If you are a Gooner…

If you are a Gooner, and don’t live in a remote part of the world where you aren’t surrounded by thousands of football fanatics, you most certainly have a best friend, a fellow football lover, who you like as a human being, whose views on the economic crisis in the Eurozone you completely agree with, whose opinions on art and philosophy enthral you, and the only thing that prevents you from thinking of him as your platonic soul-mate, is his love for a certain English club.  In that case, you’ve certainly had the following conversation (or at least, something that resembles it in spirit) with him :

You :  Why do you guys keep launching the ball ahead, waiting for your striker to score? It’s boring.

Your friend:  Look who’s talking. When did you guys lift a major trophy, last? Was it in this century?

Exasperated Arsenal fan

And the argument ends there, with you drinking way too much of the beer in your hand for a single gulp, and him looking at you with a smirk on his face. You mutter ‘FA Cup, 2005’ under your breath, but you know that he isn’t looking for an answer, that his question was as rhetoric as the best of them.

All of us (The Gooners) know that the quintessential sigh that we are wont to give way to in such situations, is not one of defeat, but of exasperation. Our friends might think we’ve accepted defeat vis-a-vis the argument, but the fact of the matter is, we’re just tired of explaining the same thing over and over. Yes, the trophies matter, they are the ultimate pinnacles of success, the money you earn by winning helps your club, blah blah. Agreed. What we don’t agree with, is the hypothesis that winning a trophy gives you the right to claim that you’ve played the best football in that tournament. The most ‘effective’ football, certainly, unless you won because the other team did incredibly stupid things after dominating play (failing to score in an open net, fighting with team mates, being sent off for abusing the ref, etc. You get the gist).

Different people think of myriad things when confronted with adjectives like ‘beautiful’ when applied to football. We, the Gooners, as a rule, apply that adjective to the way we pass the ball around. This exasperates the other fans, apparently. Here’s a snippet from another conversation I had with my wonderful friend:

Friend :   I get bored of the way you guys pass the ball. Why don’t you see the goal? Are all Arsenal players myopic?

Me :  Football is not only about the goals. That’s the way we play. Don’t you think it looks beautiful? Like poetry in motion?

Friend:  Oh, we’re talking about poetry now? I read a beautiful poem the other day. Almost moved me to tears. It goes like this :

(and just as I thought that he was going to quote William Wordsworth, Lord Alfred Tennyson, or one of the other lads)

‘Paul Scholes,

He scores goals’

Me : *Sigh of exasperation*

We are Arsenal!

Once and for all, I would like to say something to our haters. Also, to the cynics. And, though these words are exclusively my own, I hope I am able to successfully echo the sentiments of Gooners across the globe. We watch the game, because we enjoy it. Because during those 90 minutes, we are not mere individuals sitting in front of our TVs, or our computer screens, or (the lucky ones) on a seat in the Emirates. We aren’t fans of Arsenal FC, we ARE Arsenal FC.  Our collective souls are infused into the bodies of our players, and there is no discernible individual, only the TEAM. When they run along the flanks, we feel the wind in our hair. When they are subjected to bad tackles, we feel the pain. When they score, we feel the jubilation, the excitement, the pride, as if it were us who’d scored. We are lovers of beauty and art, in all its forms. When Tomas Rosicky makes those graceful turns and awe-inspiring passes, we can hear Mozart’s music playing in our ears. When Arteta, Song, and the others exchange delightfully simple passes, we see poetry in motion.  When Walcott runs down the right flank, we see the flight of an arrow as it leaves the bow of Legolas. And when Robin van Persie hoodwinks defenders and drives the ball neatly into the net, we see Picasso’s paintbrush following the perfect curve of the flight of the ball. And when we see Arsene Wenger standing on the sidelines in his impeccable suit, we think of a puppeteer, who has pulled the strings on the training ground itself, and is now watching the story of the novel unfold before his very eyes.

For us, it has always been about the football first. True, the lack of trophies has frustrated us all. Our lack of consistency in big matches is unnerving.  But whenever we relax and think about it with a calm mind, we realize that spectacular art comes at a price. Would we trade our style of play for a different style, one that is more conducive to the winning of titles? No. That is not who we are. Some fans of other clubs wouldn’t care, but not us. We are Gooners. Our football is sacred, and we would think of any attempts to change our style as sacrilege.  Would you rather see a victory based on someone else’s ideals, not yours, than defeat? Would you honestly think of such a victory as a victory? Isn’t it, in essence, a defeat of your ideologies, when you pick up your opponents sword to smite him down, because you think your sword isn’t sharp enough?

The next time you have such a conversation with your friend, and he ends the discussion with the ubiquitous ‘When was the last time you guys won a title?’ ,  it’s okay if you sigh. Just make sure that it is a sigh of exasperation, not of defeat.

Parashar Thanki

Manchester United. Spain. Cristiano Ronaldo. Step-over maniac. Coffee aficionado. Prefers playing sports to watching them. Anyday.