Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Diary of a Pessimistic Arsenal Fan - The Trophy

By Shane Thomas

Arsene Wenger said it began to feel like a curse. Sporting curses are normally a preserve of North America, but given Benfica's failure in the Europa League final, stretching the Bela Guttman curse into its 52nd year, and Liverpool - in part due to Steven Gerrard becoming acquainted with the Anfield turf - falling agonisingly short of ending their 24 year wait for a league championship, it seemed as if football is now getting into the curse business.
Since relocating from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006, Arsenal had failed to win a single trophy. Two cup finals, three semi-finals, and a run at the title in 2008 that was derailed by injuries - none more so than the horrific broken leg suffered by Eduardo.

For a club that had enjoyed such a rich run of success under Wenger's tenure, every season that passed without silverware was commensurate with the increasing weight of the millstone that hung around the club's neck. The club continued to qualify for the Champions League, while remaining financially secure, but no-one ever truly bought the narrative about that being sufficient. In recent years, finishing fourth in the Premier League was mockingly referred to as winning the "Wenger Cup".

The longer the fans waited, the more we wanted. The more we wanted, the more it seemed to hinder the players at potential moments of victory. By the time the club reached the 2011 League Cup Final, it had metastasized into a complex of gargantuan proportions. Facing an unfancied Birmingham side, Arsenal choked. From my seat in Wembley, I watched in confusion, horror, and eventual resignation.

Not only did Arsenal turn in a turgid performance, but their concession of the winning goal was a farce that Jean Renior would have been proud of. I may be attributing this incorrectly, but I believe my podcast co-host, Jonathan Wilkinson later said, "Only Arsenal could lose a cup final like that."

So one shouldn't underestimate just how much winning the FA Cup means to Gooners. I recently wrote on the problems in the joy that sport can bring. However, when channeled in a non-oppressive manner, it can cause grown adults to regress to the infectious quixoticism of children. Don't take my word for it. Look at these Arsenal fans taking over Holloway Road after the victory over Hull.

Pure, unadulterated joy. It stretched from Upper Street to Finsbury Park, taking in everywhere in between. And I know, because I was in the celebratory throng. Outside The Twelve Pins pub, there was a man with his young son on his shoulders. As we all roared - aided by many libations - numerous Arsenal songs, the boy was bouncing up and down on his dad's shoulders, a beaming grin on his face. If anything sums up what winning a trophy can do to a person, that boy was the perfect microcosm. It's a day I'm sure he'll never forget.

On the way home from work earlier this week, I went past a house that had an Arsenal shirt in its front window. As well as smiling inwardly, I realised how instructive that moment was. Investing so much of oneself in a football team is an illogical act, but it makes it no less potent.

That yearning for vicarious glory was witnessed in Liverpool fans desperation for their club to win the Premier League, in Real Madrid's fans zeal for Los Blancos to attain La Decima, and in Brazilians need for the Selecao to win back the World Cup on home soil.

"Arsenal till I die!", Per Mertesacker roared. The Arsenal fans responded in kind. Indeed we are. It's not always been a harmonious union, but it's not one I would ever swap. It's not one I ever could.

I'll leave the final act to Arsenal's current captain (at the time of writing). Take it away, Thomas!

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