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
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,
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.
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