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On being an Arsenal fan from India

Dear Tony

I have been a reader of your blog for a long time now and if you have an
elephant’s memory, you may remember having seen a comment or two from a
person who calls himself ‘La Shiz’. That person happens to be me. Even
though I don’t contribute to the comments of your excellent blog much, I am
always around, loitering in the corner, enjoying hearty debates and your
and Walter’s insightful views about all things Arsenal, or anything else.

I hail from the country of India, where I grew up and have lived all my
life. I had always loved playing and watching football, so naturally, when
ESPN began telecasting the English Premier League, I was hooked.

It was only the joy of watching the game for me, in the beginning, but as one’s
surroundings play a great role in shaping their choices, I began following
Manchester United’s games by default since every one of my friends who
watched football was a fan. It was the 2002-2003 season and there were only
two real contenders for the title, Wenger’s Arsenal and Ferguson’s Man Utd.

It was an incredibly thrilling season for a neutral which featured a long,
hard chase for the title. Arsenal had started very well and stayed at the
top of the table almost until the end when they had the title snatched away
on the last day.

This was the season when I knew where my loyalties would lie. It was the inimitable style of football that Arsenal played, the small triangles, the quick one-touch passes, lightning quick counter-attacks, self-assurance even in the face of a possible loss, were all hallmarks of this team. Little did I know, my eyes would feast on the football played by The Invincibles the next season.

Ever since then, it has been a dream of mine to come to see The Arsenal
live and to visit The Emirates Stadium. As the mechanics of the world would
have it, I got a chance to come to England recently for my work. The first
thing I did was find out the distance to the home of football from my
would-be place of accommodation. I stay in Bradford now and will be here
until the end of March 2012. 169 miles away.

Upon my arrival, my first order of business was to go to Arsenal.com and
buy myself a Red membership. I am now, a proud official member of Arsenal
Football Club.

My first live game at The Emirates was against Stoke City last month, and
the experience was even better than anything I had ever imagined. The
immense grandeur of the stadium, the bonhomie of all fellow fans, the great
figures of all our legends all around the stadium, standing proud in
harmony, I wanted to take in every detail so that I could recall it
whenever I wanted to. I only partially succeeded in doing so, as you know,
there are always things that leak out of memory.

I was in the Clock End and had a great view of the proceedings. Watching
all my favourite players train, seeing them in the flesh for the first
time, albeit far away from where I was sitting, was a feeling I find hard
to put into words. Even now, when I reminisce and think about that day, I
have a feeling as if it was something out of a dream I once had.

The game began; it stayed an even game for the longest time until I watched
the first goal scored right in front of me. Aaron Ramsey, almost falling
over himself, managed to make, dare I say it, a Cesc-esque pass over the
defence’s collective heads and Gervinho was there to latch on to it and
slot the ball home.

Sitting on the wing, I had a perfect linesman’s view of the goal and I could see how Gerv expertly avoided the off-side trap and controlled the ball with his chest. Seeing a game live really makes one appreciate all that is happening on the field in one view, as opposed to watching on TV and seeing only the action around the ball. One can see off-the-ball runs, little nutmegs that players do to lose their marker, players creating space in order to receive a pass, it just doesn’t compare to a limited view of a TV screen.

The deflation the equaliser brought was painful, especially conceding the
way we did. So it stayed at 1-1 until the end. We were applying pressure in
the second half and Stoke could barely get the ball out of their half. The
action was all far away from me, but I wasn’t complaining! I watched the
captain come on, welcomed with huge cheers (with my significant
contribution towards the same) and score two goals in a space of just a few
minutes, making me go delirious with joy. Watching 60,000 people jumping up
and down at the same time, screaming and pumping the air with their fists
was a sight to behold.

After the game, the announcement came Man United had lost at home 1-6, making the people in the stadium cheer as if Arsenal had scored another goal. It was an utterly perfect two hours, filled with memories I will carry with myself forever.

The game was over, but to reduce pressure on the tube (as the Victoria Line
had been shut down) a friendly between the Arsenal Under 18s and Chelsea
Under 18s had been arranged. I couldn’t ask for more, I just didn’t want to
leave the stadium! I stayed and watched one half of this match as well.
Then I roamed the halls, making 2 rounds of the circumference of the
stadium (both, the upper and the lower tiers), reading every single message
on every single wall.

I had to force myself to finally leave the stadium or I would have missed my bus back home or been thrown out. I spent as much time there as I possibly could and then left, only to promise myself to return as soon as I could.

Then I ran to the bus station and barely managed to catch my bus!

Not to take too much of your time, well, not much more than I have taken
already, I’ll come to the point.

