I’ve been on Twitter for many years now. Over the years, I’ve come across this: #Goonerfamily more than once.
And every time I see it I think to myself, what does that mean? On a very basic level, I suppose it’s an admirable attempt to connect Gooners across the globe and should be applauded.
And yet, on another level, I see it and think, “Why should I follow someone just because they’re an Arsenal fan? They might be a total idiot.”
Just to give you a graphic illustration of what I’m talking about.
I used to work with a Spurs season ticket holder- in fact, he ended up being my boss. There was also, in a team split into two sub teams, an Arsenal fan.
This Arsenal fan and I were friends for a while and then I realised he was… well, he was an idiot.
On the other hand- you know what’s coming here- me and the Spurs fan got on famously.
Yep, I was invited (and went) to his wedding, I’m still in touch with him even though we haven’t worked together for four years.
So, I’m not a fan of befriending people just because they happen to support the same team as me.
It strikes me that the real Gooner family is one that you either are lucky enough to be born into, or one that you create- in person- for yourself.
Though I have also created my own, I was lucky enough to be born into one.
I was brought up by someone with no interest in football (you should have seen the scenes in our house during the 1990 World Cup!) and someone who stood on the Shed End at Chelsea in her teens.
I also spent a few years, like everyone at my primary school, flirting with another west London side- no names, but their current manager’s got a twitch.
The repeated weekends spent round my Grandfather’s house listening to both him and my uncle crow about Arsenal’s latest win and QPR’s latest defeat got to me. Back then it seemed like Arsenal must have been winning every week and QPR losing, something that’s eminently possible, because it was towards the end of 1988 that I cracked.
Finally, I made a decision.
QPR had gone to a replay with Manchester United in the FA Cup (3rd round, I think). If they lost that, I was transferring allegiances.
Ironically, West Ham had already knocked Arsenal out.
Obviously, QPR did lose, because here I am now.
Before you all judge me (as I type, I can feel whatever credibility I might have once had drain away with every keystroke), the crucial point to remember is that I wasn’t becoming an Arsenal fan because they were doing well. I was changing up because I wanted, not an easy life, but a respite- the old adage “if you can’t beat them, join them” was never truer than in my case.
I can only thank Dennis that Granddad Ronnie and Uncle Stevie weren’t Spurs fans.
That said, having changed sides, I still ended up watching the thrilling denouement to the 1989 season with only my cousin Alison for company.
My first real taste of success enjoyed with the men in my family would have to wait until the 1993 FA Cup Final.
Despite the predatory instincts of Ian Wright, that wasn’t quite the glorious occasion I had imagined, mainly due to Arsenal stinking up Wembley Stadium for four hours across two games before Andy Linighan’s last gasp header.
As I advanced through my teenage years, watching football with my uncle became a more regular event. I think I watched practically every minute of the tactical masterclass that was Arsenal’s run to 1994 Cup Winner Cup glory with him. It was with my uncle Stevie that the delights of Stella Artois or, as Micky Flanagan calls it,”do as you’re told” would be revealed to me. I still remember how unhappy my uncle and my grandfather were with the manner of our final victory against Parma. This wasn’t football to them. This was boring, boring in excelsis.* Which, I think we can say now, it was.
The year after (oh my God, it nearly 20 years since Nayim, let’s hope Spurs don’t notice), we once more bored our way to the Cup Winners’ Cup Final. The lustre had been lost from the Marble Halls; Limpar and Rocky (RIP) had been jettisoned, Merse was in rehab and as for George… well he’d been sacked over a couple of brown envelopes.
Or was it just one?
It was over.
I remember my uncle driving me home after the outrageous end to that final and neither of us could speak. My aunt, watching with us, did.
To incredulous reactions from all, including my Chelsea supporting mother who was also watching, she said, “Never mind, it’s only a game!”
I left for Leeds and university that summer.
By the time I returned to London, almost exactly seven years later, things had changed and we weren’t so boring anymore. On the day I left Leeds, my final act in the city was to watch Arsenal, the defending league champions and FA Cup holders, batter- yes!- Leeds United 4-1 in a masterclass.
My mate Harry and I (part of my created Gooner Family) drove past Elland Road, sticking two fingers up in the direction of the stadium. Then I realised we shouldn’t be able to see the stadium from the M1, which meant that we were on the M62 and, therefore, heading towards Manchester.
I watched the final game of our 2004 season at my uncle’s, feeling tears pricking my eyes as Patrick Vieira lifted that beautiful trophy into the north London sunshine.
I think I knew, even then, we would never see something like that team again- although I couldn’t have imagined we would go another 11 years without really getting close to winning it.
In a way, I guess the story of me, my uncle and my grandfather- a boy when Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal ruled the roost- kind of ended there.
Or, at least, it changed.
It would be another ten years following that game against Leicester City until the next final I watched with my uncle, his two boys and granddad Ronnie who now had a more updated answer to his oft repeated question:
What has Wenger ever done for Arsenal?
Don’t get mad at him, he’ll be 95 this year and has forgotten more than I’ll ever know about sport.
In the meantime, my uncle and I finally actually went to a game together.
In 2008, we took his son James to see a vibrant Arsenal team beat Newcastle in the FA Cup.
I still remember the look on Stevie’s face as we crossed the north bridge and the stadium came into view. Significantly, that was the day Tomas Rosicky, and Arsenal’s, injury hell began.
I have taken James to a few games either side of that 2008 day.
In 2003, we watched Cognitive Dissonance’s debut and witnessed Highbury’s only penalty shoot out from the upper tier of the North Bank.
In 2006, a last minute goal by Jason Roberts would forever tarnish my (our) last trip to Highbury.
I still remember James plaintively asking why we couldn’t stop at the merchandise stands on our way out of the ground- but at least he can now say, I saw Thierry Henry play for Arsenal.
In happier times, last year I took James- who’ll be 18 on the day Arsenal travel to Tottenham- and his younger brother, Josh, to watch Alexis dismantle Burnley. We’ve got another trip planned, as soon as I can find a Saturday 3pm kick off to get them to!
I look forward to many more of these trips, passing on the knowledge, and love, of this great football club down to my cousins in the same way their father and grandfather once did to me.
That, to me, is a #goonerfamily.
This is my Gooner Family.
*My uncle and my grandfather are still so in search of sporting perfection that when England played South Africa in the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final, there was a massive bust up with my stepdad over England’s tactics early in the first half.