I have no fans among my family to inherit it from and no ancestral ties to North London. I’ve never even kicked a soccer ball. But by fate, when I started following the EPL a few years ago, I fell properly in love with The Arsenal.
When I feel miserable, I turn to YouTube videos of Arsenal football to lift my spirits. Specifically, I watch highlights of Arsenal’s 2-1 win over La Liga’s Futbal Club Barcelona in last season’s Union of European Football Associations Champions League Round of 16 first-leg tie, and revel in the glory of victory. In Europe’s most prestigious football competition, Barcelona, the team football pundits and spectators alike currently call “the best in the world,” were heavily favored. But with two stupendous second-half goals, we came from behind to hand Barca a defeat. The roar of the home crowd at the Emirates Stadium as the “little Russian” winger Andrey Arshavin side-footed home the winner in the 83rd minute still sends shivers up my spine. I smile with glee at the dejected face of Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola acknowledging the reality of his side’s imminent loss. How I wish I could have been at the Emirates that night jumping up and down in the stands, along with 60,000 fans chanting as one. It was a night of great football, and one that will remain one of my proudest moments as an Arsenal fan.
I enjoy watching Arsenal for the same reason I like mint chocolate chip ice cream more than strawberry or why “Shake It Out” loops continuously in my head; there’s just something about Arsenal. The Gunners are entertaining. Their free-flowing style, complete with fast-paced one-touch passes and cohesive movement, is the way The Beautiful Game ought to be played.
The club history is long and illustrious. No other club has the longevity of the Gunners’ 93 successive years in the first division of English football. No other club has gone a full English Premier League season and 49 consecutive league games undefeated. No other club can claim the legends that are Tony Adams, for 22 years a stalwart presence in our back four, or our record all-time goal-scorer Thierry Henry.
Following Arsenal has begun to dictate my daily routine. Before I get out of bed, I have to start off my day reading the latest blog posts and news updates on the club. I have the entire season’s schedule saved in my phone. I listen to weekly football and Arsenal podcasts, and even keep up with the personal lives of Jack Wilshere and Robin van Persie on Twitter. Sleeping in on weekends is not an option if I want to watch the matches live, as the time difference between the West Coast and England frequently necessitates setting my alarm for a 7 a.m. kickoff, an appointment I’m happy to keep.
I now think I understand the conundrum that is the sports fan. Millions all over the world emotionally invest themselves in the professional lives of people they do not know and in the outcome of games that will have little direct influence in their day-to-day lives. The Giants’ clinching of the National League Western Division title on the last day of the regular season will not change the hour for which most people set their alarms or the route of their morning commute the next day. These obsessive relationships diehards have with their teams border on legitimate psychosis. It is this rabid fixation that can lead to riots in Vancouver after the Canucks’ loss in the National Hockey League Stanley Cup Final, and numerous attacks by fans on opposing fans at sporting events. While I won’t be joining any riots, I will always wish the worst upon the scum — trash talk for North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Yet there is value in sport. Athletics are a point of pride for communities and whole nations. Our athletes inspire us by demonstrating the extraordinary capabilities of the human mind and body. When we watch Shawn Johnson stick the landing on the balance beam, we are on the beam sticking it with her. When we watch Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter make the catch that leads up to the go-ahead touchdown, we are wearing his gloves making the grab with him. Vicariously through our athletes, we as a society can achieve victory also.
Being a sports fan is also about loyalty to the team. The sports fan is not Mitt Romney, switching his allegiances to match his teams’ fortunes. Through highs and lows, both the championship titles and the torturous losing seasons, the fan wears the same colors, sits in the same stadium and sings the same chants. The true fan remains ever faithful.
Barring some miracle, Arsenal will not win any competitions this year. But I am devoted. Until I die I will wear red and white to the Emirates and sing, “And it’s Arsena-a-a-al, Arsena-a-al FC! We’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen!”
A version of this article first appeared in the April. 27, 2012 print edition of The Lowell.