BY STEVEN ANSELL
I was prompted to write this little piece of reminiscence by a comment posted on the Guardian report of the fantastic 5-2 bumming we gave the Muppets over the weekend. This inbred half-wit was a Sp*rs fan who had the audacity to suggest that a fellow poster was in fact ineligible to support Arsenal because she lived in Penge, south-east London, and therefore, by reason of geography, should support Crystal Palace. This assumption is erroneous in the extreme, and I’m here to tell you why.
I too was brought up in Penge, south-east London, and Selhurst Park is indeed just down the road in West Norwood. And I’m sorry to say that this unfortunate accident of topography eventually became the reason for some of my earliest and most traumatic memories.
I had (and still have) a lumbering oaf of an uncle who insisted that I would enjoy being dragged to every Crystal Palace home game. I was five. I was defenceless and could offer no resistance. My mother was all for it, and the betrayal I felt then is possibly still festering away in some dark Oedipal part of my psyche. And so it began. It soon became apparent that my initial instinctive aversion was fucking spot on.
Selhurst Park and its environs seemed to hang with a perpetual gloom, and there was an all-pervading stench of pies, dogshit and stale beer. Then you went inside the horrible place and the negativity and bile bore down on me like weight. My uncle and his idiotic cohorts would shout and moan at their own players and bemoan the fact that they would probably lose again today. I wanted go home. And this tortuous bi-weekly outing continued and I could see no way out. What was I to do? When would the misery end?
Eventually, one Saturday morning, I found the courage to refuse point-blank to budge. The moronic uncle simply could not process this information – “what, you don’t want to go and watch the Palace?” No I fucking didn’t.
A short time passed, and just as nature abhors a vacuum, I was soon watching football again. My dad had a friend, a slightly intimidating gruff Scotsman, who had always called me a “Jesse” (for reasons that remain unclear). Anyway, he suggested that I go with him to watch “The Arsenal”. I didn’t really know what this meant but my heart leapt. I liked the sound of it. The Arsenal!
I would be going to Highbury for the next home game and I couldn’t wait. The day finally dawned and we went on the bus (that’s right, the bus) from Penge to Islington. To my young mind the whole thing seemed like some sort of Great Expedition, a profound and mystical journey, over the Great River, into North London, to see The Arsenal.
We were soon strolling up to the magnificent ground itself, and the sun was shining, people were smiling and laughing, it didn’t stink, red and white glistened and glimmered everywhere in the sunlight and there wasn’t a ridiculous two-tone diagonal stripe in sight; cherubim and seraphim sang from the treetops and the music of heaven rang down upon the earth. And then I finally went into a proper ground. My initial enduring memory is that the pitch was incredibly flat and green. Green! The grass was so fucking green! Not a pot-holed, brown pile of agricultural shit – flat and green. A surface to play football on, not a quagmire for retards to charge about on, like idiots. And that was that, I was a Gooner.
A few years later in 1988 (I was then fourteen) my Scottish friend was diagnosed with cancer, and the doctors said he didn’t have long left. He struggled on into the next year and by the end of that season a few family members and friends were huddled into his room in the hospice watching the telly as Micky Thomas charged through and won us the title at Anfield.
His skinny little arms shot up into the air and a beaming smile spread across his face for the first time in god knows how long, and he died a couple of days later. Cheers my friend, cheers for taking me to see The Arsenal all those years ago.