It’s been a very strange season for us Arsenal fans. Forced to contemplate having to watch the same poor side as last season, but without the best player in the world, we then watched as the remaining players took us to the top of the league with some superb performances. Hope was in the air once again.
After Sunday, its all gone again and we’re back to square one. In the same way that an individual player, having given the ball away to the opposition with a poorly directed pass, can actually end up a hero when he throws himself into the next tackle to win the ball back, the fact that we’ve blown our chance of winning the league in a season when we really had no right to expect anything more than 4th place feels like a total disaster. Funny old game, football, isn’t it?
But why do we allow ourselves to get drawn in by the evil that is hope? For almost the whole of this season I have been telling myself (and anyone who will listen) that we were playing well but we wouldn’t win the league – not to try and protect myself from getting hurt – it was just how I felt. In the first six league games we played since the turn of the year, we won 5 and drew 1, scoring 14 goals and conceding only 2. So who can blame me for gradually beginning to believe that we could make a challenge for the title this season? BANG! That’s when it gets you – just when you’re at your weakest, football grabs you by the goolies and twists and twists until it hurts – quite a lot. And then you turn round and look back and say “how the hell did I let it happen?” … AGAIN!
Sunday afternoon was the culmination of 5 games in which we have drawn 4 and lost 1, scoring 5 and conceding 6. 16 points from a possible 18 has been followed immediately by 4 from 15. And with Bolton and United away and Liverpool at home in the next few games, who can be sure that we won’t be looking at 5 or 6 from 21 by the middle of April? Just when things started to look like they might make me happy, they’ve gone and made me miserable. But, since I was nothing more than “satisfied” when were playing well earlier in the season, when do I get some pleasure out of this ridiculous hobby I’ve chosen?
A good friend of mine is a season ticket holder at Old Trafford and I think his reaction to United’s progress throughout the season sums it up for me. Here is a man whose chosen football team is easily the best one in the country and certainly one of the best in the world. A man who is lucky enough to have a season ticket to go and see this team play every other week. And yet here is a man who, week in week out, receives nothing but pain and misery from the whole experience.
They played badly at the start of the season – he was resigned to a season of mid-table mediocrity (I recall relegation being mentioned, jokingly, after the first few weeks!).
They started catching up a bit, he just thought that was typical of his team, to only start to play well when it was too late to catch the leaders.
They lost one or two big games, he literally conceded the title to Arsenal, saying “Congratulations on the title” when the final whistle blew to put us 5 points clear.
And now, when they are destroying all that lay in their path and are well on their way to retaining their title, he somehow still thinks that its all going to go wrong! He sent me a text message after we lost on Sunday saying that he thought we’d still win it because we’ve got an easier run-in than they do!
So, at what point do you, as a football fan, get some pleasure for all your hours of emotional investment?! It would appear that, if you are a Manchester United supporter, only when it is mathematically impossible for anyone to catch you can you actually sit back and enjoy it.
The thing is, I find that its only the times like now – when I am just getting over the crushing feeling of defeat and stupidity for letting myself get sucked in again – that I can objectively look at the concept of being a football supporter and wonder what the bloody point is?