That decision may well turn out to be ill-advised. I initially shoehorned the idea with the intention of picking up one or two shirts every now and again to pad out my collection. Within the first week, I had purchased 15 shirts from eBay. Nevertheless, I’ve started so I’ll finish!
In order to make this project more trackable, I thought the idea of creating a written body of work to document my collection would not only give me something to focus on (lockdown is still in effect at this point) but would also allow me to reminisce and inevitably pine for the glory days of my childhood.
From my collection, I have asked my fiancée to choose me a shirt each day for me to base this blog on. Today is the 1996-1998 home shirt, an iconic shirt that is now synonymous with the beginning of a new era at Arsenal Football Club. With the start of the 1996-1997 season imminent, Arsenal boss Bruce Rioch was sensationally sacked, leaving the club manager-less entering into the start of the Premiership campaign. It wasn’t until 12th October that Arsene Wenger took charge of the first match of his 1228 game reign at the helm.
At the time, I was just six years old and barely old enough to understand what football truly meant and how it would come to shape my entire life. My earliest memory as an Arsenal fan really didn’t start until the following season, when Arsene Wenger’s hold on Arsenal really began to shape an exciting future for the club. My memories of this shirt begin with the 3-2 home win over Manchester United at Highbury. My Dad was working in London on the Jubilee Line and as such was away from home a lot. But that Sunday, we shared a bond over the phone when David Platt headed the winning goal (one of the best headed goals I have ever seen!). From this moment, Arsenal became everything.
There were so many glorious moments of that season, but unfortunately these were all occasions that I had to be content with watching on the TV or waiting for Match of the Day. My Mum as an American, had a very negative view of English football. The intense hooliganism of the 80s had shaped her understanding of the game and she would not allow me to attend games until I was at least 10. But regardless of this, I still have such incredible memories of that entire campaign, not least our sensational ten-match winning run to storm to the title.
The 4-0 triumph over Everton to clinch the title is another memory I will never forget. Prior to this game, in an attempt to force his Arsenal passion onto his sons, my Dad had promised my brother and I £100 if Arsenal won the league and a further £50 if Arsenal won the FA Cup to clinch their second double. He had been looking for a way to cement The Arsenal into our lives ever since by brother toyed with the idea of becoming an Aston Villa fan following their victory in the Coca-Cola Cup in 1996. Dad reacted to this by telling my eight-year-old brother that should he make this choice; he would be living in the shed for the foreseeable future. My brother wisely had a re-think.
Back to the Everton game and my Dad had taken my brother and I to a grotty pub in our hometown to witness this historical moment. This was the first time that I had experienced a congregation of supporters all hoping and wishing for the same outcome; this is what proper sport was all about! The noise that accompanied Tony Adams thrashing the fourth into the back of the net stirred an excitement and emotion in my body that I did not know existed. At that point I knew for certain that I was going to be Arsenal ‘till I die!
This shirt will always have a place in my heart. I didn’t manage to pick up a replica until I was in my mid-teens but even now, it is my go-to shirt whenever I go to games or am roped into a Monday night 6-aside game.
And of course, every time I wear it, I imagine that I am Marc Overmars, roaring past Dave Watson to clinch the Championship in front of the North Bank.