floodgates opened. Goal after goal, the torrent continued. At 4-1 I stopped sending texts to Austria and sat there stunned. We were succumbing to an unparalleled hammering, I was having to explain the enormity of the humiliation for the benefit of my Father-in-law and Armand Traore was somehow still wearing an Arsenal shirt. It felt like an out of body experience.
By 6-1 people were openly laughing, even my Father-in-law. It wasn’t funny to me. It was perhaps the least funny thing that I could have imagined happening to me that afternoon. Even Van Persie’s goal, our second, felt like a joke. The consolation goal, as Danny Baker put it, is like giving a starving dog a rubber bone. It’s cruel and pointless.
Finally, the game was over and we’d lost in unprecedented fashion. I got up to go to the toilet and suffered yet more humiliation. Stood washing my hands a United fan told me he couldn’t believe what had happened. I muttered something which led him to realise I was a Gooner. Instead of taking the piss he put his arm round me and offered his condolences. In a way it was a fraternal gesture, the acknowledgment of a fellow fans pain, perhaps even the mourning of a once great sporting rivalry. It may have been any of those things but it actually just felt incredibly patronising. I didn’t want pity, I just wanted it to have never happened.
I strolled back to my seat and slumped in my chair. My father-in-law supped up the last of his pint and we prepared to leave. Just as I was summoning the power to pull myself back to my feet I noticed something brushing up against my leg. “Oh great” I thought, “someone’s let their dog in the pub”. I looked down, ready to shoo him away, and saw something perhaps even more unusual than what had just unfolded in Manchester. There wasn’t a dog at my feet, there was a pig. In this strangest of London boozers it was an abstract concept to support a London club but perfectly acceptable to allow farm yard creatures in.
For a split second the unsettling and bizarre chain of events closed in on me and I became convinced I was dreaming. It all stacked up, this living nightmare was just a product of my subconscious as I snoozed on my in-laws couch.
No such luck. There was indeed a pig at my feet and Arsenal had just lost 8-2. Looking back on it I view the pig as a kind of crude metaphor. Had we lost 1-0 and put in a disappointing effort it might have been a dog who appeared to irritate me, in fairness the pig was a far better animal representation of this result. I have never been to that pub again and have still yet to return to any pub to watch Arsenal. I suspect I will never watch Arsenal in a pub for as long as I live.