My son is an Arsenal nut. In his world, there’s very little else that matters. But, because of this, and considering the Gunners’ erratic form over the years, it’s been a dramatic roller coaster ride of emotions.
When Arsenal win, there’s a spring in his step. If Arsenal lose, it’s the other extreme: despair, depression and a few days of moody contemplation, vowing that he’s finished with football, finished with Arsenal. Until the next Arsenal game, that is.
And, as these musings usually do, it spins me off on a literary tangent. I was reminded of the best sports book I’ve ever read: Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, a wonderfully written tale of the author’s obsession with Arsenal. This past weekend I dug out my faded, much-thumbed copy to borrow a few quotes relevant to the column.
Like Hornby’s contention that, “for the first time, but certainly not the last, I began to believe that Arsenal’s moods and fortunes somehow reflected my own”. This, in a nutshell, is how my son feels – and any other football fan, I’m sure.
Like anything else, though, it also emphasises my perspective that there is, always, a story behind everything. For example, why do so many in this country support Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs? Because there is a history to it that can never be erased. Pirates and Chiefs acted as the balm that healed the physical and mental wounds during the brutal days of apartheid oppression.
It was something to hold on to in a country gone mad. And, in the old tradition of oral story-telling, grandparents and parents have handed down tales of unforgettable games and legendary footballers like Jomo Sono, Kaizer Motaung, Ace Ntsoelengoe, Computer Lamola, Teenage Dladla and many, many more. With this as reference, the passion for these two celebrated clubs continues unabated.
It’s something of a freakish situation, this addiction to football and a football team. As Hornby reflects in his book: “I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.”
It back-heeled me to a time when Bernard Hartze, Neville Londt and Danny Abrahams had me fixated with Cape Town Spurs in the 1970s. It also reminded me of the first time I saw Kenny Dalglish play for Liverpool. I was spellbound, hooked, and this resulted in my long-suffering status as an Anfield supporter.
Initially, like so many kids do, my son followed dad’s team. That’s just how it is Until an irrepressible, extraordinary footballer called Thierry Henry exploded onto the scene. Hooked and spellbound, from then on, for my son, there was only Arsenal. And it’s been a mix of tears and cheers ever since. Needless to say, it makes for some really interesting verbal banter.
But most intriguing is the similarity in how the choice of team was made: Dalglish and Henry. And so we beat on, season after season, experiencing, accepting, revelling in, the contrasting emotions of pain and joy that football fans live for and thrive on. In the words of Hornby again: “I have measured out my life in Arsenal fixtures, and any event of any significance has a footballing shadow.”