My Dad was born on May 28th 1945 to Lenard & Esther Stevenson, I’m unsure of his birth address but I know he went to school less than 200 yards from the old Arsenal ground which is now luxury apartments flats. Anyway, I grew up listening to Dad’s stories about his days growing up in Highbury, his tales of supporting Arsenal, and other humorous accounts of nights out with his friends.
My Dad died in July 2011 just one month and three days after being diagnosed with cancer. He was only 66. He was my best friend. I remember when I was younger I used to follow him like a shadow and particularly recall sitting and watching him repair the family cars. No doubt I was probably annoying him by asking questions or getting in the way and he used to shut me up by asking me to pass him the spanners etc. When he went to the scrapyard for car parts I tagged along and I loved it. It was just him and I wandering around looking for what he needed; he’d give me a foot up to climb stacked cars instructing me from below what it was he needed. As a well-built 6ft3” man with hands like shovels he knew I’d be able to get my hands into the smaller areas like fuse boxes and under bonnets.
Since he passed away I have thought so much about the Arsenal stories he told me. I can recall when they won the Double in 1998 and he asked if I wanted to see the celebratory bus tour. I didn’t need to be asked twice. We left early that day and parked in a side road, walked quite a way to where we needed to be. On route he showed me his old school directly down the road from the old ground, he showed me his old drinking hang outs, told me funny stories. I never saw him as proud to be an Arsenal boy as he was that day. We saw the buses and all the players, of which I still have all the pictures. We later found out that we could spot ourselves in the crowd photos that featured in the Arsenal shop…well Dad’s bloody great bald head with me next to him.
I wish so much that I could have had more time to immerse myself in his world, he was such a hard working dad. We hardly had holidays, if any at all. I’ve never been abroad. He was so busy working like a horse doing shift work and at weekend’s he was decorating, gardening, working on the car, helping his friends do the same. He never sat about. I know we never had much money growing up, but we weren’t poor. We had two cars, both him and my mum worked. But it was hard.
I wish I’d have had the chance to go to an Arsenal game with him, I really wish I had. It breaks my heart that I never got to go to Highbury with him by my side. When he found out the club were going to build the Emirates he showed me on a map where the new stadium was going to be; in 2009 I bought a tour of the Emirates for a combined birthday and Father’s day present. I went with him and we enjoyed, what I didn’t know at the time, would be our last father-daughter day out together. He loved it, every minute.
He spent the tour telling me all about the old players, and was fascinated by all the new facilities – the changing rooms, the press room, the pitch. We visited the museum as well and he told me about the games he watched as a lad with his mates. I believe one of his friends had a flat near the old ground and before they built the Clock End it used to have a view over the pitch which meant they didn’t have to go to the game!
Since my best friend, my ideal perfect hero of a man died, I’ve become a Red Member at Arsenal and been to two games. The game against Manchester City on November 29th was my first. I was nervous and uncomfortable as I sat and watched the game in such a large crowd. As I left down Gillespie Road I missed him so much. I kept thinking about all the times he must have walked these roads causing mischief and having a laugh with his mates. All the street names, Avenell Road, Highbury Hill, Drayton Park, Blackstock Road they all came flooding back to me from his stories. I cried.
My second game was against Leeds on January 9th 2012 – I was on my own, but little did I know how good it would be. I took the train from Royston to Finsbury Park, walked (or speed-walked as my Dad seemed to do) to the ground, got in but couldn’t find my seat. I spent the first half sitting in an empty one until I had time to find the one I’d purchased. At half time I found it, it was right at the back. I’ve now got my own rule for watching the Arsenal – if I’m going, I need to sit in the Clock End! End of story. I’ve already got my next ticket for the Blackburn game in February.
I want to go to as many home games as I can. It doesn’t matter whether it is alone or with someone else, but watching Henry’s return showed me that we’re there for the same reason – a pure love for the club. I’ve never shouted like I did when he came on, never screamed or sung songs at the top of my voice like I did when Thierry scored. I loved it!
Now I may be a girl, I may not know that much about football, the transfers, the gossip, the talent of the players, form or tactics but I know the offside rule and I get by.
Growing up I spent a lot of time in junior school ruining my Doc Martens playing football in the playground with the boys. I’d get told off by Mum because they were scuffed and worn after just two weeks back in term; Dad just laughed and smiled. During the evenings and weekends when Dad was working I went to play football with the lads in my road down at the park. We’d be down there all day, playing football, cricket, riding our bikes until we were about 15. I loved cricket.
I am the 28-year-old woman I am today thanks to the wonderful man who brought me into the world. He showed me things and taught me things I’ll never forget. He made me who I am. I know about cars because of him, I know how to change tyres, spark plugs, fan belts, the oil and alike because of him. I know how to do DIY because of him. My morals, my understanding, my way of thinking, my opinions have all been influenced by him.
One thing I am particularly proud about is the fact that after my mum left him in 2004 we grew even closer. Even when I moved in with my fiancé in 2007 we spoke twice a week. When the relationship broke down he straight away offered me my old room again. He knew I was independent though and he didn’t mind when I found my own place, we still found time to visit each other.
Seeing fathers with their children at the matches I’ve been to makes me smile so much. Seeing one young girl trying to keep up with her dad’s big footsteps, just as I used to, made me so emotional. I’d have loved to have my Dad lead me down the Gillespie Road on matchday. Still I’ve got my shirt (STEVENSON 28 on the back…my Dad’s birth date), I’ve got my membership, I’ve got my Dad’s scarf and a small Arsenal teddy keyring.
I am a GOONER because of him – my wonderful caring, honest and bloody huge Arsenal boy.