BY OLIVER WILSON-NUNN / @Oli_Wilson_Nunn
My interest in football sparked quite late compared to some other fans. The rest of my family absolutely hates the game, but at the age of 15 I made a conscientious decision to plunge myself head first into the world of Arsenal.
Every week I found myself counting down until the next game knowing I’d be in my own little world. That mix of fear, excitement, bewilderment and bliss luring me in despite the fact I had to watch every game through dodgy Eastern European streams.
Then I finally did it, I booked tickets to watch my first game at the Emirates. 3pm on Saturday, 18 June was to be my first true Arsenal experience, the opening day of the 2012/13 season against Sunderland. I was over the moon.
In the two weeks leading up to the game I passed the time indulging in transfer rumours although all I could really think about was how the day would pan out. It was all just so exciting; the thought of the players being within touching distance, the roar of the crowd, all the wonderful, crazy camaraderie.
To my horror as the day grew closer I realised that I didn’t have anything to wear to the game. I had this awful fear that if I wasn’t clad in the red and white everyone would think that I wasn’t a true Gooner! Eager to rectify the situation I went down to the Armoury to get myself a scarf, given no one else in my family was really willing to fund my football ventures the shirt was off limits!
While there, I simply had to have a look around. I originally expected I’d be there for half an hour, but I spent more than an hour inquisitively strolling the circumference of the stadium, desperately reading every single word of the ‘Legends’ and marvelling at all the greats from throughout the club’s 125 years. From Cliff Bastin to Thierry Henry, Charlie George to Bob Wilson I was desperate to memorise the quotes and facts so I could later show off my Arsenal knowledge.
Finally the big day arrived and as you’d expect I woke up stupidly early. At the time my mum had a flat just off Holloway Road meaning the glorious sight of the Emirates Stadium was less than 20 minutes away on foot. It was a stunningly hot and sunny day and the beautiful weather only served to further fuel my insatiable excitement.
I was sitting around for hours, eagerly awaiting the time when I could go. Then about 12.30, with scarf proudly wrapped around my neck (I didn’t care less about the stifling 25 degree hear), I set off to one of the nearby cafes for a Gozleme (middle Eastern wrap thingy). Already I could feel the atmosphere buzzing with the number of people walking about in Arsenal shirts growing by the minute. I have to admit I was a little jealous that I wasn’t sporting a shirt so I too could fully show off my love for the club.
My excitement was at breaking point. I gobbled down the food, and briskly walked down the road to the stadium. Feeling it was the done thing I gave the evil eye to any Sunderland I saw!
As I walked past the Herbert Chapman pub, where everyone spilled on to the pavement merrily drinking, I thought how great it is that hundreds of thousands of people put their lives on hold for a few hours every Saturday purely for the love of Arsenal.
Given I had no distance to go, I arrived at the stadium horrendously early, about half past one. It was absolutely boiling in the sun, but I still refused to take the scarf off, and set about buying a programme. I was so worried about not getting in I’d geekily packed a plastic folder with every possible printed document I could be asked for. Getting turned away and having my day ruined was not an option. I even memorised my seat and area. ‘Turnstile N, area 26, row 3, seat 815,’ I chanted in my mind hundreds of times over. After fumbling for my Junior Gunners card and then sliding it under the fascinating turnstile device, I was in. I was home.
I scampered through to find area 26, then feeling almost majestic, strolled out into the stadium. Nearly dumbfounded by its beauty all that came out of my mouth was a crackled ‘Wow’. It was beautiful, more amazing than I could ever have imagined. Given the time it was virtually empty, but I couldn’t have cared less. I walked down the steps, mouth jarred half-open just taking in what was around me, and I settled down into my seat, I was so close it was incredible!
I sat down, read my programme, cover to cover, and gradually the stadium began to fill up. I raucously cheered as the Arsenal goalies came to warm up, although unfortunately, given their location at the other side of the pitch I had to settle for watching the Sunderland ‘keepers close up.
Then it came, 3 o’ clock, the players warmed up and ready, spine-tinglingly ushered onto the pitch by the cheers of the fans, and we were off. The whole ambience made my hair stand on end, the roars of ‘We love you Arsenal’ and other such chants mesmerised me and I was so happy to be able to get stuck in, copying the shouts of those next to me - wanting to be part of it all.
In all honestly, looking back on the match it was a god-awful 0-0 draw that we really should have won, I remember my head in my hands when Giroud - the new boy, like me - missed ‘that chance’ to become an instant hero. But I absolutely adored every moment of it, it was absolutely magnificent, even the stuffy, sweaty air couldn't put me off.
One line in particular sticks with me as we filed out of our seats - the guy who had been sitting next to me said to his friend irritably, “that was the worst opening game I’ve ever watched.”
I thought to myself - not for me, and I wouldn't have changed my experience for the world.