18 September 2015

Good God, I almost became a Chav...

I want to tell you a harrowing story, one in which the young hero very nearly follows a very dark path, a path laden with treasure, it must be admitted, but a treacherous, soul-sucking path all the same. As I plumb the depths of my memory, I reckon that I became a Gooner somewhere 'round about 1980. Aged seven, I could remember the cannon on the kit but not the JVC logo. At any rate, as I've written of it before, I was instantly hooked. The red and the white. The name. Stapleton and Brady. However, my status as a Gooner was very nearly derailed before it even left the station. In 1983, one of my friend's fathers was transferred to London to work, and so we paid them a visit. Little did I know at the time how close I came to becoming a filthy Chav...

I coulda been a headhunter...
When we arrived in London, I had no idea that Arsenal were a London club, so I missed my best and only chance at visiting Highbury. I was young and American. On the ladder of footballing ignorance, that might describe the bottom run. I was thrilled at the fact that lads got together to kick a ball around rather than carry the ball under the arm until dragged to the ground. For a week, I lived in London, just 30 minutes from Highbury—and a mere five Stamford Bridge. It seems that our hosts had taken a liking to Chelsea, not knowing much if anything about the racism endemic among Chelsea's supporters at the time.

At any rate, knowing that I played football, my friend's father brought me to Stamford Bridge. It was a revelation. In the U.S., we didn't have professional footbal yet (and still, it must be admitted, don't...), so the idea of a stadium dedicated to football caused something like scales fell from my eyes. Had a few other places fell into place, I might have become a Chav. Keep in mind that I knew nothing other than that "Arsenal" was a name infinitely more-impressive than "Chelsea", a name I associated with girls more than with football.

I still break out in goose flesh at the memory. Cold sweats, even. Had we attended a match at Stamford Bridge, I might have turned to the darker side. Had I known enough to connect Arsenal to London and London to Chelsea, I might have known enough to raise a middle-fingered salute to that stadium, even if Chelsea were at the time little more than Second Division cannon-fodder, making the occasional cameo in the First Division only to be obliterated and relegated. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and one might wonder whether I regret resisting the dark side. After all, Chelsea have won the Prem and FA Cup four times each as well as the Champions League and Europa League to boot. Toss in three League Cups and and two Community Shields and you've got yourself an enviable curriculum vitae. By contrast, Arsenal have just two Prem titles to accompany five FA Cups and four Community Shields.

Looking back on it all, maybe I should have gone with the Blues. Over the last fifteen years, after all, they have enjoyed quite a bit more glory. This side of the pond, I could proudly wear the Chelsea kit and get recognized as a winner. Americans, after all, love nothing more than a flat-track bully that is oblivious to or ignorant of its advantages.

As we go into Stamford Bridge, it would be easy to envy Chelsea for the ease with which the club has hoarded all of that silverware, especially as we've toiled and slaved away only to settle time and time again for that fourth place "trophy" and knockout-stage knockout. Despite our own early-season superiority over Chelsea, victory on Saturday is still far from assured, and it's possible, even likely, that we'll have our arses handed to us yet again.

In some minds, this might beg the question of why I continue to support a club that has inspired so much frustration and fury while another club has offered so much prowess and pablum. Supporting Chelsea would be following the path of least resistance—and in the words of one of America's greatest folk-singers, Utah Phillips (think Phil Ochs or Billy Braggs), following the path of least resistance is what makes a river crooked. I'll stop shy of calling Mourinho or Abramovich crooks, but they've each played a role in corrupting the beautiful game. In their minds, ends justify means. If your club wins silverware, it matters not how you managed it.

For my part, I prefer seeking a balance between ends and means. We at Arsenal have been guilty of overly emphasizing the means at the expense of the ends. Then again, when you don't have an oiligarch willing to spend at every turn, expenses do add up.

Come what may on Saturday, I'm proud to be a Gooner, and no amount of money or success could turn my head or my heart from that.