There was a time when you were proud to be an Arsenal fan, can you honestly claim to be proud of Arsenal at the moment, after whatever that was at Wembley this weekend? When you find yourself agreeing with Gary Neville of a Sunday then you know something isn’t right.
Usually, we show up at Wembley, even against Spurs a few weeks ago, we almost snatched a point, we missed the chance to draw at the death but at least it felt like we’d tried (a bit).
I can’t generally get tickets for Cup Finals any more, not without paying extortionate amounts of cash that I don’t have. I used to go to enough games to give myself a chance of one, I was in Cardiff when we beat Southampton, I was there v Newcastle, v Sheffield Weds and a couple of others. I don’t stand much chance these days, but I do however, usually try at least.
This season though, I didn’t bother. I know it’s just the League Cup, it’s slightly different but it’s still a Cup Final. I know I should have gone to the pub today or got my brother round, or hung up my flag, or got my kids into the day, had a big Cup Final breakfast or at the very least; got the beers in, but you know what… I didn’t do any of that.
This was the first Cup Final I can remember where I literally couldn’t care less before the game and if I am being honest with myself I didn’t even care that we lost. I did feel sorry for that little kid crying on the TV thought I’ll be honest – bless him.
I can’t remember the last time I was proud of Arsenal, I can’t remember the last time I got excited before a game. I think it was probably the Chelsea FA Cup game at Wembley – that’s the last recording I ‘kept’ on our Sky box anyway, Match of the Day rarely even gets watched once, let alone kept for future watches.
The Cup Final v Chelsea, I loved it that we were underdogs, and always felt we’d get something out of it as no one gave us a prayer. I tried and failed to get a ticket, I almost spent £250 on one last minute but didn’t want to let my family down as we’d arranged a ‘Cup Final party’.
I got my Uncle round, my brother and his wife and kids. We had a party at my Mums’, we watched the game all together. We did all the lucky rituals, yellow ribbons, we had special lucky seats, we all wore our shirts and it was amazingly brilliant when we won and the final whistle went. I still don’t know how we did, but we did. I went over to the corner shop, I paid over the odds for a bottle of Champagne which had been in the shop for ages gathering dust. We sprayed it all over the garden, we bought more beer, we had a party in the garden.
My son and I went to the parade in London the next day. I spent £50 on the train to get there (with a hangover), we did it because we cared. We did it because Per Mertesacker had worked his socks off keeping Diego Costa at bay. We did it because Aaron Ramsey and Oliver Giroud had earned their quarter of a million pounds that week. We did it because they cared and they tried and they had made us proud.
On the flip side away from the money and the Premier League, my son and I decided to drive to Wales on Saturday to watch our ‘other team’ Aldershot Town away at Wrexham. My son had waited until I’d had a few Stellas on Friday night, and ‘somehow’ persuaded me to take him and I’d said ‘yes’, of course. The day involved a 10am start, using our ‘good car’ meaning my wife is left with the ahem, other one. It meant a 400 odd mile round trip, not getting home until 830pm but none of that it was the point is not (as Alex Turner would say).
Despite the considerable effort on our part, even if we’d have lost (we didn’t, it was 2-2) it was worthwhile. Aldershot aren’t the greatest team in the world (actually they are, but thats another song), but you can see the effort, you can see the sweat at the end of the game, they’re all shattered, some struggle to get off the pitch at the end. You can see the players actually caring about the shirt and the fans. They always come over at the end to the fans, whether we’re home or away, win, lose or draw, they seem to appreciate the £40 petrol we spent or the £20 on a ticket, they seem to appreciate the monotonous 4 hour drive home through Shrewsbury and Worcester to get home again. They thank us on their way off the pitch and they mean it, we mean something to them, like they mean something to us.
Back in the 80s/90s when I was watching Arsenal every week, you started recognising people in the pub, it was like a family, a community, feels like that at Aldershot still. It was a buzz, an honour, walking into The Gunners pub, all the programmes on the wall and ceiling. The day itself was an event, an occasion, a special day, even if you were playing Bolton or Watford. It was a real treat, it was an honour to get a ticket at Highbury or for a rare away trip. We weren’t guaranteed a win, but we were guaranteed some effort and we usually did win back then at Fortress Highbury. The players actually looked like they cared once. Whether we won or lost, Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, David Seaman, they cared, this is a list which could go on forever, players who played FOR The Arsenal (not just ‘for Arsenal’).
