Gunners and Gravy
The earliest memory I have of being aware of Arsenal was sometime after they won the League and FA Cup Double in the 1970-71 season. My grandfather had a colour supplement from an English paper, probably three weeks or more out of date, and there was a feature on the Cup Final. Arsenal defeated Liverpool 2-1 in extra time, that was meaningless to me but I remember seeing a series of colour photos of Charlie George shooting and reacting to his goal by falling to the ground with his arms outstretched.
Pop must have told me something about the history of the club, I remembered they were somehow associated with the artillery and Pop had been in the artillery during World War One. I became more interested in soccer but until 1978 I didn’t really pay much attention to English league football, having had more exposure to West German soccer thanks to Soccer Made in Germany. When my Arsenal supporting cousin Barry came to visit in 1978 with his family I remembered bits of what Pop had told me and that somehow that was the team that I supported because they were the gunners.
The first time I watched Arsenal play on TV was the 1978 FA Cup Final against Ipswich. My only memory is the Ipswich goal by Roger Osborne and feeling cheated with the result. The following year Arsenal defeated Manchester United in a game where Arsenal threw away a two goal lead in the last few minutes only to score the winner right before the final whistle. Then there was a lean period and there were times I wished I supported Liverpool like one of my brothers or so many friends but I stuck with the team. It wasn’t like supporting Chelsea dropping down divisions, Arsenal have been in the top flight longer than any other team, but there were few trophies through the 80’s.
The worst part was the football they played. “Arsenal Are Boring” was a regular chant at matches until the later part of the 80’s and there were times it made me want to cry in frustration. I wanted Arsenal to play attractive attacking football, I wanted them to play like Montreal had played hockey at their peak, or like Mönchengladbach had played during the 70’s. There were some very creative footballers in England but Arsenal never seemed to have them after Liam Brady left.
Then things changed and Arsenal were a top team again but playing a more offensive style of football and scoring goals. The club enjoyed a period of consistent success, including the first undefeated season in the top flight in over a century, which was both satisfying and caution inducing: nothing is constant in English football. Faced with financial pressure to compete with deep pocketed clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and latterly Manchester City, necessitated leaving the atmosphere and memories of Highbury to build a bigger stadium.
Arsenal didn’t win anything from 2006 until 2014 but it didn’t really bother me that much. I had experienced lean times and drops down the table but this era “lean times” meant consistent fourth place finishes and a cup final appearance. They were playing beautiful football and failing to succeed yet on budgets far lower than their rivals. While at Stamford Bridge in 2013 I was talking with a tour guide named Elvis and he asked if I was frustrated by the trophy drought so I compared it to Chelsea’s tough times on and off the pitch since he began supporting the club in the 70’s. If you have supported a club all your life trophies are the gravy whilst the existence of the club is the meat. You can get by without gravy but when you do get some the meat tastes even better.