A Gooner’s Perspective: The Joys of Watching Arsenal in School
“The Maracana” is a historical stadium in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, which was opened in 1950 to host the FIFA World Cup in which Brazil was beaten by Uruguay 2-1 in the deciding game….
I’m sorry that’s not that “Maracana” I want to write about. This ‘Maracana’ is a local match viewing center situated right inside the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Nigeria, my wonderful university from 2005 – 2010. The viewing center has two big rooms constructed locally with aluminum roofing sheets from top to bottom.
On a hot Saturday afternoon with the early 12.45pm kick off, it’s not a nice place to be despite the standing fan recycling hot air around the two rooms with sweaty and arguing FUTO students rendering more pollution to the already charged atmosphere. I think the cost of a game then was between 20 Naira and 50 Naira and like Arsenal season ticket you can pay some 3% more to watch all the games for that weekend with a ridiculous stamp on your palms to identify that you’ve paid for the game you’re about to watch.
We braved those conditions despite the economy and the discomfort, and it was more annoying bearing in mind that we Arsenal fans here in Nigeria (and worldwide, I presume) were subjected to mocking misery due to the team’s ‘shortcomings’.
Why am I reminiscing on past like Liverpool fans always do? It’s not because I missed FUTO, but because I missed the excitement of those days. I miss having to look forward to the weekend to watch my Arsenal after enduring a long week of academic stress. I missed the fact that Arsene Wenger was braving the odds with youths. Hell!! I used to call him Prof back then. I miss our brand of possession football; you can win us but you can never out pass us not like these days.
I really miss the fact that when watching a game in the local viewing center, you would hear fans giving nicknames to literally all the players:
- Cesc Fabregas was called “Fabrepass” for obvious reasons. He can see a pass no other person in the field imagined possible. Go on and take your pick of his most awesome passes.
- Mathieu Flamini (I mean the old 2007/08 season Flamini) was called “Elijah” for his #Beardgang attributes (I’m sure my friend, Wilson Dike, will be smiling) and for raining fire on anybody who wants to disturb his precious defense.
- Aliaksandr Hleb was called “Shakira” because his waist turns 3600, he always leaves his marker dead and he can hug the ball for the entire lost city of Atlantis.
- Nicklas Bendtner was tagged “World Best”, a title he gave himself to his detriment and for his arrogance and lackadaisical attitude on and off the pitch. He just doesn’t care enough and he used to score 1 out of 11 chances but we still enjoyed him.
- Jens Lehmann (Mad Jens) and Manuel Almunia (Aluminium) manning the sticks. Both have their days but their calamity rate always gives us nightmare. We still loved them though.
- Tomas Rosicky (Rozza) the fans darling. His turn of pace, movement, quick feet, quick thinking, positive attitude is unequaled in arsenal. He does all these with his ever young face and amazing loose hair dangling freely at the back of his head. Believe me I could write a book about him but let’s leave it for another day.
- Emmanuel Eboue (The Farmer): Always looked unkept and untidy but he is an arsenal cult hero. Ashley Young would be jealous of his dives if he’s shown the clips. He was a winner and a fighter for us.
- Even some Hausa Arsenal fans called Gael Clichy “Kilishi”, because his name sounded like the dried meat.
Have I told you about our youth set up back then?, In fact I preferred watching Carling Cup because of the excitement of seeing the likes of Jack Wilshere, Fran Merida, Denilson, Kieran Gibbs, Carlos Vela, Henri Lansbury, Theo Walcott, Justin Hoyte, Kyle Bartney and even some bloke called Thomas Cruise strut their stuff. They were gifted, exciting to watch and can keep possession to the admiration of the whole Europe. We were even dubbed the “Barcelona of England”. In 2007, with some help from the Carling Cup president, Julio Baptista, the young lads made it to the Carling cup final which was eventually lost to Chelsea. I loved and respected the Invincibles but I somehow felt closer to this team, maybe because I was older and had more access to the television. Or maybe like this article’s intention it coincided with my university life. It became a part and parcel of me, my joy, and my escape.
I reminisce on the past to show a bit of my world then. I still have fond memories of those days where I met quite a number of fellow Gooners some of who constitutes a group I belong to called Team Gooner Daily. Automatically you make friends with who does like you do, who enjoys what you enjoy. Every match day you see familiar faces and till date these guys constitutes a large part of my life.
The common trait with the present squad is the lack of silverware to crown our efforts. We were close but not close enough. This article does not seek to dwell on that or the reasons for our inability to go the further mile but you could take a pick (school boy errors, tactical inferiority, poor refereeing, injuries, lack of funds to compete properly with the elite, our board’s lack of ambition, change of stadium, mass exodus of stars and experienced veterans; surely you can add your own). We still complained despite the beautiful football exhibited, we would have sacrificed the style for trophy. Fast forward to 2013/2014 season and you would laugh at the irony. We have better players now, more experienced more technically gifted if you like and cost quite a fortune to assemble; yet sometimes, our game can piss the calmest man off.
The 2 – 0 win against Sunderland on Saturday made me so sick I stopped watching after 75mins. We were playing short passes to each other like we were in a training ground without movement or incision for the better part of 90mins. It took the different mental level of Alexis Sanchez to bail us out on two occasions where he exhibited up the pitch pressing; something is sure he learnt from the football school he came from. The irony is we wanted efficiency to be added to our sweet footie but instead we got efficiency or consistency of performance like Wenger said in his press conference and lost our sweet style. I hope in the nearest future with Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud back in the mix we can be efficient as well as play some footie that we came to love arsenal for.
Arsenal FC – a club worth loving.
This guest post was written by Austine Onono, or @nwakibie, as he’s known on Twitter. Feel free to follow him.
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