I was a young man; enjoying school and starting upon a proper social life. you know – the one that happens outside school when you meet like minded folk from other schools. And there were girls. Yes, it was more than just telling your close mates that Gail X was very attractive, it was having the nerve to go and ask Gail X for a date.
But the problem with girls was that they got in the way of football and football took up all my waking time (and most of my dreams). By this time I had realised the need for priorities in life; I knew that going to Highbury was more important than a Saturday job. I knew that listening to Radio London was more important than doing my Geography homework and I knew that Clapton was the heart, Hendrix was the soul and Tamla Motown was the feet.
What has this to do with Arsenal? Well, such a combination was sure to have it’s problems. My attachment to Arsenal was the over-riding feature of my life but girls were coming up fast on the rails. Then this happened …..
Swindon. Wembley. Saturday 15th March 1969.
I had been going out with Gail for a few weeks. Not got much further than a bit of canoodling but I knew she really liked me and there was potential (if you get my drift :-) ). I had my Wembley tickets and arranged to meet her at Golders Green station after the game.
The journey to Wembley was a victory march. Gooners were celebrating pre-match,; how could we possibly lose to a 3rd Div side? We knew the pitch was difficult but we had Ure and we had Raddy and we had Geordie Armstrong, Bob Wilson and Captain Mclintock. Hard men, experienced Internationals, men who had grown up playing on ploughed fields. You know what happened …. it went tits up.
Post game was a disconsolate walk back to Golders Green (a long way) thinking about the dreadful week to come at school. All my mates were Chelsea, West Ham or Spurs. I knew what was in store for me. I wanted to hide away – even better move to a secret Caribbean island with no contact to the outer world, just a few coconut trees and a Girl Friday. But I had Gail to look forward to.
She was waiting for me by the number 13 bus stop, the one under the railway arch – you know the place. She looked great; miniskirt, platform shoes, tight cashmere jumper and was smiling when she saw me. I was gutted, just gutted by the result. She kissed me, I didn’t respond, she kissed me again, I didn’t respond. Then she said the words that echo around my head all these years later ……. ”It’s Only a Game”.
I knew immediately. There was a lightning flash of awareness, an understanding of the path my future life would follow.
“A Game?” I replied. ”This is the single most catastrophic event since Adam ate the apple”
I turned and left, walking the couple of miles home. Gail phoned me many times over the next week but I was and remained cold to her charms.
How could anyone not understand the pain a defeat like that can cause to a bleed red and white Gooner? How insensitive was this woman? From this day forward I would protect myself from such callousness (well, at least for a couple of weeks!)
But what was the under-text? It was this: Whatever has happened in my life – and there have been many catastrophies and triumphs – Arsenal have always been there. The camaraderie, the bond, the facing tribulation with common purpose.
So, when we lost to Bradford it wasn’t the worst defeat in my Arsenal history, it wasn’t even in the Top 20. Sure it hurt but the win at Reading was more important.
I have spent tens of thousands of pounds, lost girlfriends and mates, been scared witless, been hugely depressed and suffered taunts and abuse as a result of my support for Arsenal. But the joy …… the joy …..
Would I change it? To be honest there are some days when my obsession has weighed heavy and I think to myself. – “it is time to let it go” – but I know I won’t.
I made my choice when I walked away from Gail.
What was your worst Arsenal experience?
p.s. Gail later married (& divorced) a cousin of Peaches. He’s a West Ham fan ( served him right )
Written by Big Raddy