Who cares now?
When was the last time you saw an Arsenal player doubled over, struggling to catch his breath, hands on his knees after chasing down a lost cause to stop the ball going out for a corner? When was the last time you saw an Arsenal player yellow carded for protesting at something that happened on the pitch to one of his team, pushing and shoving, sticking up for his mate?
I know it’s not a positive thing to see us doing, but when did we last have a bit of a scrap or an argument with a ref or a linesman on the pitch? I can’t actually remember, can you?
I remember when it used to feel like the players actually gave a toss about me watching Arsenal. I remember thinking Tony Adams actually does care that I have spent my cash on a ticket when if the truth be told I couldn’t really afford to. I wrote to Tony Adams once, told him about my Dad who had died while I was at Arsenal (3-2 v Man United in 1997) told him I loved his book and it had somehow helped me a bit to get through things at the time. He replied in a letter, a real letter on real paper and I remember thinking, he actually does care about me you know, like I care about him and Arsenal.
I remember thinking that Nigel Winterburn actually did care that I was in the Chelsea home end bricking it when he scored the winner that day at Stamford Bridge. He knew that I couldn’t get a ticket in the away end, so I snapped up a home ticket and my mate and I had decided to keep quiet that day (wisely). He obviously had no idea that I’d done that of course, but it felt like he did – it felt like he knew, it felt like he was part of the fans, and we were part of the club.
I chatted to Ian Wright once at Selhurst Park in the players lounge after a game before Sky came along. He was passionate about our support, about Arsenal and all that went with it, he spoke to me like I speak to my Arsenal friends at a game. Other people came to try and speak to him, for autographs and things but he told them all to come back in a bit. He was talking to me, so he was busy and I’ll never forgot that he actually cared about me, that he didn’t want us to be interrupted and it was important to him (and me) that we finished our conversation.
I really don’t feel like that any more about Arsenal I’ll be honest, I have no affinity with any of the players now. I don’t think I’d ever get to speak to them now, I would never get a letter from any of them now, do they even have players lounges these days?
I want to care again, of course I do, but it’s just not feeling the same any more, not right now anyway.
I want to take the afternoon off work on a whim and hire a car just to go and watch Arsenal. I want to get excited about going to watch them again. I want to go to away games without a ticket, take a chance, just to watch my team.
But I don’t feel like Aaron Ramsey cares that I spent £100 on a ticket to watch us lose to Crystal Palace when I should have probably spent it on paying something off of my credit card.
I don’t think that Alex Iwobi cares that my son and I drove to West Brom on New Years Eve (in the good car). I don’t think he really cares that the tickets were my son’s birthday present and that Mike Dean had ruined our day and that they’d all played rubbish, oh and that we had got stuck in traffic on the way home.
I don’t feel that Laurent Koscielny gives a toss that I get home at 1am after a night game and have to get up for work the next day with sore feet from all the walking, and a sore head from too much beer after we’ve just lost to Ostersunds having spent almost £200 for the priviledge.
Sunday was a Cup Final. Not the Cup Final we’d have preferred, but it was still a day out for 85,000 fans (well, perhaps 45,000 and some people who worked for Carabao and Sky) at Wembley and Arsenal let us all down. Again. Seeing the players embarrassed to be on the pitch, seeing them trudging around, wading through treacle just to keep the score down, like they don’t want to be there is an insult. An insult to that crying kid who will probably be getting stick at school right now for it. An insult to all of us who have to face those smug workmates with the smug, stupid sideways grins meant for us today. It’s an insult to the badge, to David Rocastle, to Tony Adams, to The Arsenal in general.
The players, the manager, the owner, they don’t care about us any more and the feeling is sadly yet gradually starting to become mutual.
It feels like the games gone. I know this season certainly is.
Sorry Arsenal, I do still love you, but I’m not in love with you right now.
Worst thing is that I know you don’t even care, but that’s kind of my point.