Out Of The Shadows: Arsenal and Me

13 Mar

I’ve been dreading this Dispatch all season. The Arsenal one. Whatever I write in the succeeding paragraphs will no doubt be dismissed by those from N5 as the conjecturing of a Spurs fan with all the attendant bias that inevitably comes with bitter, local rivalry. That may prove to be true to some extent. Nevertheless, what follows is an attempt to put into words the somewhat conflicting and troubled relationship I’ve always had with this club. In no way is this a platform to bait. It never has been. So if you are an Arsenal fan reading this, you’ve had your disclaimer. Click away or read on. I do not purport to speak for Spurs fans en masse. My opinions are my own and always have been.

As a North Londoner of Greek Cypriot descent, I made a choice at a very young age to support my local team. The team that was literally a short walk away from my house. That team was of course, Tottenham Hotspur. If any of you are familiar with the ethnic make-up of North London, you will be fully aware that a large proportion of the Greek Cypriot community passionately follows Arsenal, as famously lampooned with Harry Enfield’s mildly racist but by and large spot-on character of Stavros, the kebab shop owner.

My granddad supported Arsenal. He always had, having been brought up with the tales of Herbert Chapman’s all-conquering sides of the 1930s. I never asked him if he ever felt disappointed that I had gone against the grain. Did he ever feel a sense of loss at not being able to take me over to Highbury on a match day and stand at the Clock End as he had done when he settled in Islington during the 1950s? However he might have felt about this, he never let on and took great delight in winding up a particularly over-zealous and sensitive eight-year old whenever another North London derby saw Spurs roundly humiliated and disappointed. “If there was a Championship for which team had the best kit,” he would playfully mock, “then Spurs would be 10 points clear every year. But football isn’t a fashion parade”.

The familial rivalry probably reached its zenith on the 25th May 1989, when Michael Thomas split through the Liverpool defence at Anfield in the final minute of stoppage time, to win Arsenal the title. That goal, soundtracked by the late Brian Moore’s commentary (“It’s up for grabs…nowwwwwww!”) provoked the image of a bald, bespectacled, mild-mannered man in slippers, running out onto the street and dancing. I went to my bedroom and sulked.

My granddad died in 1993. I used to love listening to him breaking down games and telling me about the great players he had seen. But somehow, it felt that the choice of Spurs had forever placed me at a distance from him. Our joys and heartbreaks, in footballing terms, would never be shared. I don’t feel quite the same rush of adrenalin on derby day since he left us. And because of him, I can’t hate them like I’m meant to.

My footballing life has been dominated by the Arsenal sides of George Graham and Arsene Wenger; two distinctly unique and differing managers, with diverse philosophies but outrageously successful nonetheless. I’ve watched on as Ian Wright and Thierry Henry tormented Spurs in derby after derby over the years. I’ve squirmed at seeing Arsenal win the championship at White Hart Lane and become ‘invincible’. They’ve won two doubles in my lifetime, surpassing the one Spurs achieved before I was born. I have suffered the indignity of a Tottenham player, the captain no less, choosing to play for Arsenal because he felt he stood a greater chance of success. And more painfully, I’ve had to concede that Arsenal took the mantle of playing the kind of cavalier football that Spurs had once been famed for as my club lurched from one ‘transition period’ to another. And then there was trophy, after trophy, after trophy…

Of course it’s not always been doom and gloom for Spurs fans. We’ve had some truly remarkable and memorable wins against Arsenal over the years. We’ve been blessed with seeing some magnificent players pulling on the white shirt and we’ve always come back for more because that’s what you do. Not blessed with a particularly ribald or quick-wit however, I have had to take the ‘banter’ on the chin over the years. I still shudder at Paul Merson’s mocking of Paul Gascoigne’s celebration after the FA semi-final in 1993.

So maybe I had been envious over the years. Maybe I had got a little jaded at living in Arsenal’s shadow for so long, despite my heartiest protestations to the contrary. And then this week happened. As the Barcelona’s pass count mounted in the Camp Nou and Arsenal’s so-called artisans were humiliated by true masters, the thin veneer that masks this club’s frailties was emphatically made clear to me. It felt like the unmasking of a fiendish baddie in a Scooby Doo episode. Despite being outplayed, despite having a golden opportunity to eliminate their opponents in the final minute of the match and despite holding firm for three quarters of the tie, Arsene Wenger’s persecution complex kicked in as he suggested that Robin Van Persie’s ludicrous sending off, had an outcome on the game. As their season crumbles around them, Arsenal seem brittle, devoid of heart and in many respects paranoid.

Compare that to Spurs. A side that simply cannot defend provided a defensive masterclass in knocking out the giants of AC Milan. It was tense and gritty but by god, it had heart. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t envy Arsenal and their manager. They didn’t even enter my sphere of thinking. “Are you watching Arsenal?” came the chants from White Hart Lane, perhaps an outlet for all that pent up frustration stored over the years. But really, we’re beyond Arsenal now. Not in terms of sustained winning maybe but the fact that we now cut our own path.

Tuesday allowed me to see through the emperor’s new clothes. Wednesday night set me free of the shackles of the past. The motto ‘to dare is to do’ has never felt more relevant. And neither is the sheer inevitability that having said all this, Arsenal will go on to win the championship. Spurs fans. Such optimists, we are. But we do have an exceedingly good kit.

Dispatches has had the honour of being nominated for the EPL Talk Blog of the Season. If you would like to vote for it, click here thanks.

