Before I climb up onto my soapbox, I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely wish everyone who supports and loves Arsenal Football Club a very happy Christmas; and most especially to those who read The Gooner I wish also peace and much goodwill.
This period in Arsenal’s history reminds me of those dark days from my long distant boyhood when we skirted with relegation for two seasons in the mid-1970s.
I am sure it is the same for many of you whose Arsenal story goes back to those times. Indeed my thoughts have turned often to that 1974–1976 period recently, and, further to that, does so frequently at this time of year, for back then I was a nine-year-old kid surrounded by a close family happy in the ignorance of what would soon hit us: the sudden death of my father.
Out of the wreckage of that disaster, Arsenal emerged as a rock to cling to and sustained me through many low and sad times.
My dad had always encouraged my love of sport, and my mother preached continuously the virtue of unyielding loyalty: and for me it was in Arsenal that those two values entwined, a happy point of confluence which led on to a stream which has moved me along now for 55 years, sometimes in choppy waters, and sometimes placid and enchanted, but always beguiling and fascinating: I wouldn’t have wished for anything else.
Back in the mid-70s what mattered most to me were the glories of Highbury, the sublime kit, and the classiest crest in world football.
Back then my heroes were Pat Rice and Jimmy Rimmer. I think looking back what endeared them to me was the obvious pride they took in wearing an Arsenal shirt and their wholehearted commitment to cannon on their chest – that was all I asked for, no matter how good or bad they were they bore witness to a history that seduced me then and does so still.
It is perhaps normal to seek refuge in the past, and by the past I mean Highbury, the old crest, and the simple red and white shirt but equally it is important to recognise that it is easy to so idealise those times as to render them perhaps an unhelpful preoccupation against which the present can never compete?
I truly worship this wonderful institution that is Arsenal and I ask only that it ‘feels’ like Arsenal.
I can take the periods of failure and mediocrity because I know it will pass – that’s life.
And I know I have shared the good times with a community of people and that that community will endure through the bad. Back in 1975 I couldn’t sleep for days before an FA Cup quarter-final against West Ham, we lost 2-0 and I was heartbroken, but inside 4 years we had won the cup, and then we had the zenith of Neill’s reign, the great days of beating Liverpool and Juventus in semi-finals, if I had known that after the West Ham defeat.
Arsenal will endure with or without me, but they are my club, my community, my team who did it in ’71, ’79, ’87, ’89 and oh so many other times.
They are also my team who fell heartbreakingly short in ’72, ’78, ’80, ’88 and indeed oh so many other times too! They’ve had their Bergkamps, Henrys, and Liam Bradys; they’ve had their Vaessens, Rockys, and Tommy Catons too and now the news that great men like Kenny Sansom and Willie Young have fallen foul of illness. These people matter, all these people, because they are Arsenal; they stand before, behind, and alongside us all.
On Christmas Day, in a quiet moment I will raise my glass and remember absent friends and think of an empty and forlorn Emirates stadium and dream; dream of getting back there, with friends old and new to watch the Arsenal, because, as the lady said in the song, ‘they are the famous Arsenal…’!
A very happy Christmas to you!