By Tony Attwood
Sometimes I think I have it a bit hard. I live in a part of England called the East Midlands. It is a nice rural community in a county that is made up a mixture of sheep farming and light industry.
I quite like it here but there is a problem. My home is about 100 miles from the Emirates. So to get to each Saturday afternoon match we leave at around 11am – four hours before kick off. It doesn’t take us four hours to get there of course, but the English road system is liable to seize up without warning. One has to allow for delays, accidents and all sort of other misdemeanors. Twice this season we have been caught in huge traffic jams and only just made it into the ground in time for kick off.
So we drive south, part at one of the underground stations, and make the last five miles of the journey via the underground. If there are no traffic problems and no train problems we arrive at about 1.30pm, leaving us 90 minutes to pass before the game starts.
At the end of the match, we queue up with everyone else to get the tube away from Arsenal, and do the whole thing in reverse. With luck we are home before 8pm.
Nine hours, just to watch 90 minutes of football.
Some of the season ticket holders who sit near me can’t believe how much travelling I do to see a game. Sometimes it seems a bit much to me, but then I stopped complaining when I met Walter Broeckx and the group of supporters from the Benelux Arsenal Supporters Club last Christmas. Their journey involved a car trip to Antwerp, a train journey to Brussels, and then in theory a Eurostar train under the English Channel which brings them into London. Except that the Eurostar booking system went wrong, and they couldn’t take their place on the train. Instead they had to find a ferry, and then a train from the south coast of England to London, and then the underground.
They did it, and when I met them they were smiling and laughing. Nine hours nothing. These guys were going to be out for 19 hours, if not more.
And this is the problem. The Arsenal fans who like me was born and brought up a couple of miles from the ground, think that anything more than a 15 minute journey to a football match is an outrage. We feel that watching Arsenal is our right. It is part of our life. When we were children there was no overseas support. And so it is very hard indeed to understand what it is like to support Arsenal from afar.
I know that every time my partner and I approach the Emirates we see lots of people who are clearly visiting the ground for the very first time. They gather at the far end of the North Bridge and take photos of each other, with the stadium and the giant picture of Thierry Henry in the background. They are always laughing, smiling, so happy to be there.
Meanwhile us regular season ticket holders march past complaining about the weather, the traffic, the delays on the underground, and the problem trying to get a pint in the pub.
Except now I have started to tell everyone I meet about the fact that there are Arsenal supporters in India, running their own web site, and supporting Arsenal with the same fervency that we have. In fact I often think they are more fervent than we are. You’ve probably seen a link to them on this site. They are in a country where football is very much not the top sport, and where the national team does not much of an impact – at least from where I am sitting (apologies to everyone in India if this is changing – I am as usual reflecting a very Anglo-Centric view).
I have also started to think that we should do more to support our fellow Gooners overseas, because it is your support (not ours) that is spreading the word about Arsenal on a worldwide basis, and allowing Arsenal to grow into a world-wide club.
I must admit I wasn’t too sure what I could do, until the intrepid Arsenal supporters from Belgium came up with an idea. “How about,” they suggested, “an association to bring all the Arsenal supporters clubs and blogs across the world, together into one informal association?”
I must say I think this is a brilliant idea, and I’ve been doing what I can to support the notion by mentioning it from time to time. As a result “Arsenal Worldwide” has taken a step forward, and the Benelux club has written to Arsenal, and Arsenal has shown a real interest in the idea.
So the first steps are being taken to set this organisation up. The opening plan (at least at first) will be to publish an on-line magazine in which Arsenal supporters outside England can share their views, their experiences and their ideas. I think it can only do good.
I would like to thank everyone at 11 Gunners for all that you have done, in opening my eyes to the dedication that there is towards Arsenal FC in India, and helping myself, and other Gooners realise that rather than complain about the journey we should be recognising your dedication to the cause that we all share.
At this moment Arsenal Worldwide is still an idea which is being discussed between the club and some supporters clubs. I hope to have the chance to write a little more about this in the future as the idea develops.
If you want to know more about Arsenal Worldwide write to WalterBroeckx@hotmail.com For 11 Gunners in India, use the link above.
Tony Attwood is author of “Making the Arsenal” the story of Arsenal 100 years ago, when the club went into administration and the modern club was reborn. The book is available from the publishers at www.emiratesstadium.info It is also available from Amazon.co.uk
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