BY ANDREW WILKINS / @HESFIVEFOOTFOUR
Why Arsenal? That is the question I am asked a fair bit whenever anyone finds out about my Arsenal leanings and my answer is always the same. “My Dad brainwashed me”. A perfectly acceptable and common answer, but one I'm not entirely sure is correct.
Let me explain. Growing up, I was brainwashed by my Arsenal mad Dad to support The Gunners, but much to his dismay, I showed little to no interest in football, preferring to watch Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers and Talespin rather than Paul Merson weave his magic or yet another classic Steve Bould near post flick on.
This was not due to a lack of effort on his part. I was bought every single Arsenal kit, made to watch every Liam Brady related video he had (even to this day I can still remember John Motson's commentary from the last 5 mins of the 1979 FA Cup final) and I have since been reliably informed that as a 14 month old, I was sat in front of the TV for Anfield 1989.
I was taken to my first Arsenal match in December 1993, an away match at Swindon's Country Ground. I can also remember Steve Morrow's winner in the Fizzy Pop Cup, Alan Smith's goal in Copenhagen and NAYIM FROM NOWHERE NEAR THE HALFWAY LINE but yet despite all that excitement, I had still not been bitten by either the football bug or the Arsenal bug.
So why Arsenal then? Although I am not and never will be 100% sure, I think it all started in 1996. The summer of 1996 to be exact. A time where football was coming home and a time where my parent's split up. Desperate to build some sort of rapport with my Dad I went with the one thing that apart from his family, meant more to him than anything - Arsenal.
From that moment I haven't looked back. I went to my first match at Highbury in October 1997, a League Cup match against Birmingham, during my real breakout season as an Arsenal fan. Yet another match at Highbury swiftly followed; a Boxing Day clash against Leicester City. I was hooked. A wonderful stadium that wasn't too intimidating for a 10-year-old boy, a fantastic pitch, exciting new team and some world class footballers like Bergkamp, Overmars and Vieira on view. Less than six months later we were Double Winners. There was no turning back from here.
Sadly, my Dad passed away in the summer of 2002. A journey that pretty much started during a Double winning season ended after another one. I do sometimes wonder why I didn’t stop supporting Arsenal there and then. While I had grown to love the club and invested emotionally in the football, wasn’t there a chance I’d find it too difficult to carry on supporting them without my father by my side? Oddly enough that never crossed my mind at the time...
So why Arsenal? As I said at the start of this essay, the easy answer is to say that I was brainwashed, and there is some truth in that. The cheesy answer would be to say that it is 'in my blood' and again, I think there is some truth in that. The real reason is much simpler; supporting the Gunners was a way for a father and son to bond. And if that is not proof for how powerful football can be, I do not know what is.