The first step in this little endeavor was identifying a name. True story…we grabbed the sports section of the New York Times and looked at the box scores trying to come up with something unique to brand our new team. Scrolling down the page, we came across Manchester United and decided that everyone had the United moniker, so we passed. And on we went….Newcastle – couldn’t name our team after a beer; Chelsea – who names their team after the President’s daughter?; Sheffield Wednesday – what the heck is that?; Wimbledon – that’s a tennis tournament. Hold on a minute…. Arsenal. That had a ring to it. What better way to refer to your 14 year old girls than a group of weapons coming together to be an omnipotent force?! Step one to becoming a Gunner Fan was complete.
In the second year of our program, a colleague from a rival high school inquired about joining our club. Lee Brown was a diehard Arsenal fan, who figured that surely we knew something about his beloved club. He was drawn to our program in name alone and was somewhat taken aback to know that I had no idea about his team. Once the proverbial cat was out of the bag, Lee showed me the ropes. He invited me to a local pub to watch Arsenal play Blackburn. Being a complete neophyte I had no idea that: 1) bars opened that early and 2) people were actually drinking at 9:00 in the morning. Already feeling like I had a bulls-eye on my chest as the EPL virgin, I joined in and threw back my first pint in a nanosecond. Lee and I ate breakfast, drank beer, and I watched - in utter amazement - a world I had never known. I was the typical American that loved to play soccer, but knew nothing outside of the countries that participated in the World Cup. I was the NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB guy. Almost two decades later, I have transformed into the EPL junkie that DVRs every single Arsenal match and almost never does the same for the Dolphins, Knicks, Mets or Hurricanes. Nothing even compares….not even close.
A year and a half ago, my wife, who happens to be one of the few women I know that actually will watch an entire match and enjoy doing so, and I flew to England. This was the trip I had been waiting for since entering into the EPL world. My appetite had been whet in February 2009 when a buddy of mine took me to Glasgow to see the “Old Firm” match between Celtic and Rangers. Now that was an experience. We sat in the section closest to the away supporters. There I was at Celtic Park donned in green and white and I honestly thought that every one of the royal blue clad visitors were looking right at me. I had heard enough stories prior to my departure that I was convinced there was a 50/50 chance I might get my ass kicked. Anyway, the atmosphere was intoxicating. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” echoed through the hallowed grounds of Parkhead…and I still get chills thinking about it. The game proceeded and while it finished as one of the few scoreless draws between Scotland’s top two clubs and considered in the papers the worst Old Firm match in decades, I was captivated and left wanting more. It took 3 years and the realization that my wife and I wanted to start a family, to recognize that the time to see the Gunners play live was waning.
We arrived in London on the morning of March 9, 2012 and were greeted with a clear sky, bright sun, and temperatures hovering around 60 degrees. The trip was already deemed a success! As fate would have it, a couple of weeks prior to our departure, Arsenal’s involvement in the FA Cup caused their Saturday game to be moved to Monday. This enabled both of us to see our favorite teams, while we were across the pond, and prevented what could have been a dodgy situation with having to select only one game to attend. Hmmm…wife…or once in a lifetime moment that I had been dreaming about? Thankfully, that debate – the quintessential no win situation - never had to come to fruition. We headed to Stamford Bridge to watch my wife’s favorite team, Chelsea, beat a painfully direct Stoke side on a Saturday. Two days later we headed to the EPL’s version of Monday Night Football at the Emirates between Arsenal and Newcastle. The prior four days of my vacation all I could think about was finally seeing the Gunners in person. To add to the greatness of the day, I was reunited with my friend Lee and we toured Highbury before heading to the jaw dropping Emirates. Given he is the person responsible for introducing me to the Arsenal, I couldn’t have imagined my first Emirates experience without him.
While it has been 8 years, 4 months 4 days and just over a couple of hours (as I write this) since Arsenal has hoisted a trophy, my affinity for the Gunners has not waivered. I believe in the manager, the players, and the club. Admittedly, I have become so brainwashed over the years that Arsene Wenger truly has me buying into the notion that a Champions League berth is worthy of trophy status. What I can tell you with 100% conviction is that my love for the club is at an all time high. I shut my phone off every match day so that opposing fans do not have the chance to fill me in on the score. In this day and age when people literally cannot go 30 minutes without using some function on their phone, I think anyone can appreciate the notion that I will go 8 hours without looking at it just to preserve the sacred 90 minutes awaiting me on my DVR. However, I will say that did not go over so well when my wife was in the final stages of her pregnancy in December. So for that month, after a not so subtle reminder from my better half, I made an exception. On December 23rd, the day after the birth of our daughter, I was immediately back to cell phone darkness on match days.
It all began with the innocent naming of a u14 girls team 17 years ago and has become a major part of my life ever since. There are countless memories and a myriad of emotions that have permeated through my veins since this trek started. My thanks to Lee and the numerous other loyal Gunners fans who have come across my path since 1996. I even laud the staunch supporters of so many other EPL teams that make every weekend that much more enticing and riveting. It has been one heck of a ride and one I look forward to continuing for years to come. I just pray that 2012 was not my last time seeing Arsenal at the Emirates and that we do not have to wait another 8 years to celebrate to a championship.