Further Reading: According To Type – 21st November Dispatch

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

11 Responses to “Out Of The Shadows: Arsenal and Me”

  1. ChrisD March 13, 2011 at 13:12 #

    Well said, sir.
    True satisfaction comes from your team’s achievements, not your enemy’s failings.

    • Carlito11 April 20, 2011 at 16:46 #

      That is an excellent comment and I second it!

  2. Beach Bum March 13, 2011 at 13:26 #

    Your former feelings are understandable,but my experiences are different from yours.I was born in 1934 and first saw Spurs play in 1945 when there was an improvised football league.Highbury ,the Arsenal ground was bombed dureing the war and they played at WHL when Spurs were playing away games.So I saw Spurs one week and Arsenal the following week.Perhaps it was because my familly had lived in WoodGreen forever that I took to supporting Spurs.I could tell you of the excitement of all the great Spurs players I have watched.From Ted Ditchburn,Ronnie Burgess,and Alf Ramsey in the early years to the golden age of Spurs dominance.Maurice Norman,Jimmy Greaves,John white,Blanchflower and the rest.A team that that made my friends and I call our neighbors:”Boring Arsenal”.The heritage that is WHL
    gives a tradition and heritage that the wanderers from Woolridge in their home at the Emirates can never rival.Over a hundred years of history helps to make this great club what it is today.

  3. Ted The Cabbie March 13, 2011 at 13:38 #

    Having supported and had a season ticket for most of 62years I enjoyed your article a great deal.If we are truthful we all have friends who support the OTHER SIDE .I play golf with ex Tottenham players and we talk football ,we don`t hate each other and we do not want to fight.Well said sir .

  4. Joe Kelly March 13, 2011 at 14:02 #

    I’m an Arsenal fan but I like and respect healthy passion in football and for your club, whoever they are. For that reason, I like your article.

    But hold off undermining Arsenal. One as yet unfinished season doesn’t make a great team!

  5. joel priest March 13, 2011 at 14:32 #

    so here we are greg, best mates and bitter football rivals…right? well no, i agree with you on most points i too can admire spurs and what Harry Redknapp has done for Spurs should not be underestimated.

    I think wenger in his time in england has changed the way football is played from putting his players on proper diets to promoting technical ability over power. I have seen some incredible football (on tv) and gloated about the invincible season and even when wenger sold vieira, henry, pires etc. i still trusted him to rebuild. However we haven’t done that.

    There is not steel in the team, no Adams to marshal the defence, no vieira or gilberto silva to sit and protect the back four. Wenger has always but his faith in his ability to find new young players and i have no doubt that Wilshere and Ramsay will be the fulcrum of their respected countries for years to come such is their quality. But in order to compliment youth you need experience and wenger has never appropriately replaced those key players.

    Until he invests i cannot see that changing and i fully expect to see united pick up the title this season for all of the above reasons.

    I do however have to disagree on one point, a sending off will always change a game not matter whether you are being dominated or are dominating and we simply had no outlet after VP left the field.

    I for one simply like watching good football and if that be man united or spurs then so be it.

  6. William March 13, 2011 at 16:45 #

    As neither a Spurs nor an Arsenal fan, I’m an outsider to this north London rivalry. Being a Man United fan, though, obviously means that during my footballing life the Gunners have been United’s on-off (predominantly on) rivals for over a decade. This rivalry reached its peak around 2003 & 2004, I would say, achieving its zenith in 2004 with the “pizza-gate” game at Old Trafford that deprived Arsenal of going 50 league games unbeaten.

    The point I wish to make is that seeing through Wenger’s new clothes over the past fortnight has been satisfying from a United fan’s perspective too. Arsenal were clearly the better footballing side 7 or 8 years ago and the only way United could match them (or beat them) was to rattle them (witness Keane’s role in the 2004 FA Cup semi-final). When the tactic worked it was brilliant; when it didn’t, the spectacle was slightly unedifying.

    Arsenal can clearly still win the league this season (and, given United’s away form, I’m not holding out for more than a point at the Emirates) but yesterday’s cup tie certainly proved how differently Ferguson and Wenger have reacted to their respective hardships lately, exposing something of a fundamental difference between their managerial styles, and one that has always existed I believe.

  7. lee March 13, 2011 at 16:55 #

    good article. the pain from 89 will last my life time. i actually locked myself in my bedroom and stayed there for 5 days after the game. that was the first time i saw them win the league- ive hated them ever since, well i did hate them before that it just reached new heights post anfield. Boxing day games at highbury were always so exciting as a kid , new strides, shoes, coat the lot. The game at their place this season was a huge turning point and history will document that the tide finally turned one glorious afternoon on the 20th November 2010.
    SShhhhhhh i think its all gone quiet over there!!!!! COYS x

  8. Dixta March 14, 2011 at 09:46 #

    i cried when they won in it 89. i was 17. but thankfully, in my final year at school, i saw i us beat them 3-1 in the Gazza semi and go on to win the cup. at last the Cockeral could crow!
    good article and you are right about our “optimism”!
    btw did anyone else see Goal 2 on BBC 2 y’day in which Real Madrid beat arsenal 3-2 in a Champs League final!?

  9. Natasha Henry March 15, 2011 at 19:25 #

    Another good article Greg.

    As a Gooner I love the healthy side of the rivalry and in a slightly sado-masochistic way, derbies are a lot more fun now your team actually have a chance of beating us.

  10. Lanterne Rouge March 21, 2011 at 12:17 #

    Customarily superb stuff Greg.

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