A Love Affair with Highbury

It's funny how the total obsession of something can be traced back to such distinct moments. A specific memory can be triggered by something as simple as a smell or visit to a particular location, and like all football supporters, those sensations can immediately take me back to those early days of following my club. To this day, the smell of onions being cooked immediately takes me back to my first visit Highbury.

I was very fortunate that the first couple of years of me following the club just so happened to coincide with the arrival of Arsene Wenger and his exciting brand of football, something which of course helped in those early days instil the love that I have for Arsenal. However, I believe I was always destined for this life. 

My Great-Grandad was born in Woolwich, and so the history of the club has since been intrinsically linked to that of my family, and each generation has happily taken over the mantle of carrying the red and white flag with pride. However, the relative success of a side can test that. Indeed, the notion of my brother supporting another club arose in 1996, following Aston Villa's victory over Leeds United in the Coca-Cola Cup Final. He had made the decision that he wanted to follow the Villa, at which point my Dad made a firm deal with him; if you want to support Aston Villa, then you will be living in the shed. The decision was swiftly reversed. 

My indoctrination on the other hand was reasonably straight forward, albeit unorthodox. The usual process is quite simple. Dad takes boy to football. Boy falls in love with the team he see's. End of discussion. But despite his best efforts, my Dad was unable to convince my Mum to allow me to go to Highbury until I turned ten. Football was still recovering from the 80s reputation of hooliganism being present at all stadia, and with my Mum being from America, this reputation was still firmly ingrained in her mind. So my story began slightly differently.

I continued to show an interest in games, but in the 97/98 season, at the tender age of seven, my Dad spotted his chance to ensure that his children never ventured away from Arsenal again. With the Gunners chasing the Double, Dad made a deal with both me and my brother. If Arsenal clinch the title, £100 each. If Arsenal win the FA Cup, £50 each. At the summation of that incredible season, the deal was well and truly sealed for both of us. 

But as we fast-forward a couple of years to the year of my tenth birthday, it became very clear that this security measure was unnecessary for me. Friday 15th September saw me return home from school to meet my parents. My Dad started speaking and told me that he had some good news and some bad news to share with me. Firstly, the bad news; I wouldn't be able to play in my football match the next day. The good news; I was finally being taken to my first Arsenal game!

The game itself was a fairly run of the mill home game. Arsenal took a two-goal lead thanks to Sylvain Wiltord and Paolo Vernazza - a goal-scorer I will never forget for as long as I live - before Mustapha Hadji pulled one back with ten minutes to play. Marcus Hall then struck the crossbar in stoppage time but Arsenal were able to hold on. However, although I'm delighted that my first game resulted in a victory, it kind of pales into insignificance when compared against the rest of the day.

A trip to the Arsenal Fish Bar for a battered sausage and chips; waiting outside of the box office with our friend Eric for the team sheet to be released; making our way round to the West Stand; hearing the roar of the crowd as the two Arsenal goals hit the back of the net, I was addicted immediately. Upon leaving the ground, there was one thing on my mind: "Can we come again next week?"

I may not have made it back for the next game, but the seed was well and truly planted. Now when that question creeps into my head, the answer is invariably yes.