Layth's Take: You Are My Arsenal, My Only Arsenal...
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Arsenal fans celebrate the 1st goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC at Stamford Bridge on January 21, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

I enjoyed watching the joyous scenes in away end at Stamford Bridge from my seat in the Chelsea press box almost as much as I enjoyed Arsenal’s two superlative equalisers.

Surveying the demented celebrations from the 3,000 loyal, passionate, vociferous Gooners on Tuesday evening brought a smile to my face – even as I was in the middle of what we say in the trade as a ‘rewrite’.

A rewrite occurs when a late goal – or incident - changes the entire context of the game and outcome. 

Such occurrences are seen as an occupational hazard, that, while you can laugh about afterwards, thrust you into the eye of the storm, from which your crafted prose, carefully constructed through 80 odd minutes of sophisticated analysis gets shredded as the result of the match shifts on its axis, rendering your efforts useless.

But even through the maelstrom prompted by two late goals in west London around the final whistle I still had one eye on the delirious Arsenal support to my left. 

What are the things that make you an Arsenal supporter?

It made me smile. And it made me think about what is important about being an Arsenal fan. Or even a football fan. 

Supporting The Arsenal during awaydays near and far, from west London to, well, wherever UEFA decide to host Europa League finals, is about the camaraderie, the sense of belonging, the dry humour, the gallows humour, the beers, the lock-ins, the joyous goal celebrations – such as at Chelsea this week - where, as a fan, you wonder if you’ll ever breathe again.

It’s about the crazy away days, the utterly miserable away days, the maddening, frustrating, brilliant, achingly awful, dreadful awful, wonderful, life-affirming days - and people you meet along the way – some of whom have become lifelong friends.

It’s also about the mishaps, the glory, the thrilling fightbacks, the crushing failures, the pain, the dedication involved not to mention the guilt at seeing loved ones hurt at the amount of time you invest in such an unfeeling institution.

From the Junior Gunners enclosure to the Clock End terraces, then seats, via a couple of years in my early teens on the North Bank and now the Emirates press box as a full time journalist I reckon I must have seen more than 1,500 Gunners matches over that time. 

Just like many, I still miss Highbury

I travelled home and away religiously for decades and have nearly as many stories.

I’ve seen Arsenal lose finals in the flesh in six different competitions. 

I’ve tried to spot future players at freezing cold South East Counties games as a youngster and now have the pleaure of covering talents like Emile-Smith Rowe at far-flung places such as a freezing Bishop Auckland in the FA Youth Cup during the Beast From The East. 

I’ve also had the honour of being a journalist reporting on the Champions League from the Nou Camp press box as well as covering Wembley triumphs and disasters – and everywhere in between from Sutton United to Standard Liege - in 1993 as well as last month.

I’ve seen the late, great immortal David Rocastle, the incredible Invincible Dennis Bergkamp, Ian Wright, Wright, Wright - as well as John Hawley and Lee Chapman.

I saw Arsene Wenger’s first match and his last one too, and about 90 per cent of the ones in between.

And no-one will ever tell me that Tony Adams isn’t the greatest player in the club’s history for his never-say-die attitude.

Oh for those days when, as captain, away at northern strongholds on freezing cold evenings, TA would see the snow on the ground and growl, right lads, we’re playing in short sleeves, before taking the three points back to north London. 

Southern softies? Don’t make me laugh.

My friends and I spent once New Year’s Eve on the hard shoulder of the M6 after breaking down on the way back from Villa Park after a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa many moons ago. Sober. 

I’ve drunk far more scrumpy than is necessary back in the days when pre-season involved a trip down to Yeovil in Somerset rather than Singapore.

I’ve been chased by Millwall fans through Dickensian back alleys, slept on roundabouts in France on European away games.

I’ve visited a mate in hospital in Copenhagen the day after the 2000 UEFA Cup Final – six years after we won the European Cup Winners’ Cup on our first trip there. 

The same city, completely different outcomes on and off the pitch.

I have been at the Parc de Princes and was part of the chorus that helped sing the first ever “1-0 to the Arsenal” during that never-to-be-forgotten European Cup Winners Cup run in 1993-94, which culminated in the Miracle of Copenhagen, a feat so ridiculously improbable I wrote a book about it. 

I sat in the Stade de France, 17 minutes from eternal glory in the Champions League Final on a Paris night full of drama, emotion, rain and tears in 2006. 

I’ve also sat in a muddy field in Wrexham after one of the biggest shocks in FA Cup history this month 28 years ago.

I’ve had riotous nights out in Cardiff and Bradford on the back of crushing defeats.

I’ve been surrounded by Real Madrid fans in the Bernabeu – before a kindly soul who couldn’t speak a word of English, thrust out a friendly hand offering me a plastic cup full of Rioja and a paper plate stacked with jamon.

When Thierry Henry scored one of the best goals in Arsenal’s history, the same man shook my hand and simply said: “Muy bien”.

Tales of away games 

I’ve been stranded on the motorway in deep snow trying to get to Luton. I once got all the way to Middlesbrough on a National Express coach to find our Tuesday evening game called off thanks to four foot of snow.

Not wanting to spend the night in an empty pub on my lonesome in a freezing, deserted town in deepest midwinter, I went to the cinema and chose the longest film available – there can’t be many people who can say they travelled all the way to Teeside just to watch Lord of The Rings before getting back on an overnight coach to London, which took a mind-numbing seven hours.

I’ve seen us win every trophy we’ve won since the Eighties – if you discount the two and a half years I spent travelling a long time ago – and even then I managed to find BBC World Service in dusty Nicaragua to hear us win an FA Cup Final.

I’ve been stood on top of a stunning Mayan ruin in deepest Yucatan and had a conversation with a Mexican Gooner about the need for a decent reserve keeper.

I’ve been on a black granite Buddhist stupor in Java, chatting to an Indonesian about our transfer policy. 

I’ve walked through Vietnam’s DMZ while a man whose grandfather was in the North Vietnamese Army asked me my thoughts on TH14.

I’ve been on a Roman fort in Sardinia and talked about the need for a back-up striker.

I have been on a ferry in beautiful Sydney harbour with my back to the Opera House and Bridge, engrossed in talk about Arsenal beating Spurs.

While working for a charity in Kampala, the capital of Uganda’s biggest slum, I had the unsettling experience of a child with HIV asking me about The Arsenal because he saw me wearing my Gunners shirt.

Although I had no way of comprehending his suffering, I could empathise with his passion. And when I told him just how good Bergkamp was, he smiled. It was the only smile I ever saw on his face. 

With retrovirals in short supply I just wondered how long he would be able to support our team.

The fact is for me - and many millions of other supporters - Arsenal Football Club has provided me with searing highs and crushing lows

Wherever I have travelled, the club has been my lingua franca

Watching The Arsenal is a lifelong addiction, one destined for as much sadness and regret as happiness and success. 

If that sounds like a family, I think you’re right – a family is what it is for me and countless others. 

For better or worse it’s in the blood.

I never forget how lucky I am to do a job I love. 

And when I am in the hallowed press box as qualified journalist who’s sweated blood to get there, I take pride in being totally impartial – while also being conscious of writing for my readership. It’s the only way.

Just like you dear reader I am excited about the new era under the club’s new head coach, the impressive Arteta.

As my – and no doubt your – addiction to The Arsenal shows no sign of abating, here’s to life under Arteta. 

If the performance at Chelsea this week is a benchmark, I for one can’t wait for the next demented celebrations from us long-suffering Gooners.

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