Monday, March 07, 2011

For the love of the Game

It was a lovely morning. It had rained the day before, the earth was still wet. A soothing warm wind blew over me as I walked on the wet road covered with fallen leaves. I could hear the birds chirping, laughter of kids enjoying the reprieve the rain brought to the screeching summer holidays. My girlfriend-to-be had a few days back confessed her love for me. I had a 100% pay rise a week back. It looked like a perfect day was ahead. Everybody seemed so happy, everything seemed so good. Only, I felt like the world had ended. My heart was broken to a million pieces. I had cried along with the rain. I was close to a depression, the world seemed cruel to me. No, there was nothing lovely about that morning for me. Why? Because Arsenal had lost in the UEFA Champions League final the previous evening to Barcelona. I just couldn't bear the pain. If only Lehman wasn't sent off. If only Pires had stayed on. If only Arsenal had won.

That’s how it is for a true sports fan. Especially for a football fan. You live with the club in your blood. The club is not a third party that you just like. The club is a part of you and you are a part of the club. The oneness you feel with the team is unexplainable. The happiness, the grief, victory and defeat. All of it is yours too. “I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it”, so wrote Nick Hornby in his famous footy novel “Pitch Fever”. He couldn’t be more right.

My love affair with Arsenal had started in the 1999-2000 season. Like every Indian I was also a cricket fanatic while i was younger. Every other sport seemed boring, uninteresting or even unnecessary depending on how good or bad India was doing in those. One of those days I came across English Premier League. I don’t remember now but I must have been bored out of my wits that I was watching an EPL review show. And Arsenal caught my interest mainly because Manchester United were the favourites to win that season and Arsenal were the best in terms of a competition. That season I supported Arsenal silently more as a protest to everybody’s favourites than anything else. They finished second place, a whopping 18 points below Man Utd that season. But that didn’t matter. Arsenal had slowly seeped into my blood. I was a gunner before I knew it. And my love story with Arsenal had begun.

From there onwards till now, Ive been with the gunners through their every up and down. I was with them when they finished an entire season and 49 games unbeaten during what was termed the invincible era. I was with them when they scraped to finish in fourth place just about managing to earn a Champions League spot. No matter who comes in, no matter who goes out, Arsenal as an entity will remain and nothing and no one is bigger than the club. It doesn’t matter if Arsenal wins the league or finish rock bottom. I will still always stand by them. Its like your own family that you cant disown even if they turn out bad. This is a love that in my experience most who belong to the fair sex don’t really understand. I am not saying none of them follow it. A lot of them do. But the majority never really get it, and it’s just not their thing to be fair. No complaints. But as the fans of Arsenal sang to their loved ones, sitting in the stadium watching their team play on a valentine’s day… "I love Arsenal more than you".

Every pass they make, every goal they score, every tackle, every fall, every push and pull, everything they do has an effect on us gunners. I scream, yell, whine, moan (not sexually), roll my eyes, beat my head, hit the wall, throw the remote, kick the chair, bite my nails off, poke my eyes out, abuse the world, ponder believing again, sulk , sweat, run around, pump my fist, jump off things, jump on things, smile, grin, laugh, smirk and bask in glory in reaction to what happens to the Arsenal. So it doesn’t matter if a few years down the lane Arsenal cease to be a big club. I will still love them. Arsenal will still be the one for me. Loyal, dedicated and truly loving the red and white. And my girl friend thought I was commitment phobic. Ha! Come on you gunners!

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