03 March 2014

The Romford Pelé rides the bus and reflects on Anfield with away fans

In 1992, Ray Parlour made his Arsenal debut at Anfield—where, similar to a few weeks ago, we lost. Parlour was guilty of conceding a penalty in the 0-2 loss but has gone on to to become a club legend and fan favorite. Recently, he surprised a bus full of Gooners on their way to the Anfield match with the help of the Barclay Buses, a scheme that provides free bus travel to away-fans In this case, some 80 Gooners got a chance to kibbitz with Parlour over breakfast, talking about his time with the club, prospects for the upcoming match (which, sad to say, didn't go so well...). However, a chance to sit on a bus with the likes of Parlour for a few hours (the trip is some 418 miles round-trip) is one of a lifetime and, I'm sure, adds more than a trace-silver lining to those fans who rode the bus with the man.


Parlour spoke fondly after the experience, which is the fourth such trip the Barclays Buses have provided:
I spent most of my playing career at Arsenal, so I’m really pleased to see Barclays reward those loyal away fans with free bus travel. The supporters were great with me while I played for the club, so it’s great to be backing the Barclays Buses initiative, which is giving a little bit back to those that travel up and down the country supporting Arsene Wenger’s team.I don't think the fans realize how much [they] do for the players. You know, places like Liverpool are always a tough place to go...the atmosphere [the fans] create always makes it really special.
Indeed, one of the more-stirring sights and sounds of the season has been the vocal, visible enthusiasm of our away-fans who, almost by definition, are among the club's most passionate and dedicated. That's a testament to the club, the squad, and its followers One such follower, speaking after the trip, put it straight and true when he said, "It was fantastic to sit with Ray Parlour. He just seemed like one of us."

Of course, it wasn't quite the return to Anfield Parlour might have chosen. I don't think anyone, certainly not him, could have envisioned such a result. It might have taken the starch out of a few fans' collars, so the idea of a trip home with Parlour might offer more than a little solace. Never one to let a bad result see him come undone, though, the man did point out that "If you've won every game, that's when you talk, 'you know, I've had enough of this. This is too easy." Then again, he might have bit more insight into what it's like to win every game—or to at least come close, as he did with the Invincibles just before retiring in the summer of 2004. It's of course far too late to dream of winning them all this time through, but that's no reason to slump down in one's chair. For those 80 fans, spending some quality time with the Romford Pelé might more than make up for the train-wreck they witnessed. For the rest of us, knowing that players like Parlour still cherish their time with the club enough to spend an entire day cooped up on a bus should offer a sincere reminder that the club and our support for it should, and does, transcend results. Of course, we want to win as often as possible, but as one fan on that bus put it, "we're there to support the team, not because, you know, we're hoping to win every time we go away."

For as wonderful as it is, after all, to celebrate a win, it's every bit as vital, if not more so, to support the team after a loss, and having fellow fans to commiserate with—whether it's Ray Parlour or a mate you've known since you were 6 or anywhere in between—is much closer to heart of being a fan than celebrating win after win after win. That's a big part of why I'm here and feel so thankful to those of you who come around and let me know where I'm wrong or where you disagree. So much of my own fandom has been of the quiet, independent kind that I'm hungry for membership in the Gooner family. It may not be quite as intimate as a few hours on a bus, but it more than meets the need.

Hats off, then, to Ray for reminding us all of what brings us together (and thanks, of course, to the Barclays Bus programme for making it possible. They started the scheme with Crystal Palace fans and former Eagles striker Ian Wright in October 2013 as a way of thanking fans that show their loyalty through their willingness to travel the width and breadth of the country to support their club. You can find more about the programme at www.facebook.com/barclaysfootball and join the conversation using #YouAreFootball).