Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Tuesday August 7 2007
The big kick off is but five days away, every Arsenal end of season DVD/ VHS from 1988 has been comprehensively viewed and semiologically deconstructed to the point that I find myself freeze framing a Paul Davis volley in a 0-0 draw with Coventry City to decide once and for all whether it did actually shave the post. My Saturday's have been spent lounging in a mate's flat, watching episode after episode of Ray Mears Bushcraft, desperately waiting for a socially acceptable hour to begin drinking again after a Friday night of debauchery. My Sundays are spent attemtping to shake off my hangover by seeing if I can memorise the sequence of results in our 49 match unbeaten run. I can recite them off hand, including dates, kick off times and goalscorers.
The summer is usually considered a time of trepidation for the football obsessive, but I have come to appreciate it in past years. Nick Hornby produced a very rich metaphor in Fever Pitch when he said Arsenal were like the TV programme, everything else in life simply served as the adverts in between. It is a most poignant description and one that has stayed with me since it entered my lexicon. I have looked upon the summer as a relief over the last few years. The obsessive lives the object of his/ her fascination twenty four hours a day. The football obsessive does not have to be inside a football stadium, or watching sky sports with a warm can of wife beater. I'm willing to wager that in a conversation with your partner, or in a high octane meeting with your boss, or when viewing the fine, ahem, ladies of the internet, that Robin van Persie's left foot is never far away from your mind.
In the words of Prince Hamlet, 'ay, there's the rub.' Serial penalty choker Chris Waddle once said of penalties, '99% of it is in your head.' I would say the same about this kind of hopeless devotion. Personally, I am an extreme case as I attend every fixture, home and away. Even so, that's only two days, neigh, three hours of my entire week (that's 1/56 of the week arithmatic fans) is actually consumed by attending live football. That's a pittance, I imagine I spend a similar amount of time in the khazi (whereupon, I often find myself thinking of Tottenham). Sure, there's travelling, the pre match boozer/ dodgy fast food, which are all intricately woven into the fabric of the matchday experience. But those are the means to an end. I have never been to the Arsenal Tavern, or visited the Colonel for a burger on a non matchday. That leaves a large chunk of the week to pursue other interests; music, books, films, the inescapable charms of the fairer sex. Yet Arsenal still manage to leave an indellible mark on my week.
This is why I have come to appreciate the summer. Because my tragic obsession is confined to the darker corridors of my mind, I don't have to manifest it by blowing off yet another social engagement because I have to get up at 3am for Newcastle away. Nor is it quite so necessary to plead for a half day away from work so that I can go and watch Arsenal's teenagers open a can of whoop ass on some soon to be eliminated Carling Cup opponents. My freakish memory recall can stay behind closed doors. In a chance converstaion with a Palace fan at the weekend, I realised I could remember around 80% of the Eagles' results when they were last in the Premiership. I find myself bonding with my friends in a more meaningful way, I see more of my family, hell I even begin to find time to lavish unhealthy amounts of attention towards women. In other words, I'm a slightly less tragic human being for a quarter of the year. The summer transfer freakshow leaves me uninspired and I relish the mask of anonimity the off season affords me.
A couple of seasons ago, whilst still a penniless student, I spent around £150 watching Arsenal play a pre season friendly in Glasgow. The pre season friendly trap was always one I used to fall into. Around late May I would itch for football again, and vent my frustration towards the first available friendly in an attempt to satisfy the itch, like a junky pouring copius amounts of methadone down his gullet. But friendlies always disappoint, they are the footballing equivalent of a lap dance. They seem like a cracking idea at the time, but once you've spent your money and had your fun, you find yourself itching for the real thing more than ever before. I ceased attending them a couple of years ago and now I have come to appreciate that first game even more. Awaking early, removing my season ticket from its usual hiding place (like I'd tell you where that is), strutting to the Tavern in glorious sunshine, relaxed by the foolish pre season optimism that permeates all football fans.
As I flick my calendar nonchalantly onto August, I feel that excitement coarsing through me again. The sight of Arsenal's opening fixtures inked carefully onto the assorted squares leaves me tense with boyish ardor. My mind begins to turn to the team selection for the opening game, what time to meet the charges for that pre match Guinness, whether that annoying toff behind me has extended his vocabulary beyond, 'shooooooooooooot.' I find myself in the familiar grip of excuse as I refuse another invitation in pursuit of my chosen family. I am a moron again. As I contemplate another year of tension, swearing far more than is becoming of a man of my education, tearing my hair out in delight at the last minute winner, burying my face like an ostrich as we concede a last minute equaliser, dodging between the bottles and paving stones on another narrow escape from White Hart Lane. I close this catharsis with a quote from Peter de Vries, who oppined that 'life is a zoo in a jungle.' Well after three months swinging from trees and chewing eucalyptus, I'm ready to get back in the cage and tame tigers with my bare hands. To my friends, to my family, I say sorry. I am ready to become a moron again. Bring it on.LD.
Date:Tuesday August 7 2007
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