Needless to say, I will be visiting The Stadium a few times during my visit
to England. Being an old reader of the blog, I know you are a season ticket
holder and travel to London for every home game. I will try to make it to
at least 2 games every month (sadly, I can’t do it more often because of
work related engagements). I wonder if you’d grant me the pleasure of your
company for a pre-match drink on one of those occasions at some place near
the stadium itself. Drinks on me, of course.

Thank you for your time,

A fan,
Lakshit Vashishtha

Tony’s PS:  This was a personal email to me, but I asked for permission to run it in the blog.  Then by chance my pal Ian said he couldn’t make the WBA game, so Lakshit and I were able to meet up for the match – and he did indeed buy me that drink.  

25 comments to On being an Arsenal fan from India

  • Gf60

    That was a good read. Thanks Lakshit and Tony.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Thanks for this great read Lakshit.
    As being a fan from another country I can understand excactly how it felt that first time for me when I visited the Emirates. A visit that would lead me to the world of Untold as it later turned out. 😉
    Your great write up brought this great memory back to me. Thanks for sharing this. Hope you have a great stay in the UK and may you enjoy the games as long as you are there (and later back home of course 😉 )

  • Vinay

    Great read, echoes my sentiments to for i am from bangalore, India and i have been a fan of Arsenal from 96 and there is no greater joy in this world for me than watching arsenal play. My biggest dream and aim in life is to come to london and watch Arsenal play atleast once, ya if i can be a bit more greedy, i want to see a live game of Arsenal with Wenger in charge for i doubt if he will renew his contract after 2013 and my work here gives me a remote possibility of coming to london anytime soon. Still hope and pray i can come and see our beloved gunners in action soon.

  • Gurbir

    Hi,

    It was great to read this email. I too am from India and along with my 16 year old son are die-hard fans of Arsenal. It gives us immense pleasure to watch Arsenal play (although only on TV 🙂 and cheer our team everytime they enter the field.
    One day I too would like to come and watch a match at the Emirates, alongwith my son. I am sure it will be great experience.
    And in Arsene we trust 🙂 !

  • astreetgooner

    Thanks for sharing this Tony..tears in my eyes when i read this. I understand how it felt when you can watch them in ‘your real life’. This is what happened to me when the Gunners came to Kuala Lumpur for their Arsenal Asia Tour during last July. Watching them for the first time, words can’t describe my feeling. Tears and joy at the same time.. Even now, when i saw the pictures and the videos, i still can imagine Arsene Wenger’s smile, Jack Wilshere’s wave, Pat Rice and many2 more..the precious and the happiest moments in my life time..argghh it was a great feeling..God will, I’m planning to go to Emirates one day..hope it will come. 😀

  • La Shiz

    Thank you Tony for giving me the honour of being published on Untold.

    Walter, love your match and ref-reviews!

    Thank you everyone else for your kind words.

  • La Shiz

    A big shout-out to “Gooners-The Red and White Army”, back in India. The most passionate group of fans I’ve ever met!

  • Droid

    @Vinay: Hi Vinay, how did you catch the Arsenal games in 1996?

  • JediKnut

    La Shiz,

    Nicely written piece! I’m from Bombay myself & was fortunate enough to visit London on holiday last year. Unfortunately it was when the World Cup was on so I couldn’t go for any live games, but well, at least I have something to look forward to! I did obviously go for the stadium tour with the ever affable Charlie George! What an experience!

    Spent 6 hours just walking around the stadium, visiting Highbury & taking tons of photos!

    Thanks do go to Tony who helped make some of it happen!

  • Chinmay

    I am just 20 now( well-JUST 20? That makes me older than wilshere and ramsey!) but it feels like i have been supporting, loving, praying for, publicising about the Arsenal for 50 yrs running! Due to many reasons, the last Arsenal game i saw live was the 1-1 draw against liverpool and i nearly threw my things at the TV when the complete a** of a refree gave liv a penalty in the 12th min of added time! I share many of the other Indians’ ambition to come to the Emirates and scream my throat out for the Arsenal! Namaste from an Indian gunner!

  • Vivek

    Great to read this. Being from India, it’s all exactly how I feel about Arsenal and it’s a dream to live and experience the football in England. I’ve been blogging for a year now and I sincerely hope my journalism dreams will help me watch my ‘Gunners’ in action!

  • Aditya

    Great piece Lakshit. I am an Arsenal fan from Hyderabad and started following them around the same time as well, and yes the first team I followed was Man U too, but as I mentioned in another piece, You don’t choose your football club, your football club chooses you 😉 haha. I saw the gunners for the first time when they were at KL (I am working in SG for now) for the pre-season but it is a dream of mine as well to visit the Emirates and watch a few live games. Felt really good reading your thoughts and hope you have many more nice memories to share from future trips to the Emirates..

