Blame Tony

Why Arsenal? Valid question. One I get asked a lot. Easily answered when charting the chronological progression of my obsession, but quantifying the emotional impact on my life remains a bit more numinous. When all else fails, I simply blame my friend, Tony.

When I met Tony, I was a sports fan of sorts. I’d been fiercely devoted to the San Francisco Forty-Niners in my youth, a one-time Golden State Warriors season-ticket holder, and occasionally enjoyed a trip out to see the San Francisco Giants (hotdogs and beer required).

The beautiful game was still not as beautiful to me. I did not grok the rules, the formations, the positions, the 0-0 draws. Viewing experience was usually limited to something like the World Cup Final. Seems strange now that I hadn’t embrace football sooner, particularly English football, as I’d always been an avowed Anglophile.

Tony and I bonded over The Clash, cinema, curry houses, pints, and literature including Nick Hornby. I’d read High Fidelity and About a Boy, but was only peripherally aware of his other book, Fever Pitch. Long story short, Tony was always on about this Arsenal match or that (he’s pretty much a walking soccer encyclopedia), and something finally took root.

At first, I’d just look at Arsenal results online. Then I was hired at a company where one of the partners was English and had grown up an Arsenal supporter. I discovered that I could nip out with him in the middle of the day to go to our local to watch the Champions League matches without any real job-related repercussions.

I joined an online Arsenal mailing list based in the UK, where I mostly lurked and tried not out myself as a complete neophyte or “numpty” as the Brits are wont to say. Through the list, I became acquainted with a tech-savvy fellow who could supply illicit BBC radio feeds of the matches and I found myself getting up early on weekends, to listen to the matches.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, my future sister-in-law and her boyfriend (a lifelong FC Nürnberg supporter) visited London to investigate moving there. They returned with an Arsenal kit. I was well on my way to being a Gooner, or so I thought.

Of course, I was keen to share my new-found knowledge with Tony, who could always explain some particular of the game or expound about all things Arsenal. These conversations continue to this day on those rare occasion we can get together for a match.

Still, the single defining moment of my illumination was on my belated honeymoon. We traveled to London to visit the aforementioned sister-in-law and her boyfriend, now living in North London, and I’d managed to obtain some tickets for a match at Highbury from a season-ticket holder, who remains a friend to this day. My wife opted to go to Portobello Road, so Thomas (the boyfriend)

Prior to the match, I got to visit the Official Arsenal Supporters clubhouse for pints. I remember a Gooner whose outfit was half a home kit and half an away kit sewn together. I met a couple from Norway. He a lifelong Gooner who’d never seen a live match until his wife surprised him with the trip for his 40th birthday. She sat in the corner beaming, soaking up his adulation.

We made our way into the infamous North End. The scarves, the songs, the sea of red and white, players and the pitch so close you could touch them, the euphoria.

I have not been the same person since. Thankfully, I have Tony to blame.

Cheers, Mark

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