For me, love has usually been slow blooming. I knew my husband-to-be for so long before we began dating that we each have different memories of how we met.
Thus it was for my love for Arsenal. I was not immediately smitten, though truth to be known, the besmitting with Arsenal was a bit faster than with my husband.
This must remain our secret.
My husband, a soccer coach by profession, had always followed the Premier League as best he could, although we had little access to televised matches. My son was the one who pressed us to get Fox Soccer on cable. He was just a little guy, and had recently given up his train obsession for football obsession. He had a subscription to UEFA.com that only served to increase his appetite for more matches. At some point, we acquiesced.
Premier League games take place in the afternoon and evening in the U.K., which means they are on in the early to mid-morning in the U.S. on Saturdays and Sundays. In my sleep I would hear my husband and son downstairs cheering, jeering, and trash talking. Early on, my son was a fervent Chelsea fan, much to my husband’s dismay. Not that my husband was at that time a huge Arsenal fan, but he really disliked Chelsea.
At some point, I must have finally overcome the sleep deprivation that was the hallmark of the first five years of my son’s life. I was getting up earlier on the weekends. At the same time, my kids were needing my hands-on time less and I was actively, considering hobbies, thinking about what I could do, in addition to being a parent, in my life away from work. And I needed a distraction from my ambition for my kids to love soccer the way I did, and to excel at it in a way that I never had. I found myself far too focused on trying to encourage and motivate my daughter in the sport. She was a gifted athlete who, as it turns out, just loves music so much more.
So I started watching. Lots of games, lots of teams. My husband and I would talk about the games, the teams, the personalities, the hoopla. As we watched, one team started to grab my attention. Lovely team play, passing, breathtaking skill. Young players on the verge, always on the verge, of something big. Never quite achieiving beyond third or fourth place in the league. But you could always feel the big achievement coming. Coming for absolutely ever. And Arsène Wenger. The gray-haired, beleaguered French manager, always thoughtful and earnest. Except for a few hilarious cases, mostly involving water bottles, which we should talk about at a later date.
Arsenal were captivating, and I just found myself watching more and more when they were playing and less of anyone else. By the time the 2010 World Cup rolled around I was completely under their spell. And my husband, who always liked them (among others) was right there with me. Maybe not so fervently–he knows the game so well it’s probably harder to lose his head–but solidly alongside.
Toward the end of last season Chelsea played Arsenal at the Emirates. Chelsea were leading the league by a lot; there was very little chance that they would not win the league title. The match was a turgid affair in which Chelsea parked the proverbial bus, with every player in its defensive half, clogging things up to stymie Arsenal’s free-flowing attack, working for a tie, or hoping for a lucky counter attack against the run of play to score a goal. The Arsenal fans started ironically singing, “boring, boring Chelsea,” an accusation that years ago had often been levelled at Arsenal.
Much was made of this chanting, in the broadcast and in the aftermath of the game. The Chelsea manager, devil spawn Jose Mourinho, was asked about it afterwards. What Jose had to say about it was this:
You know, I think boring is 10 years without a title. That’s very boring. You support the club and you’re waiting, waiting, waiting for so many years without a Premier League title, so that’s very boring.
In the week that followed, every football writer and pundit mostly voiced their agreement with that sentiment. Jose was just doing the smart thing, and the smart thing was not to take any chances. You bring the trophy home. The end justifies the means. And if Arsenal and Arsene Wenger could learn that, maybe they could contend for the trophy.
I thought about that a lot, but in the end, it’s clear: I could never support a team that played the smart, careful way, the way that guarantees a trophy more often than every 10 years. I need beauty, courage, the possibility (maybe the probability) of failure. I am an Arsenal fan and I don’t look back.