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The English Football Diary - E04: Arsenal – Leicester

3,219,09 kilometers, 4 games, a British football diary

The English Football Diary - E04: Arsenal – Leicester 3,219,09 kilometers, 4 games, a British football diary

I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.

Nick Hornby, an Arsenal fan, writes it in the incipit of Fever Pitch, autobiographical novel released in 1992. 

Islington is a neighbourhood in northern London and if you were born and raised here, or if your father used to take you to Highbury on Saturdays instead of the park, here, football is part of you and Arsenal is your family. The metro station is just Arsenal, you walked for four minutes and you arrived in Highbury. Now you walk three minutes and get to the new Emirates. Easy no? Almost trivial. But just put one foot out of the Metro to be catapulted into the Victorian London of the small red brick houses, all the same, with the chimney on the right and only a minimum of living space in the front. If that day Arsenal plays at home, the path is easily marked by the countless stalls that fill the road making it even tighter, almost claustrophobic, forcing you to be part of that family that leads you by the hand to the stadium, making you feel at once a gooner.

Gooner comes from the nickname of the team "the Gunners". Born in 1886, thanks to the workers of Dial Square, factory of munitions, and in the first logo were represented three cannons. The first "home" is south of the Thames, in Woolwich, so much so that until 1913 the name of the team was Woolwich Arsenal. Now the logo of has only one cannon and of the working class little or nothing remained, being one of the richest teams of England. The unconditional love of the fans, however, has not changed, the aesthete love, for a baroque football, exuberant, theatrical, but perhaps little winning. "Leave it up to Arsenal to score one goal when they need two." Colin Firth, in the film remake of Fever at 90', makes very well the idea of what it really means to be an Arsenal fan: a great suffering first of all. It is from the 2003/2004 season that Arsenal does not win a Premier League, with Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Pires and Ljungberg among the others. 26 victories and 12 draws, the Invincibles. After six consecutive victories in the championship, today there is Leicester at home. It's 6 p.m. and I get on a full Metro at King's Cross, two stops and the third is Arsenal. I control every two minutes of not losing the ticket, but from the inner pocket of the jacket has never moved. I buy a red and white scarf and go to Block 7. Turnstile. Controls. Stairs. View. Breathless.


Arsenal-Leicester @Emirates

60,259 free seats, mine is the only one already occupied. A century is missing at the beginning of the game but as usual I can't resist having the stadium all to myself. The old Highbury clock stands above the Clock Endand it seems that time has stopped. I sit down, row 6, seat 198. I get up, I walk. Back sit. I'm impatient but I want the hands to stop. What should I do? The stadium is immense, the first fans start to populate their seats and the speaker announces the line-up. The hot-dog is postponed at the end of the first half, I'm tense and I'm not hungry. The band that divides the second ring from the third shows every success obtained by Arsenal in its history, in order of vintage, and like the 5 statues outside the plant, specifically by Ken Friar, Herbert Chapman, Tony Adams, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, they make you feel part of a great story. The inscription on the main façade of the stadium says "Victoria Concordia Crescit" (The victory comes from harmony), so everything seems to go in that direction of family, typical of a quiet neighbourhood, where Arsenal during the week sits with at the table you and on Saturday becomes a God. It’s just about 20:00, the Monday Night is about to start.

Lacazette, Mkhitaryan, Özil, the former Sampdoria Torreira, as always the technical rate among the Gunners is very high, but to go one-nil at the half an hour are the guests, with a cross of Chilwell deflected in his own goal by Bellerin. Better so, the audience heats up and the game gets inflamed. Just before the double whistle the 10 wearing the Arsenal jersey makes 1-1 and the best has yet to come. The Uruguayan midfielder is one of the most daring during all ninety minutes, "Torreira ooohhh! He comes from Uruguay, he's only five foot five! "and is at the moment the best on the field. Finally hot-dog, but there is a hellish row and I miss the crossbar hit by Leicester at the beginning of the second half (it was worth it though, it was delicious). Run at my place and the game changes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goes in, two goals in 3 minutes between 63' and 66'. The first goal comes from an illuminating pass always of 10, the second, however, is the most beautiful goal I have ever seen live. From the goalkeeper, Leno, 10 men touch the ball, all except Mustafi, no one twice, and yet Aubameyang should just tap the ball into the net. Typical Arsenal-style goal. 3-1, game over. The supporters applaud and sing "Arsenal! Arsenal! ", Lacazette tries in every way to score one for himself, the guests go close to 3-2 but nothing happens anymore.

The Emirates Stadium literally vibrates at every goal, it's normal. But it vibrates to an assist of Özil, to a dribbling of Lacazette, to a skill of Aubameyang. The Arsenal Way is not winning easily 3 – 0. No. It's elegance, aesthetics. It is to entertain at the cost of not winning, you go to the stadium already knowing you have to suffer and if you win, so much better. It means waking up on Mondays already nervous for the game of Saturday and going to work or to school with the red and white scarf. Arsenal means something else.

“It’s not easy to become a football fan. It takes years. But if you put in the hours, you’re welcomed without question into a new family. Except in this family, you care about the same people and hope for the same things. What’s childish about that?”

Fever Pitch, 1997.