14 July 2013

The Asia Tour and the joy of being a Gooner

I've been an Arsenal fan for most of my life, but almost all of it has been a solitary existence. Here in America, we didn't get any kind of access to European football until painfully recently, and so I've missed out on a great deal of the joy of membership in a larger tribe or community. One of my dreams is to come to Ashburton Grove to see the boys play, so I have to admit I feel some good-natured envy of Gooners who will get to host the squad over the next few weeks.

It's hard to describe the giddiness and unadulterated joy I'm experiencing as I check in on the Asia Tour and to see Arsenal greeted by madding throngs of fans, almost all of whom, I'd wager, have come no closer to the hallowed pitch than I have. Do yourself a favor and watch this video for a few minutes and tell me you don't feel a trill of pleasure down your spine, in your cheeks, and in your heart. These are men and women who get to see Gunners in the flesh, slap their hands, hug them. The grins and the chanting are positively ecstatic. Sam Limbert, a writer for arseblog and ESPN, has commented on how the Asia Tour will help to boost Arsenal's brand and commercial strength, which is most definitely true. The more fans we have, the more strength the club has. By contrast, Chelsea's reception in Taiwan has been somewhat more modest, revealing (to me, at least) a superficial element to their support and success.

The converse side of that is the passion and joy that we're seeing among the Indonesian fans who have gotten a chance to see Gunners, not just in press conferences or on the pitch, but face to face as more than just player in Arsenal kits—that is, as people in the flesh. That bond, that connection, is a huge part of what sport is all about. If I ever do make it to see Arsenal play and get beer spilled on me and chant and cheer until my throat bleeds, I want to look around and see not just Englishmen, Scots, and Irishmen, but Indonesian and Japanese and Vietnamese Gooners just as delirious as I am. We may not all speak the same language but we'll be breathing the same air and feeling the same pulsing rhythm in our hearts. A large debt is due to Arsène, not just for bringing stylish football to England, but for popularizing foreign players. Much as we might fault his proclivity for seeking out Francophone players, he was among the first to see the importance of finding the best and bringing them to the Prem, strengthening not just Arsenal but British football as well. Perhaps this tour will inspire the first Indonesian or Indian footballer to come to the Emirates someday soon.

It blows my mind to see the passion of fans who turned out to watch a simple training session—they're more worked up (and perhaps more numerous) than the turn-out for an actual match (well, maybe an early FA or league cup match, but you get my point). I can't wait to see the Indonesia Dream Team take on Arsenal today. We might not be able to watch it live, but a replay will be available to everyone at Arsenal Player sometime around 4:30pm (London Time).

We can look around and check our twitter feeds and facebook pages and see activity from Malaysia, England, Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, Ireland, Canada, Russia, Vietnam, Japan, France, America, Indonesia and more than I can list and realize that, whatever our nationality, ethnicity, religion, language, politics, gender, or almost any other label we're known by or labelled as, we're all Gooners as well. That is a glorious, glorious feeling to have—and to know it's a feeling that millions around the world share is just sublime.