BY RYAN CAMERON / @rycmrn
A while back, I submitted an entry to the Memory Bank (read it here) detailing the first and only time I'd ever watched Arsenal in the flesh, a debut which saw me witness Arsene Wenger's side win the title at Old Trafford on that famous spring evening in 2002. In that piece, I alluded to an upcoming visit to The Emirates Stadium to see them in action for a second time - almost 10 years later.
The trip was a 21st birthday present from my fiancée, Joanna, and I don't think she'll ever fully appreciated just how much it meant to me. It was a lifelong dream come true. Walking to the stadium from Finsbury Park that evening can only be described as an emotional experience. Seeing people walking from every direction draped in red and white, all for one purpose, all together, kindred spirits, united in the love of our football club.
It's the sort of feeling that is hard for non-football fans to comprehend. I felt like I belonged, I felt like I had arrived home after twenty-one years. All those years of pretending to be Marc Overmars in the back garden, of checking teletext for Arsenal goal updates, searching the length and width of Northern Ireland to find a JVC Arsenal replica shirt...they had all led me to this one magical moment. I beamed a smile which lasted for days.
As the magnificent stadium came into view, my grin grew even wider. I was experiencing the same sort of feeling I'd had on Christmas Day morning as a kid. Shaking and practically running closer to soak it all in, Joanna was dragged along by the hand. It was a freezing November night and she has no interest in football, but she knew how much it meant to me so she at least pretended to be excited, bless her.
As I gazed open mouthed at the stadium, Joanna drew my attention to a crowd that had gathered outside The Armoury. There were TV cameras in the middle of them, so I knew someone famous was down there. I thought perhaps an ex-player, Pires or maybe Dixon. I had to check it out. Almost elbowing my way through the masses, I saw one of my favourite players, Jack Wilshere, alongside Carl Jenkinson, charity buckets in hand in order to raise funds for Save The Children. A picture with both of them was the cherry on top of my metaphorical cake, and well worth a few quid in the bucket for a great cause.
We took our seats about two hours before kick off. I soaked in the surroundings and savoured every second. Cheesy as it may sound, it was breathtaking, almost dream-like. The match flew by. Thomas Vermaelen popped up with a header to salvage a draw against an impressive Fulham side. I shouted, chanted and appealed like a regular. I knew it may be a while until I was back, so I had to make the most of it!
But the result, for me at least, was irrelevant. I had just witnessed my team in action. Nothing could take that away from me. Joanna had enjoyed the weekend, but for me, it was a day I'll never forget. A truly defining experience. Roll on 2012/2013 so I can do it all again.