Comfort in the Arsenal Community: Unique Football Friendships

Season ticket holders, especially at a Club like Arsenal are in the vast minority. Those of you who don’t sit in the same seat week in week out, year in year out, won’t be aware of the unique relationships we strike up with those who sit in the vicinity, often for decades on end. If you’re one of the lucky minority you’ll be aware that the faces of those who sit in your block are some of the most recognisable anywhere. You’ve probably spoken to the bloke you sit next to at the Arsenal more than your wife over the last few years, but how much do you actually know about him? You’ve almost certainly been in each others arms in either raucous joy or abject despair, but do you even know his name?

At the end of last season I moved to a new seat at the Emirates to be closer to the action but on Saturday at the Hawthorns, I bumped into the bloke who I used to sit next to. We did what we had done for years at home games, amicably share opinions on football, ask how each other had been, and then, through either lack of interest or fear of crossing ‘the line’, ‘the football fan code’, we ran out of conversation and wished each other well. After we had gone our separate ways I reflected on the situation. I still hold a huge amount of affection for this guy, presumably rooted in the shared memories accumulated through sitting together, shouting for the same cause. I used to talk to him every week but scarcely if ever did we delve into each other’s story away from football.

Arsenal fan 1

You go through a journey unlike any other with these people. You collect priceless, unforgettable memories that are shared collectively and which you can recount in pinpoint accuracy twenty years later. You lose all sense of emotional and bodily control in each others company. You swear, you shout, you sing, you scream, you smile, you laugh, you hate, you curse, you vilify, you might even cry. We’ve all been to games in which a huge goal is scored and, once the madness of celebration is over, you’ve ended up on the floor two rows in front of where you started in a state of delirium never found outside of football stadia. The ball crosses the line and within half a second a mass of 50,000 separate people merges into one being. All of this takes place in the company of the same individuals, week in week out for years on end.

How could you not feel you know these comrades incredibly well? The truth is, in most cases, you probably never will, but perhaps that’s why these relationships remain so special. Unlike the XI players on the pitch, the fans are reliable, they’re trustworthy. There’s something incredibly comforting in the knowledge that they’ll all be there next week, and next year, and the year after that. It’s the simplest of relationships, devoid of baggage or politics. There’s a mutual enemy. You share a common dedication, knowledge and sacrifice (although none of you will see it as that).

do-i-know-you

Every block has it’s big characters. There are comedians, there are drunks, there are extroverts, there are introverts, there are experts that think they know everything and are only too happy to pass comment and there are moaners who whinge non-stop. Most people will know which category they fit into and will be able to position those around them with ease, and perhaps a level of satisfaction.

As ‘serious’ conversation rarely sparks up, humour plays a huge part in fan interaction. A common theme which travelled with me from Highbury to the Emirates is the playful reminder not to arrive late and make everyone in the row stand up to let you in. A rowdy chorus of ‘sit down’ is a favourite, only for the drunk behind me to get too involved and add a number of expletives to amuse himself and everyone else, apart from the poor sod who was late. Most of the fun is at the expense of someone else and limited to one-liners as it’s intended for a large audience. Last home game the bloke at the end of my row stopped me and shouted,’where’s your girlfriend? You wanna bring her next time, she’s much better looking than him’ (in reference to my brother). A gaggle of easy to please Gooners chuckle animatedly but one of them will most probably on the receiving end next week…

a fans 2

Nevertheless, even if you spend half time chatting to your fellow Gooners, you often don’t know where they live, what they do, how many kids they have, how old they are, what background they come from, where they return to after the game. All you know is that they love Arsenal Football Club, and that’s enough to bind you in an unusual union built on fierce loyalty and dedication.

Interestingly the times that I’ve sat in Club level, none of this applies. It’s a community devoid of a sense of community and it’s a great shame that it dissects the stadium in the way that it does. The concern is that whilst the Club try to attract an even more middle class fan-base, the characteristics of Arsenal’s traditional fan community will fizzle out. The last thing we want is to end up like a rugby crowd so if you’re one of the lucky minority, see you next week at Norwich, and keep doing your thing.

Nick

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