Why Going Away beats staying at Home. Written by Gooner in Exile
This is the picture my Brother as Best Man left on everyones place setting at my wedding, tucked away in an envelope only to be revealed at his say so. It is, I am afraid to say fellow Gooners, me. In my defence it was my 4th Birthday 24 June 1980, as some of you will know, shortly after the FA Cup Final in which Trevor Brookings header defeated The Arsenal. My Grandad was a Hammer and so he was greatly pleased to wind my Dad up by buying me this kit.
My Dad having been raised between The Tollington Arms and The Globe pub in Holloway was rightly distraught and would not talk to me or my Granddad for the rest of the day. My Nan was an Arsenal fan but I don’t think my Grandad was keen on anymore around the family. As I was given his name as my middle name I think he decided I should be the one to buck the trend.
In all my West Ham Supporting years my Dad took me to one game at Upton Park with my Nan (Grandad having recently passed away), I was 7 about to turn 8 and it was Trevor Brookings last game for the club he was awarded a soft penalty and I went home happy. Just researched the result and it was actually 2-1 to Forest that day but I only remember West Hams goal.
Cue the following season and the change, my Dad took me, along with my Brother (a fully fledged Arsenal nut), to Highbury, we stood in the Junior Gunners section and Arsenal beat Leicester 1-0.
After the game my Dad uttered words I will never forget. “If you want to go to see live football you can come here, I’m never taking you to Upton Park again”.
Some of you will say bloody well said! And to be honest once I had walked into Highbury there was no going back; an Arsenal supporter was born.
Now to the main part of the post the difference between going Home and Away.
Between the age of 8-17 I went to Highbury at every available opportunity, when I was about 14 my Dad would stand on the East corner of the North Bank while I made my way to the back with the singers, happy memories. I took part in the sit down protests over the demolition of my beloved North Bank, I surged with the goals sang my heart out and every other Saturday came home hoarse and happy.
There is no feeling like it I don’t have to explain to football fans, but standing on a terrace going through the same emotions as the thousands of people stood round you, singing as one, moving as one, thinking about it is making my hair stand on end and sending shivers down my spine.
At 17 my Dad and I decided to get Season Tickets at Highbury, the North Bank had been built and after a year of standing on the Clock End we decided to go for Clock End season tickets they were cheaper too. Up until November off we went every other week, at the same time I was earning plaudits as a Goalkeeper and was being asked to play for the First Team of my club, this was non league football, 4 leagues down from the Conference, I still harbored dreams of a professional career. But I always said I can’t I have an Arsenal season ticket. The manager cleverly chose 4 consecutive games where Arsenal were away and picked me for every one. My Dad then allowed me to make the decision, I chose playing and at the end of that season we gave up our Season Tickets, having used them sporadically for the season.
If we had known then what we know now we would never have given those up. For the years of Arsenal’s success under Wenger I sat watching from the comfort of my armchair, or the MOTD highlights.
15 November 2008 16 years in the wilderness and a move to Norfolk later I went to see Arsenal live for the first time since I was 17. It was Aston Villa at home, sitting about 4 rows from the back of the Upper Tier in what is now the Clock End, despite Manuel’s penalty save we lost 2-0. My next game 0-0 versus West Ham in similar seats. Would I ever cheer an Arsenal goal again. Actually scratch that would I ever sing an Arsenal song again? Where was the atmosphere? Okay the results weren’t great but there was a time when the fans would support the team no matter what the performance on the pitch.
I did not enjoy the experience, this wasn’t what I remembered, the family in front were more intent to eat the fare of the food stalls rather than watch the match, slipping out every 20 minutes for new supplies. The guys to my left were wearing no colours, and talking German. Is this the Home of Football, is this the home of The Arsenal? I left on both occasions feeling confused. Yes away fans tend to be loudest supporters at a ground they have to be to be heard so try harder, but there was little response at the Emirates, the North Bank and Clock End boys would retaliate with louder songs back at Highbury, wouldn’t they?
The worst offence is not one of the fans but of the PA system. It is too loud, it stifles the people in the ground, it tries to give us the entertainment or stir up the excitement. An atmosphere cannot be manufactured, I cringe with embarrassment as The Wonder of You is played, do they expect us to sing that? Why not give us Good Old Arsenal, why not let the fans sing there own songs, or at least to be able to hear when someone starts singing so that we can join in, instead we are beaten into submission with the latest X Factor tripe played loud and clear over speakers only normally seen at Music Festivals.
With some fate I was following the twitter feed of Alan Davies, he was at WBA away and was celebrating a win, I tweeted him and asked if the atmosphere was better away, to which he replied “absolutely, who are these people who boo at the Emirates”. I could not agree more, so the decision was made that me and my Brother would try and get tickets for an away game, Stoke in the FA Cup 4th Round was the first available game.
We lost 3-1, we played a mixture of youth and reserves, but the fans, these were the fans I remember, these are my kind of Gooners, singing with every part of their body, old and young, male or female. Most of all supporting the team, whatever team Wenger put out, we were going to make sure the Britannia Stadium knew we were there. Even a rendition of “Delilah” after the third goal went in did not extinguish the renditions of “One Arsene Wenger” and “By far the Greatest Team”. We lost and I went away happy!
Unfortunately work and restricted away sections meant that was the only away game last season.
This year however a few trips up North to poorly supported teams at odd kick off times have meant that Red Members get their chance to go away, Blackburn, Everton, Wigan, Birmingham and counting. I also managed to get to the Emirates for Bolton on the friends and family day, I sat in the lower tier close to the Away area, and it was much better than previously but still too quiet for my liking.
I know there are many fans who go to the Emirates who also went to Highbury I also know there are many fans on this site that are not necessarily English or born within London, but I would assume that most on here would wear the colours at the game, would actually watch the game, would support the team not sit to wait to be entertained. What can be done to stop the rot at the Emirates, we have Red Action corner but really that creates one pocket of noise. They’re needs to be lots of pockets of noise so others around them feel inclined to join in.
The whole culture at the Emirates appears to be sit down and wait for something to stir us, when the Arsenal fans travel away we make our own entertainment, sing songs, dance and have a fantastic time, but also try to stir the team in to something spectacular. Even in defeat I go home happier than I ever do at Emirates (but then I wasn’t there on Monday against Chelsea). The Emirates is great when it roars, but it doesn’t roar often enough for my liking, thats why I look forward to away trips more than going to home games.
Oh one other thing, travelling away I have yet to see an empty stand with 10 minutes to play except the home end on the receiving end of a drubbing. How did the players feel when they had hauled us into the knockout stages of the Champions League to see the ground emptied out around them. Would have been nice for those fans to have stayed and show some appreciation for their efforts.