05 December 2014

An open letter to Ryan Shawcross

Dear Ryan—
If I may be so bold as to address by your first name, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jon Shay. I'm a Gooner. I live in the United States in a small town by the name of Evanston. It's a suburb just north of Chicago, Illinois. I've been a Gooner ever since stumbling across some First Division highlights at some point in the early 80's. Late night telly. Truth be told, I was lookin' for The Young Ones. When I learnt that there was such a thing as professional soccer football, mate, I was floored. Naturally, I fell in love, what with the red-and-white and my red-green color-blindness and the name itself: Arsenal. None of that -wich or -ton or City. Just Arsenal.

Growing up as a footballer in America, I've had to learn to deal with more than my fair share of goons (I know, ironic, innit?). In the Chicago Catholic League, I had to face off against more than a few American footballers who were only playing proper football to keep up their fitness. I'm full-grown now, measuring a hulking 1.7m and some 10 stone, but back then, I was a more modest 1.5m and 9 stone (more like 8, but give a guy a break). On a twice-weekly basis, I had to square off against opponents quite a bit taller and considerably stockier than me. Suffice it to say, I was floored, leveled, and stampeded on a regular basis. I remember one match in particular when I found myself in the area when a teammate's cross sailed over my head. A defender cold-cocked me with a fore-arm shiver, right between my shoulder-blades, and I was seein' stars. It probably took me 10 minutes before I could see straight.

Even without realising it, I was a Gooner in how I played. I'm not talking so much about the current squad. I'm a feisty, third-generation Irish-American and look more to Liam Brady for my inspiration than to, say, Aaron Ramsey, just to pluck a random name from the sky. I loved having the ball at my feet, but I loved more than that creating chances for my mates. A clever through-ball, a lofted cross, whatever artistry was available. I can hardly claim to have been a world-beater, though, not by any stretch, and so I end up living vicariously through those who play for Arsenal, imagining, remembering, visualizing myself as Brady or Ramsey or Cazorla—far-fetched, I know!—but dribbling, passing, carving out chances for others...

And this brings me back to you. Not you, specifically, but maybe so. You represent something to me personally and, yes, to Gooners more broadly. Whether you chose the role or had it thrust upon you is not my concern. For whatever reason, Ryan (again, a thousand pardons for the boldness of using your first name), you have come to embody a baldly cynical style of play that seems to borrow more from American football than from football itself. If you ever tire of the technical requirements of football, you might consider a career in rugby or Gaelic football. If you can stomach it. By the admittedly foppish rules of football, you're a right thug. By the somewhat more-rigorous "rules" of Gaelic football, friend, you're the fop.

It's not that I wish any specific harm; it's just that I wonder when, if ever, the numerous injuries you've inflicted will come back to haunt you. You're on four yellow-cards already this season, so I hope that I can safely assume that you'll be on your best behavior?

Yours truly—