  • Yommex

    I bet this should make those who go to the Emirates to see Arsenal regularly but can only criticize them sit up and have a rethink of what they have come to take for granted – opportunity to see Arsenal’s matches live. They are living a part of history without them realizing it. Thousands of fans worldwide would give so much to be in that stadium and watch Arsenal play. The least they can do while in there at the Emirates is to offer their maximum support to these players and not to criticize them.

    Thank you La Shiz for appreciating what the staff and players are doing at Arsenal FC.

  • The Spartan

    What a good read, I maybe be veering off the topic a bit here but I have also started watching our games with the telly on mute and it make a huge difference.

  • VIJITH

    Every weekend Its enjoyable to watch an Arsenal match along with few fellow Gunners back here in India but what would it be like to watch a match along with thousand other GUNNERS… OVER THE MOON experince!!

  • Mahdain

    nice read lakshit thanks for sharing your experience… i agree with Yommex on hoping that all of the AAA who have the privilege to see Arsenal play week in week out rethink about the wonderful opportunity they have instead of just moaning…following Arsenal from dar-es-salaam,Tanzania and i really wish and hope that i will get to see Arsenal playing at the emirates one day..has always been my dream and really hope it will be realised sooner rather than later 🙂

  • Domhuaille

    It is a wonderful opportunity to members of our Arsenal family comment so profoundly and with such heart about the Club they love. It is a pleasant change from the AAA whiners who never have a good thing to say or the loudmouth anti-Wenger fanboys who go to the emirates just to show their wrath!
    I live too far away to likely get to the emirates anytime soon but my heart is in the Emirates forever.

  • John L

    great read!
    i have been an overseas fan since the 96/97 season. i was lucky enough to live in thailand for many years, where they are passionate about the premier league and have great coverage.

    thailand is also very much dominated by man u fans and to a lesser extent liverpool. so good on you lakshit for sticking to your guns…as i know it can be frustrating being surrounded by united fans!!

  • Laundryender

    Great story, great read, thanks Lakshit

    I had the pleasure of taking a young fan to a game recently, his first ever match. I remember the sharp intake of breath and the look of wonder as he entered the stadium.

    He has not stopped talking about it, and hinting he would love to go back.

    If you guys in the Indian Sub Cont have not read fever pitch the book, not the film, i heartily recommend it, sums it all up really.

  • Nathan

    Hi Lakshit,
    thanks for sharing you experience.
    I hail for Bombay too buddy and a die hard Arsenal Fan,
    its my dream to watch my team play at the “The Emirates”,
    you lived my dream buddy, so i perfectly understand your joy.
    Have fun and do see us trash all other teams one by one

    Regards,
    Nathan

  • Dark Prince

    From one Indian Gooner to another – Gunners rock!! 😛

  • Gf60

    @Laundryender

    Hope you aren’t mistaking the USA “Fever Pitch” (baseball but based on the book) with the UK “Fever Pitch” Colin Firth and Ruth Gemmell. The UK one deserved to win Oscars for every category there is (Well if Gooners had been judges that is). It’s a compulsory twice a year re-watch for me…as is indeed the “It’s up for grabs now” game. Lovely stuff.
    My copy of the book is signed both by Nick Hornby (“Don’t know, I was pissed at the time” in reply to the question, “How did you feel when Andy Linighan got the winner in the final?” and Micky Thomas on the appropriate page!

  • Prasanna Veeraraghavan

    Each letter I read of this blog makes me remember myself like many who wrote from the Sub Continent here. Its the same way I grew up with Arsenal. My brother and I would fight over Arsenal and Man Utd with him being a very fond Man Utd fan.

    I really tried to goto China where we have good business relationship for the Arsenal vs Hangzhou Greentown match but could not make it due to some other business commitments. Hopefully Arsenal will travel to Asia next season too and I get to watch them play. Sadly UK is out of bounds for me as we don’t concentrate in UK business at all. I will also one day make the trip and feel the same. As a matter of fact each time I get to see Arsenal play on Tv(most Indians in India would understand these days its getting tough to watch Arsenal play live)my resolve to be there is getting higher.

    To Lakshit Vashishtha and all the others who have been there live, the pleasure is indeed ours too.

  • Karan j gooner

    Lakshi very nice , im frm india too n like u , i started at Man utd suporter n the reason was sme as yours cos evry1 around supported them as a brand and not as a team here.But i started watchin the beautiful game in 2006 ,thnx to our media , they showed dat head butt clip trillion times.As my nature , do wat others dont, i started watchin futbol.And it took me nt much to decide which team i’ll support till death and at that time it was complete rebirth of arsenal as invincibles were goin and young guns were emerging.But as i said , i chose arsenal cos they were underdogs and were starting a new era with a familiar figure of wenger.And its frm that day to this day, Arsenal is my pride .Beatin every big thing in Europe in its class n flamboincy.Like u , smeday i’ll realise my dream too ,of watchin this club play.

  • siddharth

    Gr8 read bhiya and arsenal rokssss….